rewilding author, teacher, & catalyst

Category: Best of Urban Scout

Rewilding, Dispatched

For years now I’ve had a google alert set up for the word “Rewilding.” I like to check the pulse of how the mainstream is perceiving it, as well as the multiple permutations that it has taken between conservation biology, and humans returning to hunter-gatherer lifeways and culture (and the inevitable merging of the two that will take place at some point). I was surprised one day when I was alerted to a news article about a racehorse in Europe named “Rewilding.” For a long time I followed Rewilding’s success. Horse races are disturbing to me. Still, I wondered if it was a sign; should I “bet it all on Rewilding?” In spite of the horrible animal cruelty of horse races, I loved getting headlines that began, “Rewilding Takes Clear Victory…” Was the universe telling me something?

One sad day I got an e-mail alert. Rewilding had been running full speed when his leg bones buckled and turned to jello. He fell under the weight of a useless leg and had to be euthanized right there on the race track. Upon reading this I burst into tears. I cried and cried. I was inconsolable. It was silly really. Yes, it was sad the horse died. Yes, it is sad that horses are forced into this kind of performance slavery for human entertainment. But beyond that, I had psychologically projected the essence of the rewilding renaissance into the success of a racehorse as though it were some mystical metaphor. For that reason, I was heart broken when Rewilding was dispatched.

Projecting an idea onto a specific set of sounds we call a word, in this case the cultural movement of returning to ancestral lifeways, I am always disappointed when the system kills it. Horse races by nature are disgusting and exploitive of horses. Just as civilization, capitalism, and empire are exploitive of humans, and their ideas. I am similarly heart broken when I see an idea as ripe as rewilding, as deeply needed as rewilding, grasped up, beaten into submission, and forced to parade around as something it is not in order for someone to make a dime. The meaning of rewilding maimed, destroyed, dispatched.

…Which is why lately I have been considering changing my name to Peter Rejuvilicious, culturally appropriating a folk medicinal practice that has been disproven by science, bottling it and selling it to wealthy white people with orthorexia for $250 a pop–and all the while calling it rewilding. In phase two of this new master plan, I will write an e-book that is just a rehash of every wilderness survival skills book out on the market. I will market it as the Survival Bible and call it “The Surbible.” Oh by the way, I just trademarked that. It’s now SURBIBLE™. It comes totally free when you subscribe to my spam service.

surbible rewilding with peter michael bauer

In case you can’t tell… that last paragraph was satire.

As more and more people over the last few years have begun using (and abusing) the term “rewilding,” I’ve been thinking a lot about the rise in its popular use as the latest buzzword. Nothing is more frustrating than to see people co-opt the term from the rewilding community and water it down (usually for their own commercial purposes). On top of that, I get insulted when I see people clearly copying my work and the works of other rewilding catalysts. It’s even more insulting when those people act like they invented the term, but don’t even understand where it came from, what it means, and fail to honor those who have been doing it for a long time.

In my book Rewild or Die (2008), I wrote briefly of how I came to the word rewilding. I didn’t go into much detail, but after looking at this I’ve realized how important lineage is to me, and so I feel the need to share it with you. When I found the word rewilding, it was a subpage on a (now-defunct) webpage (www.greenanarchy.info) of a particular anarchist ideology called Anarcho-Primitivism. The site described the concept of rewilding in a single paragraph. This paragraph described the entirety of the lifeway of rewilding:

For most green/anti-civilization/primitivist anarchists, rewilding and reconnecting with the earth is a life project. It is not limited to intellectual comprehension or the practice of primitive skills, but instead, it is a deep understanding of the pervasive ways in which we are domesticated, fractured, and dislocated from our selves, each other, and the world, and the enormous and daily undertaking to be whole again. Rewilding has a physical component which involves reclaiming skills and developing methods for a sustainable co-existence, including how to feed, shelter, and heal ourselves with the plants, animals, and materials occurring naturally in our bioregion. It also includes the dismantling of the physical manifestations, apparatus, and infrastructure of civilization. Rewilding has an emotional component, which involves healing ourselves and each other from the 10,000 year-old wounds which run deep, learning how to live together in non-hierarchical and non-oppressive communities, and deconstructing the domesticating mindset in our social patterns. Rewilding involves prioritizing direct experience and passion over mediation and alienation, re-thinking every dynamic and aspect of our reality, connecting with our feral fury to defend our lives and to fight for a liberated existence, developing more trust in our intuition and being more connected to our instincts, and regaining the balance that has been virtually destroyed after thousands of years of patriarchal control and domestication. Rewilding is the process of becoming uncivilized. -www.greenanarchy.info

Rewilding was about a new way of living, a new story to live by. I don’t know who wrote this beautiful paragraph, but thank you (If you find this page and contact me, I will give you proper credit if you so desire). On this site, there was a link to the (now-defunct) website, www.rewild.org. On their website, they had a definition of rewilding:

rewild v. to heal from domestication & rejoin the community of nature; redefining a relationship with nature on nature’s terms; to return an area to a more natural or wild state; to return a captive animal to its natural habitat.

Though I found this definition online, I believe it was first written by the people who wrote the zine Reclaim, Rewild, who also later created rewild.org. I believe these are the same folks who founded the Wildroots Collective, but am not sure about that detail. 2004 was a big year for human rewilding. Along with this zine, John Zerzan’s Green Anarchy Magazine published an issue dedicated to the topic. I loved this definition. However, it felt too long. I shortened it in a way that I thought would encompass all of the main points. Also, it had no synonyms that would help people understand the word even more. I had a t-shirt with the definition of “unschooling” on it, that included a few synonyms to help people grasp the concept (my favorite was “auto-didact”). This gave me the idea to add synonyms to the definition of rewilding. The definition I came up with was this:

rewild, v : to return to a more natural or wild state; the process of undoing domestication. Synonyms: undomesticate, uncivilize.

My edits to the definition didn’t change the original, core idea. I created www.rewild.info (now living at www.rewild.com), an online forum for discussing rewilding. I put this definition on the “splash page“. At the time there were many bloggers venturing into the territory of rewilding. The three people who had blogs entirely dedicated to rewilding and who had written the most, were me (under the moniker Urban Scout), Jason Godesky (Tribe of Anthropik), and Willem Larsen (College of Mythic Cartography), later Wilderix (Rix White), Miles Olsen, and Penny Scout (Emily Porter). People started linking to the forum and within a few months there were many conversations going on about rewilding. Finisia Medrano’s web master linked up with us and all the hoopsters began influencing the direction the subculture was taking. Pretty soon the conversations became super “advanced” and we required new people to read up on rewilding before beginning to have conversations there, so we wouldn’t have to tread over the same ground, but could keep building on what we already had in order to go deeper and deeper.

It seemed as we went along, that the definition on the front page was too vague for people who were new. In one of my blogs I tried to articulate the definition to be more obvious to new people, and offered this:

Rewild, v; to foster and maintain a sustainable way of life through hunter-gatherer-gardener social and economical systems; including, but not limited to, the encouragement of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental biodiversity and the prevention and undoing of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental domestication and enslavement.

No one was ever happy with this, as rewilding is something so deep, and requires so much work undoing the mythology that our culture has pounded into our heads about indigenous and “primitive” people. This definition wasn’t meant to take the place of the simplistic one, but to augment it: un-doing domestication means abandoning civilization. Abandoning civilization requires a revolution. Rewilding is a renaissance that requires a revolution. It is a movement that addresses environmental destruction and social injustice simultaneously. This has been articulated by many rewilders, including myself. Though, for a couple years there, I, as Urban Scout, was the loudest proponent of rewilding on the web and in the press. Most friends of mine understood what I was doing with the persona of Urban Scout; hipsterfying the aesthetics of rewilding, but without sugar-coating or changing the ideology behind it–putting it in a shell that the mainstream would accept more readily. Those who didn’t get the satire sent me angry private and public messages. Kevin Tucker, a prominent Anarcho-primitivist (and author of For Wildness and Anarchy), wrote me this e-mail:

Scout,
You and the other ‘primitivist’ bloggers are fucking douche bags. I’ll give you credit for having a sense of humor, but then you err on that side. Trying to make rewilding just some new hipster shit is pathetic. You’re selling yourself and no one who will still be around in a few years will have bought it. Benefits for fucking fashion shows and dance parties? I imagine you might mean well, appealing to other hipsters or what-the-fuck ever, but you’re only making a mockery of yourself. Perhaps that’s your intent? Urban Scout is, after all, just a character right? Fucking PATHETIC. The rantings, daily affairs, and love life of a fringe blogger do not constitute a primitivist site. The sooner you realize that the better off we’ll be when the hype fades and y’all stop trying to co-opt valid shit. 
For wildness and ANARCHY,
Kevin Tucker.

I’m certain he is still proud of it to this day, and wouldn’t mind me reprinting it here, as he has assured me in the past that his friends sometimes come to my blog “for a good laugh” at my expense. Kevin didn’t know me personally or see Urban Scout as an expression of authenticity because he didn’t understand the satire. I always thought that they mostly hated me for aesthetic purposes. I didn’t look like one of them; I was a “hipster.” Back then I would throw this kind of thing back in people’s faces. I turned his e-mail into a Madlibs-style contest, in which the winner of my choosing would receive a signed photograph of yours truly. I’m not posting this here to drudge up old drama. I don’t really care about this anymore, and I understand his frustration and anger.

He was wrong though. I didn’t co-opt rewilding. Co-opting implies changing the meaning behind something for your own purposes. I was just giving rewilding a superficial change, a quasi-hip facelift. Not an ideological one. Now, though, I think I actually understand where their frustration with me was coming from. The hipster culture I was appealing to is centered around an obsession with novelty. This is part of our culture at large, but was especially true (and still is) of hipster culture. Urban Scout (from the audiences perspective) was simply just another novelty to be consumed, like Jack White recording an ICP album of Mozart covers. Urban Scout, the hipster, made rewilding appear as a novelty. Seeing this now, I understand why those who hold these ideas close to their hearts, were pissed off. In spite of this, many people were able to see through the hipster facade and satirical aspects, and understand the sincerity and deeper meanings of rewilding. In fact, a graduate student from Indiana, that I had never met before, wrote a dissertation on how activists use language to recruit people. She included a chapter on “Anarcho-primitivism” and wrote this:

In these mock-mainstream encounters, anarcho-primitivists revel in the contradiction between mass media spectacle and primitivist sentiment. By using blogs, YouTube, and red carpet events, they acknowledge the success of corporate, technological strategies of “selling” ideologies, and they insist that their anti-technological perspective can best be spread through the media that they hope to destroy. When they announce their simultaneous love and disdain for E! Entertainment Network’s brand of consumerism, primitivists produce a critique of the media while guarding themselves against co-optation. Because they produce slick, shiny promotional materials, the mass media has no need to alter the anarcho-primitivist message if it wants to sell it. Urban Scout can therefore have quite a bit of say in his own public representation. As long as his images look professional and corporate, they will appear as he created them.

In 2008 I compiled my “Philosophy of Rewilding” blogs into a book called Rewild or Die, but didn’t publish it officially until 2010, all the while adding updates to the book. In 2011 I finally went on a West coast book tour. During the tour my car was totaled by people who were angry with things I had written in the book and on my blog. Originally I thought that it was anarchist vegans who were mad that I wrote about veganism in my book. The reality is that I don’t know the exact person who did it, so blaming members of a subculture seems counter-productive. The point of mentioning it here, is that it shocked me. I wasn’t born with a thick skin. On my blog I acted as though things didn’t bother me, but they did. I realized that life in the lime light, and one where I am inciting people to total my car, is not the one for me. After my book tour I basically stopped blogging altogether and I’ve spent the last few years creating Rewild Portland, a local non-profit dedicated to creating a rewilding community in my home town of Portland, OR. Rather than be snarky on the internet, I’ve been sincere in person (and a little snarky).

(A side note to this, is the problem with commercializing aspects of rewilding at all, including my non-profit Rewild Portland. For example: charging money for classes, books, information, community, etc. That is a related matter, but is the topic of a whole other conversation. If you are interested in continuing that conversation, join in on it!)

Others published works as well. Finisia Medrano published an auto-biography (Growing Up in Occupied America). Willem Larsen published a collection of his blogs (College of Mythic Cartography). Rewilder Miles Olsen, wrote a book Unlearn, Rewild (New Society, 2012) and used the definition I created for the Rewild Forums in it. In his book, Miles failed to credit me or any other rewilders. In fact, his book doesn’t even have a bibliography. In a private e-mail exchange with me, he agreed to modify the book to include acknowledgements if the book has a second printing. Miles’ book is great, and he was one of the first people to contribute to join the Rewild Forums and shape the conversations there. You should definitely check out his book if you haven’t already.

Many of us who made this initial online push for rewilding haven’t had time to pay much attention to the online world of rewilding for the last two or three years. The rewild forums quieted down for a while without a core group of people driving conversations. We had all talked about it enough, and went to work to rewild our lives in the physical world.

In the last year or so there have been a few websites popping up with people claiming to be “rewilding” but gutting the meaning of it, and using it as a new buzzword for anything “Paleo.” It has been confusing, because some are even using the word as a synonym for just going on a hike in “nature.” As if “un-doing domestication” simply means sitting at the base of a waterfall for 15 minutes a day. It’s even *more* confusing when you look at the most commonly known definition of rewilding, and that is actually conservation rewilding, which explicitly excludes humans (also off-topic but interesting, and is probably the origin of the term in popular use). Human rewilding is the kind we are referring to.

A couple of these people have even become internet famous through modern internet marketing campaigns, seemingly plagiarizing cherry-picked elements of the conversations from the Rewild Forums. All the while, failing to give any of us any credit or linking to any of the websites. Lineage is important to follow because it keeps people on track with the growth of a movement. What is most disturbing about this trend is that it mis-directs what rewilding means from the larger subculture of rewilding, and attempts to close it off in a vacuum of self help routines. Though these sites may add to elements of rewilding culture, they do not add to the rewilding culture overall, but in fact are reducing it by deluding the goal from walking away from civilization (and/or dismantling civilization) to simply taking in a breath of fresh air at the park, or walking in synthetic “barefoot” shoes. With free e-books on things like, “10 Simple Things You Can Do To Rewild” none of which include returning to a hunter-gatherer way of life, or challenging the pervasive hierarchical culture that is destroying the planet. Rich people have always been more active in nature, now they get to be smug about how healthy they are for it.

It is strange that these people would use the word rewilding, without doing some research.These are internet-based businesses. Google “rewilding” and the rewilding wikipedia page and rewild forums are in the top hits. It’s hard to imagine they did no research into a word that they would be using as part of their brand. The wikipedia page of rewilding is listed under a subsection of anarchy. Yet these sites have no ties to the driving analysis that begat rewilding, or the culture surrounding it. It is hard to miss that there is a radical foundation to a topic, even with minimal effort. One of the reasons I take major offense to this (other than lack of credit, changing the frame and goal) is that tacking the term “rewilding” onto a capitalist venture of “self-help,” that only benefits the rich (and mostly white), is simply bad publicity for the rewilding movement. People who are doing actual rewilding (the kind that benefits the entire planet, not just a muscle grouping in your abs) such as: planting back wild foods, assisting Natives in land reclamation, bringing these skills and ideas to communities of color, and communities with economic disparities, will be discredited. It’s bad publicity because it makes it look to the general public as if rewilding is just something for self-absorbed, rich, white people, who just want to look good naked, rather than a cultural movement for all people to reclaim an ancestral lifeway of serving the earth through the tending of the wild–with any means necessary. It’s the intention, the goal, that is important here.

You don’t go to a tree sit to climb trees, you go to a tree-sit to stop a logging operation. There is a purpose beyond self. Rewilding, like tree-sitting (protecting wild spaces by any means necessary is another aspect of rewilding) is rooted in a purpose beyond the self. So, the idea of “rewilding yourself” is a misnomer. Rewilding isn’t about YOU. You’re mental and physical health are important… just as breathing, eating, and sleeping are important. Rewilding isn’t some narcissistic, masturbatory meditation, health, or fitness program. It’s about serving the community of life and the land, in the face of Empire.

These people are climbing trees for fun and calling it tree-sitting. Yes, climbing trees is important for participating in a tree sit, but it’s not the goal. There are people on a facebook page for one of the websites that ask “Why is the wikipedia page for rewilding listed as a subsection of anarchism.” This is akin to “Wait, I didn’t know we we’re learning to climb trees in order to stop a logging operation?!?” It is clear from statements like these that the meaning of rewilding is being lost of these people. Anti-civilization, anti-empire, and anarchy (in the general meaning of a “stateless” culture that self-governs) are at the root of rewilding. Rewilding originated from social and environmental activism, not the survival skills world, not the dieting world, and not the new age meditation world. The core of rewilding has always been about planting back seeds (actual seeds) for a future beyond our own. The children of our future (if there are any) won’t care how good we looked naked, they will care if we planted food for them to eat. Of course, we need to take care of ourselves in order to do awesome rewilding stuff like planting back seeds on the hoop, so nourishing traditions are things we need to focus on, but they are not the reason for the season.

I would say that if your objective is to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the fullest extent possible, then you are rewilding. If you are just doing paleo diet and going camping to feel healthier, that is not rewilding. I didn’t make up this definition, though I have played a role in crafting the culture that surrounds it. This is just what it means to the culture of people who are attempting to walk away from civilization and create something new. Why do definitions matter? People must have a shared reality in order to work together in that reality. I once got into the most insane arguments with a man who refused to share reality with me, claiming that “nothing is real” and that “there are no such thing as facts”. These arguments looked like little more than philosophical masturbation to me, than practical thinking for taking actions to create a sustainable planet. While I agreed in the philosophical sense with him, it didn’t help anyone to make choices in the real world.While I don’t believe in the concept of “facts” I do believe that we need to have shared observations of reality. We can observe that agriculture destroys the soil. If we can’t have that shared reality, we can’t work together to change our subsistence strategy to one that builds soil. Similarly, if we can’t have a shared reality of what it means to rewild, the word might as well mean nothing at all. The more we clearly define an idea, the easier time we will have using it for practical purposes. If you don’t have “planting back” the land (reciprocal land management strategies) listed as the main “fundamental” of rewilding (the main thing that separates indigenous lifeways from civilized), then you haven’t been at it very long and are just bringing the same concepts of civilized mentality-> rendering the term “rewilding” into just more of the same. For this reason, it is easy to tell who is new to rewilding and who has been at it for a long time based on where they put their emphasis. Agricultural civilization takes more from the land without giving anything back, whereas “hunter-gatherers” give back more than they take. A simple example of this is taking a single Camas bulb from the ground, but planting dozens of camas seeds in its place. Newbie rewilders tend to emphasize primitive skills, foraging, and enact the individualistic “mountain man” cliche, which is missing the whole point of rewilding. Foraging is not rewilding. Foraging, while planting back the seeds of the plants you are foraging, and under the threat of Empire, is rewilding.

The last chapter in my book was called, “Rewilding: a Term to Throw Away.” In it I spoke of how the word could change over time to become something else, and lose sight of the goal. The vision is what is important, not the word. We were rewilding before “rewilding” was a word to describe rewilding. It doesn’t really matter if these people continue to run the word rewilding into the ground. If people are alive in 500 years, it’s because they will have returned to a hunter-gatherer way of life. In the moment though, as someone trying to prepare people for the changes we are experiencing by uniting them under a common term, it is really, really annoying.

3 Reasons to Learn Chinuk Wawa

Chinook Jargon (Chinuk Wawa in the language) is the original lingua-franca of Cascadia, born out of the coming together of different cultures during the fur trade era of the early 1800’s. Part Chinookan, Nuu-chah-nulth, Salish, French, and English, this creole spread from it’s central location of Chinookan Villages here where Portland sits today, all the way down to Northern California, all the way up the coastline to Alaska, and as far inland as Idaho. The language was kept alive over the last hundred years as a heritage language of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde. This language is part of the rich history of human culture here in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s a fun and beautiful language. Wawa has a very different, distinct, and beautiful sound. It’s a fun language to speak! If you grew up in the Northwest, you might know some words in Wawa and don’t even know it: Skookum (strong), “Chuck” (for water), a “Mucky Muck” (pompous person), Tillicum (People/Family), and Tyee (a leader or important person), to name a few.

Here are the top 3 reasons why you should learn how to speak it:

1) It’s respectful to the Native Cultures that still live here, to speak their language.

When you move to a new place, it is an unspoken, respectful tradition that you learn the native language. If you moved to Spain, you would learn Spanish. If you moved to Italy, you would learn Italian. During the 1800’s, if you moved to the NW, you would learn Chinook Jargon. Historically, the jargon was never intended to be a mother tongue, but it is the heritage language of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde today.  It is their language. If you live in Portland or the surrounding area, this is the respectful thing to do. It is a way of recognizing that this is their land, their place. It is part of the process of un-doing colonization.

2) It helps to revitalize the language.

As the Native cultures of this region diminished due to the on-going process of colonization, the need to speak the jargon diminished among the “bəstən tilixam” (Non-Natives). Widespread use of the language died out in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. However, the 26 different Native tribes who were displaced from their land and moved to the reservation at Grand Ronde continue to “wawa” to this day. Through their efforts over the last two decades, there has been a growing revitalization of the language, one that has been kept alive through oral tradition all this time! The more speakers of a language, the stronger it becomes. By joining the language community you help to strengthen the language.

3) Learning different languages allow you to see the world differently.

A language holds within it, the paradigm of the culture that created it. It frames how a person of that culture will see and interact with the world. It is important for people to be able to see the world in many different ways, and in particular, it is important for modern people to be able to understand the ways and world views of traditional cultures. In order for these paradigms of a more wild existence to persist through civilization, we must assist in saving the languages which carry these paradigms. Chinuk Wawa is a pidgin that has been heavily influenced through indo-european languages. In spite of this, there are still sign-posts that allow the speaker to see through a different world view.

Cultural Appropriation

It is important to talk about cultural appropriation when learning particular aspects of Native culture, such as language. To learn to speak Chinuk Wawa is not a form of cultural appropriation, it is what you do with it that can make it negative or positive. The respect you show for Native people by learning their language can quickly shift to disrespect when the language is misused. I would not, for example, teach it to my children as a first language, give myself a Chinuk name, or receive money for teaching a class on wawa (without Native representation and/or approval). Even doing those things can be acceptable in certain circumstances. While I am a fluent speaker and am a member of the language community, I generally give myself a wide birth from appropriative-seeming activities. Be mindful of how you use the language and why you want to learn it.

Become Part of the Language Community

The best way to avoid appropriation is to become part of the language community. Buying the dictionary and trying to teach yourself the language in a vacuum is not a very respectable way to learn the language. If learning the language is a way of creating relationships with Native folks, then you need to be part of the language speaking community. A dictionary is a sad replacement for the vibrance of hearing voices speak the language regularly and fluently. Staying in proximity to the language community is how you help to make the language stronger.

How to Start Learning to Wawa:

1. Every Wednesday in Portland

Every Wednesday (except regular holidays and special Native events days) there is a free language class at the Portland office for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. The address is 4445 S.W. Barbur Blvd. Portland, OR 97239. Make sure you google it first, because it’s a bit confusing to get to. Class starts at 5:30pm. The instructor is Eric Bernando. He can be reached at chinukwawa@gmail.com.

2. Lane Community College

Lane Community College offers several Chinuk Wawa classes. Read more from the Lane website here: https://crater.lanecc.edu:9010/banp/zwckctlg.P_DispCrseDesc?subj_in=AIL&term_in=201110

3. PSU Study Group

There are student-run Chinuk Wawa classes at Portland State University at the Native American Student Community Center. http://www.ecowiki.pdx.edu/opportunities/view/chinuk-wawa-language-group-psu

4. Buy the Grand Ronde Dictionary!

This dictionary came out recently and is over a decade in-the-works. The most impactful way to order the book if you live in Portland is to go to Powells Books and order it through them.  This will help encourage the store to keep it stocked on the shelves. The book is called “Chinuk Wawa: kakwa nsayka ulman-tilixam ɬaska munk-kəmtəks nsayka”  (The way our elders teach us to speak it). Otherwise you can order it through amazon.com here. But don’t just buy the dictionary, come to class and join the speaking community!

On the Path Toward Living Wild

The 2012 Posse

Thoughts on Lynx Vilden’s Stone Age Immersion Program

Since I dropped out of high school in 1998 and dedicated my life to returning to a more indigenous lifestyle, to rewilding, I spend my time divided between working odd jobs, reading, writing, learning, teaching, community organizing and wild-crafting. Early on I realized that primitive technology is a bi-product of a sustainable culture, but a sustainable culture is not the by-product of primitive technology; primitive skills are the superficial layer of indigenous people. I prefer the cultural, social, mental and permacultural aspects of rewilding because they are more foundational to creating culture. This is not to say that there are not important aspects of learning primitive technology that can aid in the creation of a sustainable culture. The superficial layer is still an important layer of culture. In order to fully understand this, I decided to dedicate the summer of 2012 to focusing purely on the crafting of primitive technology.

One of the most inspiring people teaching these crafts is Lynx Vilden and her school the Living Wild School. I have known about her for years and always wanted to attend her program. I signed up for her summer immersion program, a three month long program that culminates with living in the wilds for the final month, with only “stone age” gear; no metal, no plastic. I had an amazing and challenging time and I learned a great deal. These are my thoughts about my experience.

This is a fantastic program for gaining proficiency in primitive skills. Even before the classes started, I was already gaining proficiency in skills. The list of required items to bring this year made it clear that this was not a class for beginners. I had to show up with a minimum of 6 large brain-tanned deer skins. While I had tanned a couple deer skins before, I did not have proficiency. I spent about two months of preparation working on all the things that I needed to bring with me. Each week of the program had a different theme: buckskin clothes, containers, felted blankets, fishing kits, etc. Every day we would get up and begin working on crafts together or on our own when we needed space. After weeks of working on projects and crafting with our hands we became much more proficient in crafting skills.

Eating out of my clay pot. Delicious!

Practical application of primitive technology is what makes the Living Wild School unique. Learning how to craft primitive technology is only half the experience: you must learn to use the crafts in practical ways. Lynx Vilden is doing something that not many others in this country are doing: teaching and experimenting with using primitive technology on a day to day basis, deep in the woods. We learned nuances of using primitive tools that you could only learn through real world application. Things like how to make arrows for target practice, how to lift a clay pot from the coals, how to fix rawhide sandals with a bone awl under the moonlight, and how to adjust a tumpline on a pack basket. One morning after a cold night I spent the day stitching up my wool blanket to create a draft-free sleeping bag. Another day I stitched ties onto my fur hat to keep it from falling off during the night. Everyday we would spend a little time tweaking our tools to better match our needs and the demands of the environment. Crafting primitive skills is fun and great, but gaining experience in real life application completes the knowledge base. In my mind, this is the most important aspect of what Lynx teaches.

Living in close quarters with others who are enthusiastic about and experienced with primitive technology felt priceless. I consider myself an out-going recluse. I like social engagement, but often feel too much anxiety to leave the house. Meeting new people, putting myself in someone else’s program, these are things I rarely do. It was worth it. I made a lot of friends, and even when there was drama it almost felt like it was created just to change up the monotony of our lives. Having people to share knowledge with, to experiment and learn with, helped to maximize my goal of proficiency. This is the amazing power of collective knowledge and experience; you can learn a lot more from a group than from a single person. This bridged the gap between classes when Lynx was off taking care of other business.

Living outdoors for the summer changed me. There were many things that I learned that were not directly related to crafting primitive skills, but from making a transition from living on the grid, to living off the grid. For the first two and a half months we were camped in the woods. Meals were cooked over fires, food was kept cool in holes that we dug in the ground, we hauled water from the spring and from the faucet across a large meadow. This was challenging for me, particularly because of my diet and bowel problems. At first I wanted to leave, feeling very stressed from not having a system and routine that kept my body comfortable and my IBS symptoms in check. By the middle of the summer I felt like I was flying. I never wanted to live indoors or cook on a regular stove again. There was no revelation, no powerful transformation. This change was gradual, as my comforts expanded and routines strengthened and became easier. It also didn’t turn me into a must-live-outdoors fundamentalist. I really love living outdoors, but I’m not a missionary now. It just feels good and I’m going to figure out how I can continue to live in a similar way here at my home.

On the trail to paradise.

In reality, we weren’t living wild. We were simply camping,with modern-made primitive tools. There wasn’t much that separated us from other mountain back-packers other than our clothes and tools. Our stone age human ancestors lived sustainably on the planet for hundreds of thousands of years, tending the wild through regenerative methods of food production. Their myths, culture and traditions passed on this knowledge and kept the land and people healthy and happy. This is what “living wild” looks like to me: people living in cooperative groups, managing the land in a regenerative manner. We did not learn cooperative group dynamics. We did not learn regenerative land management. Sure, we were hunting and gathering, but not like hunter-gatherers. This was my one caveat with the program: looking wild is not the same thing as living wild.

Looking wild has deeply subconscious benefits to rewilding. There is a reason people say “Appearances are everything.” In a recent study, volunteer participants were asked to take a test. Half of them wore white coats that they were told was a doctor’s jacket, while the other half wore white coats they were told was a painter’s jacket. The results showed that people, when wearing the doctor’s lab coat, scored higher on the tests than those wearing the painter’s coat. These were, in reality, the same coat. Their perception of themselves changed depending on what they were wearing, and how those clothes are perceived. Image is perception and perception carries the ability to alter how you think. People often act as though “superficial” things like a persons image do not effect us. In reality, it does and on a very deep level.

What Lynx has done with her programs is create inspirational imagery of white people–who have no real life record of indigenous imagery–looking indigenous, without stealing from native cultures. Beyond what Lynx’s program does for creating proficiency in her students, the imagery she creates does an amazing job of giving us back a modern, visual, indigenous identity. Lynx is an artist and her students become her models. The images strike a cord deep in people, of ancestral remembrance. They seem to say, “It is possible for us to reclaim this identity.” The photographs of the programs she runs have much more reach than the limits of her class size; viewers on her website can pour over the iconic images that sit on every page. Everyone I know who has gone to her website has felt a spark of inspiration. The dream for many, becomes actualized in these images. These images are altering the way we think about ourselves and about our indigenousity. This is huge. These benefits need to be studied and examined in depth.

My few criticisms come with an expiration date. As the rewilding movement continues to grow, it is absorbing the primitive skills community. Primitive skills are becoming a gateway to rewilding. As this happens, the principles of indigenous land management and social organization models are becoming more foundational to understanding and practicing primitive skills. As Lynx’s program grows and changes, these principles with undoubtably become rooted in the experience. The goal, after all, is living wild and living wild can only be accomplished through adapting traditions of tending the wild.

More than a teacher, a leader, or a guide, Lynx is a catalyst. Lynx is pushing the edge of primitive skills further towards rewilding, by making it about actually using the technology to live. Through the people she teaches, inspires and brings together, through re-creating indigenous identity, she plays a major role in the rewilding renaissance and I am glad to have met her and got to know her over the summer. I look forward to seeing her continue to give people the experience that I had this summer, and to watch how the larger community benefits and grows together.

I highly recommend this program. Check it out here: www.lynxvilden.com

Rewilding: Take it to the Hoop!

Me and Grandma Fin and our root sisters.

In preparation for Lynx Vilden’s Stone Age Immersion program, I need to gather 5lbs of dehydrated wild plants. I know I could gather and dry wild greens (most berries are not ripe yet), but they won’t give me the calories I need out there in the woods. I wanted to get some roots and pound them into flour for a starch. For years now I have known and interacted with Finisia Medrano (aka “Tranny Granny”) over the web. So much so that when I hear the words “roots” I think of them synonymously with her and “the hoop”. This was a great excuse for me to stop “suckling the teet of babylon” long enough to get a glimpse of life of the hoop, as she has always emphatically encouraged all rewilders to do. After spending a few days on the hoop, I am finally starting to understand why she carries such a passion for this life.

For thousands and thousands of years, traditional “hunter-gatherer” people lived and worked in specific nomadic circuits across the land known as “hoops”. These hoops are routes on the earth with various camp sites along the way in which the people have tended the wild to create an abundance of food at each stop. Grandma Fin, as people affectionately call her, is someone who discovered remnants of the old hoops and… never left. She has catalyzed the rewilding movement to reclaim the spirit and root gardening techniques of the hoop. Her enthusiasm, passion, sense of humor and light-hearted fierceness have inspired and continue to inspire more and more people to get on the various hoops and return to a life of tending the wild gardens of native plants.

On the table, food is always underfoot.

I drove six hours down from Portland, out to the desert where Grandma currently resides. As we got closer, I noticed that nearly every house we passed is abandoned. There is no industry out there but a few cattle ranches. It is too spread out to be a “ghost town”–it’s much more a post-apocalyptic runway. We arrive at dusk. Half of the camp is heading out to set rat traps in the bushes of this wasteland. Everyone in our culture hates rats. You don’t need special permits to trap and eat them. Grandma says there are too many of them and they eat the seeds and roots of the plants we want to tend. The first part of tending our garden is thinning the over-run animal population of rats. Rats which they will skin, cook and eat if and when they catch them.

In the morning we get up early to head up to “the table”. Tables are a geological phenomenon where a hill or mountain has a flat top, giving it the appearance of a tabletop. I am familiar with most plants of the west side of the cascades. Out in the desert, up on the table, everything but the sagebrush looks foreign. Our first stop to dig is not far from camp. I learn my first plant: yampa. The peanut-sized root bulbs are sweet, nutty and delicious. We lazily gather yampa for thirty minutes, stopping to chat and make jokes. My pockets are over-flowing with them. I am begining to notice that yampa is like a ground cover up there: you can’t take a step without walking on it. Grandma says this table is around seventeen square miles.

Old School

We move on to digging Luskh (pronounced looksh), a lomatium known commonly as “breadroot” or “biscuitroot”. Then coush (pronounced cow-sh) another lomatium. Then frittilaria, various greens, and a teeny-tiny potato-like root that I can’t remember the name of. In a just a few lazy hours of digging, we had gathered enough starch for days of eating. Grandma fin is sitting by me and my friend Thor. My friend Potlatch is a few feet away, digging down deep for a luskh. The rest of the gang, the real root diggers or “hoopsters” as they are jokingly called, are scattered around with some digging, some laying on the earth and staring up into the sky. Grandma cracks jokes here and there, then lays down some heavy shit: this is a garden that is thousands of years old. The only reason it exists is because it’s too rocky to farm, graze cattle on, or build. The rocks are considered worthless. The river valley just several feet below the table is a grassy, cattle grazing field now. The whole valley was an easy to dig garden just a hundred or so years ago. Civilization’s settlers released pigs onto the land, and those pigs destroyed this indigenous garden. Grandma looks at Potlatch. He’s begun to peel the inedible bark layers off the roots. Her eyes fill with tears. She says that this is what she lives for: seeing those little piles of root scraps scattered across the Table. My eyes fill with tears of grief and gratitude. In this seeming desert wasteland of apocalyptic abandonments, we’re literally sitting on top of something more valuable than a gold mine. It’s breath-takingly beautiful, hopeful and so very sad, all at the same time. It’s lonely out here she says. Where are the women and the children?

The roots are dug with a digging stick known as a Capun. In the old days, people would make these sticks from carefully fire-hardened wood. These days, in order to dig out these hard-to-get-at roots, we’re using titanium. We live in an interesting time where modern tech is sometimes needed just to live a more simple life. If we could replant the valley, we would not need titanium capuns. As civilization collapses, as gas gets too expensive, the cattle ranches will dwindle and the root diggers will move down to replant, to rewild those valleys. At some point the titanium capuns will be buried and forgotten in an easy to dig, river of abundance. For now, we find a balance in using new tools to bridge us back to the old ways.

Here is Grandma Fin demonstrating how the titanium capuns are used:

After taking a midday nap (life on the hoop is a crepuscular existence) we head out in the SUV to scout for more locations. We stop and get out at a possible camas patch, but there is nothing. The land has been trampled by cattle. At the end of the field a single tiger lily is just starting to bud out. “Kill it!” They shout. My heart stops. Are they really going to kill a rare species like this? The tiger lily was once much more populated than it is now. It was a food source for humans, which means it grew in many places. Now, it is very rare. How could they do that? As they pull up the root bulb I feel like I should say something but I hold back. Then I see it: tiny rootlets stuck to the main bulb. Dozens of them. We dig a dozen or so holes and drop in a few rootlets in each one. Next year, there will be more than just one Tiger Lily, there will be many. At that moment, things clicked and I started to understand on a fundamental level what I already have read and know. Tiger Lillies are endangered because they are no longer eaten. If there is no one there to tend the plant, to help it along, it will die out. Just as we humans will die out without the plants to help us along. It’s not the killing that is destructive, it’s how you go about killing that matters.

The best example of this is the harvest season for most of these roots. Once the flower has gone to seed, and the seeds begin to fall, it’s the best time to harvest the root. When you pull the root out, you plant the seeds at the same time. Grandma calls this “the reach around”. Life on these hoops is defined and maintained by the reach around. This was a principle that I have read many times in modern books on sustainable hunter-gatherer land management, but reading about it wasn’t enough. There is a mindset and experience of tending the wild that needs cultivation. After over a decade of rewilding, I haven’t felt that anywhere other than on the hoop. Not at a permaculture class, not at a skill-share, not even with my friends playing out in the woods. Perhaps it’s because, on the hoop, you are not starting from scratch. You’re building on what the wild has already provided, and what the Native cultures left in the land as their legacy. On the hoop, I felt an immense support already there from the earth. You don’t find that when you’re planning your permaculture garden. The hoop is a permaculture garden. One that has been there for thousands of years and survived the encroachment of civilization by living up on the tables – the fringes, where civilization doesn’t deem important. Out on the hoop I tasted freedom, and like the roots we dig, it was bittersweet.

Click to Purchase

You really haven’t even begun to rewild until you’ve gone out on the hoop and spent some time with Grandma Fin. This story is really just one big plea for you to join up with Tranny Granny and get your asses on the hoop! My only regret was that I couldn’t stay longer. I promised Grandma that I would return, with reinforcements.

Read Finisia’s autobiography to learn more about her story: “Growing up in Occupied America.” Friend her on Facebook and send her a message.

The Real Suburban Scout?

If you’ve ever seen my 2004 film short, The Adventures of Urban Scout, you know that in the film I had an imaginary arch-enemy by the name “Suburban Scout.” He was trying to appear like me, Urban Scout, but only for the aesthetic and not the rewilding angle. The other day I picked up the Portland Tribune and turned to the “Sustainable Life” section (which I do from time to time for a good laugh or to get myself pissed at what they pass as sustainability) and saw a hilarious article on the front page entitled “Suburban Tepee” with the laugh-out-loud, ludicrous subtitle; “Commodities Broker Longs for Life Close to the Earth.” This guy looks like an honest to god, real life, Suburban Scout!

Of course, the article was boring and stupid and had nothing to do with sustainability what-so-ever. In fact, it had nothing to do with anything interesting, except to say that some rich douche in the upper crust suburb Lake Oswego sleeps in a tipi in his parents backyard at night, and by day works as a commodities broker at daddies company and spent his richie rich childhood traveling to exotic places (he even has a hippopotamus skin!).

“He says he’s no radical and isn’t trying to send a political message. He’s just trying to live nearer to nature.” What the fuck? They put him on the cover of the sustainability section and he has nothing to say about sustainability. Dude, what the fuck does “close to nature” even mean anyway? I can only assume it means living more sustainably, since he’s on the cover of the sustainable life section. How is sleeping in a synthetic tipi (what is that, carpet on the ground???) with chemically tanned hides of animals from a different continent getting you closer to nature or making you more sustainable? Living close to nature, living more sustainably, doesn’t mean standing or sitting or sleeping outside or close to plants or mimicing superficial indigenous customs from a completely different bioregion. Sleeping in a tipi has absolutely nothing to do with sustainability. NOTHING. Unless you’re a plains Indian living 300 years ago and even then the tipi is a bi-product of their sustainable land management practices. Hey Portland Tribune, my buddy Willem slept outside in his backyard for a year. Why isn’t he on the cover of the “sustainable” section? Fucking HOMELESS people sleep outside, in tents all year, all the time. Why aren’t THEY on the cover of the sustainable section? If sleeping in a tent is so fucking sustainable… I mean really. Oh right. They’re not rich assholes who continue the status quo of destruction.

Indigenous people live “close to nature” not because some of them sleep in tipis or wear the skins of animal or practice spiritual customs. They live sustainably because they manage the land in a sustainable way. Everything else about their culture is a bi-product of that. Want to live “close to nature?” You should read about how indigenous peoples of this region live and connect with nature in real-life ways, and then replicate their land management practices. It makes me wonder how and why this article was even in the paper? I mean… Did Paulson Commodities pay the tribune or something? Could it be that the author is a friend of the Paulsons and was bored? It has to be one of those two things… if not, just fucking shoot me. We’re fucked.

I can’t claim that I’m more pure than he is; anyone who works in the civilized economy is fucking up the planet somehow. But at least I’m saying something and challenging the status quo of destruction and exploitation. At least I’m working to dismantle civilization in the ways that I know how. And while I’m still very much dependent on the grocery store for food, at least I’m working to create a different world and making it clear that this culture is fucked up. The fact that there is abso-fucking-lutely nothing sustainable or interesting about some rich dude sleeping in a tipi, and that he’s on the cover of the sustainable section continues to blow my mind. Fuck the Portland Tribune and fuck “sustainability.” What really gets me about him is his hodgepodge, world-collection of indigenous artifacts and customs, this smorgasbord of cultural appropriation; an African animal skin, mid-western Indian shelter, and a white mans alleged version of southwestern Indian spirituality (the whole Tom Brown Jr. “Lipan Apache Shamanism” thing). Without a political message about sustainability, he is just another rich eccentric with a fetish for native peoples belongings and customs. A commodities broker who collects the commodities of broken indigenous cultures… How unique. And sustainable. Let’s put him on the cover!

One Great Big Neon Festering Distraction

Once again the idiotic citizens of Portland are all up in arms over the giant, “historic” neon sign that sits on the west side of the river over the Burnside bridge. Around 10 years ago everyone freaked out and shit themselves when it was changed from saying “White Stag” (an old outdoor clothing company) to say “Made in Oregon” (a company that sells things only made in the state). Now the University of Oregon owns it and wants to change it to say “University of Oregon.”

Honestly, why the fuck are we even talking about an ugly neon sign? I hate to use the old “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” saying but come on people. The salmon are rapidly going extinct right in front of us. Street names? Neon Signs? Really? This is what you’re spending your time talking about while land that gives us life withers under the destructive, imperialistic agricultural regime? This is what you’re choosing to emotionally invest in while dams, logging, commercial fishing and pollution are wreaking havoc on the innocent lives of plants and animals with which we depend?

Oh wait, I’m sorry. No, let’s sit around and debate what we should name a street. Grand Avenue or Cesar Chavez Ave? Oh and if you say Grand you’re a fucking racist! If we are looking towards quality of life, I see no way in which a neon sign adds more quality to my life. I see that sign every once and a while and it leaves no impression on me, anymore than any other grotesque Clear Channel billboard, only it’s a vintage advertisement so it’s like, totally cool or something. What the fuck is wrong with you people? You know what leaves an impression on me? Stands of Black Cottonwood that stood 200 feet tall with a width of 7 feet, lining the shores of the Willamette river. Camas fields so dense that the valley looked like a great sea of purple. Land that was so rich from indigenous, sustainable land management that it baffled the agrarian fundamentalists who first encountered it.

While my family does not belong to the Native American populations who tended the lands here for 8,000 years, we have lived here longer than Grand Avenue, longer than that disgusting neon sign. As a fourth generation Portlander, and a recovering agrarian fundamentalist, I can tell you that I would rather have that funding go to life-giving historic monuments, like say, salmon runs so thick you can’t wade through the river than old energy consuming advertisements. As the climate crisis heats up, as economic collapse melts our society down, we need to restore the local, sustainable food systems that humans had in place here for thousands and thousands of years.

Shame on you Multnomah county, with your so-called “green technology” and “sustainable development.” You’re supposed to be the most liberal, environmentally conscious, eco-forward county in this country and yet you quibble over the most meaningless bullshit, spending tons of money, time and energy, distracting yourselves from doing something sincere for the future generations. Here is an idea, let’s just change the sign to say “Fuck the Planet.” That way you’ll be able to clearly remember every time you look at the sign where your priorities lie. Either way, it will be very clear to the generations of people that come after us, that the people of this land cared more about pretty little bright lights than rewilding our ravaged lands.

 

Willamette; The Valley of an 8,000 Year Old Culture

At a reading I was at a while ago, the author asked the crowd if they knew the name of the people who lived here before civilization. More than a few people responded that “no one lived here,” and that, “Willamette (as in the Willamette river that runs through Portland) means ‘the valley of sickness and death.'” I don’t remember the first time I heard this myth, but I can tell you that I never questioned it. In fact, I’ve even helped spread it. I never seemed to think twice about it, it simply made sense; white people do stupid things like move into mosquito infested valleys. But when the author asked, and I saw so many people respond with this claim, I really began to wonder just where the heck it came from!

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