Preparation Week 1 of 4

Braining a deerskin.

I’ve got only 4 weeks left until I head out to Lynx Vilden’s stone age immersion program. I have to show up there with a minimum of 6 brain-tanned deer hides in order to make an entire outfit to wear during the program. Tanning hides is not something I have done too much of. I’ve done some brain-tanning before – I made brain-tanned shorts – and thought I understood the process pretty well. I’ve been working a hide the last couple of days trying to get it soft and it’s come to my attention that I’m pretty fucking clueless when it comes to hide-tanning.

“Primitive” or ancestral skills have never been my main focus in rewilding. In fact, they’ve generally taken a back-burner to the mental, philosophical, spiritual and social aspects of rewilding. I enjoy natural crafts and love the self-reliance aspect of ancestral skills but I’ve never been that into them, particularly hide-tanning and stone tools. Mostly because, well, I just don’t think they matter as much. This has changed quite a bit this year, as I finally am looking for a synthesis of all the aspects of rewilding. While I’m not a primitive purist, I enjoy the aesthetic magic of buckskin clothes and stone and bone tools. Looking at the pictures on Lynx’s website creates a kind of inspiration and desire that would not be there were all her students wearing colorful, synthetic REI clothes and using expensive steel tools and backpacks. There is a strange magic in the purity of ancestral technology. A magic that motivates me.

So I’ve delved deeper into the world of “primitive living” and that means hide-tanning. It is a complex series of steps and phases and is all about timing. Brain-tanning is different and yet similar to bark-tanning. I’ll be brain-tanning about 7 deer hides in the next couple weeks, and bark-tanning 5 raccoon hides, with the fur on, in the next few weeks and couple months. I have a thick mystery hide that has been in a hemlock bark solution as a tester for bark tanning the raccoons. I plan to make a canteen with the mystery hide, inspired by my friend Miles canteen pictured in his amazing bark-tanning tutorial.

Hemlock Bark Tea

Since bark-tanning takes a lot longer, I’ll need to make the bark tea this week and get those hides in fast. They probably won’t be ready until during the immersion program. That shouldn’t be a big deal, I’ll be able to finish tanning them while I am there. Making a tea a once a week for the next couple weeks will be pretty easy compared to the scraping, graining, membraning and softening that I’m going to have to do with these 7 deer skins. Luckily I’ve got Tamara Wilder’s Buckskin: the ancient art of braintanning and Matt Richard’s Deerskins into Buckskins. These two books are phenomenal resources. I only wish I had ordered Matt Richard’s video guide to go with the book. But alas, these two books along with my friends who have tanned a lot are enough to get me going and do the job. I’m going to get pretty fluent in hide-tanning in the next couple weeks.

Aside from the hides, I need a bunch of other stuff, as I  mentioned  in a previous post. This last weekend I went to the beach to harvest seaweed as part of my 5lbs of dehydrated wild plant food that I am required to bring with me. My lady friend took me on one of John Kallas’s coastal foraging Wild Food Adventures for my birthday last month, and I learned a lot about foraging seaweed. With last month’s, last weekend’s and one more planned trip later this month, I should have a large amount of seaweed. I’m hoping to trade it for some other greens or perhaps roots with some of the other students – or just share it all.

Seaweed drying in the sun.

Right now the Garlic Mustard is off the hook and is one of the most nutritious invasive plants in the NW. So, I’m planning on tackling some of that this week. I know a few spots in the Molalla River Corridor that have an over growth of it and could use a good weeding. I’m also thinking of doing a stealthy, evening neighborhood forage through SE Portland for Lemon Balm (for salve and tea), peppermint (for tea and seasoning), Fennel, and whatever else I may come across.

I’m looking for find a source of wild meat that I can trade for. I need 5lbs of dehydrated wild meat and 1lb of tallow. These are not things I will be able to get myself: I will have to trade for them. I’ve promised one of my fellow students that I will make her a bow-drill set and bone awl for the course. Fire is second nature to me and I can whip one of those up in no time. Bone tools are my favorite; I love them more than stone. They are simple, elegant, durable and easy to create: grind them against a rock. I’ve got loads of bones from collecting them over the years and making an awl will be a fun way to pass some time.

Last week at the beach not only did I get a ton of seaweed but I also found an amazing layer of clay in the cliffs on the beach. I’ve found clay out there before, but it got mixed with some not-so-pure clay and didn’t end up working that well. This time I made sure to gather only the most pure-seeming clay; a reddish color of thick, elastic earth. I’m going to make a bowl out of it this week, a bowl I plan to eat from during the program.

I’m sure I’ll be able to get everything done, but I don’t have a moment to lose. I’d like to write up all of my concerns for the project to see what really happens there; which concerns came true and what unseen problems arose? This will be a great exercise to write about.

Preparation Week 1 Laundry List:

– Hemlock Bark Tea batch #1
– Braintan 2 deer skins
– Foraging (garlic mustard, etc.)
– Trade for Meat
– Rinse and soften bark-tanned mystery hide for canteen
– Make a clay pot
– Fire kit & Awl for fellow student
– Write a blog about concerns for the project

3 Comments on “Preparation Week 1 of 4”

  1. I could trade you some dried nettles and dried lemon balm for some schoolin’ on garlic mustard. I see it in Forest Park, but I’m pretty sure the park service is spraying it. I also don’t want to spread the stuff. I could also give some dried reishi mushroom. You also might want to harvest and dry and grind some red belted conk. It cranks up your immune system (reputably). I do know from drinking it, that it gives a good sense of well being and makes the gut feel good, but your only suppose to drink it for 4 days and then take 4 days off. If your interested, let me know. I am not an axe murderer or a vegan.

  2. I have a bunch of dried nettles already, and will be heading out soon to get some lemon balm. Yeah you can eat the shit out of Garlic Mustard. They may spray in forest park. I usually get it from areas where I know they are not spraying, or at least it looks healthy and is not near a road. Thanks for the tip on the conk. I may try to find some! For a good source on Garlic Mustard info, check out John Kallas’s book “Edible Wild Plants”.

  3. Interesting to hear how garlic mustard is so invasive over in Cascadia – in England it’s more of an occassional hedgerow treat! Kinda like how Ivy over here doesn’t seem half as keen as over in your parts… How are you going to process lots of garlic mustard for your adventure?