rewilding author, teacher, & catalyst

Tag: rewild

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.

Program Fears and Concerns

Everyone I have talked to who has been through Lynx Vilden’s stone age immersion program has had good things to say about it. Not that it didn’t have its challenges, but that they are worth it. Ever since I signed up I’ve been having little fears pop up about it. Here is the list:

IBS
I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). As of late, I have it under control through diet, nutrition and exercise. I am allergic to most things, so I eat a very limited diet of meat, vegetables and some fruit. My diet shouldn’t be that big of a problem since it’s very close to a hunter-gatherer style diet anyway. Although I’ve learned how to predict my IBS, it can still be quite spontaneous and that scares me. One of my worst symptoms is “urgency” and lack of bowel control. Basically, when I have to go, I will go. Whether there is a bathroom or not. Now in the last few years I haven’t had any accidents, but this is always present in my mind. The nice thing about being in the woods is that you can pretty much dig a toilet anywhere. Urgency won’t be too much of a problem out there. But the diarrhea might. Since I’ve been drinking bone broth every day and eliminated pork from my paleo-ish diet, my diarrhea has all but stopped. Out there, though, I probably won’t have too much access to bone broth. I’ll also have to eat greens, and sometimes those greens go right through me. This will be bad if my body stops absorbing nutrients while I’m out there possibly going hungry a lot of the time. IBS is my number one worry because of the amount of anxiety that it fills me with. I think I’ll be okay, but the uncertainty of it is like a dark cloud looming over the other inspiring aspects of the project. If I can do this and overcome the IBS, the fear and anxiety associated with it, it’s going to change my life forever.

Hemorrhoids
One of the side effects of IBS is hemorrhoids. Generally these are also kept at bay with diet, nutrition and exercise. The less diarrhea I have, the less likely the hemorrhoids will flare up. But sometimes they flare up from things like hiking. Since I’ll be hiking around through the mountains quite a bit, I’m nervous that I’ll end up with an itchy butt. I’m going to make a lemon balm & cottonwood salve to bring with me should I need it to help out with that.

Physical Strength
I’m not sure if I’m strong enough physically to carry a heavy pack around the mountains for a month. A friend who is a personal trainer started to make me train but my immune system is acting weirdly and I can’t shake this cough and sore throat. I’m taking a couple of tinctures and am going to experiment on myself with English Ivy tea to see if it can curb my cough. I’m hoping that I’ll be well enough to continue my training through the two months of preparation so by the time the month of primitive living rolls around I’ll be much more fit. I have a good feeling about this.

Preparations
I’m sort of nervous that I only have three more weeks to prepare. The hide-tanning process is taking longer than I thought. I only need to tan three hides to have the bare minimum, since three of my close friends each gave me an amazingly soft brain-tanned buckskin. I’m planning on tanning seven myself though, since I’ll need food containers and other such things.

Group Dynamic
I’m honestly not too nervous about group dynamic, but after watching a decade of reality shows, I’m a bit apprehensive. I’m an easy going person. I can get along with most people. I feel excited by the opportunity to meet and become close with a dozen more people as serious about rewilding and ancestral skills as I am.

Sex & Intimacy
No one wants to talk about the elephant in the room, but I’ll mention it just to make it known. Sex is a human need. It will be strange to leave my girlfriend back in Portland while I travel off for a backwoods adventure for three and a half months. It’s not like anyone died because they didn’t get laid for a few months, but it is undeniably a need of humans. I am also aware of the power that camp has in creating bonds of intimacy between people. These things should not be ignored, they should be talked about. We are sexual animals. My lady and I have both read Sex at Dawn and are not particularly bound to the mainstream ideology of sex and intimacy (particularly monogamy), but we grew up with the puritanical undertones that permeate American culture and haven’t done any work to really change our reactions to things regarding sexual intimacy. This is not so much a worry for me, but more of a curious concern that is a private conversation between me and my girlfriend. However, being too private about these things is one of the reasons the broken, mainstream ideology of sexual intimacy still persists. For that reason, I feel I need to mention this – without giving too many details.

Cold/Hunger/Dark/Predators
The last thing I’m worried about are all the standard camping comforts and fears. I’ve had a fair share of discomfort, but probably not as extreme as the hunger I’m most likely going to experience while up there. I’m also still a little afraid of the dark, I hate the cold and am worried about cougars, wolves and bears… oh my!

Preparation Week 2 of 4


There are three weeks left before I head out to Lynx Vilden’s prehistoric immersion program. I delved into a few deer hides this week and started “bucking” them. This involves soaking the hides in an alkaline solution. I bought a bag of hydrated lime from the local hardware store. I didn’t want to use lye because of the toxic quality and I don’t have time to burn/gather enough wood ash. After braining another hide and having it come out stiff again, I’m getting pretty frustrated. I staggered bucking the hides over a couple days so they would be ready one after the other. I did not anticipate how hard it would be to scrape the grain off the hide. The weather has been ridiculously hot and in spite of chugging water all day, my sore throat from a week ago came back and put me out for a couple days. At this point I have one stiff hide that needs to be dressed and stretched again and one that is ready to be acidified or just dressed and then stretched. There are three more hides bucking right now. I need to scrape them before they soak in the alkaline solution for too long. My hands are covered in blisters from too much drawknife pressure. Tomorrow I will wrap them up before graining the next hide.

In “Deerskins Into Buckskins” Matt Richards says that when done bucking the hide will appear brown and tawny. While the hide was bloated and rubbery (as apposed to stretchy) it was bluish white. I let it sit for longer than I thought I needed to for this reason. After a couple days in the heat, it still looked bluish white. So I threw it on the fleshing beam anyway. After scraping a bit of the grain away, the placed I scraped were brown and tawny as he described. Tomorrow I’ll be able to compare a scraped and rinsed hide with a bloated bucked hide and note the differences for future reference.

I don’t really know what I would do without five gallon buckets. I’d like to know what the primitive equivolent is.

All five raccoon hides are in the hemlock bark solution. I’m realizing now that I need to make sure that the oils are out of the hides before I tan them. I thought most of the oils were out of them, but one in particular I knew it was full of oil. I kind of wanted to see what would happen to the hide, how it would take the tannins. Well, of course, it didn’t. I also noticed a few of the hides had whitish blue spots on them where the tannins were not absorbing. The rest were a light reddish brown. I took all five hides out and put them on the fleshing beam. I used the dull draw knife to squeegee out the oils. I put them back in and an hour later checked and they were already sucking up the tannins really nicely. Tomorrow I make another batch of stronger tea and squeegee the hides some more.

My girlfriend came over and mentioned a video about Lynx’s program that I hadn’t seen before. I thought it would be cool to share the videos here for you to see. They are very inspirational and are making me feel more and more excited about it. It’s also making me more and more nervous that I may not be ready with all the hides by the time I head up there.

Preparation Week 2 Laundry List:

– Find 10lbs of raw wool for felting
– Grain 3 hides/Rinse 3 hides/Membrane 3 hides
– Acidify 2 hides, dress 2 hides, freeze the other 2
– Start bucking last two hides
– Make stronger batch of hemlock tannins, squeegee hides again
– Foraging (garlic mustard, etc.)
– Coastal foraging trip
– Trade for Meat (Some elk meat acquired)
– Rinse and soften bark-tanned mystery hide for canteen
– Process beach clay
– Write a blog about concerns for the project

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

Chinook History & Ancestral Skills @ Shining Star Waldorf


Today my friend Eric and I went to the third grade class at Shining Star Waldorf school in Portland. They are learning about the Chinook Indians and since my friend who works there knew that I know Chinuk Wawa, she called me to see about coming in and teaching the kids a little bit about Chinook Culture, past and present. I brought my friend Eric, who is a Chinook, to talk with the children about what being a Chinook was like in the past and what it is like today. He shared stories and his persepctive on things. I was there to show the kids a little bit about ancestral technology in general. I demonstrated how to make a friction fire using my cottonwood bow-drill set that I have made to take with me on Lynx Vilden’s summer immersion program. Then I showed the kids how to make cordage while Eric told a few more stories. We had a great time!

Bow Drill Fire Demo at Washington College

“As part of the second annual Locavore Lit Fest at Washington College, Rewild Portland Executive Director Peter Bauer (Urban Scout) demonstrates how to use makeshift materials to create a bow drill for starting a fire. His work examines assumptions about civilized culture and stresses the importance of our relation to food in an industrialized society.”

Rewilding Tech Inventory: Natural Glues

(Left) Dehydrated hide chips in a clay pot: take pieces of deer hide and simmer them in water for like 24-36 hours and they will dissolve. The water boils off and you are left with this glue. Pour it on a flat pan and let it dry out. It breaks up into these pieces. To use again, put in pot and add water to the viscosity that you prefer. It is water soluble so it will not hold up if it gets very wet. (Right) Pine pitch and charcoal glue in a wooden burn bowl. Place pine pitch and charcoal in a pot, add water, dissolve pitch and stir. Add manure to make this even better. Stir/simmer at low heat until desired viscosity or dry out for later use. It does not hold up under very hot conditions as the pine pitch will melt. The horse manure helps prevent this, but not entirely.

Taking Rewilding Up a Notch

I’ve been learning and teaching primitive skills, animal tracking, nature awareness, community building, and all aspects of rewilding for a long time now. I have yet to see a cohesion of these skills in application. That is all going to change this summer. I have signed up for Lynx Vilden’s summer immersion program. Lynx is one of the only people that I could find who is really striving to push the envelope of rewilding. I’ve known about her for years, but haven’t had the time or energy or funds to attend her classes. This summer is different. Maybe it’s because I’m turning 30 in April and am looking back at my twenties wishing I had done this sooner. A rewilders biological clock of sorts. Maybe it’s because it’s 2012 and I’m subconsciously preparing for the apocalypse. Or maybe, it’s just the right time for me.

Lynx’s summer immersion is not a beginners course. I have to arrive prepared, with a large inventory of the following:

  • MINIMUM 6 LARGE BRAIN TANNED DEER HIDES (OR BUCKSKIN CLOTHES)
  • STONE AGE TOOL KIT INCLUDING; FIRE KIT, BONE AWL, STONE KNIFE
  • PACK BASKET
  • 5LBS DRIED WILD PLANT FOODS
  • 5LBS DRIED WILD MEAT OR FISH
  • 1LB RENDERED FAT
  • WATER CONTAINER
  • GATHERING BASKET
  • EATING BOWL AND UTENSILS
  • RAWHIDE OR BUCKSKIN FOOD CONTAINERS.
  • SELF BOW AND ARROWS (OPTIONAL)
  • BRING A RAW/DRY SALTED WINTER KILL COW BUFFALO HIDE OR 10LBS OF GOOD FELTING SHEEP WOOL FOR THE BEDDING CLASS.

At first glance this list looked pretty daunting to me. The most labor intense parts will be the hide tanning. It’s a shame that I accidentally destroyed my buckskin shorts. Those would have come in handy. I already have the stone age tool kit, with a lot more bone and stone tools than this list requires, should I need them. I have willows for a pack basket but haven’t made it yet. I’m going early to Lynx’s basket workshop the week before the immersion starts, so I’m hoping to make the pack basket and gathering basket there. I have lots of baskets, and even a willow back pack but I think that it’s too small. I’ve started gathering wild foods. I’ve got lots of nettles. I’m going to gather and dry a variety of spring greens as they come. For starch I’ll head to the desert and gather some roots to dry and powder for cakes. I’m bark-tanning an old piece of goat rawhide I was saving for a drum, but I’m turning it into a canteen inspired by my friend Miles (who has a book on rewilding coming out soon!). I’m carving a bowl with cedar and I’m going to make a burn bowl as well. I have a clay pot that I need to fire. Not sure what I’m going to do for food containers yet. I do not have a self bow or arrows. All the bows I have made have broken. I hope that maybe Lynx will give me some tips on bow-making while I’m out there. I’ve found a couple places that have a buffalo hide for me to tan. That covers the list for the most part.

I’ve added my own list of stuff that I want to bring, which is:

  • 5 RACCOON HIDES (BARK-TANNED)
  • NETTLE CORDAGE ROLL
  • CEDAR CORDAGE ROLL
  • HIDE GLUE, PINE PITCH GLUE
  • WILD FIRST AID KIT (DRIED YARROW, COTTONWOOD SALVE, ETC)

I’m setting aside most of the next two months to get all of this done. I’ll be posting here more about my preparations as I work on them. Looking forward to doing more active rewilding and writing a bit more after spending most of last year stuck in a cubicle!