I was listening to Bonobo’s newest album ‘North Borders’ as I started to write this, so I thought ya’ll might want to listen to it as you read, too. I made a set of three of my favorite songs from the album on SoundCloud, so just click the play button and enjoy 🙂
Last Wednesday I began my apprenticeship at the Maine Primitive Skills School and a new chapter of the story of my life. I arrived in the early afternoon around 1 p.m. and was greeted by a few of the other apprentices who were in the midst of having lunch. Jay, (or Dirty Jay, as he’s called) one of the apprentices, was kind enough to give me a tour of the grounds and tell me a bit about the school. He took me around the trails within the roughly 23 acres of land owned my Mike (who runs the school) and showed me the various living quarters and activity areas. Right now I believe there is one tipi, a yurt, the recently erected “Earth Lodge” (I think the design was based off a Cree shelter but don’t quote me on that), a shelter called something Yeti something-or-other, and a couple other shelters which I haven’t explored too closely yet. Since all the cool shelters were currently occupied by other apprentices, I chose to just sleep in my tent like some of the other apprentices do. There’s also some bunk-beds above the main classroom for folks to sleep in if they don’t want to sleep outdoors, but after sleeping indoors for so long I was hankering to catch some Z’s under the stars.
After putting my food in the fridge I joined everyone in the outdoor classroom area. People had been preparing carefully selected recently felled balsam fir trees to use as poles for a new tipi for Angie, an apprentice from England. We were joined by Grandfather Ray after lunch. I’m not entirely clear on his background, but he’s an older feller in his 70’s who I believe was either raised or was just extensively instructed by some elders of one of the tribal nations in Maine. I guess he’s been practicing primitive skills for pretty much his whole life or close to it. We sat in a circle while he shared some of his wisdom with us. I don’t entirely remember all that he said, but I remember it had to do with focus, community goals and ambitions and other things. While listening to him I got a sense that he has a lot of wisdom to share not only pertaining to primitive skills but life in general. I have a tendency when interacting with people to pay attention not so much to the words coming out of their mouth but rather their body language and physical expression, especially when I don’t know them well (needless to say this makes learning through verbal instruction a bit of a slow process for me sometimes..). I got the sense that he is a very happy feller with a profound respect and love for Mother Nature. Laughter came very easily for him and the way he patted the ground when referencing Mother Nature was very cool, I thought. I wasn’t sure quite what to make of everything at first, but looking back now I think listening to him was a great introduction to this whole experience. “The universe tends to unfold as it should…”
After that I helped some of the others prepare the tipi poles by stripping the bark and branches off them. Angie and Goatie-Jay were preparing dinner so I helped them out by washing the dirty dishes in the sink. Mostly I was just chatting and getting to know the other apprentices at this point. Dinner that night was veggie shepherd’s pie which I politely declined in favor of a paleo meal I made myself. I was hesitant to decline at first since I didn’t want to be rude, but they were very understanding since it’s not uncommon to accommodate odd dietary habits here I was told.
After dinner we had a “Check-In” which basically consists of everyone taking turns sharing where they’re at with the various skills we were learning and what direction we wanted to go with them this week. It was approaching probably around 10 by the time my turn to speak came around, so I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic but I introduced myself and shared a bit about where I was coming from, namely my passion for movement and MovNat, but also my love for music and nature. We each made a list of the skills we wanted to concentrate on that week on the chalk board and then collectively chose those which appeared most frequently as the skills we would focus on. I get the feeling this doesn’t necessarily happen for every class, but since this was the “Advanced Skills” class there was a bit more flexibility with what was on the itinerary.
We awoke early the next morning (I got up around 7 I think) and after people had time to have breakfast and coffee/tea we formed a circle in in open patch of grass next to the garden. There we went through a series of movements involving all of the body’s joints as a way of sort of waking up the body and mind – I don’t remember what movement style the movements came from unfortunately. Basically we moved each joint through it’s full range of motion — great stuff.
After that we played a really cool “Scout Game” where we split up into groups of 3 or 4 and went off into different parts of the woods. I was grouped together with the other two “movement guys” – Mike (the apprentice, not the Mike who runs the school) and Goatie-Jay. They’re both passionate about movement like me and I’m not entirely clear on their backgrounds in that regard, but I think that Goatie-Jay has done Brazilian jui-jitsu quite a bit. The idea of the game was to move through the woods without touching the forest floor by only stepping on logs, rocks, roots, etc. We then took turns playing follow-the-leader adhering to the aforementioned rule. The idea was to move slowly and stealthily in attempt to sneak up on the other groups. I was super happy that we were doing this because it has a lot of MovNatty elements – crawling on logs, jumping to rocks/logs/stumps, stepping over/under branches, weaving around obstacles, clinging to small trees and transferring to others nearby, etc.; really fun stuff! It was a bit of a blending of yoga, MovNat, and meditation I thought because of the slow, mindful nature of the game and the careful attention to body, breath, and environment that was necessary. After we each took a turn leading and following each other Mike (the head of the school) blew his conch shell (yeah, that’s how he communicates to everyone from afar, usually to summon people together) indicating that we were to try to find the other groups while remaining undetected ourselves. I think my group did a really good job being stealthy while adhering to the game’s rule, but unfortunately Star, one of the apprentice’s dogs, was following us around the whole time and surprisingly she wasn’t too concerned with being quiet so the other groups easily knew where we were. That wasn’t a big deal, though; it was still a lot of fun trying to sneak up on the other groups. After that we met up in the classroom and took turns sharing our thoughts about the game after writing them down in our personal journals.
Alright. Well, blogging about my experience at MPSS this summer/year won’t be as thorough and consistent as I first thought it might. Whenever there’s a class going on I basically have no free time besides cooking/eating and the occasional naps. I’ll do my best to cover the parts that I remember well enough and I feel are worth mentioning.
Being that the Advanced Skills course was two weeks ago now, I’m going to just go over the highlights of it which I still remember. Let’s see… for a few afternoons we spent making our own bows from various types of trees. People mostly used White Ash because it’s easier to work with, but doesn’t make a bow that lasts quite as long as some other trees. Medium sized ash trees had been cut in half length-wise and then split in half again. I took my quarter and trimmed it down to my arm-span length and then proceeded to use a hatchet to slim it down to about 1.5 inches thick. That was my first time really using a hatchet so I had to focus a lot on holding it correctly and striking it appropriately. Needless to say I didn’t have the best form and my forearms were toastacles after working at it for a little while. On the plus side it’s a great forearm workout.. I made some good progress on my bow but I still have quite a lot of time to put into it before it’s complete. My goal is to have it done by the end of the summer or before. I’m definitely pumped at the prospect of having a legitimate bow which I made in my possession, though!
On top of that we had a Drum Stalk around dusk one night which was incredible! It was raining pretty steadily during it, which made is especially cool. We were lead down a path on the school property and placed about 10-20 feet apart from one another. We then put on blindfolds and waited for the sound of a drum-beat in the distance. I then stepped off the trail and made my way into the forest toward the sound of the drum. I was barefoot so I sort of stalked my way through the brush feeling my way with my feet, but also using my hands to feel for trees and branches. I was pretty calm for most of it, but there was one point where I reached a particularly thick patch of balsam firs which I couldn’t really get through which was a bit frustrating at first, but then I took a second to calm down and found a way around them. It was really cool having to rely predominately on my sense of touch and sound to traverse through the woods without being able to see. I didn’t have much trouble entering a state of flow where it felt like I was almost swimming between the bushes in trees, pushing them aside as I went and weaving around and under them as necessary. When I was getting near the drum it felt like I was right on top of it, but continued to walk closer and closer until I received a tap on my shoulder by the drummer. I took off my bandanna and a big smile came upon my face as I saw Mike with his drum. He pointed down the trail indicating I should go “journal” my experience, so I ran back to the classroom and wrote down what I wanted to. We then shared our experiences together afterwords. It was a very cool experience for sure.
*** I figured I’d break this and probably other posts about my apprenticeship into segments so that people don’t fall asleep reading gigantic ones all at once, and also because I can only sit still to write on this thing for so long.. In other words, I’ll be editing this post with the rest of my experience during my first course at the MPSS — Stay tuned! ***