"Survival" Week

On Monday, mere minutes after we've hiked in to our chosen shelter location, I find myself experiencing a rush of anxiety. I've been navigating increasing irritation for an hour. I recognize the upsurge, now, that feeling where I want to snap at someone. I have control. I express to the group that I'm feeling the pressure to choose a location and get our shelter construction under way; that my judgement as far as site selection goes is compromised. Someone tries to help me--he points out that, without rain in the immediate forecast, with the temperature as it is, finishing the shelter is not a matter of life or death.

Photo taken by See at week’s end. I’m about to eat a real breakfast for the first time in five days.

Read More

Drinking in White River

Tuesday afternoon while out wandering the landscape, bow in hand, Grey sees a bear. We follow him down the road a couple hours later to look at the tracks. Bears have opposite feet--their big toes are on the outside of the foot. This fascinates me. I plot my diagonal summer camp walking plans. Are my bare feet big enough to look like bear feet? Worth a try.

Read More


As we kneel down to talk about plants--Dandelion, Cow Parsnip, Bracken fern, Stinging Nettle--Claire teaches us about how to harvest sustainably. We take one leaf or bunch in ten, one root from a plant that grows in bunches. She explains how to look at the entire ecology of an area and decide whether it's possible to harvest. Are there heavy metals or contaminants in the air or soil? How many plants are in a given area? What else depends on the plant to survive? Will harvesting make it impossible for the plant to replicate? Is this plant native or an invasive species? What else do we want to grow in this space? How much of this plant do we need right now?

Stinging Nettle before being sliced into a pesto. Photo by See.

Read More

Mad, Mad Month

But I sit with some of the folks who are at the flit knap, old timers with 30 years of experience knocking rocks around. They are patient, thoughtful. We sit around a smoky fire, glass rock shards in a riot of color scattered in piles everywhere, under an aging Juniper tree. The blue berries reflect the clear blue sky; blue on blue that we've missed west of the Cascades.

Photo taken by Reverend Blue Sky.

Read More


I've cheated, a little, let Grey go to work on this project. He did in two hours what would take me two weeks. But for the most part, the eight hundred hours of rasping and draw-knife work it takes to take an Osage Orange stave down to a bow have been mine. I exaggerate. Slightly.

I'm approaching the end, now--both of the bow, and of this class. At Skills Night on Thursday I spend most of two hours turning 15 pieces of Dacron into a bow string. I need to bend the bow, figure out where I have to reduce certain segments of it just a little bit. Scrape or sand those places. Negotiate with Grey about whether I need to do more rasping (Answer: No). Cut in an arrow rest, if I can, so I don't bleed all over the wood. But the bow looks done to my amateur eye; it looks like I could string it and fire it right now. The work that remains is subtle, particular, patient. Every part of the process of creation has taxed me, but this last bit looks like it will cost me the most. Patience isn't really my jam.

Photo taken by Cameron MacPhail at Eel Creek earlier this year.

Read More


We discuss why I think the bird might have been startled. We consider the behavior of other birds we have seen that morning; how they pop up from the ground and land on a tree limb above us, but do not flee before us as we walk. They are used to people in this area. They do not seem scared of us, just cautious.  I mention that my interpretation has much of myself in it. This is new; this kind of tracking is deep. Much deeper than counting toes and looking for claw marks. Much has changed since September.

Read More

Rite of Passage

But this Tuesday is different. "Follow me, Gentlemen." And the men pick themselves up from their post-lunch reverie and follow. This is not a serious ask--we are moving some pieces of wood a few hundred feet, dropping it off at the location where I will spend 36 hours--Tuesday night to Thursday morning. I have spent a half day sawing away at a fallen Big Leaf Maple tree, processing it to be used in my overnight sit-spot. The wood is, for the most part, already bundled and ready to be carried. Still. I do not hesitate to assert myself. They do not hesitate to follow. 

Photo taken by Cameron MacPhail during a trip to Eel Creek earlier in the year.

Read More

Walk On

We've spent the day burrowing into a snowbank, four little rabbit warrens against the bulk of Mount Hood. We piled up the snow all day, tamping it down with our snowshoes, with ourselves--flinging our whole bodies on top of the mounds to compress and sinter the snow. We dug into our mounds, excavating the snow inside and piling it on top, then built shelves along the sides and covered those in fir boughs.  We have little shelves for our candles, air holes, a wall to block the entrance from wind, the works. We have only one casualty--a broken shovel. I hang up my snow-encrusted wool poncho to block the door entrance. Testing out our little hidey hole in the afternoon, still warm from the exertion of construction, it seems stable enough, and almost cozy. My partner crawls inside and disappears for twenty minutes, recovering from the expenditure of building the thing.

Photo taken by Reverend Blue Sky.

Read More

Come for the Skills, stay for the Ego Death

My spindle goes flying out in a random direction and, in the resulting loss of leverage, I crack myself in the head with the stick I'm holding in my left hand. I sit down with a thump, eyes watering, glasses akimbo. Smoke pours off my spindle and board, sweat drips down the small of my back, but as of yet--no coal.

"It's just so easy, isn't it? Like all the skills we've learned this year." Cameron smirks a little at me, his own lack of success evident as he packs up his bow-drill kit, minus a coal. Cameron knows this magic, though. He earned himself a couple of coals the week before. Still, this work is humbling. He might have turned the trick once or twice, but he hasn't achieved consistency--yet.

Photo taken by See at Oaks Bottom.

Read More

An Inconvenient Hat

Mount Hood. Little slurpy snowflakes. Wind ripping into the back of my neck, into every crease and fold in my jacket, dancing in the Douglas fir trees, which, in turn, send down cascades of snowy fluff from overladen upper boughs. It's beautiful, it's amazing (YOU GUYS, I'M ON A SNOW-ENCRUSTED VOLCANO!), and everyone I'm with just wants to get back in the van and sip hot cocoa and play with their phones.

I'm surrounded by a half dozen or so young people and a couple of instructors. The youngsters are participants in this cross-country skiing day trip with Adventures Without Limits, a non-for-profit that provides wilderness recreation opportunities for under-served populations.

Photo taken by Claire.

Read More


Sometimes we bring a lot of our outside lives into the woods. Sometimes, we get lucky enough to work through those challenges there. And sometimes, we're even smart enough to leave that stuff out in the woods, buried under a tree, so that all the things we carry* can absorb back into the great, green, glowing sphere of life instead of pushing us down into grief and misery.

Photo taken a very long time ago, somewhere in the Beartooths, probably by Rebecca Williams.

Read More


Everyone else has tripped off to a little patch of woods somewhere, bow drill kit in hand, to find a place they want to be in for a solo overnight under a tarp shelter. Grey, after our feedback last week, has decided that he needs to create the need for us to learn bow drill. This skill was introduced early on, but only one student has repeated the magic trick more than once and gone from coal to fire. I myself have trouble making smoke, let alone a coal. Hence, a solo day and a night where we tend a fire through that 24 hour period. And not eat, apparently.

Photo taken by Morgan Spalding on a personal snowboarding trip to Mt Hood.

Read More

Kami in the Rain

As the minutes tick down, we shed layers and huddle around a roaring fire. I slip on a home-made linen shift, the only torso covering I have that isn't my wool long underwear or a sweater. The men stand barefoot, or booted, otherwise clad only in brightly colored boxer shorts. I wonder if they brought these ridiculous shorts intentionally, expecting a cold plunge to be part of the experience somehow. Grey has been repeating "Polar Plunge?" in a joking way for at least two days. I'm not sure he actually expected us to take him up on it.

Read More

Ignition Smith

I pulled some black crud out of my ear a few minutes ago. My right forearm aches. My right thumb sports a blister that's becoming a callus. The first three fingers of my left hand are enshrouded in bandages from where I grabbed my own hot tongs earlier (douse your tools before you go to put them away, ok kids?). I'm roasted, dehydrated, and sore. I'm ecstatic.

Photo taken by Laura.

Read More

Bow Down

Some weeks ago, our little group lined up at Trackers HQ, beanies pulled down over our faces. Grey is fond of blindfolds, and usually when we gamely agree to shut our eyes and be led around we're in for something...entertaining. This time, he led us by the elbow to a mixed selection of bow staves propped up against the wall near the archery range. Each of us individually selected our own stave--a six or seven foot tall, six inch thick rectangular cube sawed out of a larger tree trunk.

Read More