Monday, November 29, 2010

Basket Making

While cruising down my MooseBoots path, I have been fascinated by arts and creative endeavors.  I do not consider myself artistic in the least, but find myself drawn (hee, hee, hee, pun clearly intended) to things like drawing, carving, and ... basket making.  Of course, I don't normally do things the easy way or the "traditional way" of easing into new skills.  I dive right in.

Over the spring and summer, I worked on gathering materials and building skills for making a basket.  Of course, it was and on again, off again project.  Most of the basket itself was made with Aunt Tammy in my thoughts.  I finished the weaving part the day she died, so really there is a lot of her in there.  Over the summer, I found some material for the rim and finished the project.

The basket is made with Iris and Lily leaves and a small piece of cattail cordage in the bottom to hold things together.  The rim is made from a hardwood slat we got from a business in a local industrial park.  The top finish piece and the binding cords are basswood cordage that I twisted myself.  Here are the finished photos of my very first basket.

I find great peace in working artistically, in spite of my clear lack of skill.  I also decided that my baskets would probably come out better with purchased materials that are dimensionally uniform ... of course, if you are here, you know that that is NOT what I am about and it is NOT how I work.  My MooseBoots journey is really about connecting with Nature and the Earth.  As such, I can't think of a better way to gather materials.  Maybe the next one will be a little better.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 6

My Mooseboots path has been so enriched by our weekly Nature Adventure Class.  In addition to learning new skills and getting a chance to spend some quality time with my family, it serves to reinforce the skills that I already have.  There is really no need for a complex lesson plan and break neck speed.  Sometimes, it is just fun to play.  We were also pleasantly surprised to run into an old family friend, who had been attending with her kids on the Tuesday group.
We started out by playing a game.  We picked a "coyote" whose job it was to call out and catch (tag) the other animals as they ran across the field.  Animals caught became trees and helped catch the remaining animals.  The game is fun enough on its own merits, but add a dog who wants to play and take the field boundary markers and you've got a blast.  The kids were laughing.  The adults were laughing, too.  I am not sure who had more fun.  After a few rounds of this quick energy burning game, we went into the woods.

We began by working with our "owl eyes".  We stood in a circle, held our arms out wide to our sides, and wiggled our fingers.  Then, each of us has to tell the other what we could see at the limits of our peripheral vision.  When we were all in the correct frame of mind, we played another game.  This time each person was a squirrel who had to move his acorns from one hoop to another.  Sounds easy, right?  Now, add one "hawk" to catch the squirrels.  Any squirrel caught becomes another hawk ... after a while it is pretty scary being a squirrel.  We all had a great time, again.

It was time to shift into reinforcement mode.  We were all blindfolded and put into a single line.  We were to follow the person in front of us.  One person was chosen to remain un-blindfolded and direct the group to a specific place.  We needed to use our foxwalking skills to keep us safely on the move without anyone getting injured.  It is a bit unnerving following a bunch of kids around blindfolded, but it was an amazing experience.  I really became aware of the extent to which I use my sight ... I guess we all do.  I certainly recommend taking a partner into the woods and trying this.

Next, we gathered and split into three teams.  We were all given 15 seconds to look at some objects and their placement on a blanket.  Then, each team had a few minutes to gather the objects and place them in the same orientation as the original.  Of course, Wendy and I, teamed up with a six year old, and had a blast guide him along.

Afterwards, the natives (anyone under the age of 13) were getting restless.  So, we played a game of "storytelling hide the treasure".  Each of the two teams was given a bandanna and told to hide it.  Then, we reconvened and told a story of how to find our "treasure".  It is interesting to complete the mind shift from a written/recording society mindset to one of an oral tradition.  I have been working on learning some local native legends to start telling them to the girls.  I think this is an important part of reconnecting with the universe and each other.

After the treasures were gathered, we took quick walk to some cattails.  Mike explained that many parts of the plant were edible and showed us several of the parts.  Tom Brown has claimed that there are four plants that are required to survive in most of North America.  That is to say if you know these plants, you can gather enough food to survive.  Cattail is one of the four.  Most of the younger kids, however, were done at this point, so the teenagers and above got a bit of additional teaching.  I also collected a stalk to dry and try as a hand drill.

On the way back out of the woods, we gathered firewood for our weekly fire.  When we got back to the fire pit, the kids built the fire, but did not light it.  I held the one match and was going to light it, but I noticed an interesting exchange going on.  Wendy gave Mike a magnesium fire starter.  He had never used one and so, was trying it out.  Wendy then took out her bow drill.  So, each worked to get the fire going.  I decided to wait.  Not long after, Wendy succeeded with her bow drill and got a fire going.  Mike said he needed some time with the fire starter.

It may not have been the most educational class, but it was fun and helped to reinforce many of the things I already knew.  This MooseBoots journey, as in any process of learning, requires both of these -  fun and reinforcement.  I have been blessed by the universe.  I hope to be able to help guide us, as a society and a world, back into harmony and alignment as a part of nature.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 5

This weekly Nature Adventure class has been a huge boost to my confidence, in knowledge of nature/survival skills, as I travel down this MooseBoots path.  It has affirmed many things for me ... I know a lot more than I believe, time spent with my family is hugely rewarding, time spent in nature is incredibly healing, etc.  It has also highlighted a few things ... knowledge unapplied is not really worth much, I need to slow down and really experience things, I need to work at being more aware, etc.

As it was a cool, rainy day, we met inside.  Many of the families did not even show up.  So, the group, small as it was, met and continued working on the skills we are honing.  I have noted that a large part of the focus for this group is awareness building.  As such, we began by playing a few games.  In the first, we joined hands.  The catch was that one the circle of hands, we had two hula hoops.  The game was one of squirrel and fisher.  The squirrel tried to keep away from the fisher.  The fisher tried to eat the squirrel.  So, each hula hoop was passed from person to person.  Or, each person had to pass through the hula hoop to move it in one direction or the other.  There is nothing so fun(ny) as squeezing 40 year old bodies through hula hoops while linking hands.  The amazing part, the unschooling part, is that we all laughed and completely forgot about the fact that we were developing our observation skills.  I found that I innately monitored the position of the hoops without effort.  The kids had a great time, too.  By the way, I any of you is interested in these games, Maine Primitive Skills School has published a book, The Invisible School: Playing Hard and Growing Smart , that contains many of them and much more.

After a few rounds, we switched the game.  We ditched the hula hoops, stopped holding hands, and played with a red bandana (squirrel) and two blue bandanas (fishers).  It really increases the pace of the game to have to monitor two fishers.  Luckily, squirrels can jump (throw across the circle) or walk (pass from hand to hand), but fishers must walk.  Somtimes, fishers, or kids holding fishers, forget that they can not jump.  The game, as they all do, really engages the kids and allows them to be aware without trying to be.

After all the fun, we stopped to unwind.  No ... literally, to unwind.  We were given bits of twine to un-twist back into fibers.  These fibers were all placed in a great heap on the floor.  As we finished what we had been given, we were given more.  It was like making cordage in reverse.  It told the kids that we were probablky going to have to re-assemble the strings later.

We moved on to our next awareness game.  Each of us was blindfolded and led to a room.  In this room was a "path" of blankets on the floor.  We were to follow the blankets and identify/memorize as many of the objects on the blankets as we could using only our hands to "see".  Then, we were to return to the other room and draw each object on a peice of paper.  Again, those young spongy minds were quick, but older minds are better at details ... he he he.  As we each played the game, the other continued unwinding.  Then, we reviewed the items as a group.  No winning, no losing. 
The highlight of the class, in my opinions, was the bow drill work.  Mike had brought a number of bow drill sets with him for us to work with.  After we moved to the garage, we were instructed and then we drilled.  Wendy showed amazing skill ... on her first attempt with the bow drill, she got a coal.  But, it was small and went out.  Then, she got another and another.  Finally, she chucked the coal into a bundle of twine fiber and made a fire.  Somewhere along the way, we lost all of the kids but one, Big Little Sister.  So, we adults and teenager worked each trying to make a fire.  I succeeded too.  It was amazing.  In recognition of our success with the bow drills, Mike broke out the hand drill.  He, Wendy, and I worked on team hand-drilling and succeeded in starting a fire with a mullein stalk and cedar fire board.

I experience such a sense of fullness and contentment after each class.  This is the barometer by which I measure the value of the steps I take on this MooseBoots journey.  Unfortunately, this particular class was only scheduled for 7 weeks and is winding down.  Fortunately, there seems to be a bit of interest in continuing on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.  This activity, and those similar, keep me grounded in reality and really help me appreciate the good things life has to offer.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Do You Smell Smoke ....

Some times this MooseBoots path takes an amusing turn.  I often bumble my way along and stumble knee-deep into something ... often not something you want to be knee-deep in.  Regardless, Wendy and I laugh an we move on.  Sometimes, I'm not sure she isn't laughing at me, but ....

I have been searching for the fabled Chaga Mushroom.  I have heard from numerous sources that it was used by native people to carry a coal to start a fire.  Placing a coal in it will start it smoldering.  It will smolder that way for long periods of time ... hours even.  You can see the obvious benefit of knowing this plant, if you were in the woods and moving your camp long distances.  I have also been told that the place is packed with antioxidants and is a great tea.

I know that it typically grows on birch trees.  That sounds like a great place to start.  So, each time I go in the woods, I look.  Nothing .... Where are they?  I notice that on dead birch there are lots of Horse Hoof Mushrooms.  So, I started looking primarily at dead trees ... fungus grow on dead trees ... seems valid.  Frustrated, I returned home each time empty handed.  It seems that the Horse Hoof is used for the same things, so I did bring one home and  try to put a coal into it ... nothing, maybe it needs to dry.

Last weekend, I went to a workshop on Northern European Shamanism, which was great.  I had the opportunity to wander the grounds of the Gilsland Farm center during a lunch break.  As I wandered, I noticed on a LIVING birch a small growth of Chaga, which I quickly, and respectfully, gathered.  When I got home, I showed Wendy my prize.  I lit one chunk.  It didn't seem to take ... maybe it needed to dry, so I placed it on the wood stove.  This was at say 18:00.  Then, we continued our evening.  The girls had some friends over for the night and they giggled the night away and watched zombie movies.

Wendy and I were going to bed at about 23:00.  Then, she sat bolt upright.  "Do you smell smoke?", she queried.  No, I did not, until she went to investigate ... what are those girls doing?  Several moments later she returned.  "What was it?", I asked.  "YOUR mushroom!"  What?!  It worked?  "What did you do with it?", I asked excitedly.  "I threw it in the fire."  I guess that is where it belonged.

So, I laughed at, and to, myself and drifted off to sleep with a new nugget of wisdom.  I figured if I don't laugh at myself, someone is going to.  The sheer volume of knowledge, plant lore, and wisdom our native brethren had never ceases to amaze me.  It is humbling to know that I have so much more to learn on this MooseBoots journey.  Of course, it helps to know that there is joy and comfort along the way.