Category Archives: Rewilding

Rewilding 101

 

In our every day lives of texting, Twitter, Instagram and Angry Birds, we often don’t take the time to peel our eyes away from our iPhones and notice the amazing natural world around us.

The modern media tends to over-dramatize being a part of your natural environment as a major effort. While mother nature can have a harsh side, you don’t have to run around naked eating bugs to help reconnect yourself to your wild side (unless you really want to!).  Start with some of these easy steps and I pretty much guarantee that you’ll find yourself thirsting for more of the great outdoors.

  1. Stargazing– long ago, the patterns of nature used to be the source of our stories- and our nightly entertainment. From Orion, the giant huntsman whom Zeus placed among the stars, to the Casseopia, the queen of the night sky, their sagas have been slowly replaced by “Breaking Bad” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”.

Take a night to return to your roots. Get a hold of a book to help you identify the constellations. Then head out with a pile of comfy blankets and pillows to the back yard. Lay back and let your eyes wander amongst the stories of the heroes and villans of old, or challenge your family to come up with their own constellations, along with their unique sagas. (Although, from experience, this can get silly fast!)

  1. Firelit night. Use only candle or firelight after dark and give yourself the dual gift of a digital detox and a uniquely bonding experience with your loved ones. There’s nothing like gathering around the warm glow of a fire with your tribe of friends and loved ones.  As the warmth pulls you in closer, coversations flow more freely around a flickering flame, stories grow more meaningful and life seems somehow more real. (No, you are not weird for not having the TV buring bright holes in your retina like all your neighbors.) The campfire has been the most popular “Late Show” in human existence! (And, as a nerdy bonus, the red spectrum light from a fire doesn’t interfere with your production of the sleep hormone melatonin like bright electric light and mess with your stress, blood sugar and other hormone levels throughout the next day.)
  1. Gardening, Hunting and Gathering. Age old skills like fishing, hunting, wild food gathering and gardening are at the heart of what has made us human.

Which skill would you rather pass on to the next generation- stalking the gleaming grocery aisle and heating up the perfect package of Hamburger Helper, or knowing where and how to look for the fish in a river, or when to plant, how to nourish and harvest the perfectly ripened tomato or head of corn? Yoir kids should recognize what an actual potato plant looks like and know that trout doesn’t swim in prepackaged in plastic. Just because your parents didnt teach you doesn’t mean that you can’t learn and pass it on.

Don’t know where to start? As part of the rewilding rennaisance there are a bevy of amazing courses, meetups, clubs and gatherings that focus on helping you gain or improve traditional “primitive” and survival skills. This can be a good way to help yourself gain confidence in and reconnect with your natural skills.  Somewhat ironically, you can find most of these resources by doing a quick online search for that particular skill.

There are thousands more ways to reconnect with nature at home- we’ve barely scratched the surface. Take a moment to wake yourself from your digital daze and appreciate the natural world that surrounds you every day.  Not only will you come closer to your natural roots, but along the way you may discover a deeper connection with the loved ones and friends you share these experiences with.

Guided By Nature

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Finding your way in the woods without a map or compass can be a daunting task, yet our ancestors travelled their wild world, sometimes hundreds of miles on foot, without a breaking a sweat… How the heck did they do it??

Being guided by nature is based in reading the subtle patterns in nature that modern domesticated humans normally ignore. The directions of the world are worn into the very rocks, reflected in the undergrowth leaves reaching towards the sun and in the gnarled branches of trees twisting their way to the sky. Our ancestors could read these natural patterns as easily as you read a street sign, guiding them to their destinations and back again.

So how do we (re)train ourselves in this ancient human skill? There is no one fail safe, true in every location “trick” to natural navigation. Finding your way naturally relies on understanding of the larger natural patterns of the area you live in- the amount and direction of light, prevailing wind(s), level of moisture… These cumulative forces cause subtle asymmetries that you can learn to interpret. In short, you must spend time out in nature, observing and interacting.

Here are some handful of rough directional patterns to get you started:

1. “Into the light”. In an effect known as Heliotropism many plants orient themselves towards the greatest source of light. In our forest one of the more sensitive (and obvious) Heliotropic flora would be our lovely fiddlehead ferns. Ferns in direct sun will tend to orient much of their growth southwards to catch the most light. Note: make sure to look for obstacles to light that can change the fern’s orientation. Under heavy tree cover, heliotropic plants will orient towards the nearest bright opening in the canopy, no matter what direction it is. Open meadows may be your best bet.

2. Look for a tree’s “Heavy Side”. Lone Trees tend to be “heavier” with more leaves and branches to the south side (in our northern hemisphere) in order to catch more of the life giving sun. Take the time to walk around the tree and view it from multiple angles. Note: this effect can be muted or overridden in a grouping of trees as their shadows interact with each other.

3. Branching out. Sunlight also directs the growth of individual branches. Southern branches tend to grow more horizontally (towards the sun), while the shaded northern branches tend to grow more vertically in their quest for more sunlight. This can be most easily seen when observing the tree from East/West. Once again, individual trees are easier to read than groves.

4. Moss and moisture. Isn’t moss supposed to grow on the north side of trees? Yes, but… for the record, moss does not always grow just on the north side of trees. Where moss grows depends mainly on the level of moisture, and this is not always on the north side. Also, disregard growth in the first 2 feet up from the ground around the trunk – which tends to be influenced by the evaporating ground moisture.

Interested in exploring this further? For an engaging guide to these skills look for Tristan Gooley’s book “The Natural Navigator”. There are hundreds (possibly thousands) of more tips to explore and many more of your own to discover as you go out and start looking for your own patterns in nature.

(NOTE: This does not give you an excuse to go out into unfamiliar territory without a map!)

Happy navigating!

A Wall of Green

If you’re like most of the populace, many of your trips into nature are characterized by toiling up a dusty path through an unidentifiable and somehow vaguely unsettling corridor of green.

Sadly, most domesticated humans have an appalling lack of understanding of their vegetal surroundings and may even feel threatened by their leafy neighbors. (“Is that thing poisonous???”) Even worse, we often pass down this ignorance (and fear) to our kids.

Want to end this environmental ignorance and help your little ones learn to relate to our photosynthesizing friends in an entirely new way? Well then, it’s time for you to get to know your wild green neighbors!
well informed nature walk can be one of the best ways to help your kids (and yourself) get to know the residents of your natural neighborhood. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your trip.
 
1. Knowledge is power! Take the time before you go to learn about your green neighbors. There are an amazing amount of resources out there- from Wikipedia, to books on local flora (check the library or Amazon), to meetup groups and outdoor schools with naturalist and wild foods walks.
 
2. Ask the right questions. With so much information out there it can seem overwhelming to boil it down.  Here are some good questions to get you started in understanding a plants’ place in his ecosystem:
-Where does your plant like to live? (And why?)
-Who are his usual neighbors?
-Who likes to eat or use him?
-(How) does he defend himself?
-How does he change throughout the year? (Flowers, fruiting, growth, deciduous…?)
-How have we humans interacted with (and depended upon) him over the millennia? (medicinal uses, food prep, as building or clothing materials…)
-What are his key identifying characteristics?
3. People remember (and respect) people. When working with young kids I’d recommend initially skipping the Latin names and instead focus on helping them to see the plants as separate people with different abilities, complex personalities (not all good or bad), and likes/dislikes.
Talking with my 4 year old niece might sound a little like this: “Miss Blackberry can be really prickly -if you move too fast around her she’ll scratch you with her thorns.  She likes to live with her feet in the water and take deep drinks so that she can make extra juicy berries.” 
 
4.  Respect plants’ boundaries (and protect yourself). Make sure your kids learn not to touch or taste without knowing “who” the plant is and what his temperament is.  Most plants have defenses to be aware of.
“Mr. Stinging Nettle’s hypodermic hairs sting invaders with painful, itchy toxins to keep animals (and you) from eating too much of his really nutritious leaves.”
Help your kids to understand that plant defenses are part of the natural environment -these plants are not “bad” for defending themselves, they’re just trying to take care of themselves.
5. Avoid black and white views. Describing a plant as all “good” or “bad”gets in the way of understanding the plant’s role in its neighborhood (ecosystem).  These “difficult” plants often also have a bounty of benefits- for you and for their green neighbors.
“Mr. Nettle can provide a whole bunch of nutrients- collect his newest leaves carefully with gloves, and cook them long enough to deactivate his sting- and you will get a really yummy green.”
So get out there and explore! Understanding a plants’ complex role in its natural neighborhood, and our relationship to it- helps your child begin to see themselves as a part of their natural world, not separate from their green neighbors.

Getting Unplugged

Connect with nature, Cure Nature Deficit disorder

“People are meant to connect with natural places. It is good for the human soul for people to explore their relationship with the places where they live.”

There was a time not too long ago that I felt more connected to my iphone than to the wilderness. At work I spent my time on the phone providing tech support, or hunched over my computer keyboard designing logos for hours on end until my neck and back were on fire with pain. My obsession with my TV shows, tech gizmos, and structured “play” activities made it harder for me to truly allow for free time. Something was always demanding my attention, distracting me, offering the promise of cheap, quick and effortless entertainment.

Connected

I grew up in a different world. I was three when we moved back to the family ranch. We had no TV. I spent my days outside. I played as much with sticks and stones as plastic toys. I knew only knew about town life from short resupply trips.

We were always outdoors. My older brother and I built dams in the stream near the house; making our own swimming holes- then destroying them a few days later just to watch the swirling power of the water take everything away. We climbed the oaks for lookout posts, built forts in the trees and bunkers in the brush. It made me feel proud that we had made these things together. We had built them ourselves. They were somehow ours in a way that things simply given to us were not.

I was always in touch with and learning about the world around me. My father took me out and showed me the local snakes, animal tracks and scat. He told me how to tell them apart by what they ate, how they moved and how their lives (and ours) followed the seasons. I learned to look before I placed my foot, watching the ground and surrounding brush carefully for threats. I learned to respect my environment in its power and beauty. I felt connected.

In Girl Scouts we would stagger up the trail under the weight of old fashioned tents on multi-day camping trips. We were often short a tent and I discovered I loved sleeping outside under the stars. The cold wind would bite my cheeks as I stared at the night sky. I remember my first view of the stars from the mountains up near Idyllwild. The Milky Way was a brilliant white splash. I would lay awake for what seemed like hours making up my own constellations.

I felt like I was part of something bigger. Like I had a purpose.

The Disconnect

As a child I had run free with a light heart and an inquisitive mind. My relationship with nature as a young adult became gradually more structured and constrained. Although I never completely stopped my outdoor activites, they took on a different tenor. With my new University and then job obligations I felt I had to make an effort to spend time in nature. Living in the city, it seemed all so far away and harder to get to – any outing had to be planned- and it seemed I never had the time.

I rarely approached my now brief journeys into the wilderness with the same completely open and accepting attitude I had as a child. I had learned the ways of modern distraction. I was often thinking of the other things I had to do. I filtered my experience through my camera, by listening to music, by looking for connectivity with my “smart” phone to check my email.

It took me a while to realize that most of the barriers that kept me from connecting with my wilderness were of my own making. I had made the choice to make these limitations and barriers part of my life- and I also could make the choice to let them go.

Home Again

In the last couple of years I’ve looked back on my childhood relationship with the wilderness and resolved to restore our free and easy bond. Finding ways to connect despite my busy life have been key. Working with the Forest Service as a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger, with Search and Rescue and the Sierra Club as a WTC intstuctor have been critical to reconnecting me with my love of nature, with my love of life itself.

I believe that a life without a connection to nature becomes more sterile, somehow blander. It robs you of basic skills of self-reliance, creativity, spirituality, of a feeling of connectedness with the cycles of life.

Away from the easy distractions of technology you not only can, but are forced to hear the ebb and their flow of your own thoughts and become comfortable with them. Without this inner ear you are likely to become disconnected from your own sense of self and goals in life. You are more likely to float on the surface of life and less likely to truly live.