Ancient Skills for Today's World

  • 13Would you like to experience the excitement that comes from starting a fire using nothing but sticks?
  • Are you intrigued by the possibility of reading stories in the tracks that animals leave upon the face of the earth?
  • If you knew which plants were edible and which could heal a bee sting, would you feel more comfortable on your next nature outing?
  • Would you like to learn to quiet yourself and to become more aware of wildlife around you?
  • Could your outdoor confidence use a boost by knowing that you could find fire, water, shelter and food in almost any environment?
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These are some of the things that MEDICINE HAWK teaches in our weekend workshops - these skills and an overriding respect for the earth as our teacher.

Our programs are risk-free, informative, beneficial, and fun. Our faculty consists of women and men who truly enjoy and respect the natural world, who continually hone their skills, and who are very able and willing to share their knowledge with all who are interested. Though you will learn skills that can save your life, we are not a "survival school." All meals and snacks are provided. You will not eat bugs nor sleep in trees. But you will learn to reconnect to the natural world.

If you are interested in the natural world and your relationship to it, we invite you to join us. No matter what your decision, may all your trails be smooth and your adventures exciting.

“Thank you for providing invaluable information!”

“Hi Ron,

I just read this story about a dad and two sons who died while on a short hike. I thought of you and what you and your crew do to educate old and young alike to keep us all a bit safer while enjoying the outdoors. Thank you for your efforts – the importance of what you do is immeasureable.”

[Email from a home-school mom who attended one of our “What 2 Know B4 You Go!” workshops with her son; her son and her husband later attended several of our Ancient Skills weekend workshops.]

Library group reconnects with Ancient Skills

An enthusiastic group of young folks and adults from the Evergreen Park Public Library spent several hous on Saturday reconnecting with the skills of their ancestors. Our “Gifts of the Earth” workshop focused on respect for the Natural World, and debunked the idea that fighting wilderness is the only way to survive.

The participants constructed the skeleton of a primitive shelter using nothing but forest debris. They then learrned the safe and not-so-safe sources of natural drinking water. From natural plant material they made individual tinder bundles that were later combined and placed at the base of a model tipi fire assembled by the kids. The fire was not lit because of drought conditions in the preserve. But the audience did experience the thrill of seeing a primitive bowdrill ignite a small bundle of tinder; the tinder burst into flame in the hands of an instructor and was immediately extinguished in a metal container.

The 2-hour program was laced with some helpful “survival” tips and the audience seemed appreciative of not only the content but also the pace of the workshop.

Ancient Skills Workshop

This past weekend (June 8-10) we hosted what we instructors thought was one of the best workshops we have ever presented. We had students ranging in age from one 10 year-old and one 12 year-old who came with their dads to an “older” dad who was joined by three adult family members. The entire group came eager to learn and remained enthused, energized, and engaged throughout the entire weekend. They simply could not get enough instruction.

They became aware of their potential as individuals during the early “lesson of the oranges”; then came to respect their place in the Natural World through the recognition of “concentric rings”; later they honed their awareness skills while practicing splatter vision, fox walking, and solving the mystery of the “bones on the floor”; and finally learned practical skills such as shelter building, making cordage, fire by friction, making bowls, water gathering, and animal tracking. The throwing stick competition brought howls of laughter as three teams attempted to take down “dinner” (small targets) for an imaginary survival meal. The “dinner”, of course, was imaginary because the quantity and quality of the food provided by YMCA Camp Minikani left no one hungry.

One of the students asked Ron on Sunday morning, “Why aren’t there 500 students here? This [class] is terrific!”

Ron couldn’t answer that, but maybe one of you reading this will be the first of the next 500.

13 June 2012:
We just received the following email from the father of our 10 year-old student:

“Thank you again for a great weekend and an experience on which Sam and I will
continue to build. Sam was a little hesitant at first, but once he got into it, he
really enjoyed it. In fact, he leaned over to me on Saturday and told me ‘the bow
drill is awesome!’ Mission accomplished.”

[Signed: Sam’s Dad]

An ancient skill isn’t all that you learn!

We received a note today from the mother of a young teen who has attended two of our Ancient Skills workshops with his dad. The young man had just completed a hand-made wooden spoon he had begun crafting from a scrap of wood, a hot coal, and a sharp stone around our campfire last fall.

His mom said the spoon was “amazing” and that her son wanted to attend yet another class this coming fall. She then added her thanks to us:

“Thank you- the impact of what you do continues to influence a young boy who’s discovering who he is and what life is about!”

What 2 Know B4 You Go!

To prepare their scouts for an upcoming campout at Starved Rock State Park, the leaders of Cub Pack 65 from River Forest, Illinois asked us to present our “What 2 Know B4 You Go!” program at their monthly pack meetings. Because of time constraints we had to split the presentation into two parts–the March meeting dedicated to our true-life stories and April dedicated to solving the “survival situation” we had presented with emphasis on shelter, water, and fire. We finished the evening with our list of 6 essential items for a personal survival kit.

The scouts were particularly attentive to the stories we told. They participated enthusiastically in the shelter-building demonstration. And they watched excitedly as Ron generated a hot coal from a primitive bow drill and blew it into “life” in a bundle of tinder made by the boys.

A good time was had by all and the comments after the program indicated that some “terrific information [was] passed along to the boys”.

“Hunger Games”

Could Katniss & Peeta build a warm & waterproof shelter, find water, and start a fire without any man-made device? The folks who attended our workshop on March 22, 2012 could.

The young adults’ librarian at the Elmwood Park (Illinois) Library hosted a “Hunger Games” event on the eve of the premier of the much-anticipated movie. We were invited to teach the HG fans survival skills that would benefit Katniss in her quest to survive the games.

Tim & Ron began by having the audience make small tinder bundles (for later fire-starting) while teaching them the “Rule of 3s”, a simple shorthand method to remember what is important in a survival situation and in what order.

The students then built the skeleton of a leaf hut, a simple structure made of forest debris that provides a perfect camouflaged shelter. Safe water-gathering techniques provided the basis for the next topic of discussion. And the evening ended with a demonstration of fire-starting, using both a primitive bowdrill and a flint and steel and the tinder bundles made earlier by the audience.

All participants went home with greater confidence in their ability to meet the challenges faced by the 24 contestants in the “games”. Some in fact went straight to local theaters to catch the midnight showing of the premier.

Beavers in Lake Michigan?

On October 24, 2011 we had a wonderful field trip with the second & third grade classes of The Children’s School of Berwyn, Illinois. The students had elected to study dunes ecology so we were charged with the responsibility of finding a site and developing a program to meet their desires.

We chose Rainbow Beach, a dunes/prairie natural area on the shore of Lake Michigan about 8 miles south of downtown Chicago. After a community service segment which consisted of picking litter from the beach, the students were free to explore the 4-acre site. They enjoyed fabulous weather along with soaring seagulls & turkey vultures. Along the shore one student found a stick that had obviously been cut and stripped by a beaver! Were there beavers in Lake Michigan?

Luckily, one of the dad/parent-helpers was an ecologist familiar with the area; in fact his company had done the restoration of this prairie some years earlier. Mr. Wachtel informed the class that beavers had migrated into the Jackson Park lagoon, about a mile north and that this stick was most likely a remnant of their busy-work.

After lunch the day ended with the children taking photos for journals that they were creating

Kindergarten & First Grade Day of Fun

In early January we were scheduled to spend a half day in a local forest preserve with the kindergartners & first graders of The Children’s School. However, the weather forecast predicted high temperatures of only 15-17 degrees, a bit nippy for 5-7 year-olds to be out for hours without shelter.

So we modified our program, went to the school, and mixed some indoor fun with outdoor exercises.

For the first hour we looked at animal skulls–elk, cougar, wolf, black bear, and beaver. But the names were unimportant. We wanted the children to learn from the skulls. How big is this animal? Is this animal a predator or prey? What does it eat? How would its diet compare to yours? Is it a sight-hunter or a scent-hunter? Can you tell where it lives? The enthusiasm was high and the answers were remarkably accurate.

We then went outside and learned to walk quietly like deer and wolves; they walk like a baby crawls. Bears have few natural enemies other than man, so they lumber with little need to be quiet. Rabbits and squirrels are prey to everything from hawks to coyotes to the neighbor’s cat, so they are built for instantaneous speed and their gait reflects that characteristic.

The day was as much fun for us instructors as it was for the children. One young lad told his teacher, “That was awesome and I learned a lot.”

Ancient Skills Workshop

We just completed a great weekend workshop with 11 enthused, motivated, & good-humored students; 10 adults and master ridge pole-breaker* and bowl-maker, 11 year-old Noah.

The facilities, food, and staff at Camp Minikani in Wisconsin couldn’t have been better.  The weather felt as if it had been transplanted from early October to early November.  And the skills we taught–respect, awareness, fire by friction, shelter building, walking, seeing, and hearing techniques–challenged and rewarded the class.  Most students were asking for more.

We hope to offer another class in the spring of 2011, so keep your eye on our site and/or send us your name and we’ll put you on our mailing list.

*If you want to know what a ridge pole is and why or how you would want to break one, you’ll have to take our next class.  Or ask Noah.

Student comments:

“The course content [was something] I could not have gotten from books.  I loved the entire weekend.”

The food exceeded my expectations.

INSTRUCTORS [without naming names]
… Good storyteller…Very thoughtful and down to earth…Easy to talk to and entertaining. Nice to see that some people can laugh at themselves… Very personable guy. Great storyteller…Helpful as needed and interesting to talk to. Overall, a very diverse group that gave a lot of depth to the experience.”

“…the class was amazing it really opened up my mind to everything that’s out there that I’ve been missing…Overall the facility was excellent, couldn’t ask for a better place and great food.”

“…we covered quite a bit of useful info and how to slow down and see the entire picture of whatever situation you find yourself in…my wife told me I look different…I started thinking on everything we covered and come [sic] to the conclusion that I am different and always will be…I see how it all comes together a little more clearly. I gotta say it gives me a nice warm feeling inside.”

[From Noah’s Mom]:  “He had such a great time. He was so excited to share the funny stories, great adventures and all that he learned over the weekend (I finally had to tell him I needed some sleep :). He woke early Monday morning and immediately said “Mom, I’ll be in the backyard building a shelter.”  It is an amazing shelter but even more impressive is the confidence he has in himself and the initiative he is taking in other areas at home.

Thanks to you and all who helped put this together. The experience really touched his spirit and will be forever part of who he is.  Keep us on your mailing list – he wants to do it again!”

Studying Early Humans

In late October we designed and presented a workshop for The Latin School of Chicago.   The sixth-graders are studying early humans and 67 of them, along with 7 chaperonse,  joined us on a beautiful fall day to get a sampling of primitive skills.

Though we had only 3 hours Tom, Ellen, Tim, & I exposed the students to awareness skills, tracking, shelters, fire-starting (every student was successful with a flint & steel), and a raucous, fun-filled session “hunting fresh meat” with throwing sticks and paper targets of rabbit, raccoon, and squirrel.

All in all it was a wonderful experience for students and instructors alike.