Saturday, July 10, 2010

part 3 - wilderness school

                          Marble Mountains
                                           The Beautiful Marble Mountains!

Whatever extra time I thought I had quickly disappeared with every wrong turn on the windy mountain roads. I was now late to the designated trailhead meeting spot for the Headwaters school. The steep terrain and heavy crap I brought stressed the mopeds small little engine, but I wasn't riding a quitter! I finally arrived as the sun was setting. I killed the engine and pedaled in to the camping area. Taking advantage of the bicycle aspect of the moped, the silent mode! 
Attending to my half falling off gear I overheard " Is he here for the class"?
"ya, he's gotta be"!
Well goal number one was reached, 700 moped miles to get to Headwaters. I may have been sunburnt, dehydrated and half crazy but at least I was still alive!

                                                 maybe whitey should of stayed inside

At dark we all gathered around the fire. Tim, the head instructor, asked us why we were there. The answers ranged from the fear of societies' collapse, trying to learn more about nature or simply just wanting something to do. My favorite was from an 11 year old girl telling how she "just wants to get dirty and climb trees and get dirty and walk barefoot and get dirty". 
When it was my turn I didn't have the elegant speech in my head ready. I had barely even talked to anyone all week. My lips and nose were cracked and peeling, I smelled like crap, there were 25 people staring at me and now it was my time to shine! Curious about the guy who just spent 6 days riding a moped from LA, the crowd was attentive. "I'm here to learn skills that will help me flow and live in the forest better, so I can find bigfoot". 
It seemed to me that it didn't go over too well. I think a few people thought my plan was cool and others thought I was crazy. Turns out everyone was right. That crap was crazy cool. Either way I had the next 7 days to convince them otherwise.
 Tim was next to speak and although borderline delirious, I perked up a bit listening to the week long course outline. As he sat there Indian style around the glow of the campfire I couldn't help but notice the striking resemblance to the bear hunter guy in the movie "Jeremiah Johnson". He looked like a rugged mountain man with his long white beard and wide brimmed hat. I liked this guy already which was good because I was about to spend two weeks learning from him and he already had my money!

                       Jeremiah and Bear Claw Chris                      Tim

Tim gave a long, sweeping talk and was right on point. I knew I was in good hands. Many of my friends couldn't understand why I would pay to go to the woods and, frankly, I kind of wondered too. By sleep time I knew I was at a good school with a good group and made an awesome decision.
It would be a six mile hike to our destination in the morning. Since I showed up late I didn't get a chance to set up a sleep area so I tried to sleep under a truck but then an animal stepped on me so I slept on a picnic table. Then it rained on me so I covered up in a tarp. 
It seemed like as soon as I fell asleep as was awakened by Julie, the camp cook, telling me to get my ass off her table. Oh well, it was a good try for sleep.
Our day started with breakfast then we packed up and hiked into the Marble Mountains. We headed to an old hunting camp that was used by the Karuk Indians many years ago. When we arrived at the camp, a rag tag bunch of Tom Sawyer-type kids met us with bare feet and dirt all over. I thought, "this is going to rule".
The next week did in fact rule. Tim suggested to us that while we were out there we eat plants, climb trees, and get dirty. Every night there was a salad that Walter, Tim's right hand man and plant expert, harvested and it was always the bomb. My favorite was the wild onion that grew up there, sweet and tasty! Besides learning native Marble Mountain plants, we also did a lot of exercises in awareness. When I heard we were to look for a special rock that called out to us, or that we had to go sit by a tree for an hour, my "logical" mind was having a fit. I gave it my crappiest best shot and have to admit there was something to it. For our special rock exercise we found a rock we liked and held onto it for most of the day for 3 or 4 days, then at the end of the week we all put our rocks into a bag which ended up to be about 30 rocks, then we were told to reach in and see how fast we could find our rock. It was weird to see the people who I would have guessed to be the most in touch with this stuff pull out their rocks in seconds flat. I got mine so fast that when I looked at it I didn't think it was mine. That was pretty cool but I was still skeptical so I tried it again and grabbed that sucker almost as fast again! I'm a believer!
In the mornings there were "Bear walks" where a small group of us stalked out looking to spy on Bears making their early morning rounds. I considered these to be Bigfoot walks and kept a keen eye out for those furry jerks. My group didn't come across any Bears or bigfoots, but another group did see a black Bear one morning. No one saw a sasquatch, but Tim did tell me that the father of the guy who runs the pack horses to our camp saw sasquatches twice during his many years of horse packing! One time I guess he saw two peering through some bushes at him. As they took off through the woods he got a clear look and saw they were ape-like! These stories only inspired me more to pay attention to the exercises.

                                            Log riding at Shadow Lake!

My favorite lessons were the camouflage and stalking games which was basically ninja or Apache scout training! Covering ourselves in mud and sticks, belly crawling around trying to sneak up on people was a crapload of fun. Some of the other highlights were drinking out of the fresh spring, seeing the sun rise in the mountains, smelling fresh bear shit, seeing an entire knotweed plant disappear by being sucked into the ground by a hungry gopher, almost stepping on, then picking up and petting a baby grouse, finding a really old pressure flaked obsidian arrowhead, seeing a squirrel Tim found that was dropped from the sky by a hawk, swimming with salamanders at shadow lake, visiting an ancient Indian alter on a cliff, and meeting many like minded people from different backgrounds.
There were many touching times during that week. The most dramatic was the harvest of a 100 year old Angelica plant whose roots would be dried for next year's sweat lodge ceremonies. I've read the secret life of plants and knew that plant life is possibly very close to animal life. However, up until that point I never felt the loss of a plant. Digging up that plant was like killing an animal. Apparently Angelica is a very powerful feminine cure-all and its roots grow deep into the earth. We gathered around the plant in a circle, bare foot with digging sticks. We dug down around the roots as we sang a Indian prayer song. This whole experience was very surreal. I sat on the outside of the circle and felt part of some weird cult for a second, seeing all these people singing strangely and digging with sticks way up in the mountains. It was crazy how long it seemed to take to get to the bottom of the roots! When the plant was finally pulled out I felt tears come down my cheek. It might as well been screaming for its life and probably was. I had respect for plants before, but this put life in a whole new perspective for me. I got to say, that was truly one of the most pivotal moments I've ever had in the natural world. I don't know, maybe they were spiking the wild salad that day, but I can tell you that I'll never again cut down a plant without a damn good reason.
                          HWOS Mt. Shasta    

On the last day we gathered up our gear and made the site look better than when we arrived. The pack horses hauled our stuff in but we had to carry all our stuff back out. It took a while to hike out and I was very sore because my backpacks waist strap broke. At the trailhead Tim let me put my moped in his truck since it was just about out of gas. I rode from the Marble Mountains to the Mount Shasta camp with Walter in his "van palace", furnished with a hammock and booming sound system! I think Walter said stuff during the ride but I'm not sure because that sound system was loud and rocking!
When we got to Tim's land I couldn't believe it! There were awesome herb gardens, rock gardens, a stone labyrinth, fresh drinkable stream water flowing through the land, bark teepees dotted across the landscape, a meditation area, plenty of woods to explore, a sweat lodge area and outhouses that give outhouses a good name.

This week was the wilderness skills class in which we learned to make fire with different types of wood, how to construct animal traps, how to make spears, how to make rawhide,  and how to skin and gut an animal, demonstrated on a recently killed goat. The goat's name was Coco and she was chosen for slaughter because she was a bad mother and had crappy milk. Joe Dabil and Walter taught most of these classes. Joe has taking a liking over the years to the smell of rotting flesh and is more of a man then most. On the work table ready for skinning we found a squirrel, a dead gopher I think, the goat skin, a raccoon, a deer skin and a big bear skin that needed a whole lot of work. 

                                              bear skin ready for scraping
The animals were skinned using obsidian, which is volcanic glass and still one of the sharpest objects in the world. Some modern surgeries are used with this. Cutting the skin off the fat was fairly easy with these sharp buddies. The combination of stink, flies, and sweat was intense but a lot of elbow grease finally got the job done. Scraping the rotting fat off the skin in 90 degree heat was more challenging. The next step was to scrape the hide with a draw knife like in the picture below.

                                 here's a random internet lady scraping fat from a hide

After a couple more steps your ready to brain tan! Making your own piece of natural leather using the animals brains is something people have done all over the world for thousands of years. The brain acts as a softening agent and most animals brain size is equivalent to what's needed to process their hide. Besides, there is something nice about learning the potential uses of all parts of an animal. On the other hand, commercial leather is produced with extremely harmful chemicals that degrade its natural qualities. So I say it might be hard smelly work, but is definitely not a useless skill!

                                                      Coco the goat

  One of the first skills we learned was shelter building. Some of us made little forts of bark and debris to sleep in the rest of the week. I made mine under a big Jeffrey pine tree with just enough room to fit my backpack. It was pretty secluded but I did have a neighbor, a blind kid who shared my first name, Craig. Craig was there the week before in the Marble Mountains and crossed logs, climbed mountains and did everything everyone else did, just a little slower. It was pretty crazy that he made it through what he did since most of it comprised of crossing logs, streams and rocks! 

                                              a permanent bark shelter

As the week of skill building came to an end, I realized if I had to rely on these newly learned skills for real I would be pretty screwed. To walk out into the woods with nothing but a knife sounds great when your reading about it. In between pizza slices and root beer floats you have time to think to yourself " I could do that crap"! Sure our ancestors did that all the time but they lived that way. It was common knowledge. Today most people can't even sharpen a knife right. I was pretty much one of those people. I was comfortable in the woods but at least knew how little I really knew. This school would mark the first step of me trying to learn more about what we forgot.
 The last day was wrapped up with a sweat lodge ceremony. My old roommate, Danny, would always tell me how great they were, so I was curious. The lodge itself was dome shaped and covered with a thick heavy canvas. Several large stones were heated up in a huge fire pit outside and we all got in our shorts while we waited for the stones to glow orange. There was a cold mountain stream that flowed around the back and some people dipped in first but it was too cold for me. Tim grabbed his drum and we all piled in. When the door was shut it was so dark you couldn't see your hand in front of you! Tim talked a little about what was about to happen and to let him know if anyone needed to get out. Then the first stone was brought in and we welcomed it. The stone was then sprinkled with some Angelica root and it made a sparkling mist that was straight Harry Potter shit! When he poured some water over the stone the steam rose. As soon as you could feel the heat a song started with the beating of his drum. It wasn't a song with words it was more like hi-ee-waka-hey- or something but it was awesome. 

                                               canvas covered sweat lodge
By the 9th stone the heat was unbearable. The singing bordered on screaming. It's hard to describe just how crazy this was, the heat was hotter than hot, sweat poured out of every pore, my legs cramped, I felt that passing out was a very real possibility, and then, when it seemed like there was no way I could go on, it went on longer. Finally the door opened, cool air came rushing in, and slowly we filed out. The first thing we saw on our way out was the moon shining over Mount Shasta but It didn't quite look the same as before. I had to crawl around the side of the lodge to get to the stream because my legs were still cramping. I was able to pull myself up and stagger in. What was freezing to me 20 minutes before was now super freakin refreshing. I laid down face first and could feel my body drink in the water. In between breaths I looked around at the trees and plants that had the eerie glow of the moon on them, they almost looked alive as they swayed with the wind. Normally I would have felt a little creeped out but not now. I laid back down and swallowed up as much water as I could. It felt as if all the bad in my body was being replaced with this pure mountain water. This crap was as epic as it gets. It changed my life, I'm still not exactly sure how. I'm very grateful to Tim and all the volunteers who make The Headwaters School possible. The last night we spent around the fire saying thank yous and goodbyes. It was pretty heartfelt and sad but then Walter brought over a stump infested with huge 6 inch beetle larvae that we all roasted over the fire to eat. I was glad to be at Headwaters but was eager to get back on the road for some mopeding and squatching!

                                                 The highly elusive Timsquatch

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly how you feel here Craig! People have always looked at me strange when I tell them not to kill or hurt trees & plants for no reason. Glad to find someone else that feels the same. So far your Moped Trip Story is amazing- thanks for sharing!