Archive for the ‘land’ Tag

First meeting of the Native Awareness twelve month programme

Last weekend was the first long weekend of the Earth Living twelve month programme. I’ll try not to give too much away for those who might be thinking of signing up to the programme next year, but refer to the topics as listed on the Native Awareness website.

The main thing I took from the weekend was the camaraderie between the students, instructors and volunteers. Spending time with like-minded people was (as always) a pleasure, and we bonded well as a team, which bodes well for the survival immersion week next April, which we are all working towards. This is when we venture into the wilderness for a week with only the clothes we are standing in and the authentic primitive tools we have made throughout the year.

This first weekend was focused on advanced skills and crafts. I really enjoyed the pottery making and intend to find and process some of my local clay to make more of the utensils we’ll need in the immersion quest, hopefully in time for us to fire them communally at the next meeting in June. I managed to make a small pinch pot, larger coil pot and small oil lamp at the weekend, but have lots of ideas and inspiration for other pots I’d like to make.

Advanced bow drill was a revelation, and I’ve taken away lots of tips that will help me better understand, and become more proficient in, this type of firemaking. You never stop learning with the bow drill, and I’m already thinking about building my next set, in accordance with the time-tested theory that the more love and attention you put into your kit, the better the attitude with which you approach the process of firemaking, and the more successful you will hopefully be.

The other thing I took away from the weekend was the experience of finding and purifying water and foraging for wild edibles. These experiences brought me closer to the environs of the camp in all sorts of ways. Learning the skills of survival is not just about dealing with extreme situations; its about re-discovering our relationship with the natural world by removing the fear and distrust that separates modern humans from nature. Only when we can enter the wilderness with nothing, and without fear, can we re-establish the communication our ancestors enjoyed with the world… and our spirits so crave today.

The real Avatar

‘Mine – Story of a Sacred Mountain’ by Survival International.

Avatar

We went to see Avatar in 3D on Wednesday. It’s the story of the human colonisation of the fictional planet of Pandora, and the resistance of the native population of Na’vi (The People). The humans attempt to usurp the Na’vi on a number of fronts, including militarily and diplomatically. They genetically create Na’vi bodies (or avatars), which trained specialists can upload their consciousness to, in order to negotiate with the Na’vi and attempt to ‘educate’ them in human values and language.

Pandora is a breathtakingly beautiful planet, and rendered in high-definition 3D it’s pretty awe-inspiring. The Na’vi enjoy a close bond with their land and can access a kind of ancestral consciousness through forest network. They are experts in tracking, hunting, healing, caretaking and honourable relationship. The barbarity of the colonising attitude is at the fore throughout, but for once things don’t always go the usurpers’ way.

Avatar is well worth a view and hopefully I’ll be going back to see the IMAX 3D version before it leaves the cinemas.

Castell Henllys

On Monday we visited Castell Henllys, a scheduled ancient monument and one of many prehistoric promontory forts in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park dating to around 600BC. What makes the site particularly important is that archaeologists have been excavating there for over twenty years and thatched Iron Age buildings have been reconstructed on their original foundations.

Castell Henllys

Not just ten days in the woods

I’ve just returned from ten days at Hazel Hill woods in Wiltshire on the Native Awareness courses Native Skills 1 and 2. Whatever expectations I had of the course were far outshone and I feel that I have developed more as a person the last ten days than I have in the previous three years, thanks to the others on the course, who by the end of the week I had come to regard as brothers and sisters. The week was like a bubble and I experienced that weird time dilation by which you feel things are passing ever so quickly and yet you struggle to remember what life was like before you were there.

Ostensibly the course focused on the various practical skills associated with survival and earth living – shelter building, friction firemaking, tracking, stalking, arrowmaking, cordage, basketry, preparing and cooking wild foods. The amount of learning that was passed on in the course of ten days was incredible. The more I learnt, however, the more I realised that these skills are not just tools of survival, they’re exercises in living in harmonious relationship with nature. The principles underpinning them cut across many disciplines. By learning about the properties of wood, bone, stone and sinew we were learning as much about ourselves and our relationships as we were about the tools of survival.

Highlights of the week for me included the drum stalk, whereby we were taken out into the woods at night and left blindfolded, having to return to the campfire using only the sound of the drum. This really made me realise how much of our perception is non-visual. The task become almost a meditation as I fell into pace with the drum, each footstep a prayer to the earth. An unintentional result of this exercise was that Emily lost her glasses during the stalk, and she and I made it our mission over the next few days to recover them (perhaps the most camouflaged glasses available for that terrain) using tracking skills, expanded awareness and personality profiling. We learnt perhaps more from this than anything else, seeing our environment with new eyes, eventually finding them by torchlight during a nighttime expedition after days of searching during the day. It seemed fitting that they were found at night around the same time the were lost, as though they were in the nighttime forest waiting for us to find them all along. A small triumph perhaps, but its elation was tangible, its excitement lasted days, and its lessons learnt and bonds forged are still with me.

Other highlights included a talk by Hanna, a wise woman in the Native American tradition, on the philosophies of awareness and relationship with the spirit that flows through all things. Skinning and gutting our own rabbits to make rabbit burgers was a lesson in gratitude and awe for the sacrifice that nature makes to feed us, and the debt we owe as caretakers of the world and each other. Watching two of the volunteers emerge from invisibility right in front of our eyes in full primitive camo was another one of many unforgettable experiences.

A pipe ceremony was another lesson to me in gratitude and the importance of not taking things for granted, for although nature provides everything we need to survive and thrive, we as humans are far from up to the task of attaining the knowledge and wisdom of how to live in harmony with it (and much, much further than our pre-agricultural ancestors). The message for me was not that we should censure ourselves too harshly for this, but that it is so important that we strive to be better, however small the steps we take, to learn more and to look after our brothers and sisters, human and non-human. The message of not taking things for granted was underlined when we went back to the kitchen area to find the electricity playing havoc. Eating dinner by candlelight was an unforeseen blessing.

I made personal connections with the others on the course that I was beginning to think I was unable to achieve. After the first few days I felt awkward and unsocialised as I am often accustomed to feel, but by the end of the week I felt at ease with, and fond of, everyone on the course. It was heartwarming to see how the group gelled and its members began to look after each other and provide the encouragement and support to allow each of us to achieve things we may never have been able to alone. The beginning of a community perhaps? … I hope so. It certainly alighted things in me that I had once known and have now come rushing to the fore with seemly infinite creative potential.

James’ and Alex’s approach to teaching these skills in that they want their students in turn to become teachers and help spread these skills, and the principles underlying them, to others. It is only by teaching these skills that we really learn them. So it was a real opportunity when on Sunday we were given the task of teaching friction firemaking to a group of conservationists also using the woods. Though nervous of our own abilities at first, by the end of the session we had taught all the participants how to make fire using the bow drill methods, two of whom managed to create a coal within an hour. Without meaning to we also managed to teach the basic principles of cordage, shelter, foxwalking and camouflage! Not only that, we had felt we had lit a spark of curiosity among them that would hopefully manifest itself again in the future. I was so proud of us, and so moved – elated and tearful at the same time.

One of the best things about the week was the chance to be childlike again, to play games, to sneak up on each other, to tease and to make games out of throwing sticks. Living in tune with nature is fun, and many indigenous tribal peoples are noted for their constant laughter and smiles.

Unfortunately my camera broke half way through the week, but I am hoping to get access to others’ pictures over the next few days, some of which I will try to post here, along with accounts of my dirt time over the coming weeks, months and years, developing my new found skills and passions.

Llyn y Fan Fach, Powys

The shore of Llyn y Fan Fach, shrouded in mist. Taken on Saturday.

Llyn y Fan Fach

New Native Awareness website

BowsJames Watson, founder of the Native Awareness School has relaunched his website this week. As I posted a couple of months ago, I am due to attend James’ bowmaking course in a couple of weeks’ time, which I am really looking forward to.

The new site, which is beautifully designed and features pages of useful information, now includes a section of published articles, including a two part article on bowmaking which James wrote for Bushcraft Magazine in December 2007 and April 2008.

The article goes through the process of creating a bow from felling the tree to finishing the bow ready for use. It also talks more generally about the application of traditional skills and their continuing  importance in the twenty-first century.

Part two starts with a story about snapped bows and how losing a bow that you have spent countless hours on – in a fraction of a second – can teach you a lot about yourself.

I agree with this – all too often we assume a subconscious position of mastery over nature,¬† so that when events turn against us we quickly become indignant and assume a victim mentality. Nothing is guaranteed in nature, and we should learn the humility to accept when things don’t always go our way. I hope my new bow doesn’t snap and that we have many years together, but if things don’t turn out that way I hope I am humble enough to accept that it wasn’t meant to be.

Check out the website at www.nativeawareness.co.uk.

Corn Ddu and Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons

Taken yesterday.

Corn Ddu and pen y Fan

Snow on my way to work last week

Llandaff fields

Shortlist of Severn Estuary energy proposals

Following on from my post on the Severn barrage debate, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced a shortlist of five schemes, about which it will be running a three month public consultation. The proposed shortlist is as follows:

  • Cardiff Weston Barrage – crossing the Severn estuary from Brean Down, near Weston super Mare to Lavernock Point, near Cardiff (estimated capacity over 8.6GW, or nearly five per cent of UK electricity).
  • Shoots Barrage – further upstream of the Cardiff Weston scheme (1.05GW, similar to a large fossil fuel plant).
  • Beachley Barrage – smallest barrage on the proposed shortlist, just above the Wye River (625MW).
  • Bridgwater Bay Lagoon – sited on the English shore between east of Hinkley Point and Weston super Mare (1.36GW).
  • Fleming Lagoon – on the Welsh shore between Newport and the Severn road crossings (1.36GW).

It must be stressed that the consultation is not designed to decide which of these options to pursue, but instead to ascertain whether this is a relevant shortlist. DECC has at the same time announced £500,000 of new funding to develop technologies like tidal reefs and fences. The progress of these technologies will be considered before decisions are taken on the final shortlist, which will be subject to a second public consultation (probably in 2010).

Having said that, it still looks like the Cardiff Weston Barrage is the favourite, with industry lobbying heavily in spite of the potential ecological disaster. Friends of the Earth have released a statement reacting angrily to the exclusion of larger offshore tidal lagoons.

I will be taking some time to consider my response to this consultation. I will post further thoughts on here.

BBC News video