Last Friday the Primitive Pursuits training session was uphill off Coddington Road in the woods near Ithaca College. We parked next to extensive new-built wetlands (to replace those bulldozed to make way for new campus buildings downslope). These brand new wetlands had been quickly overrun with undesirable cattails (they take over and prevent amphibians – whose presence is no doubt stipulated in the permit requirements for being allowed to destroy old wetlands and create new ones - from flourishing etc).
Later on we walked uphill and into the woods to a clearing for a different learning and resource-harvesting setting. The weather was cold but clear, so we were always seeking direct sunshine to stand in, but what a day of learning, fun and – good food!?
I had some melancholy feelings in the afternoon, standing at a distance and watching the group – it all seemed already in the past, my life is pushing on so fast and relentlessly. The younger ones (everyone other than I) perhaps do not feel that time pressure so keenly – I hope not. May they (and some of you) be cushioned by the comfortable feeling of ‘time enough for everything’ for a while longer.
So, we –
Worked on our two-person friction kits (3 pieces of wood of different types + a cord, used to start fires – we struggled to get a coal from rubbed-up wood dust, then tried to get that coal to flame and become a trusty fire).
Then, we -- harvested cattails (some took off their shoes – and pants – but I was conserving my personal warmth and grubbed in the pond’s near-shore areas) to cook and eat later;
I also learned … how to choose non-fracturing rocks for water boiling; learned how to cut white pine sections and peel off the white pine bark to make vessels for drinking and cooking and holding stuff; learned how to make a drill out of an old fence wire section to punch holes in bark for cords made of thinly cut white pine bark; was reminded that white pine and hemlock needles make a tasty tea sort of beverage; heated the rocks in the campfire coals; learned that a small hot rock cast into a pine bark vessel filled with water and pine needles heats it to boiling in a flash and creates a tea that sure tastes good under the circumstances; how to pare down the cattail shoots to get to extremely tender tasty innards and boil them over that campfire made from friction-produced coals; that roasting the cattail roots produces charred woody sections that, when peeled, have tasty white innards (can yield cattail flour). The cattail feast was enhanced with a small container of a dip made of (definitely imported) olive oil mixed with mashed woodland ramps – whew!!!!
My fave thing, was learning how to make clothespins (see the ends of my first bark vessel, with its boiling rock and pine needle tea) out of small chunks of honeysuckle shoot. So useful!! Invasives like honeysuckle are fair game for harvesting but with native spp like white pines, we can only use dead or downed materials – no harvesting of standing trees etc.
We also played games, sang songs, and continued to learn how to teach these new skills to others, via trial teaching to the group, with critiques. And more knife safety stuff. I am scared to death of trying to teach knife skills to kids.
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