ANCIENT SKILLS SHOW WAY TO FUTURE FOR SURVIVALISTS
By Anton Ferreira (Reuters)
ASBURY, N.J., May 11, 1987
On the New Jersey frontline of his personal crusade
to save the earth, a man with a vision is teaching Americans to
carve arrowheads from broken beer bottles.
Tom Brown, 37, who dubs himself "the Tracker," runs
a survival school about 90 miles west of New York City where he
passes on wisdom learned during his youth from an old Apache called
"My vision is to teach people how to live with the earth,"
he told a recent class of 30 students, ranging from a ballroom
dancing instructor to an ex-accountant turned organic farmer.
Most of the students were nature lovers seeking to learn more
about the outdoors, developing skills as elementary as identifying
poison ivy and as subtle as tracking a deer.
But Brown had a more serious message: pollution and urban sprawl
were threatening the future of the earth.
"Earth is a living being, a manifestation of the Creator,"
he said, warning students that mankind was killing the planet
by poisoning underground water reserves which he called "the
Earth Mother's blood supply."
By the end of the century the major U.S. grain producing area
would be without water, he said. "Then there'll be no food
... we're bringing Africa to the United States."
He tries to prevent this by teaching people to live in harmony
with nature, as the Native Americans, Australian aborigines and
African bushmen did.
In lectures laced with philosophy learned from Stalking Wolf,
he encourages his students to put the trappings of the modern
world behind them.
"A survival situation is the only way you can ever hope to
achieve total oneness with the Earth Mother," he said.
His idea of a survival situation is walking naked into the wilderness,
summer or winter, and living off the land indefinitely and in
"If it's a debilitating experience, then your skills aren't
good enough," he told the class.
The skills he teaches include using stone tools, building warm
shelter from forest debris, making fire without matches, obtaining
water from plants or condensation and tanning hides.
Another was chipping arrowheads from broken beer bottles, which
one of Brown's half-dozen instructors said were likely to be found
in even most remote American wilderness.
Primitive skills don't come cheap -- the residential course costs
$500 -- but many participants thought the money so well spent
they said they would return for an advanced course.
During his 10 years with his Apache mentor, Brown mastered such
feats as stalking wild animals to within touching distance and
he promised his students that they could do the same.
He teaches stalking techniques, but adds that such physical skills
are only 20 per cent of the art. The rest is spiritual and involves
raising the consciousness and improving awareness.
He said one way to help see "the spirit that moves in all
things" was the sweat lodge, a sacred religious ceremony
of Native American tribes which physically resembles a sauna.
Red-hot rocks were stacked in the center of a low dome built from
saplings and straw, and the students crouched bathed in sweat
as Brown splashed on water to create steam.
Alternating between English and the haunting language of Stalking
Wolf, he prayed to the Earth Mother and urged the congregants
to take up the warrior's staff in her defense.
In teaching trapping and hunting, he emphasizes the Native American
belief that all things, plant, mineral and animal, share the same
spirit and are brothers.
"An animal's life is the ultimate gift, you should take it
only if your survival depends on it."
To the novice tracker, Brown's skills appear near miraculous.
In one demonstration he crouched on a hard-packed driveway and
pointed out a barely visible compression.
"Left rear print of an Eastern Cottontail rabbit," he
said. "Passed by here two nights ago, six weeks old."
The students, who by the end of the course regarded Brown as a
kind of nature guru, accepted such judgments as gospel.
Brown, who is contemptuous of those who put safety and comfort
above adventure and excitement, said he once wanted to retreat
into the woods but stayed in New Jersey so he would never forget
what was happening to the environment.
"These are the front lines of a war we are losing ... but
I could never run away from it."
His fears about the fate of the earth are based on close observation
of nature over 30 years.
"We face some of the most profound problems that humankind
has ever been faced with ... so far-reaching that some doubt we
can turn the tide.
"Go out there and make a difference," he exhorted students
at the end of the course. "Lead somebody back."