HomePublicationsThe Tracker MagazineVol 2, No. 1, Winter 1983

The Tracker Magazine - Vol 2 No. 1, Winter 1983

Advanced Standard October 11-17, 1982
Joe MacDonald

Every class is different. Some groups stalk well, others have an easier time at bow drill. The weather plays an integral part in the outcome of the week. The biggest single factor, however, is the people's attitudes and spirit. In order to give you a perspective on the experience, students and instructors have contributed their opinions and feelings to this description of the Advanced Standard.

The following quote is from Colleen Coles, a member of the September 20-26, 1982 Standard:

"This class was an excellent opportunity to use and practice all the skills which were taught in the Standard. Nature was our teacher, and Tom and the instructors helped us see and feel all the information. It was very relaxing and inspiring because of the atmosphere. The schedule was cram-packed with goodies but was presented spontaneously, which enabled the class to understand and retain easily.

"I find in Tom Brown's classes I learn more than just Indian skills. By learning to live in harmony with nature, I'm receiving a harmonious balance within myself. With this sense of equilibrium, everyone is able to enjoy living and working with others more easily. People are helping each other more instead of competing against or cheating one another."

The opinion here at the Tracker Farm is that it was a good class. Tom enjoyed the smooth flow of the course. I was impressed with the debris huts, most of which were well-built and small. Of course, some were a little shy on debris, but the students grasped the concept soundly. Lynn McDowell appreciated the little "tricks of the trade" that Tom shared with us; like how to build the shelter's door and to compact debris on the exterior so as to shed water better. She found the whole course a great confidence builder.

Her husband, Steve, came away with the attitude that now he’ll "never be lost". He also found that the experience of survival living was easier than he expected, citing the shelter and eating utensils as examples. His stalking ability was refined and other skills further improved. He learned a great deal when he practiced setting traps, realizing, for example, that he needed a lot more preparation and caution when approaching the trapping area.

We all learned when Tom showed us how to select and approach a location, how to set the traps and leave the area. He also explained several methods of checking on the traps without having to go in and disturb the surroundings. It was an eye-opening demonstration.

On the subject of trapping, we covered many new deadfalls and snares. New turtle and fish traps were expounded upon along with some varied snare triggers and specialized deadfalls. Tom amused us with his little stories that accompany the trap descriptions. Three students even tried to set a trap for Tom when he was coming back to camp with his jeep. Needless to say, he read the tracks and avoided it. I won't embarrass any students by mentioning names (Tom Smith, Chris, and Jack)!

We constructed and practiced using fish spears, and fish bows and arrows, as well as many different hooks and lures were gone over. The assembly of the lures was ingenious, diversity depending on what materials were available and what type you were after - diver, wriggler, cordage or feather lure. Eric even made a fishing fly out of bone, wood, and deer hair that looked very realistic.

Eric is our newest instructor, a positive addition to the "Tracker family". He had this to say about the week:

"I enjoyed our stay down in the Pine Barrens, the class being less structured than those here at the farm, with more knee and elbow room for simply wandering about and enjoying the approach of fall. The lush green of summer giving way to the first tinges of reds, browns and golds; no blueberries anymore, alas, but lots of pine cones. A slim year for acorns, the deer seeming to pay more attention to the newer shoots of blueberry. Owls carrying on every night, the whippoorwills must have headed for warmer parts, or maybe just into the quieter, more reflective mood that begins to manifest itself now. After the busiest summer yet of life, the time there was a wonderful chance to bask a little longer in the sunshine, dance in the rain, see my breath in the morning, and hear the geese sing of the changes coming…"

Yes, indeed, it was a pleasant time. The people were good individuals and fit well together. Pam Galli of the July 19-25, 1982 Standard had a similar compliment:

"The closeness of the people was a good thing to feel again as we worked together on group projects or just stood around the fire. It was a rewarding experience to work on the large shelter and to be warmed by the fire and kept dry that night."

Karen observed something that I hadn't noticed about the students:

"When the people separated their wants from their needs is when they had fun," she remarked.

An insight from Pam will back up this statement: "Many people would find it unusual, but I found that I was more comfortable in the Pine Barrens during the week than I have been anywhere else in a long time. I didn't need or want much and I was very happy." A few people didn't like the food too well. I thought Karen outdid herself with making a filling meal out of the lean variety of supplies we had down there. When Tom covered edible plants, my pen couldn't keep up. I've never heard him be so thorough on each plant. A whole page of my notebook is devoted to just pine. He also explained a survival scenario: What to do on the first, second, and third days and how that blends into a "prolonged-stay" attitude, one of taking only what you need and thinking of conservation. When you take something, make sure it's an overall improvement of nature. For instance, take a rabbit because there are so many that, during the winter, some will starve to death.

Tom awed us with his extreme know-how in all areas. Pam mentioned something similar by saying, "As always, I was amazed at the amount of material so well presented, how much I was able to learn and put into practice". I was intrigued by the different additives used in making survival pottery that would help bind the clay. I made a bowl and hardened it beneath the fire. When I brought it back to the farm it fell off a five-foot shelf, hitting a hardwood floor. To my astonishment, only a small chip came out of the rim, and upon further inspection, I noticed that there was an impurity in the clay at the point where it chipped off.

Let me explain the section of the course that I disliked. It was a night stalking exercise, and the instructors were the target. Boy, I hate the feeling of being snuck up on. We had two campfires about ten yards apart, with a few mullein stalk torches going. That light just made it hard to see anything out there in the woods. At first there was some loud cracking, but eventually the students quieted way down. Overall, the exercise was outstanding. Some students crept in so close they were able to make a lunge and count coup on us (how embarrassing!). When Tom ended the stalk and told everyone to stand up, I was stupefied - we were totally surrounded!

One of the best teachers of the week was the bow drill section. At first, some people had difficulty. Frank noticed that some of the problems were caused by the bow drills not being made to the specifications that were presented in the Standard. Also, some of the woods weren't collected from the proper areas. Pam felt that "a most important lesson came from the bow-drill exercise. No matter what we do, we must do it to the best of our abilities, not just perform a skill, but truly feel for what we are doing and so, put a part of ourselves into it".

A few of the other things covered were the making of grass mats, knife sharpening, expanded pitch use, and the drying and smoking of meats in which Tom headed the construction of a small smokehouse that functioned nicely.

By far, the biggest highlight for the hungry "survivalists" was Judy's homemade spaghetti on Saturday evening. She can really whip up a sauce. Salad and rolls complemented the meal.

The remainder of this article is a piece of writing sent to me by Kathy Ray:

"It was the kind of experience that I'd like to share with more of my friends. The Advanced Standard offered challenges, chances to go beyond some supposed limits. Don't get me wrong. I won't romanticize the situation; it was frustrating for me - seriously so, at times. But we worked together, and learned and laughed a lot, and the rewards of the week are still treasures to me.

"The first day, we spent long hours building our debris buts, but not under dead trees that might make our shelters into human deadfalls; not far from construction materials; not in dips in the land. Remember not to disturb the balance of the landscape, be sure to be thankful for gifts offered by the Creator (like old debris huts to scavenge from). While building, maintain a "scatter-brain" along with scatter-vision so as not to miss animals' runs, tinder sources, woods for bow-drill, bow, and rabbit stick, plants for tomorrow morning's tea, grasses for our warmth-retaining woven blanket. There was a lot to remember all at the same time. My eyes widened, not in size but in breadth of sight.

“Day 1, as you might imagine, was the toughest. My ignorance and habitual narrow-mindedness assaulted my idealized view of K. Ray, the 'outdoor woman'. I couldn't decide on the right shelter location, couldn't keep a coal burning in my cedar chunk soon-to-be-spoon. The reality is that the hardest part of my getting along with nature is getting along with my own expectations and inadequacies. Once I pushed through them, the going was a lot easier, and I had a great time.

"In a single day, we made and set fish traps down in the cedar swamp and produced bow-drill sets with only stones as cutting tools. Splitting off into groups, we searched our saplings and blueberry bushes for bows and baskets. For our father/son bow, we found a branch that was suitable; we didn't have to cut the tree itself. I felt blessed to be able to take from that maple without destroying its ability to give again. Twilight found each of us on a night sit, watching the day slip away to make room for the inhabitants of the night's shadows. Darkness came and we were scouts, stalking up on camp. By Friday, most of us were sleeping blanketless, packed right in with the leaf stuffing of our huts.

"Tom teaches knowledge close to his heart, and at times, the insights I had from it felt like magic. He led us down one of the sandy fire-roads and recreated a deer hunting scene. As he did, hunting no longer translated into simply stalking or waiting, aiming, shooting and killing. It became knowing that if I pushed a branch into the edge of the path, that deer would be distracted by the inhabitual placement. It became the deer responding suspiciously and veering to the side, offering its flank to my poised arrow, not two feet from its fur on the opposite side of the trail. The hunted and the hunter complement each other, seemingly unseparated by mind.

"As the week progressed, a certain spirit seemed to take hold. The pace was relaxed, yet there was always a fish-lure to try, single-bow skills to be practiced, specialized traps to be attempted. We weren't hard-core survivalists, but we were purposeful and we were working together. I learned from the instructors' work as I did from the other students. Of course, lest we forget how to respond to nature's spontaneous obstacles, Tom provided the element of surprise. As he shoveled dirt into our campfire late one afternoon, we were jolted into the "quest for fire". On another day, he announced the imminent destruction of our individual debris huts and the group construction of a large common shelter. Wait and see what he surprises the next class with!

"During the class, I learned and observed, failed and continued. I met the curious child in me, the wiser old woman, the rebellious adolescent. I played with brothers and sisters, some of whose faces I know from other classes, some of whom I've newly adopted into my family of friends. I touched that outside world of bark and dirt and feather and fur that is also of my own blood. Words don't quite do the experience justice. For me, those six days were special. I lived amidst the cycles that turn the days into nights and death into life in the Pine Barrens. One of the students found a fawn's remains one day. Its bones nurture the roadside soil that will nourish a plant which can feed a hungry doe bearing young. So that the cycle may continue, may all of us bless her and love her, our earth. I thank Tom, Judy, and the instructors for my Advanced Standard. I am lucky to have been there."

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