by Todd Walker
I recently began working with at-risk youth in our county’s alternative school, Rise Academy. My “job” is to offer project-based learning opportunities to develop self-reliant skills in our students.
My curriculum guide is a blank slate. There are no state approved guides for Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance in academia. I must write my own. Out of necessity, I began to pull from my own experience and those of my mentors. Fortunately, one of my teachers, Mark Warren, director of Medicine Bow, recently published the first in a series of four books, Secrets of the Forest.
Secrets of the Forest, Volume 1, is broken into two parts:
- The Magic and Mystery of Plants, and…
- The Lore of Survival
I ordered and quickly devoured Volume 1. If you’ve ever wondered how to transfer lost knowledge and skills to our next generation, this book series is your guide. Mark is no newcomer in the world of primitive skills and nature study. He’s been passing on his knowledge to young and old for over a half century. I’ve had the pleasure of attending several of his classes in Dahlonega, Georgia. Mark is a walking encyclopedia of earth-lore and the skills required to call Nature home.
Part 1: The Magic and Mystery of Plants
Students at Medicine Bow are fully submerged in experiential, hands-on learning. Reading Mark’s book is no different. Over 200 original activities are included to engage one’s senses in the forest. Making your own Botany Booklet, written and illustrated by you, is worth the price of this first volume. It only consist of six sheets of folded paper (12 pages) but will set a student on a path of discovery in the amazing green world surrounding us.
“Plant study is the foundation upon which all survival skills are built.” ~ Mark Warren, p. 16
Mark is quick to point out that modern humans have lost the instincts of our paleo ancestors regarding plant usage. Therefore, we must approach our study of plants on an academic level. Eating the wrong plant, or wrong part of a plant, in the wrong season can be deadly. However, embracing the study of plants and trees for food, medicine, and craft is worth the time and effort.
I’ve read many online discussions of outdoorsy people expressing their desire to become more proficient in plant identification and use. Many have purchased botanical field guides specific to their locale. These guides are helpful for identification but rarely offer hidden secrets of a plant. In Chapter 6, 100 Plants ~ And Their Many Gifts, Mark offers insight into plants/trees of southern Appalachia which I’ve never read in other botanical books. Color photos of each plant await at the end of this chapter to aid in identification.
Chapter 10 is devoted entirely to Poison Ivy. Anyone spending time outdoors will appreciate the information on this rogue plant. From identification, protecting ourselves, treating the rash, and even making oneself immune, Mark covers it all.
Part 2: The Lore of Survival
“If you get lost out there, the world around you may seem your enemy, but it’s not. It’s just that you’ve forgotten what your ancestors knew a long time ago.”
~ Natalie Tudachi, Blue Panther Woman of the Anigilogi clan, Let Their Tears Drown Them (p. 167 – Secrets of the Forest)
Reading this volume will give you knowledge, but knowing is not enough – there must be urgency in doing the stuff. As with Part 1, many hands-on activities accompany The Lore of Survival section. Chapters include:
- The First Step ~ getting started in survival skills
- The Ties That Bind ~ cordage
- Oh Give Me a Home ~ shelter building
- Sticks and Stones ~ the multi-use rabbit stick
- Water, Water Everywhere ~ water purification
- Hors D’oeuvres of Protein ~ adventures with larvae
- A Kitchen in the Forest ~ cooking in the wild
- An Army of Silent Hunters ~ traps and snares
Mark’s approach to wilderness survival centers around the primitive technology used by the Cherokee who called Southern Appalachia home. Our relationship with “the real world” (forest) becomes intimate as we integrate primitive survival skills. This may seem overwhelming, depending on the forest to provide your needs, so take one skill of interest and practice until proficiency is developed.
Of particular interest to me, since I’m allergic to yellow jacket stings to some degree, is the section on making yellow jacket soup. Larvae, not adults, are used to make a nutty flavored, protein-packed soup. Mark gives detailed descriptions on how to “safely” dig and harvest larva from a yellow jacket nest. My experience with the business end of these stinging insects has prevented me from attempting a heist. However, after reading his experience, it sounds doable even for me.
I respect Mark Warren a great deal, not only for his passion to share this lost knowledge, but more so because he lives what he describes his book. He traded theory for action decades ago. When purchasing his book or attending his classes, you’ll quickly discover that Mark is the real deal with a depth of experience sorely lacking in the world of outdoor education.
If you teach wilderness living skills, scouts, school children, or just interested in expanding your own outdoor education, I highly recommend Secrets of the Forest! Order yours at his site: Medicine Bow.
Update 08/11/2017: Calling Up The Flame – The Art Of Creating Fire -and – Feeding The Spirit – Storytelling And Ceremony : Vol. 2 – by Mark Warren just became available.
While you’re there, check out his class schedule. I’ll be attending The Art of Archery class in September. Mark knows a thing or two about archery. He was the World Long Bow Champion in 1999.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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