I arrived at the Maine Primitive Skills School a little over one month ago today to begin their 6 ½ month residential apprenticeship program. It’s been a whirlwind first month.

We started off by jumping head first into the skills with a semi survival trip into the forest to test what knowledge we already have and what needs to be honed. If you’re asking yourself, what is a semi survival trip? That means that you have at least a knife and a steel water bottle.

We built a very large lean-to that could fit seven sleeping people. Only our group was nine. So two of us would be on a fire watch while the others slept. We’d switch off every hour within the next person in the lean-to, so we all got some sleep.

The first night was super cold! I was by the end of the lean-to, and it wasn’t quite built up enough and didn’t have enough debris to keep the wind from blowing in. We built a long fire but all the heat seemed to escape into the universe. So the next night we built up the sides with more debris and built a large reflector wall so more of that heat was sent back towards us instead of just going out into the universe. We also built a slight overhang in the front of the shelter so that more heat would get sucked in and it would hold that heat longer than just being wide open. We all slept much better that night.

After the semi survival trip and a much needed break, we ventured on to learning about early spring foraging for edible and medicinal plants. We harvested Japanese knot weed roots for tincturing. We gathering comfrey and plantain leaves for salve making, and harvested Japanese Barberry roots for a berberine tincture. We made stinging nettle pesto with white pine cambium chips and a side of wild plant stir fry.

Ian's first bow drill with stone tools and natural cordage.

Ian’s first bow drill with stone tools and natural cordage.

The next week we moved onto sapling bow making with master bowyer Bob Brooks. We used only hatchets, knives, files, and rasps. We learned how to follow the river of the grain of the wood, which transitioned us in to forging knives with Adrian the blacksmith teacher. We also learned how to turn old leaf springs from a car into knives.

From bows and knives,we moved into bio-intensive gardening techniques, including the double dig procedures and different composting systems. A visit to Grandfather Ray’s taught us about the principles and harvesting ethics for wild rice.

Next we were off on a 5-day native awareness class, which covered bird sits and learning how to move through the landscape in a way that gives you a deeper connection to the local plants and animals. We also got a very cursory introduction to the fascinating world of animal tracks and signs. We learned how to establish baseline and then listen for the silences in between the cacophony of sounds that surround us every day…the process of emptying your mind and moving slowly through the natural world. The slower you move, the more you see.

I have been to another wilderness survival school and completed their nine-month program. It was an amazing experience. I learned so much. It was an excellent introduction to these skills. But Maine Primitive Skills School is where I am beginning to hone these skills to the next level where I too can be a mentor and teacher to pass along these valuable and needed skills to the next generation.

Are you interested in modern wilderness survival? Primitive skills? Tracking? Awareness? Bird language? The list goes on and on. Then you should visit the Maine Primitive Skills School. It’s a safe, fun environment that will push you to your edge. It’s taught by a knowledgeable staff that is passionate about primitive skills and passing them on to the next generations. So check out the calendar and find a class that interests you and come on down and give us a visit.