Practically Seeking

December 2009 (Issue 27)

Wonderous Solstice, Joyous Yule, Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to you all!
The rain has washed away the 22 inches of snow that dumped down on us last week, but it was a beautiful winter wonderland outside, for a little while at least, and a certain Canadian was in her glory, in spite of all the shoveling. But, now that we can get out of the driveway again, we are busily preparing for the New Year, and everything that we hope it will bring.

Foremost of which, our new Hunter-Gatherer session, beginning in March! We have already begun receiving applications for our 2010 World of the Hunter-Gatherer program, so if this is the year that you are ready to really LEARN, first-hand, the skills of our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors then be sure to get your application in before the January 31 deadline. It's an amazing 6 month journey, and we're really looking forward to putting together another great tribe for 2010!

And for those of you who have been waiting patiently, the final version of Eddie's knife has just arrived from the knife-maker! There are more details below but it will definitely be on the market shortly!

We've decided to hang out in Texas for an extra weekend in January to offer two 1-day workshops on Soap Making and Tracking Basics. We know it's a bit short notice but we hope that those of you who have been looking forward to our next set of workshops at Starhaven will be able to make it out. (You'll never buy commercially made soap again!)

As always there is so much to do and so little time. We will be spending most of our time between now and the middle of January working hard on a couple of new video projects and we hope that you'll be as excited as we are to see the results.

A safe, prosperous and Happy New Year to you all!

e & j


What's New Upcoming Events Skill of the Month Eddie's Bookshelf Practically Speaking Final Note

What's New

SRWK Prototype

Eddie's knife available in the New Year!

I know, I know, it seems as though we've been here before, but Eddie has given final approval to the design of his Reliant Woodsman's Knife, on which he has been working for many years. (Don't it look pretty?) It arrived back from the knife-smith just yesterday and all that remains to do is put it through it's paces to make sure that it can actually and easily do the things it's designed for. Then it will be ready for market at last!
While we haven't received a final price yet, it looks like the SRWK will be available for under $200, which is in keeping with our commitment and practice of bringing you high-quality AND affordability.
And so that you will be able to see the kind of quality and versatility you will be getting in this very-cool-if-we-do-say-so-ourselves new knife, we'll be putting together a video of the testing we put it through and posting it to our YouTube channel so you can really see it in action. As close as we can get to "try before you buy"!
The "official" pre-order form will be up on our website as soon as we have the final price and options details from the Knife-maker, but we know many of you have seen previous proto-types and been waiting a long time for this knife, so if you know that you're interested in pre-ordering one just drop us a line so we will have an idea of how many to start with!

Texas workshops in January
Workshops coming to our Clifton, TX location

We've made a small adjustment to our January schedule to give ourselves an extra week in Texas at the end of the month. Rather than head straight back to New Jersey after our next Hunter-Gatherer weekend we will be spending the week on the ranch, and offering two 1-day workshops the weekend of January 30-31.

January 30Soap Making
January 31Tracking Basics

We're looking forward to seeing y'all then!



World of the Hunter-Gatherer
March – August 2010
Now Accepting Applications for New Jersey session!

We have already begun receiving applications for our 2010 World of the Hunter-Gatherer Intensive Skills Program and are looking forward to putting together another great Tribe in the coming year. This is a 6-month program during which participants will meet at our main location in New Jersey for one 3-day weekend each month for intensive instruction and practice in the skills required to survive and thrive as a Hunter-Gatherer.
Remember, this program is limited to four people, and all applications must be received by midnight January 31 in order to be considered. For more information and to apply, see the Intensive Skills Program page of our website.
It's going to be a great year to be a Hunter-Gatherer!!

World of the StoryTeller
An Amazing New Intensive Skills Program in the works!

The more we develop this program the more excited we are to get started. The World of the StoryTeller is shaping up to be one amazing program and if we can get the scheduling worked out we will have a lot more information to impart in our January newsletter.

We are sooo excited about running this program, which will be like nothing we've ever offered before, and frankly, like nothing we've ever seen offered before! It is our goal to create an experience that will help pass along the True Art of StoryTelling through this unique Intensive Skills Program.
More than just learning how to make drums and rattles... More than just discovering and fashioning your own regalia... More than just memorizing other people's stories... More, even, than bringing it all together to bring out the StoryTeller that is you. This program will take you on a journey of discovery that will take you to a whole new world -- the World of the StoryTeller.
While we still have many things that need to be worked out with schedules, we are meeting with Grandfather Little Hawk and Grandmother Beverly on January 4 and the more interest we can show to them, the more likely it is that we will be able to go forward for 2010.

To get a better idea of just who these amazing people are, please visit the website of The Little Hawk Show to learn about Kenneth Little Hawk's history and see just a few examples of his work. Though I must say that, having seen his StoryTelling in person, nothing on video can quite compare!
And if you are interested in learning more about this unique program please let us know!

Free Open Skills Nights

January 13
February 17
March 17
Come on out and join us for our FREE Open Skills nights the third Wednesday of each month. Bring a project you're working on, a plant ID guide, an animal tracking book, or just come to meet us and spend an evening hanging out.
It's fun, it's free, and everyone is welcome. We never know who will be here, or what folks will be working on, but we do know that it's always a great evening.
We look forward to having you here!

(Check out photos of some past Open Skills Nights on our Flickr and Facebook pages!)

Upcoming Workshops

January – March 2010 workshop schedule posted!

We've posted the beginnings of our workshop schedule for 2010, with some great new courses in the works for the coming year. We've made an adjustment to our January schedule, adding a couple of workshops in Texas at the end of month.
We're continuing to work out some scheduling details for the Spring and Summer, so in the mean time, here's a look at what's coming up in the next couple of months…


16       Fire Making
17       Bone Working
30       Soap Making — Clifton, TX
31       Tracking Basics — Clifton, TX


5          Making & Using Natural Cordage
         The "GO" Bag
         Natural Glues & Adhesives
20-21   Introduction to Bow-Making
26        Out of the Darkness: Candles, Lamps & Illumination
27-28   Drum Making

Skill of the Month

Hide Glue

Hide Glue: The Original Adhesive

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Hide Glue was THE adhesive. Prior to the introduction of modern polymers hide glue was the strongest thing people had available to them -- so strong that violins, and even pianos were glued with it!
An extremely versatile product, I have personally witnessed my friend Joe Miller use hide glue, in making his art-glass creations, to pull the sand-blasted surface off of plate glass, leaving a stunning, frosted effect. Hide Glue was used for almost everything "back in the day", and is still an excellent option for many projects, including bows. But whether you choose to use it for "primitive" or modern means, this is definitely one of those products that falls under the "first, not worst" category. It's easy to make, simple to store, and another great way to both reduce waste and to honor the animal through use. Once you've tried hide glue a few times I'm certain that you too will be sold on this fantastic original adhesive.

(For photos to go along with these step-by-step instructions check out our website.)


How to make Hide Glue:

  1. Trim any hide scraps you have into small pieces. The smaller the bits, the faster and easier the process becomes, so save all those bits from when you're scraping and tanning hides.
  2. Put your hide bits into a pot (use an older pot -- this is not a project for your best, new saucepan!) and cover completely with water.
  3. Bring the hide-water to a slow boil and reduce heat to allow it to simmer. In the interest of maintaining family relationships I strongly suggest lighting a couple of nicely scented candles at this point in the project. :-)
  4. And now we wait. The simmering process can take a few hours. You'll know it's done when the hide bits have turned somewhat translucent.
  5. Strain out the hide bits using a metal kitchen strainer — once again, this is NOT the job for that brand new Williams-Sonoma strainer or colander. Do yourself (and your significant other) a favor and pick one up at the dollar store while you're out buying your scented candles!
  6. Return the strained liquid to the heat and continue to simmer off the excess water. After your mixture begins to thicken slightly, remove it from the heat. Once it is cool enough to touch, put a small sample on your fingertips to confirm that it feels sticky. If not, return the pan to the heat and continue to simmer off more water. Be careful not to scorch the bottom! While there are a couple of things that smell worse than burnt hide glue, it is a very short list!
  7. Strain out the finest particles using some old pantyhose or a couple of layers of cheesecloth in your strainer. Strain the liquid into a wide, flat container — a foil pie plate or foil pan works great for this — then allow the mixture to cool completely. Once it is fully cooled the substance will congeal, and will feel really rubbery.
  8. Squeeze the gel-like substance between your fingers or mince it with a knife to break it up into small pieces and place these bits aside to dry in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Repeat this process every day until the crumbles are completely dry, or your glue will mold. (Once last piece of advice — don't try to do this step in a dehydrator. I have, and you will regret it.)
  9. Once the crumbled bits are completely dry, place them in a waterproof container to store until use. A glass jar with a tight-fitting lid works well.
  10. To use your hide glue, take out about as much as you think you will need and warm the bits slowly over medium-low heat, adding very small amounts of water to re-hydrate to your desired consistency. (The less water added, the stronger and thicker your glue.) Do NOT bring to a boil as this will make the glue weak and brittle. Once applied, allow several days for the glue to dry completely.

Hide glue can be used for anything from attaching feather fletching to arrows
to gluing sinew onto the back of bow to making furniture.
Just remember hide glue is affected by moisture, so choose your projects carefully,
and Have Fun!

Eddie's Bookshelf

Making Silent Stones Speak

Making Silent Stones Speak: Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology

— Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth

Eddie frequently quotes Scott Silsby's saying, "Primitive means first, not worst" and as a practitioner of primitive skills I often find myself wondering about those "First" people: The first one to shoot a bow, the first one to make fire by rubbing two sticks together, the first one to peal off an animal's skin to carry her infant and so free her hands... and the first one to pick up a rock and hit it against another rock to create a sharp edge.
We all have ancestors who used these skills and made their living by them — and were very successful doing so or we wouldn't be here today! But how did we go from barely upright primates using sticks to fish termites out of their mounds, to modern humans reading a book review on a computer screen?

This is the question that Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth, leading anthropologists with decades of experience, attempt to answer in Making Silent Stones Speak. I had expected this book to be a boring and technical account of this or that species of hominid, or archaeological site and it's artifacts. Was I in for a surprise! Leafing through the pages to look at the many photos I was struck by one picture showing the authors skinning an elephant with simple stone tools, and another of a Chimp named Kanzi striking a hammer stone on a flint core to produce a flake. I was hooked!
The authors take us on a trip around the ancient world, reconstructing as best they can the daily lives of our earliest ancestors, and they write not from hypothetical assumptions based on studies of artifacts, but from their own personal experience in what, in the business, is called "Experimental Archeology". (And what we call just plain fun!)

The book starts back before the dawn of evolution and moves on through the prominent stages of our progress toward becoming modern humans. It gives a brief, yet educational history of and introduction to archeology and the methods archaeologists use to age the prehistoric sites they find, explores the definitions of "tools", and looks at other animals that are known to use them. You'll read about the different techniques used to create stone tools, and compare them with ones used by those few modern human cultures who still rely primarily on lithic technology today. There is an immense amount of information in this book, and some of the technical information about various sites around the world can get a bit dry, but it's all interspersed with entertaining, educational, and enlightening tidbits about the authors' experiences and research projects, including an amazing story about teaching a chimp how to make and use stone tools. Far from the dry, textbook-type that I expected, this book is written in a way that makes it an easy and informative read for anyone interested in Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology.

Most compelling of all was the subtle thread the authors wove throughout the book connecting our ancient ancestors with me as the reader, forcing me to stop and think about where I've come from and where I'm going. Where WE have come from and where WE are going, as a species. I found myself seeing history, tools, technology, and myself, in a fresh light. And if you think that stone technology is nothing more than a pastime or an interesting study of the past, you may be surprised to learn that we have already used it in what is arguably the greatest voyage into the future -- our exploration of space. Among the sounds that were placed on the spacecraft Voyager in our attempt to contact distant civilizations are recordings of music, greetings in over fifty languages, screeches of a chimpanzee, the sound of a single human kiss and, to my great surprise and delight, the sound of one rock hitting another in the production of the simplest of stone tools. How's that for "Making Silent Stones Speak?"

--- Thanks to Guest Reviewer, Kfir Mendel! ---

To find more information on this and other recommended books, see our website.

Practically Speaking

Monkey See, Monkey Do: The Importance of Observational Awareness

When we look back on many (if not all) indigenous tribal cultures, the learning of what we now call "skills" was accomplished very differently than the way we do it today. No lectures were given, no notes were taken, no books were written — in every culture that I am aware of there was no formal "teaching" environment at all. Young people learned solely through acute observation and constant repetition.
In my many years of teaching I have found that the ability to observe an action and precisely replicate it is very uncommon in our society. And the subtleties involved in reproducing actions exactly can mean the difference between a successful outcome or yet another failure. While it is not often practiced in traditional education today, the precise replication of movement is an established teaching technique and has been demonstrated as tremendously successful for centuries. Think of martial arts, for example. The more precise one becomes in replicating the movements of the teacher, the better the student becomes at that specific skill set and the faster they advance through their training. Science has also learned that visual stimulus combined with the repetition of an action causes the brain to learn to build neural pathways at a much faster rate, thus making the learning of similar skills much faster as well. Eventually one gets to the point where you only need to see a demonstration once or twice to pick up the precise movements involved. Many of you musicians out there will have experienced this first hand, whether you realized it or not. Think of when you've watched someone else play, for instance, a song that you don't know on the guitar and by watching the other musician you can pick up the tune and play along by the second or third verse.

This is one of the reasons that we are producing our skills tutorials that we have posted on our website and our YouTube channel. You may have noticed that the last couple of videos have been filmed differently than our first offerings. We are making a conscious effort to produce a quality product that is precise in it's shots, in order to allow you, the viewer, to really learn the skill through acute Observational Awareness. This became especially clear to us with Proper Bowdrill Form, thanks to the number of comments and e-mails we  received from people thanking us for their success after watching that video, after so many failed attempts.
So take the time to view and practice the techniques we've posted even if you have no intention of becoming an "expert" with that particular skill. By learning to pay close attention to the smallest visual details and reproduce the movements exactly as demonstrated you will notice that your skills will become almost effortless and fluid, and that your learning curve will decrease, as you begin to pick up new skills at a faster and faster pace.
And that, after all, is the result we are watching for.

One Final Note

As we wrap 2009 we want to take a moment to thank you all for another wonderful year! We met lots of great new people and had so much fun — who could ask for better? 
2010 is already looking to be a fantastic year and we're very much looking forward to sharing it with you in person, on video and through this newsletter. We plan to bring in a couple of special guest instructors this year — people of the highest caliber from whom we have learned some very cool things that we think you'll really enjoy. In addition to World of the StoryTeller, we are also working on scheduling a workshop on Making Cherokee Blow Guns for the summer, and we have a couple of other fun things in the works too. So stay tuned — as details develop we will definitely keep you posted.

On a personal note, we are taking an opportunity to do something that we have not done in the past, and considered very carefully before adding to this newsletter. We know that many charitable organizations have had a difficult time this year, and that all of our dollars are stretched a little thinner these days. However, an organization that we think is pretty amazing has had some real financial setbacks this year due to some expensive big-ticket repairs, and if you have a few extra dollars that you could send their way, Jay and Ricky and the animals they take in, who quite literally have nowhere else to go, would be very grateful.
Two years ago, when Julie headed up "The Great Clifton Animal Rescue" to find places for 46 dogs & cats that would otherwise have been "taken care of" by the county, Smiling Dog Farms stepped up without question or hesitation to take Hillary, the dog we thought no one would ever be willing to care for. Jay and Ricky will never say no, and their Sanctuary is founded on the premise that every dog deserves the chance to live out their life in safety and peace. They gave that chance to Hillary, and we will be forever grateful. But gratitude doesn't buy dog food, so we support them with our dollars as well. And if you can too, Smiling Dog Farms is a registered 501(c)3 and will send you a receipt for your taxes. And who can't save on those?! So that's our little plug for some folks for whom we have great respect and a place that is dear to our hearts.

May the Creator bring you peace and prosperity in the New Year, and may the joy of what you have permeate your every day.

Be Well,
Eddie & Julie
Practical Primitive

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