Practically Seeking

July 2009 (Issue 23)

Okay, yes, June got away from us. With the Texas trip and all the other stuff that's been going on, all of a sudden it was July! So we're going to take the opportunity to attempt to get back on a "first half of the month" newsletter schedule once again.
Speaking of Texas, the trip and workshops went great and we even managed to miss the worst of the heat. (Hooray!) Many thanks to Mark Wright for being such a fantastic and enthusiastic guest instructor at our first Backwoods Hygiene & Improvised First Aid workshop. We all learned a lot, and none of us will never be able to look at safety pins the same way again!
You can check out photos of all the Texas workshops — Medicinals Plants / Traps, Simplified / BH & 1stAid — on our Facebook page. (Become a Fan!)

Summer is already half over and the Hunter-Gatherer program will be finishing up next month. Only one month left then it's off to the woods to test their skills on their Survival Outing.
But as NJ Hunter-Gatherer is winding down, the application deadline for Hunter-Gatherer Texas is fast approaching, so be sure to submit your applications by July 31.
It runs one 3-day weekend every other month from September to May, with the Survival Outing in June. So if you are ready to really learn and know what it takes to survive and thrive in a simple life, don't miss out.
Speaking of our Intensive Skills Programs, the deadline for Secrets in the Stone has been extended to the end of July. I've made a change to the timing for this one to help participants gain better muscle memory (and take less time off work).
And last, we've had so many inquiries about The Ultimate Hunter program that I am happy to announce it will be starting up again in October and running through January. Details and link to the application are below.

It's been a great (and busy) summer so far, and now that it's stopped raining at last, we're squeezing every last drop of sunlight out of these dog days. We're off to the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous in a couple of weeks, where I will be giving the evening seminar on Thursday — Principles of Natural Camouflage — so if you're at the event we hope you'll come on by.

Have a great summer!


Quote for the month: "Civilization has nothing to offer a man once he has become a savage." — Bill Atkinson

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

What's New

Shooting the Longbow on YouTube!
Our latest "short film"…

During our Shooting the Longbow workshop a couple of weeks ago Eddie took three students with little to no previous experience with a bow and had them shooting pie plates out of the air by the middle of the afternoon. Julie grabbed the video camera so they'd have something to remember their accomplishments by, and Eddie decided to put some of the footage together into a new YouTube short. So check out Peter, Dan and Adam, and their awesome archery aerials!

SURVIVAL SKILL 101 Workshop Added in August
August 15-16

We've added a Survival Skills 101 weekend to our August schedule. It's a fun 2-day workshop where you'll get hands-on experience building a shelter, making fire-by-friction with your own bowdrill kit, creating stone tools, finding & purifying water, identifying and preparing basic edible and medicinal plants, learning to follow animal movements and much more.
Come on out and join us, and open the door to a whole new relationship with the Earth as you prepare yourself for any possibility that you and your family may face.

Premium Osage — Seasoned, Straight & Ready to Go

We've prepared a new batch of Osage and will be posting the photos & descriptions of seven new staves for sale by the end of the week.
It's all well-seasoned, straight-grained Osage that has been split into 72" staves and brought it down to a ring (mostly), so you can see exactly what you're going to get. Give us a call or send an e-mail and we will get it shipped to you.
We'll also have some with us at ETAR so you can see them in person at our booth.
If you're in the Toms River area and want to come by and see them in person just let us know.

Using the Whole Animal workshop Returning this November!
November 14-19

A big hit last year, we've decided to once again team up with Two Wolves Braintanning to offer our Using the Whole Animal workshop. Over the six full days of this course you'll be hands-on through the entire process, learning how to use every part of the animal in a responsible and respectful manner.
Strictly limited to 8 people, all meals and materials will be provided and camping will be available on-site.
The folks who attended this one last year learned far more than they ever expected. Don't miss this one-of-a-kind workshop!

Upcoming Events

Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous
July 23-26
Ski Denton — Coudersport, PA

This event was an amazing experience for us last year, and we are definitely planning to make it a regular stop on our Summer Events tour. One of the largest Traditional-Only Archery shoots in the world, 'Denton' draws shooters and their families from across the eastern half of the United States, down from Canada, even over from Europe.
Eight courses with over 200 3-D targets spread across 700 acres, and the Eagle Eye Competition Finals. 
Along with Byron Ferguson, and G. Fred Asbell, Eddie has once again been asked to do an evening seminar this year. He will be talking about and demonstrating Natural Camouflage Techniques on Thursday at 8pm so if you're going to be at the shoot we hope you'll come find us!
(For more info check out the Events page on our website.)

Free Open Skills Nights

July 15
August 19
September 16
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!)


Practical Primitive Logo

World of the Hunter-Gatherer — Texas
Application Deadline Approaching!

We are down to the last few weeks of accepting applications for our Hunter-Gatherer, Texas program!
Taking place at our location near Clifton, Hunter-Gatherer Texas will be limited to 4 people and taught in a hands-on, integrated learning style, with the projects and homework for each month building on the last.
Participants will meet for a 3 day weekend every other month — September, November, January, March and May, (probably over the 3rd weekend but this will depend on the schedules of participants), with the Survival Outing taking place in June.
We're so excited to be able to offer this amazing program to a whole new group of people in a whole new area of the country. We hope you're excited too, and look forward to seeing your application!
Application Deadline: July 31, 2009

(See photos of the July Hunter-Gatherer weekend on our Facebook page!)

Secrets in the Stone
September – December 2009

After some consideration Eddie has made a small adjustment to the timing of our next Secrets in the Stone program, beginning in September.
He has decided that you, as participants, would be better served by a slightly longer program of shorter weekends. So, we're extending the program to 4 months of 2-day weekends. This will provide that "just-enough" extra time needed for brain-patterning and muscle-memory to really sink in and take your knapping skills to a new place. (It also means you won't have to take extra days off work!)
So no matter what your current knapping skill level, if you've been wanting to begin seriously learning to work with stone then this program will take you far beyond your expectations.
And with this additional time to work together, Eddie plans to cover even more ground this time around!
(Because of the scheduling change we have extended the application deadline to the end of July.)
Application Deadline: July 31, 2009

World of the Bow: The Ultimate Hunter
October 2009 – January 2010

It's Back! Due to the high level of interest, we've returned The Ultimate Hunter program to our Fall schedule.
As with Secrets in the Stone, Eddie has decided to extend this one to 4 months of 2-day weekends (except for October, which will remain a 3-day bow-building weekend).
With so much he wants to convey during this program, taking participants on a real journey along the path of the True Hunter and the Ultimate Hunt, it is Eddie's belief that this format change will allow for an even better understanding of the World of the Bow.
We also hope that this will open the program up to those of you who have difficulty getting days off during the week.
You'll learn all the skills of the spot-and-stalk, predator vs. prey style of hunt. No tree stands or baited blinds for you. Taking place over the course of hunting season, you will learn and practice the skills of The Ultimate Hunter.
Application Deadline: August 31, 2009

Remember, these programs are limited to only
4 participants, to ensure the highest quality of instruction.

Upcoming Workshops

Our Spring/Summer schedule is well underway!
Be sure to check out the great workshops available on our  new Spring and Summer schedule, and here's a look at what's coming up over the next couple of months…


10-11  Tracking Essentails
      12  Stalking & Natural Camouflage
      18  Foraging & Gathering
      19  Woods Wisdom: Outdoor Basics
      20  Fire Making


  7-10  Bow-making: Self Bows
15-16  Survival Skills 101
     17  Nature Observation & Awareness


12-13  9 Step Knapping™


14-19  Using the Whole Animal


Skill of the Month

Birch Tar

Birch Tar: The Better Pitch

As a final installment in our series on pitch, I want to introduce you to the "Miracle Juice" of the Birch tree. You may be a little tired of hearing about sticky ooze and black goo, but let me assure you that this is worth it!
The oil extracted from birch bark can be produced easily and in quantity, and in my opinion it makes a superior product to traditional pine pitch. Good survival is all about metabolic efficiency (expending your calories wisely), and considering the ease with which it can be collected and processed, Birch Tar is ideal!

Here is the procedure for extracting this wondrous sticky substance that can, in addition to the traditional bonding agent, be used for fuel, medicine, waterproofing, leather treatment and wood preservation. 

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

How to extract and render Birch Tar:

  1. Obtain two empty metal cans, one that has a tight-fitting lid. Paint cans work great for this, but pay attention, since a lot of paint now comes in plastic cans. It's best if the two cans are close to the same diameter, since the concept is to create an oxygen-free environment in which to heat the bark. Of the two, the one without the lid may be of a smaller diameter.
  2. Punch a hole in the center of the bottom of the can that has a lid. (The easiest way to make your hole is with a hammer and nail.) A hole about 3/8" in diameter is good. This will be your "condensing" can.
  3. Cut your birch bark so that when it is standing on edge it is a little shorter than the height of your condensing can. Roll up the strips all together and stand them on edge in the can — be sure you don't cover up the hole you punched in the bottom! (In the photos we used six strips of bark that were 6 inches high and 18 inches long.) Once all the bark is inside, place the lid on the can and close it up firmly.
  4. In the center of your fire pit dig a hole deep enough that your second can (the "collecting" can) will sit with it's rim at or below ground level. (We used an economy-sized tuna can in the photos.)
  5. Place your collecting can in the hole, making sure that it sits stable and level. Be careful not to get any dirt inside! Now place the condensing can so that it sits directly on top of the collecting can. There should be NO air gaps — remember, we're working for an oxygen-free environment.
  6. Use soil to carefully create a light seal around where the two cans come together. Not so tight as to seal in the gasses, but enough to keep the two cans in place so that you don't knock the condensing can off of it's perch, or get any dirt into the collecting can. The collecting can should be completely covered at this point. (Don't pack down the dirt. Too tight a seal may cause the expanding gasses to blow the lid off your condensing can!)
  7. Start a fire over and around the condensing can and keep it burning. It does not have to be a huge fire, but should surround the can well on all sides. The condensing can will glow red (just like when you're firing pottery) and you will probably hear the tar start to run once the can reaches a high enough temperature. If not, just keep the fire burning for an hour or two. 
  8. Allow the fire to burn down, then once it has cooled, carefully scrape away the ashes and soil from around the two cans, being mindful not to allow dirt or ash to fall into your new tar.
  9. Then, using tongs or welding gloves, remove the condensing can, and look at all of that beautiful birch tar that has collected in the bottom can! After the condensing can has had a chance to cool, carefully remove the lid to see how little is left of your original birch bark strips.
  10. In it's "straight-from-the-fire" state the oil can be used for waterproofing, wood treatment, and medicine. With a bit of further refinement you can easily create fuel, other medicines, and bonding agents.
  11. To thicken the oil into something more pitch-like you simply need to simmer off the volatile (flammable) substances. Slowly simmer the oil over a low heat for about an hour or so until it becomes quite gooey, and is about half the original volume. When the tar will firm to your desired consistency remove it from the heat and allow it to cool. This material can now be stored and used just like pitch. (Stirring the oil occasionally during the refining process will cause foam to rise and will hasten the process, but be careful not to allow it to boil over or flame up.)

Next time you see a downed birch be sure to snag some bark and give this one a try.
Easy to make and lots of bang for your buck, it smells better than pitch too!
So Distill Away, and Have Fun!

FYI: I was first introduced to the making of this wonder material in a DVD by the excellent British survivalist and bushcraft expert, Ray Mears. He has many DVDs available on all sorts of topics and I highly recommend you check them out. Excellent info, with real experience to back it up.


Eddie's Bookshelf

The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma

—Michael Pollan

What should we have for dinner?
I know without a doubt that ours is not the only household in which that question is asked with a certain amount of anxiety, frustration or ambivalence. Being omnivores, humans have an almost endless list of items at our eating disposal, yet day in and day out we still wonder what we should choose for our next meal.
The Omnivore's Dilemma is "a long and fairly involved answer to this seemingly simple question."
Before reading this book Eddie and I assumed that we had a general idea of what went into the food we were eating. I was already reading labels carefully and doing my best to avoid high fructose corn syrup (although in some products it is virtually impossible!), buying organic meat and eggs as often as we could afford and have long used my purchasing dollars in favor of milk products that came from cows not treated with rBGH (a synthetic growth hormone banned in most other first-world countries).
Even so, Pollan's book was an incredibly eye-opening experience for us both.

Exploring a Natural History of Four Meals, Pollan goes backwards through the food chain to the ultimate sources of our food. Tracing a typical fast food meal back to the corn fields of Iowa that produce not only the feed for the cattle and chicken that make the burgers and nuggets, but the many, many, MANY synthetic ingredients that make up almost everything else, we learn that corn has so deftly permeated every nook and cranny of our food supply that we can now absolutely confirm, with DNA accuracy, that we have striped the title from the Aztecs and America can now (proudly?) claim that We are the Corn People.

He explains why and how organic has become cheaper and more mainstream by visiting Industrial Organic enterprises, both plant and animal, in several different states. However, he leaves the question lingering in our minds as to whether or not this is a good thing. Yes, removing both antibiotics and pesticides from our food chain is a MASSIVE step forward, but monoculture depletes the land no matter how you look at it, and are cows and chickens raised in organic feedlots on organic corn any better off than their non-organic counterparts? Cows living ankle-deep in their own feces and chickens for whom "access to the outdoors" is more of a seldom exercised two-week vacation option than an everyday lifestyle are living horribly miserable and dismal lives, antibiotics or not.
The week that Pollan spends working on Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Virginia is a refreshing reminder of what real food used to be like for all of us, back when all of us were the better for it. A truly symbiotic farming environment, Polyface is fully geared toward living, working and raising animals within the boundaries of what nature provides, as opposed to forcing and bending that world to our own desires. Cows, chickens, laying hens, pigs, turkeys and rabbits all live in a harmonious environment, doing the jobs that nature built them to do. They produce a phenomenal amount of food on the 100 cleared and 300 wooded acres that is Polyface — mostly by doing exactly the opposite of what conventional farming wisdom promotes — but the most remarkable and most heartening aspect of the Salatin operation is that they leave the land better for it!
Polyface proclaims itself to be "beyond organic" — a localized, pasture-led "grass farm" that is both the longed-for past and the much-needed future of our national food chain. Yet to my knowledge, it is not, for various reasons, "certified organic" by the FDA. This problem seems to face many small farms that choose to purchase some supplies from local, "non-FDA-organic-approved" companies, instead of from "legally organic" suppliers that are hundreds or thousands of miles away. So which type of organization leaves us and our world better off? Pollan leaves you to answer that question for yourself.

The last section of the book is devoted to the type of food that is nearest and dearest to our Practical Primitive hearts. The Hunter-Gatherer meal. Recognizing just how far away most people have come from having any idea where their food originates, Pollan determines to create a meal derived (almost) exclusively from ingredients he has grown, gathered or hunted himself. Already an avid gardener, the "grown" part presents no problems, and some stealthy urban foraging turns up tasty wild edibles and berries. A few days in the forest with an experienced mycologist provide the necessary information to include a few samples from the fungi kingdom.
Then we come to The Hunt. A very brave and honest account of a first hunt. The fear, the adrenaline rush, the exhilaration of the kill and the abhorrence of "what have I done?!" that comes after. But time and distance bring perspective, as well as the realization that being a meat-eater entails having blood on your hands, either literally or figuratively. And with that understanding, acceptance dawns and dinner can be planned and enjoyed.
He shares his self-made bounty with family and friends in a delicious "Perfect Meal" that includes bread baked with wild yeast caught from the air. (A project that has found itself smack at the top of our own "To Do" list!)

Yes, this has been a long review (which I have shortened considerably in the editing process!) but I really can not say enough about this book.
Read it.
Or listen to the book-on-tape version. The information you discover may shock you, frustrate you, infuriate you or simply confirm what you already knew or suspected, but it is information that we ALL should be aware of. And then we can truly decide how, or if, we will change our attitudes, buying decisions and food choices in response.
As the official voices have gotten louder and louder about telling us what we should or shouldn't eat, and how all of this "progress" is good for us, and placing their official seal-of-approval and regulatory Okay on our increasingly unsustainable food system, our animals have gotten sicker, more miserable and so far from their natural diets and behaviors that it is both heart-breaking and appalling. At the same time, diseases and viruses and bacteria and salmonella and e. coli have been spreading, becoming more virulent, and showing up in places they have never been seen before.

And through it all, we as a nation of industrial eaters have gotten fatter, slower and sicker.

As Michael Pollan reminds us:
Not only is it true that "we are what we eat".
We are what we eat eats to.

(For a long, but not complete list of ingredients that are or can be derived from corn, see the very informative Corn Allergens website.)

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

Practically Speaking

Finding Time

I'm Too Busy Already! Where can I find the time??

Albert Einstein is purported to have  said "The most powerful force in the universe is that of compound interest". Whether or not he actually said this is open to debate — the results, however, are not. By adding a little every day, over the span of time, a great deal is accumulated. For some this may mean the accumulation of material goods or money. In my world, the knowledge that you internalize IS wealth.

"Maybe when once I'm retired…"
It's an easy thing to forget, but we all have the same amount of time in a day. The problem seems to be that we spend our lives moving through a continuous, mindless routine. We do the same thing at the same time, day after day, our lives becoming a rutted road getting deeper and deeper until the end.
I hear people say they would love to practice their skills or learn something new, but the just "don't have the time". I'll admit, that can be true in some cases. But the truth is that most of us just do not see beyond our established routine.

To break free of "the rut" one has to make a CHOICE to try something new, maybe for only 5 minutes, every day. This could be working with a bit of clay, taking a short walk to look for pitch on pine trees (or maybe even to see if there ARE any pine trees!), carving on a stick, throwing a stone or two, seeing and looking up a new bird…
This time spent in conscious choice adds up over time. You probably don't have time to make a full-sized Adirondack Pack Basket in a day. But where is the law that says it has to be done in one sitting? I guarantee you do have time to do 3 or 4 rows, or some days maybe more. By spending a shorter amount of time over a longer period, in a few days or a couple of weeks, you are done.
And by spending those few minutes many times over, you are exponentially farther ahead than if you have just read about it, thought about it, or put it off "until you had time".
Years ago, when I worked as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the State of Texas, I would come home after a long day and just want to watch TV. And I did. But in addition to watching, I spent that time working on pottery, or twisting cordage, or making a basket, or working some other skill. Over the course of 15 years I learned a whole lot of skills, and internalized a whole lot of knowledge, just 30 minutes at a time in front of the idiot box.
So make the time. Take the time. Do something new, think SMALL scale, take incremental steps, and earn BIG dividends!


One Final Note

It's hard to believe that so much of the summer is already over! The leaves will starting to change before we know it and the dog days of summer will begin drawing to a close.
Okay, maybe I'm jumping ahead a little bit, but that's what starting to put together the Fall/Winter workshop schedule does to me.
With Hunter-Gatherer Texas, Secrets in the Stone and Ultimate Hunter all going on this fall we won't have as many regular weekend workshops as usual some months, so we will be scheduling more week day offerings between September and year's end.
We are still searching for a new property on which we can take Practical Primitive on to the next level and begin offering a wider range of workshops and opportunities, so if you have, or know anyone who has a place in the New Jersey area that is for rent, lease, trade or sale that might be suitable, we'd love to take more.
Until next month, enjoy the long days, warm nights and summer fun.

Be Well,
Eddie & Julie
Practical Primitive

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