001 Apprentice of the Wild - Sean Critchfield

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The city has become [the] survival environment, because if you don’t have money in a city, typically you perish. But in the woods, it’s all there; we’ve just forgotten how to listen and how to receive it.
— Sean Critchfield

When I first came up with the idea for the Uncivilize Podcast, I knew that my first interview had to be with veteran outdoorsman Sean Critchfield, lead instructor for the Wisdom Keepers School Apprentice of the Wild program here in Los Angeles, via which he teaches ancient and wilderness skills to more than 200 children, including my own two kiddos. My girls and I began taking Sean’s classes last spring (adults accompany younger students plus he teaches adult classes, too), and since then we can’t imagine life in LA without him. He has become a much beloved mentor as our family transitions from mere outdoor enthusiasts to people with a true outdoor skill set.

But it is also Sean who undoubtedly inspired this podcast, because he has opened up a world of possibility by doing what so many others in the wilderness / primitive skills movement wouldn’t dream of doing: choosing to reside in the midst of a megacity while he pursues a life immersed in the natural world and the fundamental skills of self-reliance. As a result of that seemingly paradoxical choice, he is not only living proof of the idea that nature is not, in fact, “somewhere else,” but an essential facet of the human existence with which we must all find a way to make our home; he has been able to share his knowledge with so many. 

Whether like me, you’re just entering the exciting world of plant identifying, animal tracking, fire making and shelter building and are overwhelmed about where to start, or you’re a veteran outdoorsperson struggling with navigating the realities of our hyper-modern world, I know you’ll appreciate the urban rewilding wisdom Sean brings to this interview. He’s also a gentle soul and a gifted storyteller (you should see this man hold rapt a dozen-plus otherwise rowdy kids in the woods), and I promise you’ll find yourself mesmerized by the profundity of his thoughts on nature, on learning, and on using the circumstances of our reality to more fully connect with the world around us, wherever that may be. 

Here’s what we delve into in this first episode:

  • Navigating urban life and finding pockets of beauty everywhere
  • Sean’s work on the East Coast with renowned forager Carmen Corradino: “I now look at the woods differently”
  • The city as the “survival” environment
  • Sean’s childhood as an Air Force brat and learning bushcraft skills from his father
  • Fly fishing, rock climbing, summit hiking, backpacking
  • How Sean came to primitive skills and wilderness survival
  • “I don’t care who you are; The more you learn, the less you know”
  • Modern learning versus ancient learning: Transference of ideas versus a transformation of lives
  • Becoming a Nevada Naturalist
  • The rabbit hole of interconnected skills and Sean’s advice for getting started
  • Meeting Chris Morasky and the importance of finding mentors
  • Why “the only perfect survival shelter is in a survival guide”
  • Learning to make a coal with a bow-drill fire kit (and what is a coal, anyway?)
  • “There is a presence that we’re unaware of that is demanding gratitude and respect”
  • Teaching wilderness skills to young kids and failure as a tool for learning  
  • Why discomfort is OK
  • An encounter with angry wasps
  • The risks that come with nature versus accepted risks in the modern world
  • Rock climbing and accepting the circumstances of your reality
  • Why Sean lives in LA, Apprentice of the Wild and how he balances the natural and modern worlds
  • Sean’s thoughts on technology and his vision for the future: “It’s the only ending I see that works”

You can follow Sean’s work or check out his workshop/class offerings via the Apprentice of the Wild page on the Wisdomkeepers site, learn more at the Apprentice of the Wild Facebook page or reach out to Sean directly at apprenticeofthewild[at]gmail[dot]com. 

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Further reading/watching:

The Nevada Naturalist program
The California Naturalist program
Steven Pinker’s TED talk: The Surprising Decline in Violence