primitive skills

Emulating Our Wild Progenitors: A New Path - Arthur Haines

Arthur Haines Uncivilize.jpg
What are our evolutionary patterns versus how we are living now? Once you really start diving into that question, you learn that virtually everything we do stands in contradiction to what our bodies need for health. And not just our bodies…our emotion, our spirits…everything.
— Arthur Haines

We want to believe that we are living at the pinnacle of human existence; that since hominins first walked on two legs, man has been marching toward our vision of modern civilization. But what if despite humanity's vast achievements, we left behind a way of life that not only served our species better, but actually defined us as a species? So posits my guest today, Arthur Haines, the author of the transformative new book A New Path: To Transcend the Great Forgetting Through Incorporating Ancestral Practices Into Contemporary Living. The book, and today's conversation, is centered around a remarkable premise (first conceived with Daniel Vitalis): that modern-day humans have become a domesticated sub-species of Homo sapiens, our once-wild progenitors. Our divergence from our biologically normal way of life has not only de-evolved us, it is at the root of our current epidemic of ill health and environmental degradation.

But given that we can’t turn back the clock to live as indigenous hunter-gatherers, where do we go from here? Arthur has spent a lifetime ruminating on that question, as a botanist, taxonomist, forager and ancestral skills mentor who runs the Delta Institute of Natural History in Canton, ME. In A New Path, he offers revolutionary answers. Here, we talk about the book that's being called "the bible of the rewilding movement," and putting theory into practice with Wilder Waters, the neo-aboriginal community Arthur and his family are creating on 150 acres of protected forest in the woods of central Maine.

Here’s the rundown of our conversation:

  • The encyclopedic effort of A New Path

  • The lack of cancer in hunter-gatherer societies (i.e., intact lifeways)

  • Arthur’s childhood of fishing, hunting, tracking and mountaineering in Western Maine

  • Les Eastmen and the chance meeting that set Arthur on the path toward botany and taxonomy

  • Daniel Vitalis and the theory of modern humans as a domesticated subspecies

  • The bias against hunter-gatherers: “These were people who needed to be saved”

  • The myth of Steven Pinker’s myth of violence

  • The health of ancestral peoples vs. the health of people today

  • “We have bred the medicine out of food”: wild plants and phytochemicals

  • Raw water, hormesis, community, and a sneak peek at the book

  • “Our genes are still wild animals seeking immersion in nature”

  • Why it’s so hard to emulate historical community in the modern world

  • Learning an Eastern Abenaki language with his 4-year-old daughter

  • Wilder Waters – a neo-aboriginal community on 150 acres of forest in central Maine

  • Shared childcare and the challenges of learning how to live in an egalitarian community

  • What’s next for Arthur and Wilder Waters

Learn more about Arthur, his work and upcoming class offerings on his website, where you can order A New Path. (It's also available from you know where, but the previous link best supports Arthur's work.) Wilder Waters also has a website, along with a must-follow Instagram and Facebook page. Arthur's own Facebook page is here. And be sure to check out Wilder Waters' upcoming Dawnland Gathering, a 3-day/3-night primitive skills gathering in Turner, Maine. 

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!

Re-creating the Village - Rachel Natland and Chris Morasky

Top: Photos of Chris Morasky, Rachel Natland via  Wisdom Keepers . Bottom photo:  Elements Gathering .

Top: Photos of Chris Morasky, Rachel Natland via Wisdom Keepers. Bottom photo: Elements Gathering.

I had to go way off into the wilderness for a long time and really live apart from people before I realized that I actually do like people, and that I actually really love people—and that what I really don’t like is the way that people often treat each other. And that it’s because we have been born into a society which is so very strange and so very different from what is normal for our species, if we look at the long history of humanity.
— Chris Morasky
A lot of the things that happened to me as a child would not have happened to me if I was in a community that could have caught me.
— Rachel Natland

For 99 percent of our human history, we lived in small, likely egalitarian societies—tight-knit hunter-gatherer bands of a couple dozen people deeply reliant on their community and on the surrounding environment, for their survival. So where does that leave we present-day humans, now navigating an increasingly virtualized and individualized world amidst the dizzying urban constructs (not to mention vast social inequality) we call modern civilization? In a word: searching, to return to the fold of community and nature in which our species evolved for hundreds of thousands of years. 

My guests today, Chris Morasky and Rachel Natland, know that search well, and for decades pursued it on disparate paths: Chris, as a wildlife biologist who lived for more than 20 years in the wilderness and became one of the foremost Stone Age skills experts in North America; and Rachel, as a single mother who overcame her own inner-city childhood of abuse and addiction to become a spiritual mentor. Four years ago the rugged survivalist and the urban community-builder met, and the rest is history—and the future: Now a pair and living in Portland, they are restoring ancient egalitarian wisdom to the 21st century via their Wisdom Keepers school in Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest. Hear their incredible life stories that brought them to this remarkable moment in time, their poignant vision for the future, and how they're re-creating the village with their don't-miss Elements Gathering in the ancient sequoias. Hope to see you there!

Here's the run-down of our conversation:

  • Planning their upcoming Elements Gathering: A week-long village experience in the ancient sequoias

  • How Rachel brought herself up out of the inner city and broke the cycle of abuse and addiction

  • Chris: “I believe that children choose their parents”

  • The disparate paths that brought Rachel and Chris to the world of rewilding

  • The epiphany moment that sent Chris on a 20+-year-long journey living in the wilderness and small communities of British Columbia, Idaho and Utah

  • How Chris navigates life intuitively, and tapping into “our instinctual connection to the perfect system of nature”

  • Why Chris left the wilderness for Los Angeles

  • Overcoming the illness of modern society, and how to get the most out of our lives

  • Rachel’s calling to the West, single motherhood, and classism

  • How Chris and Rachel met

  • Community, autonomy and rugged individualism

  • Why they left LA for Portland, and what comes next

  • Our egalitarian history, technology and exponential growth

  • Wisdom Keepers

  • Rewilding, space exploration, and Chris and Rachel’s thoughts on the future

You can learn more about Chris and Rachel, along with their current class and workshop offerings on the Wisdom Keepers website, as well as on Facebook. Want to go to Elements Gathering this year? Don't wait, tickets are going fast! (You can also check out the event virtually via the Elements Facebook page.) 

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!

Survivalists on Surviving a Natural Disaster - Carmen and Matt Corradino

You bring up the point of climate change and more expected hurricanes…but where could we possibly escape that? If the climate is changing and the earth is changing at the rate that we expect it to be changing, there’s nowhere that I could feel completely safe. So, I see it as: the survival training that we’ve done, the survival training that we teach, is our insurance policy.
— Matt Corradino

Today’s episode reads like it was lifted off the pages of a Hollywood screenplay: two renown survivalists find themselves in an all-too-real survival experience, after a natural disaster decimates their tropical island home. Yet that has been the past five months of reality for my guests Carmen and Matt Corradino, husband-and-wife survival skills instructors who live on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they have been dealing with the devastating aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. The category 5 storms, mere weeks apart in a slew of powerful storms churned up in the Atlantic this past fall, were two of the most intense hurricanes in recorded history

Though there may have been no one better prepared for such a “force of nature,” as Matt referred to the storms. Together, he and Carmen have nearly three decades of survival skills experience, including a five-year stint living in a primitive shelter while teaching at survivalist Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. And for the past decade, the two have carved out a subsistence lifestyle in the tropical forests of St. Croix (now with their 3-year-old daughter Ilee), where they own Mount Victory Camp eco lodge and teach primitive and survival skills by way of their school, Caribbean Earth Skills

Hear from Carmen and Matt as they not only share survival lessons learned from the hurricanes, but the paths that led them to their way of life, and the contentment they've found in an existence deeply immersed in the natural world—even in the face of natural disaster.

Here’s the rundown of the show:

  • The aftermath of Hurricane Maria

  • Carmen and Matt’s homeschool group, and teaching survival classes post-hurricane

  • The psychological impact of the disaster

  • Survival skills and “experience” versus their now real survival experience

  • Mount Victory Camp before the hurricane, and their subsistence lifestyle in the tropics

  • Contentment in “poverty”

  • Carmen and Matt’s childhoods, and how they came to the world of ancient skills

  • Living and teaching in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey with Tom Brown, Jr.

  • Why they moved to St. Croix and following your inner vision

  • How you can help

  • Climate change, more hurricanes and their plan for the future

  • Carmen and Matt’s advice on how to be prepared for disasters (especially in urban areas)

  • Carmen and Matt’s advice for getting into their way of life

Want to help Carmen and Matt in their rebuilding efforts? Contribute to their GoFundMe campaign. Learn more about their eco lodge (and plan a trip!) on the Mount Victory Camp website and check out their workshops and courses at Caribbean Earth Skills. Carmen and Matt also have a YouTube page and post regularly on Facebook: @MountVictoryCamp.

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!

Apprentice of the Wild - Sean Critchfield

sean critchfield uncivlize podcast.jpg
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