Personal Development, Primitivism

A Year in the Woods

In 2006 I learned to live in the wild. It was the most eye-opening experience I’ve ever had. People often ask what it was like, and I almost I can’t tell them. The only way to understand is to do it, and no one ever does it.

Or so I thought.

A Woman of Action

Last week I got an email from Clair. I’ve known Clair for years; at first she was the silent, thoughtful woman who attended events at our Temple. I began to talk with Clair and, bit by bit, discovered that she’s not exactly your average woman.

Clair has a commitment to living naturally. Not just buying organic, but actually changing her lifestyle. Last time I saw her she was living on an organic farm and learning how to work the land. She came to my going away party and gave me a jar of her own home-made drawing salve. It’s already proven its worth more than once by removing splinters and insect stings.

But somehow I still wasn’t expecting her email.

Clair announced that she’s going to Teaching Drum Outdoor School, the same wilderness school where I lived in 2006. Whereas I was there for less than a month, Clair will be going there for a year.

Teaching Drum has long offered a year-long wilderness program. Participants are taken to a remote section of wilderness. On Day 1 they make their own clothing from hides. They are shown how to make shelter, how to gather food and how to live as a small community on their own. In the winter they live in the snow; in the summer they live in the heat. Slowly over the year their food drops are reduced until they rely totally on their own hunting and gathering.

Bringing Together Families

For many years, the yearling program was small: you can imagine that not many people are bold enough to try it, and many drop out before each year ends. But this year Clair and the Drum are taking it to an unprecedented level, with 40 people—adults and children—forming a true, working tribe in the woods.

Clair writes:

[We will] learn how to live in the wilderness as a multi-generational clan. Many of the families and some singles are coming from overseas and the rest are from here in the States. We will be living in a community supporting and learning from each other what it truly means to be a human living in the circle of all our relations. We will also gain practical skills in fire making, shelter building and food gathering without modern equipment.

Clair’s group has started collecting for a scholarship to make sure no one is turned away. They seek to raise US $11,000 before May to underwrite the cost of attending this program and make it accessible to everyone.

I just made my donation, and I’d like to ask all Rogue Priest readers to consider donating too. Much of this blog is about having the determination to change your life, to transform yourself by embracing challenge. Clair is doing that in a remarkable way, and she and her tribe are making it a priority to help others do the same. They need your help.

There are two great ways you can support Clair’s yearlong group:

  • Make a direct donation to Teaching Drum through the yearlong’s web page. You can use Paypal, or donate by phone or mail.
  • If you love flowers, purchase some through Flower Power Fundraising. 50% of every single sale will benefit the yearlong program.

This program does amazing things and your donation will help to change lives. Please tweet and Facebook share this post so we can get the word out to lots of people. Thank you.


20 thoughts on “A Year in the Woods

  1. Wow, that is amazing! I’d like to do that someday! Why not now? Well, partially cause we couldn’t afford to keep our house and be away without income for that long. And partially because of the time I’d lose with my older kids from my first marriage. Although, the one to three moon immersion might be doable with some complicated planning. Going to donate as soon as our tax refund shows up! Thanks for sharing this! It’s an awesome thing to share, for new readers, every so often, even without there being a need for donations because I think a lot of people would be interested in it.

    • Hi Gwen. If you’re considering trying out a shorter period at the Drum I would recommend just the one moon to start with. You will be amazed how this lifestyle tests your thresholds – not in any of the ways you would expect. It’s actually very idyllic and easy, but psychologically it’s such a change from settled life that you will find yourself really facing your demons. I do encourage you to do it though. And thank you for reading & commenting!

  2. That sounds utterly fantastic! And something I would love to participate in myself whenever I get around to the financial position to be able to afford to join it. I once had to do a mandatory survival course in middle school (required for all children living on the islands because it is too easy to get stranded on an island) and I loved it! I think that this sounds like something very worthwhile!
    I will see what I can donate once I get myself on my feet and am not so utterly broke heh ;)

  3. Sounds like an incredible experience. I think a donation towards something like this is definitely money well spent! Seriously considering volunteering for a week this summer. Thanks for sharing!

  4. a new book coming out soon on Amazon is Zen in a Wild Country by Anne Rudloe, a marine ecologist based in Florida, about doing solo Zen meditation in the forest and at sea – look for it in March, 2012. Her blog is

    • Yes, I’ve seen that site before. There’s not much I can say except that I’ve lived at the Drum and met the people there in person. I didn’t see any of the problems that site talks about. I always felt respected and safe.

        • I think it’s bull.

          Living at the Drum is challenging. It’s not just learning techniques, it’s a culture shift at the same time. It truly forces you to look at yourself and your psychology.

          I would say that whoever wrote that anonymous account, if it’s real, failed to do that.

          It’s easy to blame a teacher or school when something is hard. You’ll see the same kinds of complaints about traditional martial art schools, apprenticeships and other forms of cultural learning. My temple got similar complaints. So did the Tibetan Buddhists who taught meditation in Minneapolis.

          • I don’t know. If it is focused on Ojibway teachings then charging money is a big no no. The suggestion that the leader of Teaching Drum is not living with the people who are going through the teachings, and is instead staying in a fully connected house, raises questions. Are the teachings written lessons or all verbal?

            I am not doubting that the skills are any less valuable, they certainly appear to be fully accurate. Its the connections to the Anishinabe teachings that concern me. How does talking drum present their teachings?

            • If it is focused on Ojibway teachings

              It’s not.

              Tamarack is very clear that he doesn’t teach a Native American tradition of any kind. He’s also clear on why he uses the word “Native” in a different context.

              Although Tamarack learned from Keewaydinokway, he does not purport to teach Ojibway tradition or be an Ojibway elder. He’s not even Ojibway.

              One of the reasons I’ve never liked the site you linked is not just the inaccuracies, but the tone. The author seems to believe that if they just say the words “plastic shaman” over and over enough, people will call Tamarack that – even though he doesn’t do any of the things that term implies.

              As far as the lessons go, as I’ve said, everything is learned hands-on by doing. There are no classes, you just learn from experience and example. The lack of formal classes might be a sticking point for some, and that’s a fair opinion. To me, it was a plus.

              edit: I should add that Tamarack does live part of the time in a house with electricity at the front of the property. It was explained to me as necessary for running a school and publishing. I accepted that, but it’s controversial to some people. The year-long folks live completely on their own, in relative isolation. While I was there, they saw Tamarack and other instructors regularly; whether Tamarack was living in the wigwam or the connected house didn’t seem to affect that.

              • I agree, the tone is very off putting. I am still looking through to see if there is still anything of merit, as there may be some valid points even if they are not articulated well.

                Journal entries of one submitter had pointed out not teaching about tics, proper use of an axe, having exposure to mold – leading to asthma problems, and not cleaning the kitchen supplies between meals. Everything else was related to winter hygiene leading to their hands being inoperable – with swelling, cracking and bleeding.


                Some valid concerns. I am not entirely convinced one way or another.

                • I don’t disagree with your viewpoint, Rua. It’s smart to be cautious.

                  It does pain me though. This site seems to have a mission of slandering the place where I had some of the best experiences of my life.

                  I can’t speak to all of those concerns. Remember, I was there in 2006. Some of the posts reference things from 2002 or earlier. Maybe at one time they were bad at teaching that kind of stuff. If so, they learned from their mistakes.

                  When I was there, the first few days focused a lot on safety and hygiene. I was taught about ticks my first day, and hatchet safety the first time I helped with construction.

                  Again, I can’t speak to earlier incidents. I can’t say these people are liars. But it sure feels like it to me, because I never saw anything like what they describe.

                  • I put a lot more stock in your words than this site as it is dedicated to slandering and I don’t have any relationship with anybody there. I trust your assessment and do see a lot of appeal. Since I have shared it through Ehoah, I do feel dedicated to provide all view points to ensure a proper decision is made by those interested. Your account and the time of it does put a lot in perspective. Perhaps this slandering site has help make teaching drum learn from these experiences, I don’t know. I’ve always found that criticism is the best motivator for change for the better and welcome it.

                    As much as I am interested in what teaching drum offers, I do feel that I can learn as much just being where I am through research and workshops that are provided all over the island. And is also more affordable too. I build more relationships with those near me and gain a support network where I live – being a very rooted person, this appeals more to me.

                    I do hope to hear more from Clair on her experience of teaching drum as it will be family oriented, yearlong, and the most recent account.

                    • Thanks Rua. As I said, I don’t disagree with your approach at all. I like that you’re looking at all sides and being cautious about what you recommend to your readers.

                      One thing that might help is to see if these opinions are shared on other primitvism/survivalism forums and sites. If these horror stories only show up on one site it would be (to me) an indicator that they are being fabricated or exaggerated, or at least non-representative.

                      I too would love to hear Clair’s experience… though she won’t be able to blog it till May 2013! Maybe I can convince her to send me occasional letters that I can share here? We’re skyping soon, I’ll ask.

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