On the last day of 2015, I’d like to reflect on the last 12 months and some of the highlights…
Reunion with the Teaching Drum to bring the journey full circle
Distance from social media
Amazing leaps in carpentry knowledge in the restoration of old buildings and general handyman confidence through trial and error
Resisted the temptation to cut my hair
An honest attempt at working two part-time jobs, unsuccessfully.
Developed and delivered a handful of presentations on The Fox Trails for local libraries.
Attended the community building workshop in Chicago -Insightful
A successful season of harvest: Leeks, Suckers, Wild Rice, Black Walnuts, Cisco fishing -Bountiful
Completed the first 8-day Wilderness Canoe Immersion -Intense
Wrote half a book and scrapped it. Started again with a fresh perspective -Humbling
Read approximately 80 books with a focus on nature and mythology -Inspiring
Made a music video with the family band -Fun
Successfully dismantled and removed an entire car from the swamp behind the school. It’s been back there since the early 60’s.
Learned more about what I do and don’t want in romantic relationships -Exciting
Huge improvements in guitar knowledge and I picked up the harmonica
It’s been another wonderful year of growth. I’m living a very unorthodox lifestyle but I love what I’m learning and I’m happy with where I am and excited about where I’m going. Balance seems to be the theme that keeps showing itself to me and I’ll be looking at that with the coming months.
It’s Fox here and I’d like to share about my experience in the first session of the 8-day Wilderness Canoe Immersion, a course designed and guided by Abel Bean with the Teaching Drum Outdoor School.
Check him out:
He’s been dreamin’ about this course for ten years. Participants learn:
Basic and advanced canoe maneuvering techniques
Efficient paddling methods
Scouting for the best campsites
Making fire by friction and advanced fire tending
Navigating the wilderness without the help of a compass or GPS (lost-proofing)
Predicting the weather without instruments
Primitive cooking (without the help of pots, pans, or utensils)
Setting up a cordless tarp for shelter
I signed up knowing very little about any of the above skillset; mine looks more like playing guitar (half-assed), tent camping, riding a bicycle, etc…However I’m no stranger to a canoe and I do love the river. Our group was 7 people: Abel, Amanda, and OdeMakwa, along with myself and three other men of varying experience and reasons for joining. Surprisingly I did feel some anxiety coming into the experience, not only to face the challenge of learning these new skills, but to live and work as a team with this group of characters for 8 days in the wild sounded terrifying.
Our objective: To spend one week on the Pine River with the bare essentials for survival on a guided canoe immersion in the Headwaters Wilderness of the Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest -Wisconsin Northwoods.
My equipment: A solo canoe, paddle, tarp, sleeping bag/blanket, clothing, towel, knife and sheath, water filter, brushes (tooth and hair), pencil, and journal.
**While there was an emphasis on wilderness survival and canoeing skills, we were also guided towards a deeper relationship with ourselves and the natural world through team building and dream sharing.
Each day began at first light, we woke up under our cordless-tarp shelters, on the ridge above the frosty lowlands along the river below. We gathered in a circle around the hearth for a fire and the morning dream share. What’s that, you say? Well here’s a real dream that I had and shared with the group during our experience:
~We’re on the beach, Christina and I, she smiles and laughs and then her sister walks by rubbin’ her belly and for the first time it’s obvious to me that she’s pregnant, her sister that is. I voice that to Chris and she nearly slaps me; smiles are long gone replaced with anger like I called her sister fat cuz she’s not pregnant and I’m a dick. ~
I woke up feeling frustrated. By sharing a dream like this with the others out loud, I began to learn that the feelings in dreams are most important and I’m guided to look at each character within the dreamworld as an aspect of me in the waking life. I am the one who sees the obvious but feels misunderstood; I’m also the one who’s easily offended, and I’m even the one who walks by having an impact on others without knowing. So maybe in my real life, I continue to encounter situations where I think I’m right about something while someone else has an opposing viewpoint and frustrations ensue. To come to an understanding like this through dream recall and to share the process with the others each morning was one of my favorite parts of the canoe adventure. More on dreams later…
Before we left our first camp, we learned how to set up cordless tarps as shelters. I can definitely see this coming in handy in the future when stealth camping.
Next we learned about our solo canoes, how to carry them, how to get in without tipping, and basic paddle techniques.
Abel showed us how to stand in the middle for balance and how to sit cross-legged in the bottom of the boat.
It wasn’t long before we all had the hang of it and loaded our boats to push off for the next camp.
We crossed a dozen beaver dams like the one below…industrious little critters.
We found a potential spot to camp so we brought the boats on land. First we scouted the area and found our hearth location. Next we set up shelters and then we took care of our water. We found fresh water springs and drank from the earth. The food always comes last. Our cooking was done over the fire, no matches, no pots, no pans. We ate venison, fish, roasted fat, cabbage, leeks, squash, peppers, nuts, fruit, etc…Yup, that’s a deer head on a stick. You won’t find that at the state fair.
“He sat by the fire with a roasted head in his lap and put on his reading glasses before he cracked the skull open with a rock. I ate some of the brain; we nibbled on the nose; the ears were crunchy; I tasted the tongue and he popped an eye ball in his mouth.” -from my journal
More deer head? Nah, I’m not a big fan. I do appreciate how the entire animal is honored though, everything can be used. We used the skin for raw hide which became the string for our bow drills. We each had the chance to make our own fire kit. To bring flames to life the old way instills a new respect for the power that comes with a small coal.
We saw geese flying south and found our cardinal directions with the rising and setting of the sun. Using these directions, we hiked as a group through the forest without a compass and we came upon a fall zone where severe weather had caused a down burst of wind and rain that flattened 1,000 trees. Abel tells us about the history of this forest and why it’s so lumpy. We learned to read the clouds as they come in low and fast. What might that mean for the weather?
We pay attention to the trees. The Birch and it’s wonderful bark and the Cedar of course, the Aspen and her short life, the White Pine towering over them all with her teardrop-top which was shaped by the prevailing winds, and the golden needles of the Tamarack. The Balsam Fir (your Christmas tree) is a favorite. Her flat boughs can be quite comfortable to sit on around the fire or you can place them under your sleeping bag for extra padding. The needles have an antiseptic value and work great for cleaning hands. The trunk of the tree has blisters filled with sap and that pitch is more effective on cuts than any salve you can buy at a drugstore. I saw the blood moon eclipse through a small hole in the forest canopy.
This all sounds great but it wasn’t easy out there and we did have conflicts.
How’s that for a look of frustration? Wanna fight? I usually run from confrontations. It’s always been a challenge for me to confront people calmly without blaming or shaming; it seems far easier to avoid those encounters and to take responsibility for my own frustrations. This might be why I like to work alone? Speaking up in the moment with a clear, concise and respectful truth is a skill I wanted to develop further while on this adventure.
Having Amanda along on the canoe immersion was a blessing and she’s been a great teacher for me. She and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum with many of our personality characteristics. Where she’s enthusiastic I’m skeptical; I have a need to be heard and she struggles with listening; she wants to be engaged with planning and strategy and I desire spontaneity; she dives into the details of a situation and I look at the big picture…the list goes on. As you might imagine, her and I got into some dynamics out there but through conflicts with Amanda I’m coming to know myself better and I see that maybe we’re not so different. At the root of it all, we both believe we’re right and we both show attachment to our own way of seeing things, like Christina and I in the dream I shared earlier. So through this relationship I see a place to heal old wounds, to lose attachment, to open up and truly listen; I see a powerful opportunity to speak my truth and communicate clearly with empathy and understanding; I see a chance to greatly improve my ability to get along with others and to be more comfortable and effective in a team work environment. These are the most valuable lessons I learned during the canoe immersion. Just like the dreamworld, every character in my life is an aspect of me and I’m grateful for the guidance I’m receiving. I learned a lot out there with this group.
My dreams were vivid on our last night and this one seems worth sharing here too…
I had lunch with mom and sis in a busy corner cafe. The line stretched out the door as we finished and left. On the way out we ran into my friend Alyssa who I embraced. Mom and sis parted ways and I said farewell and began walking down a steep sidewalk. It reminded me of the hills in San Francisco. I felt like I forgot something so I turned around but then it was clear that I hadn’t forgot anything. Right then my shoes seemed to sprout wheels and I started cruisin’ down the hill. I did a 360 and jumped a curb. I took off and flew high above the road. On the way down, I felt a little scared as the ground approached fast but I totally landed it and I woke up with that.
As I look back at the canoe immersion, it all feels like a dream. Now that I’ve returned to the school and I’m back in the flow, it’s time for me to use what I’ve learned -time to stick this landing.
Coming into the course I had some doubts about leaving behind my responsibilities for a week and I wondered if I should spend the tuition on other things. Would it be worth it? Now that it’s all over I can honestly say it was totally worth it! One day I’d like to use these new camping skills on another bicycle tour and it’s always been a dream of mine to have a long-distance canoe trip with my father when he retires. It’s gonna be sweet to share some of these skills with him.
Some call it Columbus Day, some call it Indigenous Peoples Day, others call it Native American Day…call it whatyawanna but this is a special day for me. October 12th marks the day I landed in New Orleans and finished my first bike tour! Not only was The Bicycle Adventure Along the Mississippi River a journey of personal discovery, it was also a conscious choice to leave behind my life in the city for the chance to explore nature and society with the hopes of finding a new way of life in harmony with the land. So two years later and here I am at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School where Wilderness is the classroom, Ancient Voices are the Teachers, knowing Self and Balance are the quests…I’ve been learning Native Lifeways and I’m proud to call this my home; I’m humbled to live in this community. Rather than conquering nature and exploiting her resources for profit, we honor this land and all that lives on it. We’re grateful for the abundance and we value the examples of those who were here before us.
Tomorrow kicks off a week-long lodge building event at the school and you can help us build wigwams at Mashkodens October 13th – 20th! Come for a week or just a few days. We’re offering free camping and wild organic Paleo food in exchange for helping us build two lodges. To reserve your campsite, or for questions, contact Jules@teachingdrum.org, or visit this link http://us8.campaign-archive1.com/…
In addition there’s one more session left for the Wilderness Canoe Immersion (October 23rd – 31st). I participated in the first 8-day immersion and it was a really wild week! Check back here for my full recap of the experience
Walking along the shores of Lake Superior, you might just find something amazing. Agates!
Last weekend I spent some time on the beach at Little Girl’s Point on Lake Superior in Michigan. This is a favorite spot for rock hunters. You’ll see miles of rounded pebbles and only 1 in 10,000 is an agate. So what is an agate and how are they formed?
Agates are semi-precious gemstones. They were formed in the lava of a once volcanic earth. Air bubbles were trapped in this hot liquid rock and rising mineral rich water filled the air bubbles giving room for an agate to be born. This was a billion years ago, literally. These rocks were formed before the plants, before the animals, back when the atmosphere was methane and ammonia without oxygen. The moon was much closer then with a gravitational pull 100 times stronger than we know today. A 3 foot tide now would have been a 300 foot tide back then! Can you image a moon on the horizon, 100 times the present size in appearance? It was a far different world then. Continents were shifting and colliding; life was forming. 70,000 years ago, the glaciers started to move over our continent. They dug up the land and spread the agates around with their icy fingers. You can find them all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Lake Superior agates are known to be the oldest in the world and the most sought after.
Below you’ll see some of the stones I found last weekend at Lake Superior…
Some of these are agates, most aren’t, but each of these stones has a story of its own. When I hold an ancient rock, I hold something older than life as we know it. Within these stones lies a living history, evidence of the early tides, volcanoes and lava floes, fossils, and mountain ranges. So next time I’m at Lake Superior, I won’t just look for agates, I’ll look at the landscape and the wonderful water, I’ll imagine what the world was like when these rocks where being formed and I’ll remember that the stones have a life of their own. If you ever decide to go rock hunting, I recommend you educate yourself before going so that you know what to look for. Check out this link for an informative website on agates in the area…http://www.superiortrails.com/rock-hound.html
I was laying in bed the other morning -manic- and I couldn’t get up. Crippled with a stream of negative thoughts that clouded my usually positive outlook, I just kept laying there, miserable. The Fox Trails just turned 1 and after promoting the book for an entire year, I’m finally realizing that it has a bunch of mistakes in it. And I’m not just talking about the many questionable choices I made during the course of the adventure, I’m also referring to missing words, a few grammatical mishaps, and a horrible font. I just sold a ton of books too so these errors are on my mind now.
I imagine the reader’s judgements; they terrify me. However, not one person has come to me after reading the book to give me a harsh review. Still though, I was laying there in my bed, stressed out and worried that these errors might prevent people from seeing the beauty behind the imperfections. I was scared that the mistakes might stand out more than the truth within.
I wanted to share this vulnerability with you; I think there’s a parallel here and a metaphor for relationships. When I judge someone on their issues or their imperfections, I build a wall between us. I’ve found that when I have the courage to push passed my fears and to knock that wall down (or at least see through it), something beautiful waits for me on the other side. It’s like me looking for the perfect woman (perfect woman you say?)…if I don’t have compassion and understanding to see through what I perceive to be flaws, I won’t have relationship; I’ll be constantly searching for what’s ‘out there’ rather than engaging with what’s right here.
This doesn’t mean that we have to settle for something subpar or squint our eyes to see the potential of a situation -we can engage fully with what is, right now. To get beyond our egoic mind and our judgements, to break down the walls we build, to see through the scariness, without this approach, how many enjoyable books and beautiful people will we dismiss prematurely?
I have the gift (and the curse) of being able to share deeply without much preparation, whether that be a public presentation or some improvised music for an audience, even publishing a book. I’m honored to share that with you as a part of my process and I hope it’s encouraging… throw it out there, make some mistakes, take a chance and be real, be vulnerable, be adventurous. In the next post, I’ll be discussing the idea of Animal Guides (spirit animals) and the gifts they bring us. Until then…
P.S. I’m currently revising The Fox Trails book 1 and I’ll be releasing an updated version with a fresh font and a thorough polish. I have a number of speaking engagements on the calendar this summer at local libraries and such. I’ll be giving readings and book signings with live music and a photographic tour of my bicycle trips.
This book review is touching. For anyone that’s read The Fox Trails, you know that I held no punches and didn’t censor myself in sharing. It’s all in there -the good, the bad, and the ugly. What touched me about this particular review is how the reader shared her vulnerability and the process of judgement that she went through while taking in the material. I appreciate that honesty and I encourage others to share their thoughts on the book. Reviews are always welcome! I would love to have some fresh opinions like this shared on the amazon page as there’s only been 6 reviews and each are 5 stars. I invite all feedback, especially criticism; it’s important for potential customers. http://www.amazon.com/The-Fox-Trails-Adventure-Mississippi/dp/1499734166
Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of the book release! Much appreciation for the support.
The Fox Trails: A Bicycle Adventure Along the Mississippi River by Michael Jason Fox was a wild ride! When I first picked up the book, I figured it would be a typical travel guide highlighting destinations and sights along the Mississippi. I was really surprised when I realized it is more of a deeply personal journey of self-discovery in addition to the stories about people and places encountered along the way. The writing style was unique in that each chapter of the book recounts events that happened in one day, thus the book is 31 chapters and his bicycle journey lasted 31 days. Along with sharing his personal experiences he includes historical facts about Mark Twain, various places and events involving the Mississippi and other landmarks.
The book is a fine example of storytelling but at times I was shocked by the sheer honesty of the author as he recounts…
Happy Friday. I just bought a bicycle! Check it out….
I found it on Craigslist. The gentlemen selling it wanted a little more than I was willing to pay. It was his wife’s bike and she barely rode it. Mint condition but 10 years old, what’s that worth? I’m horrible at haggling and I asked Tamarack for some guidance in negotiating; this is what he told me…
“Don’t negotiate. Just go there and tell him what you’re willing to pay. If the offer isn’t accepted, leave your number and they’ll call you back if they change their mind.”
So that’s what I did. My offer and his bottom line were $50 apart unfortunately, so we shook hands and I told him to give me a call if he might decide differently. I actually heard from him the next day. He told me his wife gave him some grief. She said, “Why didn’t you sell that young man the bike? At least he would use it. Call him back and get rid of it or I won’t be cooking you dinner tonight.”
I was happy to hear from him and I thought this story was cute enough to share with you all. Thanks to this couple, I now have a bicycle that is capable of everything I wish to do on two wheels. I fly on the pavement and I cruise silently on the trails, deep in the woods. I hope Keenan and his wife will one day see the photos and read the stories of what I do on this bike. The adventures will be grand -they already are- and the gratitude is great.
Another work week begins, another Monday, and another chance to find meaning in the mundane…Do you enjoy going to work? I moved to the Northwoods to live the simple life and I find myself busier than ever. We do it all out here though. The Teaching Drum Outdoor School purchased the neighbor’s property. We added some nice land to our acreage but also another house and a trailer home full of garbage. We really opened a can of worms with this old house; Bob Vila wouldn’t even touch it and Nicole Curtis is busy in Detroit. That leaves me. Check it out…
We jacked up the floor from the basement using cribbing and constructed a 20′ wooden glulam beam to support the joists and to straighten the floor. It took a small army to raise it into place
We took apart the walls and straightened them as well, cutting holes out and re-framing for 10 new windows.
We took off the vinyl siding and the siding beneath that and then re-sheathed the house and installed log siding (it was last year that we got these logs, salvaged off of an old cabin and I was among those pulling huge spikes out of the boards and stacking them -thinking, “Why are we doing this? We’re never gonna use this shit.”) Sure enough, they’ve found a home.
I’ve been living in this house while working on it. That might sound like a nightmare to you; I had a dream recently and I’d like to share it here…
Renovating a house, we enter the basement and find bones. The energy is dark and those who lived here before us were into some strange fetishes. The place is all jacked up on stilts and we go through a process of lowering the house down to the foundation. We open a corner and move the door, adjusting the hinges…and then the dream flashes to the future and the cabin is finished. I give it a tour, exploring the rooms. Standing in a room that feels like mine, I see a beautiful view from the window but then I realize that with this beautiful view, anyone approaching the front door will be able to easily see into my room. There’s a tinge of regret and I wonder if I chose wisely..
I wake up and process those images and the feelings behind them. I write the dream down and the first thought that comes is: The window goes both ways. To be in touch with our dreams, this is something to work on; it can be the most valuable guidance available. From the one above, I see that I’m not just rebuilding a house, I’m renovating a person. I gaze out the windows of this developing home and I look at an amazing world. The more open I become, the easier it is for others to see in, and that’s a little scary sometimes, but the window goes both ways and that’s a beautiful view.
Gentle giant snowflakes fell upon the Northwoods all day, as if to taunt Spring. A fresh white blanket brings us another chance to wolf walk (to walk in each others footsteps). As I move between the buildings here on campus, I see the tracks of others and follow the trail, stepping in each footprint, leaving as little disturbance as possible. To see a trail where a dozen people have walked like this intentionally is a simple and peaceful sight..
New tracks in the snow, solitary and beautiful.
Two wolves were spotted walking near the school today. They left their scent markings and moved on into the woods like ghosts. A rare sighting so close to home.
Wolves tend to travel in packs. They use very efficient, fairly straight paths through the landscape. See the tracks below…
Now you can show a child how to wolf walk. They’ll love it, and it will snow again so don’t worry, you’ll get your chance.
Guardian training is well underway. Exercises are building now and I’m stirred up and pushing my edge constantly. More on that in the next post, but for now here’s the newest addition to our exercises…We met in a circle at 6 a.m. this morning and then went for our first group run. When I say run, I don’t mean the typical jog on the road. Native running is different. The idea is to run as a group -a single organism- through the woods, finding challenging trails, ducking under branches and even crawling at times through the low areas, all the while following in each others footsteps and leaving as little disturbance as possible. All communication is done non-verbally. We saw the sunrise through the trees, and what a gorgeous morning. You can watch this short introduction video on Intuitive running if you’re interested in learning more:
And to find out more details on the Guardian training and what I’m going through check out this video: