Change

The Year in Review

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
  • Guardian training
  • 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.

Happy New Year!

-Fox

 

The 8-day Wilderness Canoe Immersion

 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
  • Stealth canoeing
  • 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
  • Wildlife tracking

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.

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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.

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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.

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Next we learned about our solo canoes, how to carry them, how to get in without tipping, and basic paddle techniques.

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Abel showed us how to stand in the middle for balance and how to sit cross-legged in the bottom of the boat.

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It wasn’t long before we all had the hang of it and loaded our boats to push off for the next camp.

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We crossed a dozen beaver dams like the one below…industrious little critters.

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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.

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“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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

If you’re interested in participating in a course like this, visit: http://teachingdrum.org/

**Photographs courtesy of OdeMakwa

Under Construction

Dear Friends,

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…

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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

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We took apart the walls and straightened them as well, cutting holes out and re-framing for 10 new windows.

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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.

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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.

To another adventurous day,

Happy Trails,

-MJ

Another Bittersweet Farewell

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Dear friends,

This is about love, and the journey home…

My time in the South is nearly over again and I’m preparing to say another bittersweet farewell. The weather is exceptional, quite the contrast to where I’m going. I can hear the birds sing as I write this. I migrated to Georgia in the fall to work on book 2 of The Fox Trails trilogy, and to study as well. I did much of both, and some amazing things have happened in the last two months. A stranger at the Salvation Army gave me a bicycle. He planned to give it to the store but donated it to me instead. I’ve rode it all around the outskirts of Atlanta and made countless ten-mile white-knuckle trips to the library. The roads here aren’t meant for biking though. Traffic is relentless and unforgiving; no where else in the country have I felt so endangered on two wheels. Biking is a huge part of my life -a true love- and it seems like maybe this place wasn’t meant for a guy like me.

You can’t easily put a lady on the back of a bike and women do tend to like a man with more money than I care to carry. I have found romance in my travels across the country on bicycle, but it’s always been short-lived and a thing of the moment. I’m just passing through, lets have some fun. I’m appealing as a wanderer; there’s no risk of attachment. I bring charisma, a wealth of experience, and the entertainment of song and story. Love and I are no strangers, but that level of trust and appreciation takes time to develop and I haven’t been still long enough to have a depth in relationship like that for many years. You might say that I sacrificed my chance to have deep romantic love when I chose a nomadic lifestyle. Maybe that kind of love wasn’t meant for a guy like me.

A funny thing happened here around the time I was gifted that bicycle. I met a woman who doesn’t much seem to mind that I don’t drive a car, and she isn’t worried about my lack of savings for the future or the little money I have now. She has her own, with a grown-up job and a condo in the city. She read my book and became intrigued with the message. I came into her life at a time when she hoped to speak her heart and to live courageously, following her dreams in the moment. And she came into mine at a time of feeling greatly misunderstood and lonely, wishing to live healthy and to expand my connection with the inner and outer energies. Of course she happened to be practicing yoga and meditation. I knew that my stay in Georgia would most likely be a temporary one and I laid those cards on the table right away. We decided to dive deep though and developed a wonderful spiritual connection; the kind of connection that makes a guy like me think about the future and maybe hanging around.

At a certain age, we’ll say around 25…most women have a robotic instinct that takes over and a voice in their head starts to say something like, “Must marry, have babies.” I guess that’s normal, the drive to procreate and fashion a nest. There’s outside pressure too, from society’s idea of success and from family of course. Every mother wants her kids to find love, get married, and make her some grandchildren. My mother especially; she might adopt a grandchild soon. People say that I’m so lucky to have these experiences (some people also say I’m stupid), traveling freely and living spontaneously. Well, a little dumb luck, yes maybe, but I haven’t had children! I’ve been extremely careful about this, and that freedom has allowed me to wander in the ways of my choosing. To settle down and have a cute little baby and to share the gift of bringing life into the world would make mama proud, no doubt. I love my mom, but the path of the heart births a life of its own; that life always seems to take me away from her. It breaks me up a little each time it happens, but this is the only life for me right now.

In January last year, I left the South after writing the lion’s share of my book and I returned home briefly. That’s when I first heard the call of the drum. I was invited for a trial stay at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School to work in editing and promotions with the author Tamarack Song. It became so much more than that though. To live intentionally, with a tribe of conscious people connected with nature in a healing environment…that was life changing for me. There were so many challenges, but it was enriching and I developed skills that would prove important down the road. Feeling the calling to pursue personal dreams, I departed on short notice with the snow melt and I left much unlearned there. However, I was able to publish my book and cross the country on a bicycle, surviving in the wilderness with my newly acquired skills. It was the adventure of a lifetime. What a year!

So here I am, down South; I’ve been writing about these experiences. I thought my adventure was finished in San Francisco (that the book series would end there), and that I might be ready to settle down and do the writing while starting a more normal life with contributions to family and society. However, I know that my journey has to come full circle now, to show me where I’ve been from a new vantage point. Finding a spiritual connection with a woman who understands and appreciates me has been an eye-opening experience. It’s definitely had me imagining life in Georgia, long-term. This encounter almost seems like fate, or a manifestation of intent (whatever you wanna call it). This time in the South has definitely shown me what I want, and what I don’t want. Atlanta has millions of people spread out over a gigantic metropolitan area and the city is rapidly expanding with busy roads and noisy chaos. I miss the quiet of nature and clean water; I want community. I love those things. For these reasons, I’ve decided to return to the Northwoods of Wisconsin and the community life at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. Travel plans are still up in the air, but I’ll be arriving at the end of the month, right around my one-year anniversary.

Love is fascinating. To this wonderful woman I speak of, I am forever grateful that we explored life together and shared so deeply, even with the knowledge of my impending departure. It was never clingy or possessive. We could’ve saw our time together as if it was ticking off the clock, but we chose to experience its unfolding and we watched it blossom around us. We could’ve saw our relationship as a beautiful bouquet of flowers that would one day wither and wilt, just to be tossed in the trash, but we saw a fertile garden, and we planted seeds there and nourished them. May they flourish and be admired by those with loving eyes, and a vision with no end. Happy trails are paths that cross in the heart of adventure. Walk them attuned, with courage and enthusiasm.

Another bittersweet farewell,

-MJ

What Happened to Kerouac? The Beat Goes On…

Dear Friends,

Beats, Beatniks, Hippies, Yippies, and yup…yuppies. Maybe the yup, yes-sir mentality of conformity led to that name..

The Beat Generation rose up and questioned everything. They questioned the postwar consumerism of the 50’s and they opposed the conventional structures of a materialistic society. They brought the freshness of postmodern art to the masses and they pushed the limits of censorship. I admire the Beats for that, especially Kerouac. His love for nature and travel was spiritual and pure. His strange patriotism, his wish for recognition, his love for his mother, his awkwardness around women, his drunkenness, his sensitivity, his loneliness, his dedication, and his poetry…I can relate.

Some friends undoubtedly read On the Road, some didn’t. Some of the people that I consider to be the best of friends, have yet to read The Fox Trails –maybe never will and I understand. But who out there really understands Kerouac, or the Beats for that matter? The Beat Generation inspired the Hippie Movement of the 60’s and the wonderful leaps that we made in social equality and civil rights. Those who protested for peace and justice, they made it possible for people like me to wear long hair and speak freely like I do today. Yet even now, we still struggle with the same issues. We’re very separated, violent people ruthlessly competing, and I yearn for a compassionate community, conscious and intellectual. I feel so alone.

Not that you’re not. There is a wonderfully hip community of musicians in Minneapolis that I totally dig. I love them, and I will return one day. But I had to go moan for man. I had to go moan, go groan, go roll my bones, alone.

What Happened to Kerouac? The Beat Goes On, tells the story of Jack and the Beat Generation. In the deluxe edition, you’ll see a conference with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Paul Krassner, and Abbie Hoffman. They debate the question: Was the Beat Generation a cultural movement of the social kind, or the political?

We live in amazing times. I was born in 1981, the year when MTV started broadcasting on television and IBM released the first personal computer. Technology really changed everything. It’s hard to separate the social and the political nowadays. I believe that race and sex will no longer divide the living, if I evolve my ego and see you all as family, plants and animals alike. I believe that competition and greed will no longer dominate the economy, if I slow my consumption and focus my consciousness on refining the worldview. Can you dig that? Will you do that with me? Can we do it together?

I gave away my possessions and a successful life in the city, to live the way I do.

I march to my own drum, and I bet you think I’m crazy.

Maybe I am, but the Beat goes on,,,

-MJ

Giving Thanks

Dear friends,

Thankgiving is upon us, but racial tension and separation have taken the center stage spotlight. Murder, racism, and riots have dominated the media headlines. You won’t hear me choose sides on the Ferguson issue. It isn’t black and white for me -it’s green. The issue’s ugly roots are embedded deep within our socio-economical system. As long as we have an economy with the purpose of generating profit, the production of have’s and have-not’s will continue to perpetuate our illusion of separation. Racism is real. We’ve even managed to separate ourselves from the Animal Kingdom, conquering the world and disrupting the intricacy of life’s natural balance. Every great teacher has told us this truth: We are One. We are animals among all that lives on Earth, just cells in the body of the Mother. Not just one people, but one Life.

Economic Revolution is calling. Instead of trying to generate profit as our current market economy promotes, what if we generated wealth? And not wealth as we know it (possessions and power), wealth as in access and happiness. An Earth economy would focus on use and cooperation. There really is enough for everyone. We must learn to share, rather than covet our possessions. Our competition to acquire and accumulate is no longer serving us. Serve Life and Life will serve you, for you and Life are One.

Ubuntu means, “I am who I am because of who we all are.” I’d like to share an African legend with you…

-An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of  fruit near a tree and told the kids that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run they all took each others’ hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: “UBUNTU! How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”-

Thanksgiving to me, is about gratitude and sharing, not just consumption. “Buy Nothing Day” is Friday and I encourage you to participate.

Happy Thanksgiving,

-MJ

The American Dream

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I keep having this recurring nightmare…

the elections just happened and Capitalism continues… Marketing maggots are growing fatter, feeding on the bloated body of the American consumer. The media has the populace under a spell of fear and propaganda. Greedy corporations chase profits at all costs and lobbyists continue to taint democracy with bribery. Banksters are still bullies and money is a bigger business than ever before. We’ve become an oil dependent-drug addicted-convenience craving-congregation of money worshipers. “In God we trust…” Crime continues to rise and the growing prison system fills and multiplies. People are slaves. We work jobs we don’t believe in, to pay for things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t even like. Having more possessions and the capability of doing things easier will not make you happier. We’ve tried that for an entire century even though human suffering has increased and left a huge percentage of the population mentally ill, extremely unhappy, and weak enough to believe the advertisements that brainwash customers into thinking that owning their products will make us feel better about ourselves -and we buy that shit!

I am waking up now.

I believe America needs Revolution. To be completely frank and a little in yo’ face, most of us aren’t ready for that and I’m not yet exactly sure how we can do this as a People. However, I do know that I can change the way that I live as an individual, so I’m starting with myself. Gandhi never said, “…be the change you wish to see in the world.” What he really said was, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

I believe in the greatness of humanity and in good faith I will exemplify the patience of a peaceful man. I will continue to find meaningful work, using my skills for the benefit of the community. My possessions have been reduced and spending has been minimized with a focus on needs rather than desires. I support farmers who grow organic food and I strive to eat in conscious moderation. I am moving away from money and have simplified my life voluntarily. I will not deal with banks, especially sperm banks. Having fun, pursuing my passions, and laughing often are priorities to me. I pay no attention to the television and encourage others to do the same. I will continue to educate myself and share the knowledge I learn with others. I have not owned a vehicle or purchased gasoline in years, yet I’ve traveled America extensively with very little money, only using the power of my legs. I am a bicycle advocate and support the conservation of nature. I respect your spiritual practice. I demonstrate forgiveness and compassion with my choices and realize that I am in control of my emotions and reactions. I am determined to help build a community of inspired people. I am persistent and I’ll make a difference.

Sincerely,

-MJ