The Sewing Kit

As I’ve prepared for moving into primitive living, I’ve had to reassess how I’ve worked my skills in the past. Many of us rely on modern tools to practice our primitive skills. I decided to make a sewing kit using only primitive skills and was amazed at how many skills were needed to create this simple kit- to do a task that we often take for granted. In the past I would probably have used artificial sinew, a modern needle, and sandpaper in making this. I have to admit though that I didn’t have a stone knife to cut the rawhide so it’s not completely primitive. The things I needed to do to create the kit were make a bone awl and needle, process sinew, process the rawhide for the various pouches and create a pottery bowl to hold water to soak the sinew for sewing. I had to relearn how to sew with sinew since it doesn’t come in lovely long lengths like artificial sinew! It took a different sewing technique and the process of using the awl to create holes and the needle to push the sinew through the holes was much more time consuming than using modern tools. Making the awl and needle with just stones for breaking the bone and sanding it was actually quite efficient, at least as good as using modern tools.

Although this all took a lot longer than it would have using modern tools, there were some very positive outcomes. For one, I have confidence now that I at least understand the basics of what all it takes to sew! I have a start on technique that I can improve over time. I also had a much better connection, not only to the end product, but to each element of the animal and stone that was used. When we remove the manufactured items we are more in tune to the raw materials given to us from the Earth. This helps us appreciate the gift of having a sewing kit even more! Can’t wait to do more!

Resident Debbie Tremel originally published in 2014

Good-bye Winter

Two days ago we had a high of 16 and a low of -2 and yesterday a high of 43 and a low of 28 with forecasts of it just getting warmer. So almost overnight we seem to have moved from winter to spring. Winter has taught us, challenged us and been a dear friend that held us tight, so here is my farewell to winter:

Good bye nights that go on forever. Good bye dance of thawing water. Good bye tracking in the snow. Good bye sleeping in a cocoon. Good bye moonlight reflecting brilliantly from snow. Good bye thawing cat food by the fire. Good bye staying in bed just a little longer to avoid the cold. Good bye nights so silent you forget what sound is. Good bye need to move or sit by a fire-I pray I never say good bye to the appreciation winter has taught me for wood and for fire. Good bye world of whites, browns and grays- glad I came to appreciate your beauty. Good bye icicles ornamenting my shelter. Good bye layers of clothing and heavy boots. Good bye frozen eggs, and potatoes, well, and pretty much every food. Good bye brilliant sunrises and sunsets made more spectacular through the barren trees. Good bye my friend winter until we meet again next year. 

Resident; Debbie Tremel Originally published 2015

The Love of a Basket

It was a bitter sweet moment when I finished my basket last night. After so long working together, it’s now complete. When you make something with your own hands you have a much different relationship with it than you can ever have from something purchased. I would rather have very few belongings but have this kind of relationship with them than own everything money can buy. 

This basket has been a part of my life a long time. I walked in the woods when these needles were still a part of their tree. I smelled the richness of pine warmed in the sun. I gathered the needles pruned by the squirrels and waited as they dried. Then I have spent countless hours with this basket. She has been with me through the bitter cold of winter evenings and soaking in the first warmth of the spring sun. She has taught me the value of creating an empty space and reminded me to empty my own cup. She’s shown me that you don’t have to be perfect in form to be beautiful. We’ve been through a lot together. 

So I was sad to end this part of our relationship but overjoyed to see her in her finished form. And with a bit of help from some bees wax I hope she’ll be with me frequently as my water bottle. No matter what service she serves in the long run she has been a tremendous teacher and companion and will remain an important part of my life. When I say I love this basket, it is genuine love, full of appreciation and gratitude.

Resident Debbie Tremel Originally published 2015

The Power of Failure

Summer was a busy time but as the seasons change it’s now time to reflect. One of the most powerful lessons I’ve had over the past months is the true value of failure. Don’t get me wrong, it can be frustrating, especially when something has taken days to do, to have it ruined by weather or some other factor, but so much is learned with each failure. We lost food to mold all summer from the humidity and rain, discovering the drying process really has to wait until fall when the humidity decreases. I lost rawhide and green pottery to rain leaks and humidity. We lost an underground shelter to the spring thaw and wore through moccasins that weren’t made of strong enough leather. We made candles that burned through too quickly and cooking vessels that didn’t last long. My thatched shelter proved powerless against heavy wind to keep cold and rain out.

With each failure though we learned! And we were able to learn from the mistakes of each other. These lessons then translate into many more successes! Each time we are able to make things that work better and last longer; understand what works in this environment or how things are impacted by the seasons. None of this learning is available from a book! None of these failures a waste! Pictured is my shelter which I am modifying for winter to add a debris wall and debris layer on the roof to see how that impacts its ability to keep cold and rain or snow out. It’s an experiment…which so far is proving out well! Failure fuels creativity and problem solving.

We’ve watched repeatedly in the participants who have been in our programs, just how pervasive the desire to get things right the first time is. We’ve watched as people become frustrated by not doing something perfectly the first time they try, or ruin a project because they tried to make it a fast and easy process. Then they had a choice- either quit, which may be the norm of society- or to dig deeper and try again. It was really beautiful to watch those who persevered. The end result was so much more than their “success”. There was a real joy and sense of accomplishment, a connection with the skill, a reverence for the journey. 

Society may feel failure is a negative, but we’re learning what a blessing failure can truly be. 

Resident Debbie Tremel. Originally published 2015


So we’ve been living up on the hill for about a month now and it’s shifted my relationship with “need”. We are far from living fully primitively yet but that doesn’t prevent “need” from becoming apparent. For example, Indiana has had the rainiest summer and fall on record. With the rich soil and leaf cover the ground and cover stay incredibly wet. When you’re only using fire for cooking, this makes it challenging. Without a shelter, it’s almost impossible to have completely dry wood so keeping a fire hot enough to cook is almost always a challenge. So the question becomes, do I need hot food? Well, when we had volunteers here who worked hard all day and need a hot supper, the answer was definitely “yes”. You have to use your skills to make sure you take care of the community and the need is very real. Other times when I’ve been alone, I can make another choice.

The need to finish a shelter is also very apparent. Not only is there rain, but the nights are getting colder. Yet there is only so much you can complete in a day. As I’ve worked on thatching my shelter I’ve realized how long it will take just to complete this task. Then trying to balance this with the need to deal with the administration of the organization, fundraising and getting essentials such as food and you have to weigh the most urgent needs. We received some fresh vegetables and need to build a root cellar for some, but others such as the summer squash, won’t last even in that. This wonderful food began to rot so the highest need was to figure how to preserve this valuable food that was gifted to us. So I created a drying rack and am experimenting with how well the squash will dry without full sun and in cooler temperatures. Fortunately it seems to be drying okay in the first couple days…and then it rained again this morning, so we’ll see how it’s fairing.

Need has driven what has to made first priority. It’s inspired creativity and experimentation which is one very enjoyable part of this experience. It’s also highlighted where skills need to be improved to make sure we can accomplish what is necessary. Often what we “want” has to be set aside so that we can focus on what we “need”. Trying to plan your day is almost amusing as each day seems to present a new need. Although it can be a challenge, it is also a very positive experience and brings life to a very vibrant place. It takes you to a place of letting go of control and to opening yourself to what is present. It creates an openness as you step into a place of patience and surrender to the moment, just taking care of what is needed.

Resident Debbie Tremel. Originally published 2014

Living on Primitive Time

Jame's Shelter

Well folks after fifty-five days in the woods with just one week off I’M STILL HERE!

Haven’t been eaten by wild hogs, frozen to death or starved. After the first few challenges to start this adventure off it seemed that every step was a fight! Then I realized that I didn’t have to fight, just accept the situation for what is was. Find a solution or not and move forward. The journey to complete my shelter before winter weighed heavy on me for a while. I would push myself to exhaustion then spend two days recuperating. With little bursts of progress it sometime seemed that it would never get done! Then it started getting colder. At best it is a struggle just to move when you are all bundled up and wearing gloves.

Then one exceptionally bright, warm sunny day I was up before the sun, raring to build by damn! As I arrive at my lodge site I sit down on my favorite log to drink my morning coffee and watch the sun come up. A calm comes over me. The sunrise was exceptional, the day proving to be very mild. Knowing that it was going to be a glorious day and dreading being under the tarp working I made up my mind to go exploring instead. As I wandered the ridges and hollers, following the game trails, seeing, it seemed, for the very first time the majestic beauty of the land I was on. Finding the tracks of all my neighbors and fellow creatures habituating here. Learning the lay of the land and just giving into the calm quit pace of life in the woods.

I watched a doe deer on her morning wander not a care in the world, stopping to browse on acorns and mushrooms. Playing “see who can stand still the longest” with the very curious squirrels. Watching a very fat cheeked seven-stripped chipmunk scurrying along his way gathering for the winter. I was at peace, both with myself and with the Earth. Come what may everything will be OK!

Progress has moved steadily along since that morning. If I feel called to work on my shelter great! With a lot of progress, or know that today would be a wonderful day to make mats. Finding the primitive pace has made all of the physical, mental and spiritual difference in this journey that I am on.

Take the time to just be! With yourself, the situation, the beauty of the Earth that you live on. Being on Primitive time is one of the Creator’s most precious gifts of all.

James Fulcher Resident 2014-2015. Originally published 2014