wilderness year

Curriculum Details

The curriculum for WILDERNESS YEAR will cover Survival and Wilderness Living,  Nature Studies, the Art and Science of Tracking, Leadership, Mentoring, and Community, Ethnobotany & Care-taking, and Bird Language and Awareness

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Survival & Wilderness Living

We will look at meeting our needs of shelter, water, fire, and food in the wilderness setting. How do these priorities of survival dictate how we look at the landscape, and how we prioritize our actions when in the woods? These skills are truly a doorway to the wilderness, allowing us to stay safe and provide for our needs indefinitely.

Students will learn how to:

  • Build a debris hut survival shelter
  • Thatch longer term shelters and use bark as a building material
  • Purify water with no modern tools
  • Weave containers from wild harvested materials
  • Create friction fire using the bow drill and hand drill
  • Identify and gather wild edible and medicinal plants
  • Craft primitive traps and understand theory and regulations behind them

Nature Studies

Connecting to the natural world is the main lens in which we approach the Wilderness Year. Learning and forming relationships with the plants, trees, mammals, insects, birds, and all other beings of our local environment is crucial to our journey together. The beauty of naturalist studies is they are directly intertwined with our ability to provide for our survival needs in the wilderness setting. How well can we know our local environment? The more connections we form with the natural world the more we feel at home.

Students will learn how to:

  • Identify hazards related to plants and animals of our bioregion
  • Identify trees and understand their Ecology
  • Identify herbaceous plants and understand their life cycles
  • Understand life histories and ecology of local mammals
  • Understand ecology of various forest types
  • Identify birds, insects, amphibians, and reptiles, and understand how they fit into the broader pattern of the woods

The Art & Science of Tracking

The world of tracking is expansive. We will approach tracking in a very accessible way, and you will quickly see your skills grow into this expansive art. We will explore tracking as a science, measuring tracks and looking at field guides. However we will also experience tracking as an art, taking on the mindset of the animal we track to feel it move across the landscape.

Our routines of sit spot, journaling, and storytelling will be crucial for learning tracking. Looking at tracking in this depth will forever shift your perspective, opening your eyes to a previously invisible world. For those students who really push their skills in Tracking there is the option to register for a Cyber-Tracker Evaluation of Track and Sign held locally each spring.

Students will learn how to:

  • Identify clear prints (Who is this?)
  • Age tracks (When did it pass by?)
  • Analyze gait patterns (How was this animal moving? What was its emotional state?)
  • Trail animals (Where was it going and why?)
  • Understand sign tracking (“Tracks” are everywhere!)

Leadership, Mentoring, and Community

We will cultivate a group culture of community and mentoring, in which we learn and find support from one another. The power of mentoring lies partly in the art of questioning. When this is experienced in a community setting the potential grows exponentially. Learning from each other’s questions as well as our own, we are constantly drawn deeper into our awareness.

On the path towards deeper awareness and connection we find that it is an inward journey as much as it is an external journey. Our self-inquiry will be facilitated by tracking explorations, and connecting in nature, guided by skillful mentors along with time alone at our sit spots.

There will be constant opportunities to teach and step into leadership as we explore different aspects of the Wilderness Year curriculum. As we step into leadership we will also look at leading our own lives more fully, moving forward with clarity and confidence.

Students will experience:

  • Opportunities to observe, and teach alongside skilled staff at year round youth programming
  • Daily circles of stories, skills, songs, and gratitude
  • Mentoring in all areas of the Wilderness Year curriculum
  • A strong community with intention towards clear communication and space for personal growth
  • A course and certification in Wilderness First Aid and CPR

Ethnobotany & Care-taking

Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship that exists between people and plants. Caretaking is the practice of ethical harvest and helping heal the landscape through our actions as gatherers. Through our studies we will be developing strong connections and relationships with plants, and always hold the intention of the caretaker to guide our gathering.

These concepts will become tangible reality as we wander the landscape in search of the resources for our crafting. Our relationships with plants will go far beyond knowing a scientific name; we will get to know that plant with all our senses, and understand that plant for all its gifts. Through this we truly study botany through a relationship lens, and are experiencing ethnobotany as direct participants in the natural world.

Students will learn how to:

  • Harvest plants in a connected way, always showing gratitude towards what we harvest
  • Understand what to look for in selecting the ideal plant to harvest in a caretaking way
  • Use appropriate tools for harvesting wild resources
  • Ethically and safely harvest trees for crafting projects
  • Harvest and prepare wild edible and medicinal plants
  • Time the wild harvest with the life cycles of the plants

Bird Language and Awareness

Bird language is a powerful tool for stepping more deeply into our awareness. Bird language teaches us that when something moves in nature it affects everything else. By understanding concentric rings of disturbance, we can track the landscape in a much broader way, and expand our awareness well beyond what we thought was possible.

Unlike observation, awareness implies we understand our relationship to what we are seeing. This will be central to our study of bird language. Not only are we watching the birds, but we know the birds are watching us. And we are watching the birds watch us. The birds are mirrors for us, and as we grow as naturalists and bird language students, the birds will be our teachers. As our awareness grows we find we can see and understand more of what is happening around us, and begin to feel more truly at home in nature.

Students will learn how to:

  • Identify birds and understand their life histories
  • Interpret the 5 voices of the birds
  • Map bird movement and behavior to better interpret the patterns in nature
  • Understand sequences of alarm
  • Observe wildlife undetected in close proximity
"Advancing my primitive skills along with permaculture studies and leadership has invited me into a world that I would have never imagined had I not joined the Primitive Pursuits family! You opened my eyes to a lifestyle, community and profession that I love and plan to dedicate the rest of my life to." C.W., Wilderness Skills Alumna

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