Wilderness Year: Honoring Vulnerability

by Alex Van Nostrand

The intention for our November overnight at primitive camp were to sleep in debris shelters without sleeping bags, practice natural navigation over several miles while carrying burning coals, and to reflect on our experiences around sacred fires held by elders in the community. It is incredibly connective to nestle yourself down in leaves without the barrier of a sleeping bag inside a small shelter you have shaped with your own two hands, and also an excellent lens for observing what your edges of comfort are. Despite many a chilly & restless first night, after spending time to make improvements the next morning most of us were snoozing cozy and warm well past sunrise!

Our first day began with pre-dawn Sit Spot under the setting moon, followed by a wander to harvest more grasses for insulation, dogbane for cordage, and spruce roots for basketmaking over the winter. Knowing that much of the landscape’s bounty would soon be covered under snow, it felt good to prepare for cozy winter crafting sessions. Fall harvest is beautiful reminder that seasons provide a window of opportunity, and so that we might gratefully utilize the gifts of the earth all year round.

That night we sat in men’s and women’s circles to listen and reflect, recognizing that our community was made up of vastly different individuals and we had all been challenged in a variety of ways. It’s awesome to blow a coal to life, to lovingly tend and create medicines from plants, and to work through a tree’s growth rings in shaping our bows. Yet each craft, each knife stroke, each distillation peels back layers of who we are. These exposed edges are tender spots for personal growth to root itself, and when our circles rejoined we recognized that cultivating that vulnerability is as powerful as anything else we do.

The evening closed with beautiful voices lifted in song, and laughter ringing through the trees from “Dirt Time” stories with the elders. Hearing of all the huge errors that were part of their journey to holding empowered space in the world was a wonderful reminder that failure is expected as part of learning to reseed our souls with wildness!