Guest post contributed by Mariel Blake
[/su_pullquote] On a beautiful Friday afternoon I found myself standing in the middle of no where’d thinking spring water from an old PBR can someone found near the creek and taking a moment to catch a cool breeze on my sweaty brow. I had just spent an hour gathering aid and debris to create a shelter my tribe and I would need to sleep in that night. I looked at our progress and was encouraged. To others it may have looked like a pile of debris but I saw thick walls that would keep out the night chill and keep in the warmth of our fire. I smile to myself as I think of that moment and its representation of how far I had grown.
Ten months earlier I had just begun my journey in the Wild Intelligence Year of the Coyote adult wilderness program. I got into the program for many reasons. My son had attended some of their summer camps. I saw how their use of play and appealing to our human instinct to explore our world made him feel comfortable out in nature.
When they partnered with our school to lead “Into the Wild Wednesdays” I was intrigued to see their work up close. Clever questions, fascinating stories and adventure games had even the most nervous and reluctant children immersed in being out in the woods. They thought they were just having fun, but they were learning basic skills, like navigating using natural clues and using natural elements to make cord and tools.
WI kept crossing my path. Somewhere in me a spark was lit and then I heard about their adult program, Year of the Coyote.
I went into that first weekend ready have fun and learn and build a new skill each moth so that by the end I would be this amazing wilderness woman. The main two skills we were to learn that weekend were making a fire from a coal and making cordage from bark. I killed it on the cordage. The fire not so much. In fact, not at all.
That afternoon during our “sit spot” time I wrote a journal entry about wanting to start a fire that would illuminate my way through this journey and through life. I quickly learned that is precisely what WI programs offer.
After a few months I had learned how to make healing salves from herbs I could find in my yard. I learned how to identify healing plants and edible plants and plants that could tell me things that could save my life. I learned bird songs are not just music but a language we humans can understand if we sit for a while and listen. I had learned how to track animals and hunt. I learned how to let nature feed and sustain me. I played games with abandon and had sensitive, thoughtful conversations about how what we were doing connected to our life outside the woods. I did everything but light a fire with a coal I created using a bow string fire kit. The weekend of my solo fire sit, however, taught me an insightful lesson.
Sitting all night in the darkness tending my fire I had nothing but my work and my thoughts. It became a clear metaphor for me. Tending a fire kept my body alive. Being alone to do it kept my mind alive. I saw clearly that it didn’t matter how you made your fire but how you kept it going. I looked up from my fire many times in the night and I could see the small lights of the fires of my fellow coyotes scattered through the darkness. I knew that they were each tending their fires in their own way. Seeing their lights gave me comfort to know I was alone but not on my own.
Months later, when we were on our survival trip, the sun was going down and our fire still hadn’t been lit. Everyone had chosen tasks for the day and our fire crew had been working diligently throughout the day to get our fire going. We eventually all began taking turns holding the spindle or pulling the cords trying to create that coal. Those of us not actively involved sang songs of encouragement. Finally, as the sun began to fade and after who knows how many rounds of This Little Light of Mine, we had our coal and our fire sprang to life. Suddenly all the work we had done over our months together and that day came into focus.
We fed the fire with the wood we gathered until the shelter we built felt cozy and inviting. We boiled water and made soup with the plants we had foraged during the day. We sat by its warmth, as we had so many fires before it, and talked long into the night about the things that create familial bonds and draw us closer.
Throughout my time as a coyote, I never lit an actual fire by myself but a fire was lit within me. It illuminated for me not only my need to connect with the skills and knowledge of my ancestors but my desire to interconnected with nature and my community.
Since going through YOC I have found myself a member of a community that is connected to so many other circles and groups to which I belong. The light that was sparked in me burns in so many others who have found WI’s approach of using nature education to bond us as a society a good compliment for all the other activities and interests in their life.
Whether it is though their various youth programs that expose young people from toddlers to teenagers to the wonders of nature or their community programs that teach how to use nature to mentor to adults and children, Wild Intelligence is lighting fires in people and organizations who see the value of living in harmony and partnership with each other and our natural home.
Wild Intelligence has many programs that cater to everyone from the beginner to the expert, from the skeptic to the true believer. Each one of these programs is like a solo fire, created and tended to offer warmth and sustenance to whoever is drawn to it. Together these programs are creating a community of fires that are inspiring generations, young and old, to find connection with our natural world and our natural selves, whatever form that may take. They do not seek to start a wildfire that will burn away life as we know it. Rather they seek to blanket the world with fire circles whose light and warmth draw in as many as it can.