" SpiritofSaltSpring:BC:Canada:GulfIslands:SaltSpring:Salt Spring:

October 17, 2009

Seeing Nature Through Native Eyes

I woke up to pouring rain and headed off to a course I'd signed up for called Seeing Nature through Native Eyes offered through Salt Spring Community Education. The instructor, Jean-Claude Catry, is thin, a raw food eater, long gray braids tied into one at the back. His brown eyes were bird-like in their intensity. He greeted us at the back of a place near Ruckle Park surrounded by forest.

The first thing I noticed about him was that in spite of the pouring rain and muck, he was walking around in leather flip flops. The sand and dirt from the ground was sticking to his toes as if they were barnacles. Around the house which was a run-down, two-storey wooden structure, there was stuff everywhere; a child's old wooden rocking horse, boxes of fruit, broken equipment and another place beside the main structure. I noticed that place had a makeshift bed outside on a second floor deck. All that covered the bed was a plexi-glass roof. I was trying to get my head around sleeping there, especially, in February.

He had a very strong French accent and I imagine that he may have spent a lot of time in school because in spite of the challenge of understanding his accent, his choice of English words was impeccable.

Three other women were there. That surprised me. I expected the participants to be more and younger. We followed Jean-Claude in the pouring rain through a couple of gates to prevent the chickens from escaping and he led us toward a big structure covered with found bits from the forest.

I found it ironic that whereas we were dressed in various bits of Goretex, Jean-Claude was wearing layers of wool sweaters, some thin, cotton khaki pants, sandals, and carried a mangled green umbrella over his head and a cloth Thrifty's bag in the other with his lunch and some books on plants and birds.

The structure was made teepee style and on top was straw, hay, branches, leaves. A 5 by 5 foot piece of fur was stretched on a hand-made, crooked wooden frame. We find out later it's sea lion. Above the entrance were four deer hooves attached to the bottom of the deer legs. Road kill he said, when I enquired.

Jean-Claude grabbed some straw, told us to take some and throw it on the ground for our seats. We sat around a circle and he began the day speaking about gratitude. The raindrop are like a percussion section above us on the tarp covering the hut making it hard to hear his soft-spoken voice.

Our first exercise requires us to go to a sit spot. Find a spot in the forest that we are drawn to and sit there for 10 minutes return and describe what we noticed.

When was the last time you just sat down in nature and were quiet and just looked? Stayed in one spot for 20 minutes and just paid attention. What did it smell like? What were the birds doing? Did you even hear the birds? Did you know what any of the plants were around you or is the natural world just a pleasing but confusing sea of earth tones? Could you make a fire from scratch, not matches, if you had to? Would you know what berries and mushrooms are edible?

He spoke a lot about two men: Jon Young and Tom Brown Jr. Tom Brown Jr. was befriended by a native elder, Stalking Wolf, who had been wandering the Americas following a vision quest. When he came upon Tom Brown Jr. at a stream, he knew that this young boy (7 years olds) was who he was supposed to coyote mentor and spend the last yeras of his life with passing on his wilderness skills and hundreds of years of Apache culture. Tom Brown Jr. has since written 16 books, his first called The Tracker, published in 1978. Jon Young who learned from Tom Brown has opened a Wilderness Awareness School in Washington State.

Other exercises included looking at 6 leaves from the forest for 20 seconds and then having to go find them and place them in the exact order that you saw. Grab a partner. Blindfolded, they lead you into the forest to a tree and return you. You then must find "your" tree. Take your shoes off, that's right, take them off, and walk properly, toes, side of foot and heel in the dirt so as not to make a sound. Listen to the birds. The birds, he tells us, can tell us so much about ourselves.
When you go to a place in the forest, it will take about 20 minutes for the birds to return to "normal" after your arrival. Listen to them. Are they agitated? They are reflecting your energy he says. Listen to the pattern of the rhythm they make. Don't worry about naming them.

He wants us to go back to our sit spot daily. At first it will be a chore. but then, you will want to go. It will be your form of meditation. It should be no further than 10 minutes from your house.

He also offers wilderness teaching to kids on Fridays, and a survival course begins next weekend where people will come together with only a blanket and a knife and must feed themselves from the forest and build a fire without matches over a weekend. I'm not going. In the summer I'd be interested. Not right now.

No comments: