Saturday, November 7, 2015

Fox-Walking and Deer-Listening

In The Little Green Schoolhouse, we've started reading pieces from Jon Young's What the Robin Knows: How Birds reveal the Secrets of the Natural World (published by Mariner Books in 2013).  As a scientist who grew up studying wilderness skills with Tom Brown, Jr., Young offers fascinating insights not only into the world of birds, but into the interconnections between the birds and everyone else.  The information and skills he discusses offer ways to learn the language of the birds.  Through that language, we can come to understand more of what is happening out there beyond our human-placed limits of perception.  Learning how birds communicate with each other and other animals provides we domesticated humans with a path back to where we can take a walk on our wild side.

In chapter four of the book, Young provides training in how to "fox-walk," gain "owl vision," and learn how to listen like a deer.  One recent afternoon, we set off to our sit-spots to try the fox-walk and listening like a deer.

Young says the fox-walk "changes your body language and your impact on the local birds and animals" (61) thus allowing you to walk into the woods with a lower level of disturbance.  Other animals depend on the birds to raise alarms about intruders.  If you "fox-walk" skillfully enough, you won't alarm the birds and the bird won't alarm the other animals.  In this way, you have an opportunity to get closer to wildlife.

To fox-walk, Young  writes "instead of swinging and stomping, raise one foot off the ground and let it hang there comfortably.  Then slowly lower the foot to the ground, wherever it naturally falls.  Don't lean forward.  When the foot touches down, the other leg is still bearing all your weight.  After the first foot is on the ground, shift your weight, still without leaning forward.  Keep your head up...Repeat the process.  With very little practice, you will find yourself treading softly, taking shorter steps" (61).

This is a perfect exercise to try with all ages.  It's like a game - can you walk like a fox?  Will anyone be the first to raise the bird alarm?  Or will we all achieve our goal and get to our sit spots without ruffling a feather?

Although I can't say whether or not I'm walking as a fox should, I did find it easier to suggest we walk like we had rocks in our back pockets.  It helped keep us from leaning forward and dropping our weight too heavily.

Once at our sit-spots (sit-spots themselves another topic for another blog), we sat and put on our deer ears.  Unfortunately, the neighboring farm had a tractor idling.  At first I though this would blow away our whole experiment, but it actually offered an interesting lesson.  When you "put your deer ears on," you find your hearing is not necessarily dominated by the loudest sound.  Instead, with your deer ears on, you listen forward, backward, to the left, and to the right.  We found that even with the bulldozer going, we could isolate that noise to only a part of our hearing range while honing in on sounds being made in different directions.  So, though we had to strain to hear them, we could still pick out the chickadees and other birds by focusing on the area of the woods their calls were coming from.  However, it was still a relief when the motor was switched off and the normal sounds of the forest could come clearly through.

Sitting at our sit spots for even twenty minutes brought a whole new perspective to the land I've been on for over 10 years.  It made its wildness deeper.  The deer ears made you not only listen to, say, the sound of the wind, but also how it varied in sound as it blew through the spruce, or over the dried goldenrod, or through the leafless hardwoods.  Squirrels chrrr-ing were no longer a wall of sound coming vaguely from the woods.  Rather, the strength of the sound revealed the chrrr-ing as layers of calls coming throughout the forest.  We sat so quietly, a blue jay flew right overhead without once wavering on her course.  Indeed, a squirrel nearly ended up in my lap, but yet he acted as if things were not quite as safe as they were at first appearing to him.  He was, in other words, suspicious that something was there after all although it wasn't acting as it normally did.  When I had to get up to leave, I got a sound round of scolding from him as I left my sit-spot rather noisily.  I imagine he felt rather smug after the initial adrenaline rush of fear - he just knew something was out of place, and he had been proven right. 

The fox-walking and deer-listening were awesome lessons.  They are definitely becoming an integral part of our curriculum.  As soon as we get a chance, we're going to begin on developing our "owl vision" too.  Looking forward to it!  (Hee hee - no pun intended.  ;) ).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Just What Is a "Radical Homemaker" Anyway?

You may be asking yourself, "Exactly what is a 'radical homemaker'?  And am I one?  If I am, do I want to be?  Is it something, you know, weird?"

Well, I always say, if you're the weird one among a bunch of people slowly going insane, then you're likely the only sane one.  So, yes, in today's American society, "radical homemakers" may be viewed as "weird."  However, I'd argue that they are the sane ones.

When we look at the human experience throughout our species history, it's the industrialized consumer lifestyle that is the weird choice, unlike anything we've experienced in our 200,000+ years on Earth.  Throughout 99.9999% of that time (up to the Industrial Revolution, that is), we've lived in a manner of self-sufficiency and independence.  Along with that type of livelihood grew strong families, reliable communities, and a healthy Earth.  I'm not saying all was paradise and no "bad stuff" existed.  However, the majority of anthropologists will tell you that this type of lifestyle is the most sustainable ecologically and socially as well as the most conducive to personal life satisfaction.

Radical homemakers are working to reclaim this sustainability, life satisfaction, self-sufficiency, and independence of the normal historical human lifestyle.  Rather than letting ourselves be torn asunder as families to serve the needs of the industrial workplace, we pull together to opt out of that system as much as possible.  Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemakers and the inspiration for this group's name, writes, "he or she who doesn't need the gold can change the rules.  The greater our domestic skills, be they to plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide for our own entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest or care for our children and loved ones, the less dependent we are on gold" (Radical Homemakers 13).  And the system that comes with it.

As radical homemakers, we are "building a great bridge from our existing extractive economy [...] to a life-serving economy, where the goal is ,in the words of David Korten, to generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few, [and, as Hayes goes on to say,] where our resources are sustained, our waters kept clean, our air pure, and families can lead meaningful and joyful lives" (Hayes RH 13).

Think about it.  Our children are sent to schools where they remain isolated from the family for over 40 hours a week.  Add bus travel time, homework, and school activities, and suddenly the family sees the children only rarely.  The point of the school system becomes one of preparing job skills rather than learning about the world, and our children are trotted from assembly room to assembly room throughout the years, being fitted with ever, supposedly, more intricate job skills.  If we live in a poor school district, our children are also likely being trained, subtly and not-so-subtly, for the military where they will fight, suffer, hurt others, and all too often, die themselves in rich men's wars.  At what point do we say, "Enough!"?

The Radical Homemakers Homeschool Association is for those who either have uttered that magic and freeing word or who would like to but are prevented by circumstances or perhaps even the lack of courage to say it.  We're here to support each other.  All are welcome who support these visions.  Although we are based in the Northwoods and will post most of our activities with the goal of bringing our children together in this region, perhaps the group will grow to include regions beyond this one.

Join us!  Stay tuned!  And happy radical homemaking!