Frustrated with Primitive "Schools"

Why does it seem that only rich kids get to go to tracker-schools? I mean, seriously… where the f*%$@ am I going to get $10k to live in the woods for 9 months? Or $1,000 to learn ONE skill for three weeks? (Oh, wait, it’s more like $400 per ‘class’, but you have to take NINE different classes before you can learn the skills you’re really interested in). If I had $10,000 I’d just BUY some land of my own and figure it all out myself!

I’m not dissing the skills being taught – I’m sure that the experience is life-long and that the people that go through them are changed in positive ways forever. And I’m sure that the progression is, in fact, necessary to fully comprehend the lessons being taught later (baby steps and all that). My beef is that these experiences are COMPLETELY out of bounds for me, because I’m not rich, I never will be, and my parents don’t own a condo or three. What am I supposed to do? Take out a personal loan? Get a second mortgage on my house? Knock over a few 7-11 stores? Sell a kidney?

I feel like the financial prerequisites for joining such a group flies in the face of the “simplistic” lifestyle they’re purporting to live and tooting their horns about. It makes me bitter and I don’t like being bitter.


Does anyone else have similar frustrations about these organizations? Does anyone have alternative “schooling” that they’ve tried and has worked for them? How many of you have been to these schools? and how did you afford it? I’d like to hear your stories and experiences.

[Edit: for spelling]

I went to MAPS instead. Five days, 200 bucks, three classes a day. Or meet up with the folks here and get them to show you some stuff. Talk to anyone near by who knows how to do little things. Don’t worry about the whole “Tracker School” mystique. The knowledge is written in the land, free to all. Then go online (if you want you can buy books, but it isn’t really necessary with the internet) and haunt forums, wikipedia, and abuse the hell out of google until the Chinese government calls and asks “what’s up?”

Then go outside and keep doing it over and over and over again until your hands break open from trying to make fire, your ears bleed from trying to understand every bird around you, your eyes explode from trying to recognize every plant and name five things you can do with each, your feet fall off from hiking everywhere, etc.

After all of that, go lay down in the grass take a deep breath and say “bastards strayed pesticides all over this didn’t they?”

Then you’ll be wild.

That’ll be $10,000 please, no checks.

I’m heading to Reinvent 2009 in about a month. If you’re available in May, come out and learn primitive living skills for free.

Check out for more.

Everyone is welcome.



Thanks Hypno; Hobo –

I did some pondering (more like fuming) on this subject all day, and, with your help, it finally struck me: I don’t need school. I was born with everything I need to learn everything I want; I just have to give it the elbow grease.

I think that I might have been laboring under the all-too-common mentality that school = knowledge, and that, if I could “only go to school for it”, I’d somehow magically be an über-woodsman. Phah! Phooey, I say!

Now, excuse me, but I have some blisters to make.

~ SW

PS: Not to say that attending a gathering of folks interested in the same things wouldn’t interest me, of course – thanks for the suggestions!

By George he’s got it!

BTW, I really hurt my hands bad when I first learned to make fire. You were taught this is ridiculous, but listen to your body, it knows what it’s talking about. If you are in bad pain, you are pushing yourself too hard too fast. If you are in good pain, you are in the groove. Your body knows the difference.

This conversation bubbled up again recently on facebook and I thought it would be great to bring it up again here.

I’ve always had a problem with these schools. I’ve never had that kind of money… well actually I did once. My grandmother passed away and left me $20,000 for college. Instead, I spent it on my Urban Scout project where I tried to use the money to leverage my own self-learning. In retrospect, I wish I had just spent the money on a school and learned in a community setting. The thing you are paying for in school is the “set up” for learning. A good program has all the things you need to make the learning come quickly and easily. Trying to build this kind of thing from the ground up was insanely hard for me and I felt like I ended up failing and wasting time re-inventing the wheel.

However, in that time I gained both an appreciation for these schools (for creating great environments for learning), and a bitter disdain for them for being so inaccessible.

If I believed in “rights” (Rights are something bestowed upon you from The State) I would say that ancestral knowledge, human knowledge, is a basic human “right.” It should be accessible to everyone.

This website was one of the things I created with the money from my Grandmother’s passing. I figured it would be a way to “unlock” the knowledge of rewilding as well as connect people who live close to each other. That is still the dream of this website.

I also began running free skill shares in Portland, to teach these skills to people. We are still doing them. They are now sponsored by Portland Parks and we get 30-50 people showing up.

And still… On top of that… I created a tuition-based school.

When I was 16 I ran away from home and saved up money from bagging groceries for 8 months to go to a week-long Tom Brown Jr course in New Jersey. I wish I hadn’t felt that I needed to work for those 8 months and spend all that time preparing for just 5 days of learning. But it was worth it to me. I would do it all over again.

So… schools are worth it to some people.

When people complain about the cost of the schools, it’s hard for me to sympathize sometimes because in my mind I’m like, “If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen.” I did. But then I also didn’t. Because I also hate the monetary cost now that I’m broke again, and all the advanced 10 month programs are hella expensive. So instead, I created this thing. I created the space to share skills and meet more folks, and I still go to the closest (and most affordable) ancestral skills gathering to Portland (Echoes in Time) which I am now one of the key organizers.

So I think for some people, it’s worth it. For others, it isn’t. For the people who it isn’t, I offer this site and instructions on how to host your own skill share.

Also: A lot of our “clients” at Rewild Portland are not “rewilders.” They don’t want to be part of a rewilding community. They just want to take a class on basket weaving for example. They have no critique of ancestral skills of being a basic human right. They are just used to schools being places to learn and have no problem paying money for education.

There is a lot more to say: how schools create artificial communities (that can lead to real communities), how they create an artificial need ancestral skills educators (so that people can have the profession of ancestral skills teacher and go deeper into each skill), and other things.

But this is enough to chew on for a moment. Anyone have any thoughts?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of ancestral skills “schools”?

What are things we can do, or you have done, on your own or with others to create learning environments and learning communities outside of the tuition-based school?

Thanks for bringing this back up.

Rewilding doesn’t seem to fit into our current economic paradigm, no matter what way you spin it. And schools are essentially leeches. They don’t produce anything valuable to the economy. The education you receive won’t make you any money unless you sell products or more education. Profiting, creating excess, is the opposite of wild enoughness, or reach around… That said, I think the school format is valuable for now(although I’ve never really been to one, haha).

Why do this think it is valuable?

I’ve always thought of leeching as great for the civilized economy. It creates debt dependency. The modern form of indentured servitude.


I loathe that I have to pay to get skills that a healthy community would’ve passed on to me from birth.

Money changes everything.

I also think that I would like to see more “soft skills” included with the “hard skills”. Making friction fire is cool and all, but it’s virtually meaningless if the mindset of the person using it is still that of a taker.

From my perspective a school can be what you make of it and what you do with it, and what you walk away with. .
I see many who go into the wild with no preps what so ever and fail.

Our Dirttime event teaches the primitive and pioneering skills along side more modern skills , including traditional skills from the golden age/era of camping, 1880s to the 1930s . We work together and it allows one to learn how to lead a group by knowing what works. We create an instant band working together.

In the past I have been to many primitive skills events and always walk away with some more knowledge. and have enhanced some skills .
Primitive skills in and of themselves is not rewilding but does give you the tools for the rewild. You must own those skills . Or most likely you will fail. At the least make so difficult as to fail. Nature is an unforgiving teacher , so one should not go unarmed thinking she will teach you .

One , I believe has to go with the thought that you are becoming one with the wild by knowing what to do in any circumstance, in your chosen location.
Here in the high desert I have been in study of what the original locals did to live and thrive. I have been active at a local museum , helping out and teaching as well as being the ever present student. All boils down to learning and doing . Joining nature, not trying to conquer her . Which is the old way of the Europeans , but to be at ease at all times. Knowing the plants and the critters is what will support you. Owning the skills comes down to getting real and supporting yourself in the wild.

I know a lot of the “schools” cost way too much and their results are at times weak. Some are excellent. But it can cost you plenty to find out and most do not have that luxury . The Dirttime event costs about 300 bucks including 3 meals a day and instructors … at times their is a cost for materiels , that is for four days. The great time is free.
The rewilding is a theme that plays in our mind and heart and one has to learn how it works in concert. WE did not have the gift of growing up with wildlife mentors or elders ,( I had the advantage of my father and some of his friends to learn from so go so had an advantage there), you have to chase them down . Once one starts to learn the DNA wakes up and you begin a new knowledge of understanding your own wildness.


I think the basic issue is that we are ensnared in the prison of civilization, and there is no way around it, under it, or over it, only through it.

It’s a catch-22, a mess, the worst disaster to befall the human beings in a million plus years of our time here.

I’ve heard many, many back-to-the-land kids complain about the cost of primitive skills schools - I was one of them. But think about it - every culture in the world that has come into contact with civilization has been broken and enslaved. And these are expert rewilding cultures. Why didn’t they just come up with another option? Tribes in South Africa were told they had to pay rent on their land, and since they had no money, they had to go and make it some where (working in the diamond mines). And if they didn’t pay, they were arrested and force to work without pay in prison.

I think if we accept that this is not a new problem, that this is in fact the central problem, and there is no easy way out, I think we may actually learn to dance with it and outmaneuver it. The dream of “running away to the woods” or “squatting on land” while learning primitive skills works for a very few - when of course you don’t have fighter jets buzzing your wikiup - but it is purposely outlawed. The hounds of civilization were trained to stop this very thing.

I’ve recently decided to focus on making a really good salary so that I can support rewilders returning to the ancestral lifeway on the land. But I’m as necessary as they are. And I’m a rewilder who is making a sacrifice to not follow the rewilder’s dream. Hell, there are opportunities with rewilders right now to live year-round on the land and tend to it all over the west in a nomadic horse culture, and rewilders are barely responding. But that’s besides the point. I think it’s going to take rewilders who give a shit, focused on making money, that they can then turn around and use it to support buying land, scholarships for classes, and support rewilders who are doing the real work of tending to the land.

This is the great chinese finger-puzzle. Some of us have to give up the forest so that we can all return to the forest.

The second point I’d like to make is, yes, the Earth is our greatest teacher, there is no doubt. And yet you can’t discount the countless generations of brilliant indigenous peoples and their skills that they took to greater and greater heights. To act like living on the land is just practicing simple tinker-toy survival skills is to miss out on the treasure house of tangible and intangible wealth of indigenous cultures.

Here’s an example - Tom Brown Jr. and pressure release tracking. There are many, many indigenous trackers and tracking cultures around the world, great trackers. But pressure release tracking, according to Tom, was only carried by a few apache groups. And this brilliant system is so complex it’s like acupuncture points for the tracks. Have you seen those maps of acupuncture points? Vastly complex, generations of apaches worked on it, improving it. I’m learning so much right now from pressure releases. Amazing things about telling head position, markers for unique individuals, and so on. And this is something that just wouldn’t be available unless I took some classes, payed an instructor money, so that they could take time out of their own struggle to make a living and teach me.

Now I get to share it with others - but navigating the money economy allowed us to get the ball rolling. It’s awful but it’s in your face, it’s the great age of the bottleneck where we have to be two things at once - rewilders and members of civilization.

[quote=“Willem, post:11, topic:1385”]I think the basic issue is that we are ensnared in the prison of civilization, and there is no way around it, under it, or over it, only through it.

It’s a catch-22, a mess[…][/quote]

I think Willem encapsulated this pretty well. I’m reminded of the similar scenario new graduates find themselves in when they exit college: “If every entry-level job in my field requires 3+ years of experience, how am I supposed to get 3+ years of experience for my entry-level job…?”

It’s the ultimate catch-22, indeed.

Close to six years after my last post, I still have not attended any formal school to “Rewild”. I may have come to the conclusion that I didn’t need it six years ago, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to go. I’d still like to attend one. Maybe. Someday. But dwelling on that, or worse, allowing it to stop me from moving forward, is less than helpful; it’s harmful. Dreams are supposed to be something that grants you inspiration, not something to kill that inspiration.

I maintain my opinion that high-cost immersion schools are more of a barrier than an entry into Rewilding because of this: While stuck in the dream of attending “some day”, today gets wasted.

I realized that shortly after my last post. Spending my energy being mad that I can’t attend a school wasn’t helping me Rewild. It was stopping me.

In the last six years, a lot has happened to me: I started learning ancestral skills on my own terms. I spent summers as a guide in the Adirondacks and the Rocky Mountains (where I taught the ancestral skills I’d learned to the students that wanted to listen). I’ve moved to 4 different states. I’ve met and lost friends. I’ve found my spiritual calling. I became a father. Finally, I was subsumed by Mother Culture again, and felt myself nodding off to her song (even if it doesn’t sound as sweet as it did before).

But here I am. Still fighting to rekindle my wildness, with more obstacles to that wildness than ever. Six years on, my Rewilding journey continues, and I didn’t need to spend a dime on any school. I’ve been figuring it out all on my own, through books and videos and websites (so not truly alone at all). It’s still frustrating sometimes; there’s a lot more trial and error involved, the pacing is often very inconsistent, and I live in fear that I’ll never find myself in that elusive state of “success”. What keeps me going is the level of success I’ve already achieved, and the knowledge that I’m not alone in my struggle.

~ Matthew

having a job should not define anyone or what they are… Success is the end result of your life , are you successful as a person. Money success is a false god.
I knew of a man who was one the happyist so in sos you ever met…he had failed at more things than you could pack into a lifetime… but he answered to no man… and lived a free life. As a person he was the best… his word was a real bond. I did a book review about him on our website "The Desert Riverman " …his name is Murl Emory long gone now… but what a guy… you have to click back about 15 pages, did this review sometime ago… he has many truisms … that made up his life…

being a success is your own idea of what that is , and means. Letting society define what that is is not the answer . it is found inside of you.


I agree 110%, Dude. May we all find the happiness of Murl Emory. I raise a horn to his memory this night.

the klank of bottles of brew and a tip of the hat for sure…