How to Practice Your Skills

At Earthwalk, students learn a variety of ancestral living skills such as bow and arrow making, weaving, flintknapping, wild food foraging, fire making and shelter building.  Anyone who has studied ancestral living skills knows that there are a vast number to be learned – and hopefully, some to be mastered.  With so many skills to learn, it can be overwhelming.

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.  Start easy – maybe one skill per week.  Make it manageable so you don’t get bogged down.  Be patient, including with yourself.  As you practice over time, your confidence and skills will increase.

Tips on Practicing Your Skills

  • Pick one at a time.
  • Start easy (crawl first, then walk, then run).
  • Go slow. Take your time. Don’t rush.
    • If you rush, you are more likely to make mistakes.
    • Speed will come with experience.
  • There is no magic pill!
  • The more you get into the skills, the deeper the connection you will feel to the earth.
  • Be well-rounded with your skills.
    • You will specialize in some skills, but should practice and enjoy them all.
  • As you practice the skills, let them become a meditation.
  • Go over your notes.
  • Get some good quality tools (cheap ones break).
  • At the end of the day, ask yourself:
    • What went well?
    • What could be improved?
    • If you could do it again, what would you change?
  • Don’t forget to have a life.
  • Don’t neglect your family while practicing! Try to include them.
  • Share the skills with friends and family members who are open to them.
  • Enjoy the experience!

– Frank Sherwood

How to Practice Your Skills

Delectable Roses

One of the highlights of the Ethnobotany Apprenticeship program is gathering rose petals in the spring to make jelly, infused honey and hydrosol.



Keeping with the “everything seems to be early this year” theme, this week was the peak time in our area to harvest lush, fragrant roses.


After gathering, students brought the roses back to the Earthwalk kitchen to prepare rose petal jelly.


The abundance of rose petals allowed us to add more petals than the recipe originally called for – making the jelly even more vibrant and flavorful.  What an amazing shade of pink!


We ended up having enough petals for a double batch of jelly in addition to rose hydrosol. Oh, and enough for sampling with toasted baguettes and butter to make sure it tasted as wonderful as it smelled.  (It was even better!)



Delectable Roses

Survival Tips: Weather Conditions

With the Pacific Northwest’s unseasonably warm weather continuing, it’s easy to forget that weather conditions can change quickly – turning a fun outdoor experience into a true survival situation.  Learning to read the weather is a crucial wilderness skill that could mean the difference between life and death.  Here are a few of my tips about different weather conditions you might encounter in your outdoor travels.

  • WIND: Cools our body and pulls away heat faster than we can produce it.  Cover all exposed body parts, put on adequate clothing, and find shelter so wind chill is not a factor.
  • RAIN: Cold and wet conditions cause extreme body heat loss.  Keep as dry as possible, avoid wet clothing, and keep firewood dry.  Seek shelter.  Remember, wool or equivalent-type clothing will keep you warm even when wet, and the layering system will create dead air space to retain warmth.
  • BLIZZARD AND WHITE-OUT CONDITIONS: Cold, body heat loss, mental stress, and fear make mobility a problem.  Do not travel; instead seek shelter and remain until the storm passes or the weather clears.
  • FOG or DARKNESS: Leads to loss of mobility, mental stress and fear, and inability to tell direction.  Do not travel; instead seek shelter and wait until morning or clearing.
  • DESERT SUN: Overheating in our body core leads to dehydration, blindness, and sunburn.  Find shade and shelter from the sun, travel early or late in the day to miss the heat, conserve as much energy as possible and stay hydrated.
  • LIGHTNING: Get off of high, exposed areas immediately.  Stay away from lone trees or tall isolated objects, open fields, rocky overhangs, cave mouths, and metal fences or railings.  Try to get into a building, closed vehicle, or forest with many trees the same height.  Try to be as small as possible and squat on a mattress pad or something dry and insulated from the ground.  If you are in a group spread out, don’t bunch up.

Be aware and respectful of the ever-changing conditions, and be prepared for them as they occur.

– Frank Sherwood

Survival Tips: Weather Conditions

Hunting Journal Now Available!

Frank's journal

We are excited to announce that Frank Sherwood’s Hunting Journal has been published! Providing this simple yet powerful way of deepening people’s understanding of nature has been a dream of Frank’s for over ten years.

In Frank’s experience, regularly recording your outings can help you hone your attention to detail, discover patterns, and improve your level of expertise. He wanted to create an easy-to-use, easy-to-carry field journal to help people capture vital information about their outings. The field journal includes pages to record valuable data about each outing, and practical information about animal tracks and signs, cloud descriptions, a hunter’s checklist, and what to have in your wilderness survival kit. The journal also includes room for personal thoughts and observations as well as inspirational quotes.

We owe many thanks to author Clint Hollingsworth for his beautiful illustrations and publishing assistance. He helped make the dream a reality!Owl

The Hunting Journal is the first in a series of three. Look for the next one – Nature Awareness Journal – this summer.

Copies of the journal can be purchased at Amazon.  There’s also a rumor that you can get signed copies for the same price through Earthwalk Northwest!

Hunting Journal Now Available!

Birch Bark Knife Sheath

Birch bark knife sheath

In our last post, ethnobotanist Karen Sherwood shared the numerous gifts of birch.  Now you can join Karen on Sunday, May 22 to learn how to use this wonderful plant material to create a beautiful, sturdy and functional knife sheath.

In this class, students will use time-honored techniques unique to working with birch bark. Students will form a birch bark sheath around a Swedish-made Mora carving knife (included in cost of class). Students learn how to prepare the bark, how to lash, and one of several traditional patterns to stitch the bark sheath closed.

Karen also teaches students how to  make a cedar bark-plaited lanyard so that the knife sheath can be conveniently worn around the neck. The cedar lanyard will be finished as time permits.

To join us for the class, please visit our registration page. Cost of the class, including the Mora knife, is $125. Class will be held at the Earthwalk Northwest classroom in Bellevue, WA. Directions and follow-up information are sent after registration.

Birch Bark Knife Sheath class at The Tracker School
Birch Bark Knife Sheath

The Gifts of Birch

Betula alba
Betula alba – photo by The Tree Garden, UK

The gifts of birch have been passed down for many generations over many centuries. They come to us through a long line of healers, hunters, boat builders and weavers – those that held a deep connection to the earth.

The name of this tree is an ancient one; probably derived from the Sanskrit bhurga, “a tree whose bark is used for writing upon”. Certainly it has been used for this. Some of its common names are sweet birch, paper birch, birch bark, and white birch. The scientific circles know it as Betula alba.

When some people think of birch bark, bark canoes immediately come to mind. Certainly the waterproof bark lends itself well to create canoes and other types of boats which indigenous people around the world still make today. Its uses extend much further beyond that, however, to coverings for shelters, sewn containers and woven baskets as well as coloring hides while tanning. The volatile oils in the bark make it an ideal material for fire starting. The wood is valued by fine woodworkers around the world. The inner bark and leaves are used as emergency food in addition to having significant healing qualities. Birch is an ideal tree to know for a survival situation.

While we use the leaves, twigs, wood and even the roots of the tree, the bark is arguably the most widely used part of the tree and certainly requires the greatest skill to gather ethically. It is important to keep in mind that removing the inner layer of bark from any live tree can irreversibly harm that tree. Removing the inner layer prevents the flow of sap, which will eventually kill the tree if enough bark is removed. You should always look for downed trees from which to harvest the bark before cutting into a live tree.

Bark harvesting occurs in spring or early summer. We start by carefully making a shallow vertical slit that only cuts through the outer layer. Join this with two shallow cuts around the circumference of the tree, one at the top of the vertical slit and the other at the bottom of it. If this is done well, the bark almost peels itself. At home, lay the bark out and place weights at the corners so it dries flat. When we are ready to use it, the bark may be cut with shears to the size and shape needed and gently warmed to shape.

While the utilitarian uses are vast, the medicinal uses of birch are as intriguing and effective as they are varied. We use birch bark, twigs, as well as the fresh leaves as tea to make an effective pain reliever and anti-inflammatory.  A glycoside in birch breaks down to produce methyl salicylate, the natural forerunner of synthetic aspirin. Its history of pain relief goes back for centuries.  Native Americans used birch to relieve headaches and the pain of rheumatism, aching or swollen joints, while the poultices were used to heal burns, wounds and bruises.

As a diaphoretic, birch helps produce perspiration to cool the body and reduce fever, helping to ease the discomforts of cold and flu symptoms. Birch bark is considered an effective, natural herbal diuretic that promotes urine flow and has a long history of use in supporting our bodies to heal from urinary tract infections, cystitis, prostatitis and kidney stones.

When used topically in salves, poultices and liniments, birch provides great relief for bruises, burns, eczema, wounds, skin eruptions, rheumatism and psoriasis. It also has been used by Native Americans for centuries in a tea and other beverages to treat stomach and intestinal problems such as diarrhea and dysentery as the tannins in the bark are astringent. It is still an effective remedy today.

In 1995, research at the University of Illinois showed that betulinic acid in birch killed melanoma cells in mice. Three German studies concluded that betulinic acid showed anti-tumor activity against cells from certain types of nervous system cancers in children. Additionally,two compounds in birch – betulinic acid and betulin – have shown significant antiviral activity. Researchers have claimed that betulinic acid slows the growth of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Betulin and betulinic acid also display some anticancer and antitumor properties. Though neither is a stand-alone cure, these compounds give us another reason to include birch in healing remedies and help to validate its history of use from ancient times until today.

While we continue to add to our knowledge of this amazing tree, we must remember to take the time to simply sit in the speckled shade of the “ Lady of the Woods” gazing skyward to admire her dancing leaves on a warm summer’s day.

The Gifts of Birch

What is flintknapping?

Tools of the Trade

Flintknapping is the art of making stone tools through percussion and pressure and flaking methods (plus a few more).  As part of our Ancestral Living Skills course, we teach students flintknapping techniques.  Flintknapping has its own language and it can be confusing.  This post covers some basic terminology to get you started on the right track. We’ve also included pictures of the tools of the trade for the purist and modern stone worker.

Biface: A tool that has been flaked on both sides.

Billet: A cylindrical-shaped tool for removing flakes from stone made from hardwood, antler, or copper.

Blank: A piece of lithic material for the making of a tool (e.g., arrowhead, knife, spearpoint).

Core: A chunk of stone (lithic) material.

Cortex: Outside edges of stone like the rind of an orange.

Debitage: The waste lithic materials.

Flakes taken off a core

Flakes or spalls: Small or large pieces removed from a core.

Flaking: Removing small or large flakes of stone from a core by percussion or pressure.

Lithic: Anything to do with stone.

Percussion flaking: Flakes are struck off the edge of the core with a hammerstone or billet.

Pressure flaking: Pushing small flakes off with an antler tine, mild steel, or copper tool.

Pressure flakers:  antler and copper

Interested in learning more about flintknapping? 

Our next class is Saturday, April 2 in Issaquah.  Students will learn flintknapping techniques and also make their own tool kits to continue refining their new skills at home.  Class size is limited to ensure individualized attention.  At this time, we have a couple of openings but the registration window closes soon!


What is flintknapping?