Wilderness Living, an Ancient Art

Teachings about nature, survival, and living close to the earth.
After training by the Children of the Earth Foundation, Ben Faraone and Chandra Elmendorf will offer a weekend workshop for parents and kids in wilderness survival skills in Montauk next month. Joanne Pilgrim

    If you put Ben Faraone and Chandra Elmendorf out in the woods, alone and perhaps without even a knife, chances are good that they would survive and even thrive.
    For 11 years, the Sag Harbor residents have been taking classes at the Tracker School, a tracking, nature, and wilderness survival school in New Jersey. It was founded in 1978 by Tom Brown Jr., whose encounter at the age of 7 with an Apache elder named Stalking Wolf set him on a course of learning and passing on his teachings about nature, survival, and living close to the earth.
    His classes encompass not only outdoor survival and awareness skills, but include spiritual teachings drawn from Native American and other traditions, development of a life vision, and healing.
    Both Mr. Faraone and Ms. Elmendorf read halfway through one of Mr. Brown’s books before setting it down, certain that their next step must be to go to the Tracker School. Over the years, they have studied primitive cooking, ceremonies, medicinal plants, and more.
    “He teaches us the principles of survival; he gives us the tools to adapt to just about every situation,” Mr. Faraone said this week. “That’s not restricted to the wilderness, as we’ve come to learn.”
    Nonetheless, the two have done the “dirt time,” as they said, practicing the techniques of outdoor living and incorporating elemental practices into their own lives: tanning leather and making boots, making baskets using bamboo, willow tree cuttings, and other plant fibers, and heating their house all winter with a fire built in a woodstove using only a “bow drill” — carved wooden tools used to create friction and a spark. Mr. Faraone does flint knapping - creating tools from stone — and the two, who work together in their own organic gardening business, grow and preserve their own food. “We eat wild food regularly,” Ms. Elmendorf said. “All of us have ancestors that lived this way at one point.”
    Both have become certified instructors through Tom Brown’s Children of the Earth Foundation, a nonprofit created to offer youngsters “experiences that inspire excitement, adventure, creativity and a sense of awe,” awakening an awareness of the mysteries of the earth through teaching “the ancient art and science of tracking, awareness, and wilderness living skills” as the group’s Web site explains.
    They have begun spreading what they have learned to youngsters at an after-school program at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, and will offer their first weekend program for parents and children next month.
    During a two-day overnight workshop at Theodore Roosevelt County Park in Montauk, to be held on May 11 to 13 for families with children ages 7 and up, hands-on activities, games, and stories will help to introduce the fundamental skills of wilderness survival surrounding the basics of shelter, water, fire, and food, and will highlight the interdependence of all nature.
    Though participants will stay in tents at the park campsite, they will build a hut using found materials, learn how to find and purify water, build a fire with a bow drill, and forage for wild edible plants. Regardless of what is found, meals will be provided.
    Games will include Rabbit and Coyote, which stresses the importance of being well-hidden and the relationship of predator and prey, Chumash tag, played wearing blindfolds, which helps develop the use of other senses, and tracking games, through which players learn about camouflage and stalking — “all of which is useful for seeing animals in their natural state,” Ms. Elmendorf said.
    Children ages 7 and 8 must attend the workshop with a parent; those ages 9 and up may attend alone.  A third Children of the Earth Foundation teacher, and more if needed, will assist Mr. Faraone and Ms. Elmendorf.
    It will begin on the evening of May 11, a Friday, and last through Sunday at noon. The cost is $250 for one child; additional family members — parents or siblings — are $150 each. Those interested can register by sending an e-mail to shelterwaterfirefood@gmail.com. Additional information about the Children of the Earth Foundation can be found at its Web site, at www.cotef.org.
    “Our explorations have given us remarkable experiences that we will never forget,” Mr. Faraone said in a release. “We’ve made countless friction fires, boiled water with hot rocks, made baskets and burned and carved wooden bowls and spoons, made string, filtered water with a handful of materials found on the landscape. Our natural surroundings offer us so much abundance, and we have so much to give back. . . .”
    A quote from “Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature and Survival for Children” sums it up, he said this week. “One of the greatest hindrances to children’s experience of nature is that today our children’s feet are removed from the earth, both literally and figuratively,” Mr. Brown writes. “Society in general has lost its connection to the earth, and hence has no conscious sensitivity to its mothering power. Once the connection is lost, people lose respect for the land, the trees, and the animals.”