(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
Between the Rivers grows as people hope to connect communally while learning primitive skills…
Being outside has been proven to lower blood pressure, fight depression and improve memory.
So it’s easy to see the allure of the Between the Rivers Gathering, a primitive skills gathering where people camp for a whole week while taking a multitude of classes teaching the way of ancestral living. While culture is not specifically focused on, the camp instructors teach people how things were done in a more simpler time.
“A lot of people see primitive as kind of a derogatory term but what primitive means is first, it comes from the word, prime.” Between the Rivers Gathering organizer Patrick Farneman said. “We consider our ancestors just as smart and highly specialized, as we are today, and we pay respect to it.”
People who come to the gathering can learn basketry, blacksmithing, buckskinning, archery, primitive pottery and much more.
“What we provide is structure for a week-long workshop in a camp format,” Farneman said. “We offer two meals a day and that brings us together as a group and then instructors provide the classes.”
About 60 instructors offered over 100 different classes over the week-long event. Between the Rivers is not a period camp, or a re-enactment but does provide a multitude of very important skills ranging from survival to artistic. You’ll see things there that have been made for hundreds or thousands of years when life was more rural or nomadic.
“Many of these are global skills,” Farneman said. “Our human brains kind of work the same across the globe and regardless of culture we kind of came up with the same way to solve a lot of our problems. So what we’re offering here are skills.”
The gathering started out with about 45 people six years ago and has since grown to an estimated 250 people. While there are some local folks in the mix — probably a fifth of the group — people travel from all over the country and Canada to this corner of the state to be part of the gathering.
“It’s a good mix, sometimes being local can be tough because home is too close by so they don’t have to breakaway as much,” Farneman said. “We do have scholarships for local students and do invite anyone that wants to be a part of the gathering. A lot of local people do day rates as opposed to the week-long gathering.”
Breaking away from everything is a happy side-effect of the Between the Rivers Gathering. Many event-goers say they are relieved to get to the event when it starts and wish it wouldn’t end after a week. People can camp in RVs (called tin teepees) further away from the main camp, but a good chunk of people are in primitive tents and canvas teepees. Walking around the gathering, you won’t see many folks on a smartphone, except for perhaps the lone Chewelah Independent journalist taking video.
“You know up until a few years ago we weren’t connected as a people 24/7,” Farneman said. “I think technology has done a good job connecting us but maybe not in the most healthy way. This gathering allows people to disconnect from social media and reconnect with each other and with our ancestors along with their way of doing things.”
It’s easy to feel and see this connecting. Wandering the Between the Rivers Gathering, you’ll see people talking and laughing around campfires. They’ll be conversing with each other and not have their head buried in some tech item. A week without distraction allows for people to get to know each other, and this yearly gathering seems to create lifelong friends.
“By the end of the week, we’re doing fun things like the Highland games and a variety show where people sign up to sing songs, recite poems and jokes,” Farneman said. “It’s really awesome.”
Meal time is an event in all itself. Between the Rivers Gathering might have the best food in all of Stevens County and the most efficient kitchen crew at that. Two times a day – breakfast and dinner – the crew takes two hours to prepare a meal and feed it to the hundreds of people. Instead of just taking their meal back to their tent, people instead gather around the main tent at camp and converse over a meal.
“We eat together and it really bonds us as a community,” Farneman said.
Farneman hires a camp chef and kitchen manager and the event brings up basically a mobile kitchen. Volunteers offer to serve and clean, with some participating in work trade to receive a discount on the cost for the week-long event.
After a while it gets hard to determine staff from everyone else as it’s truly a throwback to communal living. Between the Rivers Gathering takes a large staff, close to a 100 people including instructors to pull the event off. But if one were to go to the event, they would see primitive also apparently means well-organized and well-ran.
Between the Rivers Gathering is ran by the nonprofit group Bridges to the Past and Farneman and other people will teach classes throughout the year, whether it’s at schools or other primitive skills gatherings.
For more information, you can go to www.betweentheriversgathering.com, the facebook group by the name “Between the Rivers Gathering” and also on Instagram.