(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
Between the Rivers connects to a past time…
Between the Rivers Gathering organizer Patrick Farneman admits it’s a struggle to explain to people what the Chewelah-area ancestral skills gathering is. From basketry, blacksmithing, buckskinning, archery and primitive pottery — the event is part camping trip, part revival and part college course.
“It’s hard to tell the uninitiated what to expect,” Farneman said.
Thankfully, once people go, they tend to get hooked on the event that begins every Memorial Day and goes until the following Saturday near Grouse Creek every year. The week-long gathering started with 45 people its first year and has since grown to over 225, with many coming from around the country to experience Northeastern Washington in a primitive setting.
This year had a few rain storms, some hot days and plenty of laughs.
“Somebody told me that ‘you can never count to 30 at this event without hearing somebody laughing,’” Farneman said. “This year was phenomenal, people learned a lot and bonded over the experience.”
The gathering is an extended workshop for ancestral living skills in an outdoor setting. People register for the week-long event, show up at the site to either set up their modern tents, canvas tents, tipis, schoolbuses, campers and trailers lovingly called “tin tipis” and then quickly relize they’re out of modern-day society.
The goal of this ancestral skills gathering, and other similar events, is to help people learn knowledge that is sparsely passed down these days. It’s a connection to ancestors of years past and something that really resonates with people.
“We’re returning to the skills of the past,” Farneman said. “Out of context, somebody might think this is a primitive arts and crafts fair, but it’s a very real experience and part of our shared human heritage. These are needed skills, that along with camping and getting to know each other, are very hardwired into us as humans.”
Driving up to the event requires a few turns on dirt roads but upon finding a parking spot, one can ditch modern technology for a trip into the past. With the central sky-lodge serving as the hub of the event, tents are scattered all over the Grouse Creek property with several main instructional areas set up as well.
Among the instructors at the event are locals such as Mike Goot and Jean Jones, Todd Isaac and Kandis Larson – along with people from across the Northwest, the United States and Canada.
Archeologist Tom Prang was at the event sharing natural and cultural history after many years of fieldwork throughout the western United States, and National Geographic Channel “Survive the Tribe” and “Primal Survivor” host Hazen Audel shared his skills of surviving in harsh environments.
“Hazen hung out for the whole week and it’s neat to think we had a real-life TV star at the gathering,” Farneman said. “He grew up in Spokane, and I have known him for the past 20 years.”
Karie Lee taught brain tanning and buckskin sewing at the gathering, teaching people how to turn that deer hide into something usable. One attendee even (legally) brought a deer they had hit on the way to the event.
John Huffstutter of Cheney, Wash. brought his blacksmithing skills and equipment to the event, showing people how metal was once worked and turned into useful tools. Goode Jones of Salem showed people how to knapp rock and create useful arrowheads, axeheads and blades for tools.
Vancouver’s Mick Robins was also at the event with his signature gypsy wagon – showing people tin and copper smithing. He created a coffee grinder and one morning offered coffee to the whole event, quickly creating a line for people looking for a little caffeine.
The event takes about four months to organize with Farneman confirming and booking instructors and students. He also spends time going to other similar events and teaching primitive skills throughout the year.
“You can find one of these events about once a month in the US and Canada,” Farneman said.
Between the Rivers has been drawing in plenty of people across the country and is becoming well known. Farneman and his team begin prepping the Grouse Creek site at the beginning of May and then when it comes time to strike camp, it’s always hard to adjust back to the modern world.
“It’s something that happens every year; it takes a little while to re-adjust to modern life,” Farneman said.
But as the attendance would show, people keep coming back to see just what they can do “between the rivers.”