Students Immersed in Primitive Life

Last weekend’s Between the Rivers Gathering in Valley brought about 100 people of all ages together from near and far to experience life in a primitive setting, learning and sharing the skills of their ancestors and immersing themselves in nature during a unique five day outdoor camping retreat.

“It’s a life-changing experience,” said camp nurse Colleen Kincaid-Smith of Plummer, Idaho. She has been attending these kind of ancestral skills and self-sufficiency camps for many years. They are offered all over the region and more are being added all the time.
The gathering, which was set up at Grouse Creek Farm, is the first of its kind in the area and was organized and sponsored by local non-profit Bridges to the Past. It took place Wednesday, May 15 through Sunday, May 19.
Executive Director Patrick Farneman brought in more than 20 instructors from as far as Montana, Utah and Arizona with many levels of expertise, to participate in the event based on connections he has made since attending his first primitive skills gathering in 1996. The instructors were happy to be a part of its first year and many said they enjoyed the setting of Northeastern Washington as well.
Farneman’s parents, Cat and Hal of Spring City, Utah, offered instructional classes throughout the retreat and said their son got them both interested in learning primitive skills.
“It teaches ancestral survival skills and pioneering skills; it teaches you how to survive on the land and skills to live a good life,” Hal Farneman said.
People return to these gatherings because of the community that it brings together. First-time student Jean Jones, of Chewelah, said it was amazing to see the “instant family” that developed immediately, which was hard to leave when it was all over.
“It’s a cool group of eccentric people having a great time,” Jones said.
These people take care of each other, Kincaid-Smith added, and it is safe environment where people do not judge each other and are accepting of everyone. It is where she found family she had been searching so long for, she said.
“I will never leave them and they will never reject me,” Kincaid-Smith said. “The support is consistent with caring and genuine concern for each other.”
A variety of skills workshops were offered each day from the medicinal uses of plants, to fire building by friction, food gathering, cheese making, blacksmithing, kayaking, buckskin tanning and net tying. Students could take as many or as few workshops as they wanted based on their interest and abilities. Students also had the option to camp the entire time or even come in just for the day for workshops as well.
Jones said her son spent his entire time in the blacksmith tent, except when he took one break to learn how to make an Indian arrow.
Buckskin tanning instructor Karie Lee Knoke of Sandpoint, Idaho said, “I love the sharing knowledge with everyone, it brings back a whole culture,” Knoke said.
She said buckskin tanning is one of her passions that she learned after taking a class in 2006. Although her day job includes creating scientific databases on computers, she enjoys the outdoors and “the village that is formed” in these camps.
She can also be seen wearing her own buckskin dresses. Everyone’s skin tells a story in the marks and scars, and deer hide works the same way, she explained.
“It’s an amazing material, and is connected with the spirit of the animal,” Knoke said.
Student Annie Olmsted of Eastern Oregon said she learned new things every day. Such as in Cat Farneman’s medicinal uses of plants class how aspirin is a natural medicine that can be found in nature.
Olmsted spent the retreat with her husband, Bryon, and two young children ages 2 years and five months. She said, “I love the community feel here” and was able to attend classes around her camp while her 2 year old explored and played, or participated in the nearby kid’s program tent, and her five month old son slept in the nearby tent.
“We form a village when we are here. The kids are safe, and free because they are safe,” Knoke said.
Bryon Olmsted, a first-time instructor, also realizes the benefit for his kids to be a part of the experience.
“It helps them learn things they don’t get to do normally,” he said. “It connects them with the world around them.”
Jones said one of her favorite parts of the weekend was going on a food gathering expedition and learning what was good to eat or how they could cook it to make it edible using primitive techniques. The class was taught by Kyle Chamberlain, a wilderness therapist out of Kettle Falls. He partnered with an expert on mushroom identification and was able to learn during that time as well as teach.
Additionally, Bridges to the Past hosted different student groups from Valley, Chewelah and Colville during the day for field trips.
During the camp, students were allowed to use their own car to unload camp gear and park it nearby the camp. They were asked to provide food and shelter and, as it was not a time-period camp, any modern gear was acceptable. They also had a community fire pit for people to gather.
Bridges to the Past is a non-profit organization governed by a board of directors with Patrick Farneman as executive director. He said they plan to do the gathering each year but move it back a week to the Tuesday through Saturday after Memorial Weekend. He said it is the biggest projects Bridges to the Past has organized, and took a lot of work, but he would do it again the next day because it is such a wonderful experience for all involved.
Farneman said the gathering connects people to nature and that people are healthier when they spend time outdoors.
“We are meant to be outside,” he said.

By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff