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January 23, 2017

Snow Tracking

Hello Friends,

Tracking in the snow is fantastic outdoor winter activity and can give anyone a sense enjoyment and satisfaction.  Snow records events which most of us would never see in other substrate. Additionally, snow blankets the entire land, unlike other simple substrate like sand or mud.  Even the tiniest animal tracks can become clearly visible and easy to distinguish.   Most of the time, you can see the entire trail laid out and all you have to do is pick up that string, and follow it.   Even from a distance, the trail of the animal is clear and specific events can be noticed.  Rodent tracks leading up to a spot of blood straddled by impressions of large wings are a clear indication of a raptor kill.   A spot of yellow snow on or net to a solitary bush is likely the marking from the canidae family.  These are some of the rewards which tracking in snow provides.  One of the most fantastic rewards which tracking in snow can provide is a deer antler!  This time of year, the bucks are shedding their antlers and if you follow the trail of a buck, you might just find an antler.  

However, tracking in snow can be...deceptive.  Things are not always what they seem.  Because of: melting, refreezing, additional snow, rain, wind and other environmental effects, the tracks you see can be drastically different from what they looked like when first made.  Take the image in this blog for example.  Given the scale of the size 12 male shoe next to it and the fact that it appears to have 5 toes, one might think it is the hind foot of a black bear (or Bigfoot).  It is actually two domestic dog tracks overlapping which have melted and expanded significantly.  The apparent fifth toe is and area which melted out, due to the grass poking through the surface.  Though trailing is much easier in snow, sometimes the truth is still difficult to extract for the tracks.

Happy tracking everyone,
Andrew


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November 23, 2016

Generosity and Gratitude

Hello Friends,

Tomorrow is the American holiday Thanksgiving.  The origins of this holiday lie in two of the most powerful expressions which humans can show, generosity and gratitude.  A group of immigrants to a new continent were woefully unprepared to survive and were shown tremendous generosity by the group of indigenous people, leading to the survival of the immigrants.  The immigrants were so grateful for what was shared with them, the acts of generosity and gratitude were immortalized.  We call the holiday created Thanksgiving.  
The iconic symbol of this holiday is the wild turkey. They are native to this continent and there are several subspecies of the wild turkey across America and Central America.  This bird was in fact domesticated by the indigenous Americans thousands of years ago and was used and respected as an important animal; Ben Franklin wanted the US national bird to be the wild turkey.  Turkeys provide the habitats they live in special roles.  They are food for carnivores, insect eaters, seed distributes, warning system for other animals and much more.  The turkey also provides us with our traditional Thanksgiving meal.  
Have a happy thanksgiving everyone and remember that this holiday is grounded in generosity and gratitude and those should pervade this day, and become an everyday occurrence.   





Best to all,
Andrew
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April 8, 2016

Thank You to Our Donors

Hello Friends,

Over the years, COTEF has graciously received donations of enormous generosity.  From items such as books and tools all the way to hand made canoes and large monetary gifts.  COTEF exists and is augmented because of the generosity shown to us by ordinary people who believe in the power of what we do.  From the bottom of my heart I wish to send out my gratitude to all those who have ever donated anything to COTEF, whether it be time volunteering, items for our auction or programs, cash or even a kind thought.  You have contributed to our vision and are a part of COTEF, always and forever.  Thank you!



I would like to highlight a recent donation from Fred Bowers of Alna, Maine.  He is a farrier by trade and works on my families horse's hooves.  Recently, he came to my families farm for a routine visit and while he was there, I spoke to him about COTEF.  At the end of his visit, he presented me with four farrier's rasps which were almost in mint condition, though he deemed them too dull for his needs (horse hooves are VERY tough).  He donated them to COTEF with the hopes that they would be useful in our programs.  Our Way of the Hunter class this year will be using these to make their bows.  Thank you Fred!



Best to you all,
Andrew



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January 5, 2016

Food Becomes Us

Hello Friends,

I remember what Dylan MacKinnon said to me as I eat a package of ramen noodles.  He said, in a joking and yet serious tone..."Andrew, what are you building your temple with?". 
In a way I felt guilty for putting those noodles into my body but knew that at the time it was all I could afford.  However, it was not my only option.  The forest and field can provide a wild meal that is healthy, plentiful and satisfying.  It takes a little knowledge, a bit of time and a slight change in expectation of flavor to enjoy a wild food meal.  

There are plenty of resources out there to help you learn about wild plants which are probably available less than twenty feet from your front door, many of which are discounted on sight as "weeds".  One of the best teachers of wild edible foods out there is Linda Runyon.  For many years Linda came to Coyote Tracks to teach our edible/medicinal plant workshops, she has written many books, done radio shows and lived for decades off of what she could harvest herself.  Her website "Of The Field" is a great place to find information and inspiration on your wild plant journey.  http://ofthefield.com/

Meat is a little more challenging to procure, though it provides a very nutrient dense source of food.  The act of hunting requires not only skill in tracking, stalking, camouflage and stillness but also appropriate and adequate hunting weapons; additionally a licence/permit is required. Trapping and fishing are just the same.  I have fished my entire life and believe it is a good place for children to begin experiencing the harvest of wild animals.  Fishing also brings you to the water's edge where other wildlife is attracted.  I will never forget fishing on one side of a river in Alaska while a female brown bear fished across from me on the other.  
 
Some things to remember when collecting wild food:
  • Know absolutely for sure if a plant is edible
  • Don't over harvest- we can go to the grocery store and buy food, animals can't and depend on wild food
  • Be careful of pollution/disease in your food- do not eat plants that are near a road and only eat healthy animals
  • Tasting something new may surprise you in a bad or good way
  • Have reverence for the food you eat
When we consume food, it becomes a part of us whether it is plant, animal or fungi.  It is life on which we feed, life that must be taken in order for ours to continue. 

Be well and eat well,
Andrew

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December 15, 2015

Fire Speaks to Us

Hello Friends, 

    The impact which fire has had on the human family is tremendous.  Over hundreds of thousands of years, the relationship with and use of fire has changed us not only physically but socially and spiritually.  The curiosity which a flickering flame creates in a human viewer is hardwired into our species.  Most people have experienced being transfixed by a fire, captivated totally by it's dazzling existence.  This is one of it's powers.  The power to speak to us on a deeply personal and soulful level.  
    Tending a fire is like having a dialog with it.  It will communicate to you how it is feeling and what it wants.  However, learning the language which fire speaks takes some practice.  
If you have a place where you can make fires safely, try experimenting with your fire:
- Try to make your fire completely smokeless
- Try to make your fire as small as you can and keep it going
- Build a structure and try to light it with one match
- Experiment with different structures: tepee, log cabin, bee hive, or inverted tepee
- Try using different types of tinder
- Make a fire in the rain
- Make a fire and watch it from start to finish without tending it at all

Fire is a good friend to have and like all friendships, it takes effort to cultivate.  
Be well and warm,
Andrew

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November 30, 2015

Water is life
 
Hello friends,

Water is a fundamental element for all living creatures on planet Earth;  H2O is the compound of life.  Human beings can last only several days without putting fresh water into their bodies.   Think about this the next time you drink water from your tap, the next time you drink pure water from a faucet.  Liquid water is a special gift which we have on this planet and must be cherished for all it provides.   

One cannot drink water from a stream, no matter how clean it looks, without risking infection.  
Making water pure:
-The only way to make water safe, in terms of biological contaminates, is to boil it or by using a chemical pathogen killer, i.e. bleach. 
-Boil by putting your container directly on a fire or bed of coals, if your container can handle this heat.
-If your container is not suitable for placing on a fire, heat rocks and place them into your container to boil water.  
-Remove sediment by filtering it through a series of tightly packed layers.  Cloth is an excellent filter material which we normally have on hand.
-Add grasses, fibers or fine sand in a filter to improve filtration.   
-Using charcoal in a filter can remove some chemical contaminates which many water sources are tainted with.
 
The next time you drink water, feel it moving through your body.  Feel it coursing through your veins and revitalizing every cell in your body.  It gives us life and it gives us the fluidity to move through experiences which shape us.

Be well and hydrated,
Andrew
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November 5, 2015

Shelter Turns to Home

Hello friends,

Shelter building can a fun experience for children and adults and now is the perfect time for shelter building.  There are copious amounts of leaves and sticks available for the intrepid shelter builder.  There is nothing more important than a place that will sustain and keep you alive through the cold winter that will, inevitably come.  Look to the squirrel, the beaver, the muskrat, and the groundhog, to name a few.  These animals use instinctive engineering skills to create shelters of varying types which keep them warm and safe.   We as humans, have those same instincts which are especially apparent in children.  

Went I was young, my brother, some neighbors and I build a village of shelters in the woods near my house.  We called them forts at the time and referred to ourselves as a tribe while we were there.  It was fantastic, always an adventure and full of imaginative journeying.  Looking back on those experiences, I see that it was a natural out-flowing of creativity and instinct.  My experience is not unique however.  How many times have we seen children building forts or castles out of pillows or couch cushions, caves out of blankets and chairs or even the most rudimentary constructions out of materials at hand in which they can sit in and say "this is my place"?  I believe this is an expression of of fundamental human desires.        

Tips for building shelters with children:
- Start with a debris hut.  This structure can be found described in several of Tom Brown Jr.'s books and it's the shelter we teach first at COTEF.
- When introducing the project, use words which spark their interest.  Instead of calling it a "shelter", call it a "fort", "cabin", "woods tent", "castle" or what ever is the most inspiring name for the individual or group.  
- Trigger their imagination with the project.  Children are more motivated when their imaginations are engaged.  Turn the experience into a fantasy role play where you are explorers who need to build a shelter for the night, Neanderthals on a hunting trek who need to build a temporary dwelling or experimental archaeologists on an assignment from a museum.  Something which allows them to pretend that the situation is important and FUN.  
- Make a game out of the task.  My grandfather told me at a young age that ANYTHING you do can be fun, as long as you turn it into a game.  Make a game out of collecting the biggest leaf pile, the best stick collection, or a time limit on the construction.  This incentive drives people to perform beyond what they thought possible.
- Smudge your shelters well!  Sometimes people are turned off from sleeping in a shelter they have built because of bugs, spiders and ticks.  The easiest solution to this is to smudge the shelter thoroughly.  This will drive out insects and arachnids.  Be VERY careful when you smudge as I have seen first hand what happens when a debris hut catches fire due to an inattentive smudging.  You do not want this to happen!
- Use sticks which are straight, solid and free of mold/fungus.  I have allergies, so when I build a shelter I try to use sticks and leaves that have not started to decompose.  It can be a hard nights sleep when you are sneezing and coughing because of the materials you have chosen for your shelter. 

Keeping passion and imagination alive is a goal to achieve for children and adults. 
Be well,
Andrew

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September 11, 2015

Use Oriental Bittersweet-Celastrus orbiculatus

Hello Friends,

    Invasive species are a tremendous problem for ecosystems around the world.  The dispersal of non-native species to new regions can be disastrous for native species.   One such species which has invaded the Eastern US in the last hundred years is Oriental Bittersweet.  It is a rapidly climbing vine which can constrict, shade out and weight down mature trees to their ultimate death.
    However, Oriental Bittersweet has a few uses to caretakers of the land and practitioners of Earth skills. One obvious use of the vines is weaving.  It's young or recently grown vines are long, flexible, and once stripped of leaves make excellent weavers for a variety of baskets.  Select vines which are straight, even thickness, and have few or no additional vines branching off of them.  They can be used green for basketry but will shrink as they dry.  They can be dried and then re-hydrated for more refined baskets.  
    The green vines themselves also make very good lashing and wrapping material.  A single vine can be used to secure a bundle of fire wood with enough left over to create a shoulder strap.  In the construction of shelters, oriental bittersweet is a great friend to have close at hand.  It can be used to lash a wooden framework securely and then woven throughout as wattle.  If stressed too much without pre-bending, and often even with, the vines will snap because the core is somewhat brittle, but when they do, they reveal one of their greatest uses... cordage.   
    It seems almost everyone I talk to does not know of it's cordage making cambium.  In the spring young vines can be stripped of their bark, pealing it off almost like a sock from a foot, simply twisted, and used almost instantly as a bow-drill string.  Later in the year the fiber adheres to the vine a little more tenaciously but can be pealed in strips or gently pounded for extraction.  The outer bark can be removed by scraping when still green, or rubbed/buffed off when dry.  The fiber can also be extracted from dead vines similar to the method for dogbane or milkweed.  The cordage it makes is STRONG.  It is one of my favorite bow-drill string materials and I have had good results with it as a bow string on a 30-35 lb draw bow.  
      It is important to know that while Oriental Bittersweet is invasive, its relative American Bittersweet is not.  They look very similar but American Bittersweet is not nearly as harmful to landscapes, as it evolved in concert with the plants living alongside it.  Below is a link to an excellent dichotomous key to identify the two. 
    Please, use as much of this invader as you can.  It is a tree killer and unlike other invasive tree killers, it is easy to see and has wonderful uses.  When you harvest it(in copious amounts) give thanks, but tell it that it does not belong here.  

    Best wishes and happy caretaking,
Andrew 

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May 15, 2015                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Snack as you Wander

Hello Friends,

    It is the time of year again when all of the tender young wild edible plants are bursting into new life and rapid expansive growth.  As you walk, or at your sit spot, notice what plants are growing around you.  Most of them are edible at some stage of their life or with a certain processing technique!  Maybe you can recognize a few as edible and, with a thank you, take a leaf or two and enjoy the wild flavor.  Those that you don't recognize, take a    little time to study them and later on, look them up in a book or online.  
 You might be surprised at the new friend you have made in your travels, who can later sustain or perhaps heal you.  If you notice a certain type of plant that animals like to eat, you can probably eat it too.  
    Start simply.  Start with the basic plants that can be found almost anywhere.  Plants like: dandelion, plantain, clover, and "the incredible" cattail.  These plants are quite easy to recognize, are filled with nutritive value and can be found all over the country.  Once you learn a few, I guarantee you'll start to see them more frequently because you have trained your eyes to locate them.  Then you can start to move on to some other plants that may be a little harder to identify or require mild and even lengthy processing.  You can find out which trees can provide you with food, and not just the fruit and nut bearing trees that produce later in the year.   
    This is the only warning that must be given: NEVER eat a plant you don't recognize for sure.  It is true, there are a small percent of plants that can make you sick or even take your life from just a small nibble (i.e. Poison and Water Hemlock).  Some can harm you if you simply touch them, specifically those that have thorns or contain toxic oils.  But, they can't be blamed for what they can do to humans; they are only doing what they must to survive.  These might be the plants that you want to learn first.  If you do and you can recognize them for sure, the rest are your food.  You should also NEVER eat plants from roadsides or polluted grounds or waterways.  
    It is a liberating feeling to have knowledge of edible plants in your area.  I am not by any means a master of plant identification or uses, but I love being outside and snacking on wild plants.  It makes me feel connected to my place and that I too, HAVE a place in the natural world.  It also makes me feel in control of my life and what is going into my body, much more so than buying food at the supermarket which, I am not denying, most of us must do.  

Happy grazing to all,
Andrew

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April 21,2015

Unwrap a gift from the Earth

Hello Friends,

    Within the sacred order of survival there is a physical skill that permeates, facilitates and unites them all.  It's a skill that is rooted deeply in our past as human beings.  It is so simple and yet infinite in it's complexity.   This skill is the use and creation of stone tools.  Before the advent of metal tools, rocks were used, in one or many stages, for every task people wished to accomplish. 
     Rocks are one of the greatest gifts that Earth has given us, each one like a wrapped present with something special inside.  Each stone is a unique individual and has lived its entire long life, existing as such.  When you pick up a rock and use it, it is transformed and ascends to a new level of being.  Think about all of the applications of manufactured and found stone tools from the obvious to the obscure: cutting tools, projectile points, projectiles, drills, abraders, sanders, gouges, chisels, scrapers, choppers, ax heads, celts, hammers, fishing weights, handholds, mortar and pestle, counterweights, deadfalls, pigments, canvas, personal adornment, boiling/steaming tool, vessel, cooking surface, tallow lamps, pipes, building material, landmark tool.... the list goes on and is only limited by your imagination and the rocks you have available.  
    I, and the Earth, invite you to unwrap a gift that she has given to all of us.  The next time you are on a river bank, by a stone wall, in a Wawa(gas station) parking lot or in a gravel quarry(excellent place to find rocks if it is not posted "No Trespassing") look at the rocks around you.  Pick them up and examine them; the large and the small.  Ask yourself and the rock itself "what secret do you hold inside?".  

Be well and happy rock hunting,
Andrew
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April 9, 2015

Glue from Birch Bark!

Hello Friends,

    Birch is an amazing tree and I have a totally new respect for this incredible gift giver.  Birch is one of those trees/plants that can provide a bounty of materials and knowledge for those who have the desire to learn from it. 
    I've been on a kick recently making glue from birch bark.  It's really a resin or tar-like substance which is contained in the outer bark of all birch trees.  Everyone knows that birch bark
burns well and the reason is because of the resin inside it.  The rendering process is difficult to do entirely primitively, though it can be done with good results.  Recent archaeological evidence shows that Neanderthals were using rendered birch glue more than two hundred thousand years ago, to affix their spear points to the shafts which held them.  To date, this is the first known evidence of hominids making and using a rendered adhesive.  To remove the tar from the bark, it must be cooked in an oxygen free environment, so that the tar is boiled out and the bark smolders away.  
My entirely primitive techniques were done with clay vessels, sand, and stones.  The birch bark was rolled up into a tight roll and placed into a clay vessel with a small round stone in the bottom and a flat stone placed on top, and then covered with sand.  A hot fire was built over the top and maintained for over an hour.  After cooling, the tar had condensed in the bottom of the vessel on the round stone and was transferred to a stick.  The results were of mixed quality.  I then switched to using two empty paint cans, a technique a friend told me about but had not yet tried.  A hole was punched in the bottom of one can and stuffed with bark.  The lid was tapped into place and the can placed on top of the other smaller can, which was below ground level (because the ground is still frozen in Maine, I built a rock structure to accomplish this).  A fire was built around the can and the tar dripped through the hole in the top can.  The results were incredible!  Best of all, no live birch tree was harmed in the making of this glue.  All of the bark was from dead trees.
    Birch tar glue is extremely sticky and runs when warmed.  When warmed, it sticks on contact to wood, stone and... skin.  When it is cold, it is solid but cools and hardens slower that pine pitch glue.  A temper can be added.  I experimented with wood ash and ground charcoal, I have my preference but I leave it up to you to find yours.  We will be making birch bark glue during several of our classes this summer.  

Be well and happy gluing,
Andrew

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March 31, 2015

COTEF's New Flint Knapping Tools

Hello Friends,

    Knapping, or flaking sharp stone tools, is one of my favorite skills to work on.  It connects me to my heritage as a human in
a
 very special way.  Hominids(human like primates) have been making stone tools for literally millions of years, to accomplish tasks they could otherwise not accomplish.  The ability to cut with sharp rocks allowed our ancestors to: modify wood for tools, cut meat, hide and bone, drill, and add razor sharp points to projectiles.  
    I have made a new set of knapping tools for COTEF because our tools, though functional, are a little worn out.  This new set of tools includes seven weighted copper billets(boppers), seven copper tipper pressure flakers, and seven horse shoe nail notchers.  The pressure flakers and notchers are made so that the tips can be replaced when they get worn out.  All have oiled hardwood handles and were made with care.  It is my personal preference to use all natural tools for knapping(stone, antler and bone) however, metal tools can be more predictable and easier for beginners to use.  
    Students who enroll in our Fire and Stone class(NEW THIS YEAR) will use these tools throughout the week.  Other classes that will used these tools include FYT, Way of the Woods, Way of the Hunter, and Advanced Skills Training.  
    The Earth gave us an incredible gift in rocks that fracture in a predictable way.  Without these stones, I don't think humans could have ever risen to the heights we have.  This is how fundamental flint knapping is to survival skills.  

Be well and happy knapping!
Andrew
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March 20, 2015

Super Vernal Equinox

Hello Friends,
    Today is an extremely special day, marking the transition from the slumber and stillness of the northern hemisphere, to the time of awakening and new life.  Not only is today the vernal equinox, but there is a new moon as well as a total solar eclipse! The eclipse was not visible here in north america but it was for those of you who live in Europe.  The convergence of these three events is indeed rare and the literal and metaphoric significance of this day cannot be overstated.  
    Cultures around the world have always seen the vernal equinox as an important marker in the cycle of life, and the Earth.  Through careful observation, our ancestors constructed elaborate wood, petroglyphic(stone carving/pecking) or megalithic(large stone) calendars to help them recognize and celebrate this important day.   
    Here in Maine, our land is still mostly blanketed in snow but signs of the change in season are becoming apparent.  The trees are responding to the rise in temperature and increased sunlight.  There are new leaf buds beginning to form as sap is flowing through their bodies and limbs.  Alder and Birch trees have produced catkins waiting to distribute their pollen.  I observed a male red squirrel playfully chasing a female through pine, fir and oak branches in an act of courtship.  For me though, the most important harbinger of spring was the return of the red-winged blackbirds, just a few days ago.  The very first call of a male, "uh-boo-da-la-weeeeee"(how it sounds to me), brings joy to my heart as I know that the migratory birds are returning to my home.  Red-winged blackbirds are beautiful, gregarious birds which have a wide vocabulary and are not afraid to use it.  Being gender dimorphic, the males look different from the females, signifying there is competition and selection in their mating behavior.  
    Spring is here friends.  Soon there will be young and tender edible plants to eat, anadromous fish returning to coastal streams, and new life springing from from every facet of our hemisphere.  Remember to do your tick checks! 

Best spring wishes to all!
Andrew
    
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March 2, 2015

Gifts from the Trees

Hello friends,
   When I first moved to Maine as a child, I had a hard time making new friends.  I spent lots of my time exploring the woods around my house.  During one of my explorations, I found an ancient White Pine tree which became one of my first friends.  I visited this enormous Pine frequently, sitting on the forest floor below it or on one of it's low swooping branches and enjoying it's companionship.  I talked to it, telling it things about me and asking it questions about itself.  I brought it gifts too, meaningful objects I had found or crafts I had made for it.  That old Pine was a true friend and teacher who's gifts to me where more than I imagined at the time.  
  Trees provide us with so much.  They provide us with the materials to: make shelters to keep us warm and dry, make bowls to boil water or cook food, make friction fires and keep them burning, and keep our stomachs full.  This is only the tip of the iceberg of what trees do for and provide us with.  Each type of tree has its own secrets and uses too.  Here is a list of a few common trees and some of their gifts to us:
Maple: sap (pure water and syrup), bark (baskets,food), wood (solid and durable tools), shoots/suckers (arrow and dart shafts)
Birch: bark (fire starter, baskets, tar, bug repellent, canoes, food), chaga/tinderfungus (medicinal and fire material) twigs (tea, tooth brush)
Pine: needles (tea, food, baskets), pitch (food, glue), bark (food, baskets) nuts (food)
Cedar: needles (tea, medicinal), bark (coardage, tinder), wood (near limitless tools)
Oak: acorns (food), wood (solid and durable tools), bark (hide tanning)
Willow: bark (medicinal), wood (friction fire, tools), shoots/suckers (baskets, arrow and dart shafts)
Apple: fruit (food), wood (durable tools, smoking meat) shoots/suckers (arrow and dart shafts)
   In COTEF programs, we learn what trees can do for us and that trees are alive just as much as we are.  They are living beings that can be our friends, companions and teachers.  Get to know the trees that are in your area not only by their species, but also by their individuality.

Best wishes to all,
Andrew

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February 2, 2015

COTEF's New Atlatl Darts!!!

Hello friends,
    Winter is an excellent time to work on skills outside and inside. Snow on the ground, which those of us who live in
the 
north east have had a lot of recently, makes certain outdoor skills like tracking much easier, while it makes others very difficult.  Thanks to modern accommodations, if you have a workshop, basement, or space where you can work on projects and the proper materials and tools, you can complete almost any summer project during the winter.  Winter is an excellent time to prepare for Spring, Summer and Autumn, which our ancestors knew well. 
    One of my recent indoor projects has been to make COTEF a new set of atlatl darts.  Atlatl darts, like arrows, must be made well in order to function properly.  To learn more about atlatls and atlatl darts, visit our "Skills" page!
    These seven atlatl darts are all 7'9" long, fire hardened white ash shafts with spiral lashed turkey feather fletching.  Each shaft has been carefully crafted for optimal performance and longevity.  The shafts have been cut, planed, sanded, oiled, fire hardened, oiled, burnished, waxed and then fletched.  They do not have stone points or fore shafts but instead have fire hardened wood "field" tips, because they will be used exclusively for target practice during classes.  If you enroll in our Way of the Hunter class, you will practice with these darts.  Other classes that may use these darts are: FYT, Way of the Woods, and Advanced Skills Training.  

Best wishes to all,
Andrew
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January 22, 2015

What Has Value For You?

Hello Friends,
    We live in a culture where significant value is placed on certain things while not on others.  Advertisements on television, the internet, magazines and radio are constantly bombarding us with images of material possessions we are told to buy, and rich and beautiful people we are told to be like.  The psychology behind advertising could be viewed as somewhat unethical, using mental conditioning and sometimes subliminal ques to convince us that we will be happier, even a person of greater value if we buy specific products or conform to a certain lifestyle/world view.  This coercion to a consumer based lifestyle can cause confusion, low self esteem and feelings of disconnection, which is exactly what people should not feel. People should feel assured not only of their innate value as unique human beings but also of their individual skills and accomplishments.  
    The question, what one values in life, is personal.  Being a subjective question, there is truly no wrong answer.  Additionally, being a question which can be applied to multiple contexts, there are many answers.  However, if one ponders this question deeply, the outcome is gratitude.  Gratitude for all the good things in our lives that bring us joy when we despair, sustenance when we hunger, and purpose when we see none.  
    These are my opinions.  I am not trying to persuade to you to change what you value in life, that is for you and you alone to decide.  I am simply posing a question of introspective importance.  

Best wishes to all,
Andrew Hov