Few can walk into a forest and live off the land. Tom Brown III is one of those happy few. Whether it’s water purification or making a longbow, his Primitive Arts Collective classes reconnect you with the natural world.
There are a million and one reasons people take a class. The common one is to be more at home in nature—what I call the insurance policy students. If I’m out in the woods and I lose my backpack or I lose my lighter, what do I do?
When people go home from a class and go out at night and make a fire with a bow-drill kit, it’s a completely different experience than using a Bic lighter.
One thing I love about living east of the Mississippi is that we have a ton of biodiversity in both plant and animal life. If you had training, in a 10-minute wander through Mt. Airy Forest you could gather 10 different wild edible plants, wood to make fire or to make bows, and inner bark to make rope.
I’m more comfortable in the woods than the city. Right now I’m living in Northside. It’s definitely been an adjustment.
People ask me, If you could take only one thing into the woods, what would it be? Knife, every time. If I have to make a bow-drill kit with rocks, that might take eight hours. If I have a knife, I can cut that to 30 minutes.
A common thread to wilderness survival is the Sacred Order, the order in which we need things to stay alive: shelter, water, fire, and food.
In a clay bake, you wrap whatever you’re cooking in leaves and wrap that whole thing in clay and put it in the fire. It bakes the clay and bakes whatever’s inside. Anything you pull out of that is fall-off-the-bone good.
Ancestral SkillsBrown used to teach at his father’s Tracker School in New Jersey, the world’s foremost primitive skills and wilderness survival school. He now works with smaller groups (though he occasionally goes back to Jersey to teach).
Straight Shooter“My preferred wood is Osage Orange, and there’s a ton of it growing here,” Brown says. “If you ask anybody who makes bows, they’re going to say Osage.”
The WandererAfter high school, Brown spent years living off the land in national forests around the country, including four months in a shelter in Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest.
Teaching PointsAmong the skills T3 teaches: water purification, shelter-building, wild edible plant identification, urban survival, and brain tanning.
Photograph by Jonathan Willis.Originally published in the January 2012 issue.
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