The following is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of Dawn Again: Tracking the Wisdom of the Wild (Propriometrics Press, 2017) by Doniga Markegard. Dawn Again takes readers along on Markegard’s journey of exploration and survival: the wilderness immersion school where Indigenous elders and wildlife trackers were among her teachers, hitchhiking across the pacific northwest, the moment she first connected with a deer using owl eyes and fox walking techniques, and to Alaska where she fell in love with tracking white wolves and the rigor of wilderness survival.
Doniga Markegard will join us at Bioneers 2018, where she’ll speak on regenerative agriculture.
I gathered more wood to get me through the night. I also gathered bark to set up as a heat reflector, and to pull over me when I took my wet clothes off to keep drafts from chilling my naked skin. Walking past the stream at the base of the waterfall, I paused to look into the clear water. Reflected back at me were smooth pebbles of browns and greys. I remembered a story that a Haida wood carver, Ralph Bennett, once told me of his people, who lived in the Pacific Northwest. The story recounts a time when the rivers were so thick with salmon that you could walk across their backs to cross the river and never touch the stones below. I imagined salmon so thick in the streams you could just reach down and throw one up on the bank, feasting on the richness they had brought from the ocean to the fresh waters.
Back at my fire, I said the prayers Gilbert had taught me. I prepared for sleep that night warm in the womb of the grandmother cedar tree, knowing I could live here forever, surviving on food I gathered and staying warm with the shelters and fires I built. I could build traps for squirrels and rabbits. I could find cattail swamps and dig up the roots, extracting the starch and feasting on the young shoots that emerge early in the spring. I could make jerky, tan hides for clothes, and make a bow and arrow for hunting. The possibilities were endless. I stoked the fire until I was warm enough to fall asleep, peaceful in the knowledge I had the skills to survive here as long as I needed.
That night I was in and out of a dream state. I awoke shivering. The fire had died down, so once more I stoked it. My clothes hung propped up on sticks around the fire to dry. I went to sleep again, dreaming of the salmon coming back to the rivers and of the wolf packs that once flourished in this wilderness. Waking up tired, I stoked the fire hot and fell into a deep sleep.
I awoke a final time to the faint light of dawn. A foul smell had shaken me out of my dream state. It wasn’t the smell of the gunk that was causing deer to lose their hair and a meadow ecosystem to perish. This was the smell of…burning clothes. My clothes had caught on fire! I jolted up, looking at the fragments of Carhartt jeans. The waist had survived, but the legs were burnt up to the seam. My shirt too was a fragment of thread, useless for anything but wiping up a mess. I was naked and alone in the wilderness, far from any road or house and surrounded by a blanket of snow.
I put the remains of my fire out, that fire that I’d worked so hard for and that had taken it upon itself to teach me a lesson. It had taken away the possessions I’d brought with me, rendering me as helpless as the deer in the poisoned meadow. The lesson showed me the struggle to survive in the wilderness was a struggle that humans have brought upon themselves by going away from the natural patterns and law of the earth. We have forgotten not only how to survive, but also how to care-take the elements necessary for our survival.
During my time alone at Cedar Falls, I heard the creatures crying out to me for help. The salmon wanted the obstructions to be cleared so they could run again in great numbers. The deer wanted their forests to be lush again so they could thrive on the purity of plants. The waters cried out to flow clean of chemicals and sediment that ran off from the clear-cut. The clear-cuts had been sprayed with herbicide to prevent the weedy vegetation from coming back and covering the earth. Those weeds that were being stopped would have rebuilt the soil to allow the natural succession back to forests. I too was stripped of my covering like the forest, and it was now time for me to rebirth.
I walked out of the woods naked. It was a symbolic walk for me as I moved down logging roads and wildlife trails without the need or want of a single material item. I had, after all, long since placed the health of the earth above the want for any material possession. I did not feel defeated; I felt galvanized by this unplanned rite of passage. I needed to leave the wilderness now, but I resolved that I would return to the wild and flourish. I would learn to live in a way that created abundance, instead of merely surviving for my life, living alone in the wilderness, away from my friends and family. I would find a way to love the earth and be part of its regeneration. The fire I had lit with the bowdrill was inside me now, and it would continue to burn throughout my life.
Excerpted from Chapter 8 of Dawn Again: Tracking the Wisdom of the Wild (Propriometrics Press, 2017) by Doniga Markegard.
Originally published at Bioneers.