Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Your Gifts Better Be Edible

Guest post by Tim Nelson of the Outdoor Drum School.

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Hi, I am Tim Nelson. I live out in the woods of northern Wisconsin, four hours north of Madison, and I run a mean drum circle. These are my credentials, upon which I base my opinions, mixed with more opinions, concerning Industry's Parting Gifts.

I have been practicing primitive skills while living out in the woods all over the USA for twelve years, with a few breaks of homeless urban living, and the closest I have ever come to entering the System in my entire adult life was during the three months when I shared a one-room house with seven other people. I haven't had to survive a real famine yet, or a real collapse such as that of the Soviet Union, but I have experienced slow starvation, where there was not much to eat, nothing to do and nowhere to go for months on end.

This is not a point of pride, but I do count myself, and others like me, among those few modern Westerners who have been living a third-world lifestyle, and who could take a slow collapse in stride. I only use a few hand tools, I live as part of a clan, and I know from experience just how hard it really is to survive without access to stores.

In all my years of living on the fringe and practicing primitive skills, I have met few people who couldn't survive because they lack courage. But in a fast crash, there would simply be too many things stacked up against us. Not that we won't try, even if we must eventually succumb of starvation, violence, disease or heartbreak. If the crash continues to happen faster than we can adapt, then we won't stand a chance. If we don't have the time to start gardens and to learn to raise chickens, and the chance to make a few mistakes before we become good enough at it, then we are down to depending on dead animals to sustain ourselves. In a cold climate, if there isn't enough animal fat in the diet, people die. It's not possible to survive on just winter squash and potatoes. When the supplies run out, there better be dead animals to eat — and I mean entire animals, internal organs included, not just the choice cuts.

I honestly can't see how jobs making tools that last a lifetime, or having these tools, would make that much of a difference, unless the crash is slow enough to sustain complex society for the duration. And just how likely is that? Is it likely enough to bet your life on it? Most of us can feel it in our bones that there are just too many of us. That's what it comes down to every time, and if you aren't ready to live on a starvation diet, work all day and remain efficient while listening to your kids complain of hunger, while suffering from diarrhea for weeks at a stretch, while nursing a few mildly infected cuts, while living in close quarters with a few other adults whom you grow to resent more and more with each passing day as they slowly lose their will to live — let me tell you, if you aren't ready for that sort of thing, then you are in for one hell of a rude awakening!

Am I pessimistic? You bet I am! But I am not selling any books meant to cheer you up. I am just living in woods with my clan, humbled by their honesty, checking hare snares, gathering firewood, eating imported food (while supplies last), sleeping in a wigwam, dreaming of my baby boy, crapping under the open sky, wondering where all the whitetail deer have disappeared to...


dave said...

yeah, human population will be reduced by 80 - 90% over the course of the next 30-150 years, that's a given, written it stone. but, somehow, this just dosen't seem to be something to get too excited about, untill it becomes personal anyway.

Mike "Pops" Black said...

Won't be many deer if there comes the big crash, not many donations for drum circles either I'm thinking.

I'm reminded of our venerable "back-to-the-land" gurus who only stayed 'back' on the land with support from a tenured position or book sales.

More power to you folks who's job is perfecting the illusion of no job, but where are the people who can teach us to make a life outside the fat system without fat from that system?

Rate Crimes said...

Silly me! All I thought what is needed are dark sunglasses, a toothbrush, a long blade, sharp post-apocalyptic clothing, and a 'book'. :)

But if you're not living near a cineplex, you might have missed this lesson.

Dianna said...

and this guy is posting and updating his website from where, then?

Anonymous said...

Somehow when I finished reading this, I imagined Tim Nelson sitting in a cubicle in an "office tower" in Minneapolis/St Paul, or Milwaukee, where he works 8-6 daily in a suit-and-tie, and commutes in a Cadillac Escalade while talking ceaselessly on his Bluetooth.

Because it's just too bogus, this story he shared. I'm sorta partial to how Rate Crimes saw it.

Dmitry Orlov said...

I've never met Tim, but nothing about him struck me as fake. The email he sent me wasn't particularly readable (he doesn't punctuate much) so the prose style is largely my own. He strikes me as a self-taught fellow who's never seen the inside of an office tower. As far as the wonders of modern technology, it may surprise some of you to know that many backwoodsmen, squatters, bums and hobos have cell phones and laptops now, and there's high speed internet available anywhere in Canada, or close to it. It should fill you with hope to know that you will still be able to post comments to this blog even after security escorts you out of your cubicle and the sheriff throws you out of your house. Maybe even do a guest post.

Anonymous said...

Well, this part is pitch-perfect mockery of vegans of the Trustafarian sort:

In a cold climate, if there isn't enough animal fat in the diet, people die. It's not possible to survive on just winter squash and potatoes. When the supplies run out, there better be dead animals to eat — and I mean entire animals, internal organs included, not just the choice cuts.

...and when uttered by someone who talks about being involved in drum circles, the satire becomes pretty tangible.

But I guess I could persuade myself to take Timmy seriously in some parts.

Mark Angelini said...

Interesting sentiments, Tim. David holmgren made a very intriguing point on this sort of thinking (collapse vs. descent) that went something like this "it's difficult for people to separate their own immediate circumstances from things that effect the large scale society or even civilization as a whole, because you've got large and small scale (personal) crises nested inside of each other all of the time... so that people can end up confusing their own demise with the end of civilization."

Tim seems to be taking a bit of a microscopic view of the world. But good storyteller none the less.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

I visited Teaching Drum a few times back in the 90's. Back then, nobody was contemplating the imminent collapse of the US. The school was not about collapse preparation, it was about re-establishing a way of life that was more in balance with limited resources that a place like northern Wisconsin had.
I liked the vibe of the place. Intentions were good. Obviously, or perhaps not so obviously, you can't support 6.5 billion people on the kind of lifestyle that Teaching Drum advocates even if everyone did sign up for the program. One of the problem is that the collapse of a culture is not a mirror image of its ascent. We won't be able to gradually slide back through the decades and end up with some sort of happy 19th century world with steam locomotives, horse-drawn carriages and sailboats or for that matter to a 18th or 17th century world when people lived off hunting and gathering wild food.
Still, it doesn't hurt to try out some retro technology to see what works now.
I imagine collapse will look like some patchwork quilt with all sorts of approaches to dealing with a new way of life being tried.
Good luck Tim with your quest. If you read this, tell Tamarack Wolfgang the kayak builder says hi.

Unknown said...

I too wondered where this guy was writing this from and how such a hardcore, primitive skills guy could afford a computer and a connection.

I wish what you said about Canada was true, I live rurally and rely on satellite internet for my expensive high speed option....the valley I live in has no cel service, no high speed service, and I'm only 40 km as the crow flies from the US Border.

Pangolin said...

Aliens are not going to show up and take away all tools more complicated than a knife or hatchet. The number of tools made at blacksmith level technology runs into thousands of types. That means we get to live in houses and have rocket stoves. Also we get cast iron cookware, steel tools and probably bicycles. We may have to patch clothes for a few years until we get some looms built but I'm not living in goddamned wigwam when there are perfectly good buildings standing.

Google: "Tim Nelson of the Outdoor Drum School" and you will only get a reference to this blog post.

The "Teaching Drum Outdoor School" however can be found here:

The Outdoor Drum School is in all likelihood a cult operation. Read criticism here:

Even the graduates admit being unable to re-integrate into normal life. See here:

The biggest problems of post-peak collapse are not going to be technical but political. The technology to exist with low energy inputs is available and in practice. The political will to prevent resource grabbing by dominant cultural groups appears to be absent. Finding food will be far less difficult than getting it from it's self-appointed guardians. We have more vacant residences than homeless people folks. We are the "good Germans" of 1938, us, right now.

Spend less time fantasizing about your future as a member of a blue-painted tribe and more time figuring out how you're going to deal with your local politics. Like calling out a cult when you see one.

wv: strad, violin anyone? Made by hand.

AutonomyAcres said...

I appreciate the veiw point and also agree with some of it. But unless something huge and unpredictable happens, I don't see a hard fast crash happening. Even with climate change and global warming being real threats, I think we have time to adapt and relearn old skills of survivng and getting by while we transition into a post-oil world. At any rate, the future will be interesting.

Unknown said...

I visited Teaching Drum and was fascinated with their setup. To paraphrase Dmitry, don't sit inside at your cubicle and try to think outside the box, escape from that box (like Tim has, who follows Ran Prieur's blog) and go from there. My main critique was that we were eating imported bananas, oranges, and pecans, and learning to hunt and gather with total strangers. There was a compost pile, but no agriculture. I visited the school thinking a totally utter-destructive collapse would occur in a couple years and I would need to learn how to live off the land. Permaculture seems a better route to me.

Syd O said...

Lot's of hate to the comments. I think Tim makes several valid points even if we aren't going to straight to residing in huts and eating deer head soup.

We all agree that things are not going to be as convenient as they are now. This means learning to live with less. So knowing what missing several meals or eatin deer head soup wouldn't be so wrong. You don't even have to "impose suffering" of eating deer head soup on yourself if you can start to make the mental agreement that one day, you may have to. (BTW, the deer are down. I live in Wisco and the deer hunts have been down the last two years (25%)and I've seen less than 5 deer all winter and I'm rural)

I've read some of the articles that Pangolin posted and I think they just flesh out the full picture. Yes, the TD school charges $8k. So what. You can go live in the woods for free but if you've never done that I think $8k would be great not to starve to death. Orlov, Kunstler, Charles H. Smith, Mike Ruppert are all "charging" for takes on the coming collapse. Is that wrong? Till we abolish money, people will charge for services rendered. And then it will be in beaver pelts. (if you can find any)

The question of whether you think of "primitives" or back-to-the-landers as being a waste of time is a matter of preference. Not everyone wants to live in a wigwam to experience nature. Some people live rural because they can have 5 acres of lawn and 3 snowmobiles. Some want to do a farmette with chickens and veggies. Some want to live in a mud hut and eat deer head soup. It depends on your views of sustainability, comfort with nature, etc. I could get all "Ishmael" here but I will refrain.

Take the lessons about living with less and apply them to your situation and other thoughts on the coming collapse. Make the changes you think you need to and then deal with whatever consequences come. It ain't all waiting on you, that's vanity.

Unknown said...

Oh, and for those of you badmouthing wigwams - try staying in one first. You would be surprised at how efficient they are. Cool in the summer, and easily warmed by a fire. They provide all the heated space you need especially when fossil fuel supplies become harder to procure and heating an oversized two-story house with wood becomes unfeasible because everyone else is doing it.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Pangolin, I think the cult label is a bit harsh. What you have is idealistic young people with romantic notions of wilderness living encountering the reality of spending a whole winter living outdoors in a place where temperatures often dip below zero. Even if they quit, they will have learned something, perhaps that hardcore survivalism is not their cup of tea and that seeking political connections might be a better way of dealing with hardship than toughing it out alone.
As for Tamarack. Ok, he charges money. $8000 works out to about $20 a day, about what a campground would charge, not exorbitant. Seems to me that people who are blogging about his evil ways are trying to blame him for the collapse of their own romantic notions. They should be grateful instead for having him be the agent of disillusionment. Better now, when there are lots of options than later when there are fewer.
As for how does one send email from a bark wigwam? One doesn't. One walks over to the Teaching Drum offices/Tamarack residence which has heat, electricity, an internet connection and computers.
Does Tamarack and his family live in a bark wigwam year round? No. He lives in a conventional Northern Wisconsin house with all the modern amenities. That should be a clue to anyone signing up for the course. You pays your $8000 and you gets an experience. Obviously, it is not an experience that Tamarack himself would choose on a permanent basis, given a choice. This is why he runs a school. He chooses not to live in the classroom himself.

M&M said...

I also have been working on primitive skills for about 9 years (however for the record, I live in a nice suburban house). I am thankful for each hard-won lesson, like how to make fire with a bow-drill I carved from scratch while its raining. I cannot imagine me trying Tim's experience without collapse personally, but am somewhat flabbergasted that all of the comments are critical of Tim being real rather than listening to his words. I know several people from my local wilderness school who have lived on the land in various capacities for varying lengths of time successfully. One person (a female) built an awesome shelter on private timberland and lived there (in the rain) for a year.

Rather than spend time criticising Tim, we should spend the time talking about how we are shoring up our community resources.

What are YOU doing? What am I doing? How can we use each others ideas even though we live in differnt localities?

Here is what I am doing:

a) learned some survival skills
b) am good friends with someone who has MUCH BETTER survival skills
c) joined a tribe of people who live in cohousing and are expanding how much food they grow on their land
d) I have chickens and a small garden
e) I belong to a CSA that I could get to post collapse on my bike.
f) I ride my bike a lot, even though anywhere from my house invovles large hills.
g) I know what local varmints live in my area, what their trails are and where to put a trap if I have to.
h) I can name and eat 10 local weeds that grow in my lawn and know what their uses are.

What are you doing?

fritz said...

yup yup and yup. folk awash in resources seem the most jaded and cynical. Even if Tim were yankin our collective chain, we oughta be able to see clearly what's worth considering in his writing.

if nothing else we all oughta be real curious what's haps with all the deer. northern illinois has had plenty this year (west of chicago) from what I hear from hunting friends. lot more hunters up north. probly lot more newly unemployed hunters up north now too. aka much more serious hunters. anyone else got a clue?

Anonymous said...

I would like to suggest to "Syd" that "Syd" cannot discern "hate" in another merely by reading posts. I know that I'm not "hating" anything in my comments here, but I'm sure that won't stop "Syd" from trying to read the tea leaves of my posts to discern "hate" in my emotional outlook. Thanks, "Syd," for all you do to spread falsity about others' intentions!

dave said...

well, some, many, are convinced that 1950's americana is authentic humanity, so they go to disneyland to experience authenticity. others find true conciousness, as opposed to the false, at teaching drum. hey, as long as you got the price of admission in your pocket...

fritz said...

Tamarack and others are sure to have their faults. Other systems of survival training are sure to be better and worse relatively speaking.

The point here is that we probably wanna learn what we can here even at risk of listening to a brainwashed raving lunatic, if that's who Tim Nelson is.

I doubt anyone of us is planning a trip the the ODS any time soon. Still they can provide valuable insights. Just Tim's comments on the lunacy of vegan hopes is invaluable.

So Tim, have you or anyone up at ODS got any input on what's driving down the deer? Or when to expect them back?

Unknown said...

I am hearing a lot of fear in some of the naysayers commenting on this post. I suggest visiting a local wilderness such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and spending a couple of weeks out in it.

If you find that to be too easy, try it without packing in any food. Then if that is too easy, try it with just a knife and a hatchet and the clothes on your back.

Then you will have at least some reasonable perspective on how you might do in collapse.

Technology breaks pretty easily. With no electricity, oil, spare parts, etc. you better be able to go low-tech.

The part that a lot of hard core survivalists miss is the social aspect. The selfish will turn on one another.

The prepared will become resources to be pillaged. Those without a group of people to support them will be very, very alone and vulnerable.

Most of us can feel it in our bones that there are just too many of us. That's what it comes down to every time, and if you aren't ready to live on a starvation diet, work all day and remain efficient while listening to your kids complain of hunger, while suffering from diarrhea for weeks at a stretch, while nursing a few mildly infected cuts, while living in close quarters with a few other adults whom you grow to resent more and more with each passing day as they slowly lose their will to live — let me tell you, if you aren't ready for that sort of thing, then you are in for one hell of a rude awakening!

Those are words of wisdom...

Nemeses said...

Thanks to Pangolin, for making folks here aware of the alternative information about The Teaching Drum Outdoor School. Our site is written by insiders who have been there, and if you are seriously considering dropping $8000 for the 11 month "Yearlong" program, please read what we have to say first. Then you can make a more informed decision.

One of the saddest things about so many websites and gurus proposing to teach you any kind of survival skills - hardcore or otherwise - is that these people prey upon a deep-seated psychological need held by their potential customers:

"In the future, we will matter."

Sadly this future usually requires a catastrophic collapse, sharing much with Christianity in that salvation and status come only with a future apocalypse.

Don't fall for it. Acquire skills that make you feel good about yourself and your loved ones' well being today, not in some nebulous future.

Also, beware of school's like Tamarack Song's that promote a view of Agriculture as Original Sin, all the while happily availing themselves of store-bought vegetables and eschewing the hard work of doing the gardening themselves. The Teaching Drum survives by tourism not self-sufficiency.

Anonymous said...

My name is David. I'm a graduate of Teaching Drum's yearlong program, and the author of the essay that pangolin linked to. I'm also a friend of Tim Nelson.

I'm mainly writing this to set some things straight. Tim doesn't "work 8-6 daily in a suit-and-tie, and commutes in a Cadillac Escalade while talking ceaselessly on his Bluetooth." He's a lot more hardcore than I could ever be. As long as I've known him, he's always been living "rough," and that extends to him always wearing old clothes and smelling like smoke or tanned hide or something. This is just to flesh out the picture. (Photo of him here, by the way; though it's from 10 years ago.)

He's not perfect, he's got his rough edges like anybody else, and certainly he's not always sitting in a wigwam wearing hides. Just because you aspire to living primitively 24/7 doesn't mean you can't borrow someone's computer to write some e-mails. Doesn't mean you don't sometimes shop in a supermarket, for chrissakes.

I see him as someone who's experimented with all sorts of primitive living situations, hitchhiked, lived homeless, gone on wilderness solos, always trying, not always succeeding, but that's a fair bit farther than most of us have gone.

So, disagree with his ideas if you want, but at least understand that they do come from a base of genuine experience.

As for Teaching Drum, which is not really the main topic but it seems to have come up, I'll just say that the truth is, as usual, more complicated than any one side tries to portray it. I am a graduate and I am also a critic of it, which I think qualifies me more than most other people to speak on it.

I do not view it as a cult. It's an organization trying to pursue a noble mission, with good people. Some individuals unfortunately have flaws that impact the execution of that mission. In that sense it's like a family, with some members having some dysfunctions. But they are good people. It's also an organization that tends toward being more purist than I would like.

All in all, I would say that it's a mixed bag, but I personally got a lot out of the school, while also suffering a good bit as well. At present I'm feeling neutral about it. You'll find some people loving it, and a few hating it. I try to be measured about it. After all, there are so many other things in the world to be pissed about.

As for the $8000, or whatever they charge now: Consider that this includes what counts as room and board, i.e. your "rent" and all food costs.

Anyway, I just wanted to conclude by reiterating that Tim Nelson is a genuine and friendly dude, a knowledgeable primitive skills guy, and even though I haven't talked to him in a couple of years I consider him a friend who walks his talk.

RedWolfReturns said...

I'm also a graduate of the Wilderness Guide Program and a former staff member who used to volunteer at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. I no longer work there, and have written my own criticisms of what goes on there.

I'm also well acquainted with both Tim Nelson, and David. I've known both of them for about a decade now. In addition, I know personally the individual behind the astheteachingdrumturns blog.

I have a few things to add.

When it comes to modern attempts at primitive living, Tim Nelson is as close to the real deal as anyone you are gonna be able to meet here in America. I've watched the guy for 10 years, and everything he's written up above is based on real-world experience. Doesn't mean his word is the last word (far from it), but if you think he's bullshitting, you're simply mistaken.

Now, if you want authentic, thoughtful, and worthwhile criticism of the Teaching Drum Outdoor School, read David's essay and the subsequent discussion here:

If you want more perspective from a number of Teaching Drum Alumni on the school (and their experiences in semi-primitive living), read it here:

If you want to read a lot of libel, innuendo, name calling, and outright lies, go to the astheteachingdrumturns blog. There is a valid critique hidden deep within that blog, but it's so overwritten with inane hateful ranting and ad-hominem attacks as to be barely discernible.

Just my two cents, thanks for reading.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Tim's been in touch with me, and based on what he told me, as well as others, I've pruned back some of the libel, innuendo, name calling, outright lies, inane hateful ranting and ad-hominem attacks that made it into the comments on this post.

Unknown said...

It is a shame that such few people know that we can survive and be very healthy (in fact healthier than with ordinary food) eating wild plants. The trick is to learn which plants are safe to eat, which will keep you strong and healthy.
Nature offers us a real treasure, a golden plant, a real wonder : nettles! It contains the entire spectrum of proteins our body needs, it contains an amasing number of highly useful minerals, it grows almost everywhere and it tastes great once porperly cooked. The world expert on edible wild plants is a french : François Couplan, most of his books have been translated in english, I advise you invest in one of his guides, a great and very wise investment.

tim nelson said...

for the critics to what i wrote, i never said the crash will happen a certain way, my position was if people's(anyone's) lives are going in a certain direction(enough factors in their life stacked up against living subsistence); as in rural supermarkets are cut off from food shipments and they live rurally then its 'back to the land' and the realities that do follow, which are obviously quite varied. tons of ways crashes can happen, i dont know how it all will go. i could have clarified with saying i am speaking from a certain angle: as in a rural town gets cut off from food and electricity and those who stay are "in it".

the deer question from above: the deer can be hard to find up here in mild winters and when their numbers arent the highest when the snow isnt deep enough or crusty enough to cut their lower legs and not cold enough, they yard up in cedar forests under porcupine trees and we cant tell why one section of cedar forest and not another which can make for some long ass walks looking and looking

mark said "Tim seems to be taking a bit of a microscopic view of the world. But good storyteller none the less."
yeah that was my point: people's personal lives, where it is a hand to mouth existence. i am not commenting on the complexities on the whole of the industrial system when i say many people will be overwhelmed without enough time to adjust, if things get serious enough where there isnt bananas oranges, pecans, and butter from stores then most of us will die my experience tells me. or, it likely is so hard that only those with a huge will to live, functioning social skills, and highly adaptable, and strong bodies and minds will live; and brutal even then.( again, a fast crash) and that is how i see it going if any populace keeps going for the american dream whether its one family, or a town, or a nation. wherever resources are cut off the extreme challenges will be felt.

i have tested myself and been surprised at my weakness, i dont know if i have what it takes but i ll die trying. and to clarify this is not meant to depress me or scare others, its not like i fixate on "oh we'll all die die die" someone said it in an above comment the future will be interesting, hell yeah! what else is there? sure for many of us there is a period of grief but then its time eventually to get over it, and to live closer to the land how we see fit and fits our circumstances.

i am in support for how almost anyone's lifestyle is, to clarify i am not a one way truth primitivist, though there is something to be said for trying to trap an animal primitively and how much more one learns and how many more mistakes there are to make. then one uses a steel trap and bam ya got the animal.

as for pangola, i would like people here to know that i know her personally and pretty sure is the same author nemeses as teaching drum turns, as dragonessa on the old anthropik site blog, i know almost all of the 11 month year long graduates of teaching drum, and no one but her is writing criticism like that, i have been in the milwaukee journal newspaper photo about the school, a local nbc rhinelander reporter just interviewed and filmed me, and been on two front covers of wilderness way magazine photos that were taken on teaching drum property so i dont know why google doesnt have squat, i agree with pangola about dealing with local politics in some situations, very important.pangola hasn't been here in 8 years so how do you know what is even going on? to call it a cult.

and, we dont have drum circles here, that was some of the prose.

tim nelson said...

imbash's suggestion on the author reminded me of an author: sam thayer, who wrote the forager's harvest and newly released nature's garden, he has been gathering, processing, storing, and eating wild foods his whole life and has the most detailed accurate info i have run across, they seem best suited to the midwest or east coast

from a point from a deleted post about surviving with a knife and hatchet in the wilds indefinitely i thought of an idea to add onto it. sure most folks if any are ever going to really do that, we have accumulated resources around us and thats what most people will use to live: tools, clothes, gardens, food stores, etc. one thing i see short "survival" trips helpful with is their intensity in how they can show a person their true weakness and strength in skills, will to live, and reality of what its like to be hungry and still be functional, i would rather know true hunger before my life truly depends on it, and its a short time investment, horticulturalists still experienced famine and hunger, lastly, crash or no crash wouldnt change what i do,

one more lastly, for those wondering what is this guy doing on the computer so often for living in the woods? well i lived in the woods for 7 months, i am taking a break from our camp and living with the rest of the community here who run the school, cut firewood, research fat sources to be donated, and visit my son soon who lives with his mom with goats in a tent in the mountains with another mom and child across the country

Todd the Toad said...

According to an article in yesterday's newspaper, U.S. birthrates are declining significantly and fast due to the "new economy."