The program for 2014 is currently being planned; some of the 2013 classes described below will be repeated in 2014 and some new workshops will be added. Thank you for your patience!
As workshop dates are confirmed, we will list them on the New & Upcoming page even before the entire schedule is up.
Several classes currently under development are not listed here; please check the New and Upcoming page where they will be announced as soon as details are set.
Below are the descriptions of the classes offered at Earth Skills. You can also download the information here. (Includes the summary schedule and the enrollment form)
$68 for all one-day classes
Basic Tracking gives you a solid introduction into mammal track and sign identification, as well as nature awareness techniques that will make your future outings exponentially richer. Working closely with the instructors, you will practice identifying and interpreting tracks from clear prints and patterns, and will learn how to read signs and what they say about animal feeding, breeding and behavior. We show you how tracks are "windows" to animals' body language and biology. Finally, you learn methods to slow the mind and body so that you see, hear and experience more than you ever have.
April 6-7 (Saturday-Sunday), Joshua Tree National Park
This two-day Basic Tracking class takes advantage
of a splendid location, a private campground in Joshua Tree. We
will introduce track identification with abundant field practice tracking jackrabbits, foxes, bobcats, coyotes and other desert animals. We will
cover mammal signs, track interpretation and awareness skills. This
class is offered through the Desert Institute. To enroll, call the Desert Institute at 760-367-5535 or go to
This class counts as a Basic Tracking class, but is also open to those who have already taken Basic Tracking. Since this is our only Joshua Tree class this year, it will probably fill up early.
March 24 (Sunday), Malibu Creek State Park
May 18 (Saturday), Frazier Park area
Both dates are required.
As some of our students know, we have invested quite some effort over the past few years learning how to bring the intuition into tracking, and it’s our ongoing task to show our students how this can be done. We think everyone has strong intuitive skills, but from our own experience, it does take dedication and work, both to learn how to read intuitive impressions--sorting them out from the mind’s chatter--and then to trust and verify their accuracy. We’ve therefore designed this two-session series for serious trackers willing to do considerable individual field work after each one-day class, experiences that will be shared with fellow students. The first session will focus on “Making Contact with the Trail,” including methods and practice to make both a practical and a heart connection with what you’re tracking. The second session, “Learning to Trust Your Intuition,” provides much practice in numerous intuitive methods that have worked well for us, and also in practical ways to validate your intuition. Basic Tracking graduates and veteran trackers are welcome, and graduates of our Earth Philosophy workshops are especially encouraged to build and empower the skills learned there through this tracking series. Participants will commit to 10 to 20 hours of tracking “dirt time” after each session, as well as journaling. Enrollment includes one copy of Jim's upcoming book, "Walk with the Animal."
June 21-25 (Friday morning - Tuesday afternoon), Windy Springs Preserve
Immersion into the many levels of tracking, and significant advancement of your tracking skills, are the goals of this multi-day workshop at Windy Springs, a private reserve with spectular tracking opportunities. You may join us for all or part of the week depending on your wishes and what you’ve done already tracking-wise. This class is a thankful nod to our past because, when we began to learn tracking in the 1980’s, the Kern River was one of our principal study areas. Here’s the schedule:
Day 1. Basic Tracking. Introduction into track identification and interpretation, with lots of practice in an awesome tracking area. (If you’ve taken this before you may enroll at half price as a refresher.)
Days 2-3. Advanced Tracking. Following challenging trails, pressure releases, animal sign scouting, advanced awareness and human tracking practice.
Days 4-5. Trailing and Mapping . Following individual animals for long distances (in small teams and individually), intuitive tracking, understanding your animal. Surveying and understanding animal movement patterns through large-scale exploration and mapping.
The above-listed price covers all five days and includes four dinners; participants bring their own breakfasts and lunches. Pricing for partial attendance is as follows: Basic & Advanced Tracking, $293, Advanced Tracking & Trailing / Mapping $440; Advanced Tracking or Trailing / Mapping $225 each.
Becoming an advanced tracker means above all being able to see nuances the novice would miss: spotting tracks in pine needles, leaves or on hard-packed ground; noticing subtleties in track aging; being able to follow an animal across difficult terrain. The advanced tracker also gains confidence in reading tracks for motion and in distinguishing tracks of individual animals of the same species. Finally, he or she learns to be less obtrusive and more alert to the rhythms of nature. As real students of how people learn, we instructors know that the complete tracker must draw on the different talents of analysis, perspective and intuition. Thus the Advanced Tracking class gives you practice in all of those things. You will track animals across challenging terrain, practice reading soil movement or “pressure releases” in tracks, learn to read patterns of animal movement on the landscape, and stalk quietly at night. In teams, you will track the instructors as a final exercise.
June 24-25 (Monday - Tuesday), Windy Springs Preserve
We follow the Advanced Tracking workshop with two days of intensive tracking work based on intriguing questions that emerge there. We will follow animals' trails for long distances, interpreting their choices and learning methods to keep on track after "hitting the wall." We will practice intuitive tracking and reading the personality of individual animals through their tracks. Finally we'll expand the work we did in 2011 and 2012, mapping animal trails to understand larger-scale patterns of animal use and travel, keying this to seasonal habits and biology of the resident bears, mountain lions, gray foxes and other mammals.
April 26-28 (Friday afternoon-Sunday), Wind Wolves Preserve
For years we have offered this class because we ourselves like to sneak around in the woods, wait for animals, heighten our awareness and let nature speak to us as insiders rather than outsiders. We talk about “moving like a shadow” and “becoming the baseline” as we show quiet movement technique and simple natural camouflage. This year, we are excited to offer this workshop improved and restructured with the help of Moti Buchboot, who will bring his experience teaching dance and martial arts into the world of nature awareness. He will help transform the restless and noisy human into the quiet and floating creature. Also we're holding this class at a new location, a backcountry camp in Wind Wolves Preserve, where we will be alone with the wildlife, no other campers disturbing our nature awareness activities. Bring your old self and expect to have a lot of fun with stalks, sits and hiding.
September 22 (Sunday), Santa Monica Mountains
We admit that morphing from the civilized urban person into the indigenous scout, who perceives everything, moves like a shadow, and blends with the natural environment, is a challenge if you’ve got only a few hours to spend in your local park. How do you quickly leave your “other world” behind, physically and mentally, to get the most out of every wilderness experience even though it might be only an hour long? The answer lies in silencing, attitude and quiet movement, and this clinic provides practical methods with some valuable practice. We borrow and adapt techniques we use in our weekend Nature Awareness class. Learn to move quietly and unobtrusively, take advantage of simple camouflage techniques, and fully access the rhythms of nature by widening and deepening your awareness. Expect a rich and eye-opening day!
Because dirt time is so varied, we offer Dirt Time Workshops that will enable you to get out in the field to learn from different approaches in different locations. These workshops are one-time only, or at least will not be repeated often. Some require only the Basic Tracking class as a prerequisite; others require Advanced Tracking. (The prerequisites are there for a reason, but we make occasional exceptions for those who've had training with other schools.)
For 2013 we are offering:
(Basic Tracking Required)
July 20-21 (Saturday-Sunday), Wind Wolves Preserve
Why would a nature enthusiast go to the Central Valley in the sweltering heat of mid-summer? To observe tule elk, of course, who begin their breeding behavior with bugling, sparring, and harem collection in late July. We’ll camp in San Emigdio Canyon at the 95,000 acre Wind Wolves Preserve, where the elk herd has grown to 200 from re-introduced animals, and with the help of Wind Wolves staff, pick the best times and places to observe and photograph the beginning of the elk rut. We’ll also do some tracking and exploring of mammal signs as we learn about biology and behavior of elk and other mammals at the preserve. As we do this, your imagination can drift back to the 1850’s, when, according to observers, the tule elk herds rivaled the impressive bison herds of the Great Plains.
(Basic Tracking Required)
November 2 (Saturday), Frazier Park area
Advancing tracking students realize that there is a big difference between just recognizing a track pattern and actually visualizing precisely how the animal was moving. (Learning the gaits also really helps with track identification!) This one-day workshop helps you to bridge that gap by giving you a lot of practice in evaluating trails. You will learn how to lay out the possibilities of a given track pattern, and then, using measurements and pressure releases, visualize the animal’s speed and sequence of leg movement. We’ll work on fresh tracks in the field as well as on many gait photos, and look at some video as well. Open to Basic Tracking graduates; even if you have spent relatively little time in the field, we think this workshop will really increase your confidence and tracking ability.
July 12-14 * (Friday 9:00 am-Sunday 3:00 pm), Los Padres National Forest**
* Held in the Frazier Park area; may be taken by itself or in conjunction with Plant Uses the previous day.
A full three days of projects involving shelter, water, fire and food will give you a solid background in wilderness survival priorities, and what it is like to set up a “survival camp.” Individual and group projects include debris huts, bow drill firemaking, cordage, survival basket weaving, stone tools, traps, and primitive hunting tools among others. Many novices as well as experienced outdoorspeople have taken this class, and it is likely that one or more of the skills will become a longtime pursuit for you, increasing your confidence and enjoyment in future wilderness travels. The purpose of the class is not to test how tough you are; however, there is a fair amount of physical work. We hold the class at a car campsite, enabling us to bring in a variety of materials for practice and demonstration.
** Under permit from LPNF. We operate on a non-discriminatory basis.
October 6 (Sunday), Ft. Tejon State Historic Park
We meet at Ft. Tejon State Historic Park, which has an abundance of native plants that were used by indigenous people for food, cordage, firemaking, basketry, bows and arrows among other uses, and spend the morning taking a walk to learn about these plants as well as undertaking several hands-on projects in the group campground there. In the afternoon we adjourn to our local cantina in Frazier Park to work on more projects including processing, cooking and eating several dishes from acorns, elderberries and other local plant foods.
February 23 (Saturday), Frazier Park
This new workshop is jam-packed with projects and demonstrations about medicinal preparations from local plants. We will make salves or ointments from plantain, camphor weed and chickweed, and see demonstrations about poultices and teas for curing and health, sampling the latter. Tanya Jenkins, survival instructor and enthusiastic plant specialist, will lead the class and you will take home a number of preparations and freshly gathered medicinal herbs, as well as thorough notes for future plant projects. The class is held in an indoor, fire-warmed gallery in Frazier Park, all the cozier if there is snow outside.
March 23 (Saturday), Frazier Park
Last fall's crop of local currants, acorns, rose hips and elderberries is stored and ready to be used in breads, soups, salads, desserts and entrees, along with plants we will gather just before and on the day of this wild edible cooking class. Our friends Barbara Drake (Tongva) and Robin Cornett (Blackfoot) will join us as we work on numerous recipes in small teams. To encourage newcomers, until February 15 we're accepting enrollment only from people who haven't taken this class before; thereafter we'll open it to anyone.
Class size is limited to 12 and the workshop always goes to a wait list, so enroll early!
August 24 (Saturday), Frazier Park area
Many of our students ask where they can buy moccasins for stalking and quiet nature observation, and our answer is usually that store-bought moccasins are not designed for outdoor use! You really have to make your own – which is the object of this class. We meet at the Work of Heart Gallery in Frazier Park and spend the day making moccasins that will fit like a glove. Price includes cowhide material.
October 5 (Saturday), Ft. Tejon State Historic Park
Bows made of willow were standard hunting equipment among indigenous people of southern California, who did not have easy access to woods found elsewhere in California and better known to modern bowyers. Primitive Skills aficionado Paul Campbell learned one willow bowmaking technique from native Ipai hunters in Mexico, and has since perfected other styles in his replication experiments. In this one-day class, Paul will lead you through techniques of making a nice bow from slightly seasoned willow staves, using hatchets, knives and scrapers, and you will shoot your new bow by the end of the day. He will also cover selection and preparation of staves for future projects. Class size is limited to 10 so sign up early!
In the Traditional Skills Weekend, which we have taught since 1995, we honor the Old Ways by working on many traditional hands-on projects including the preparation of indigenous foods. Every class has a different theme and most rely on Native American co-teachers. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.
October 12-13 (Saturday-Sunday), Wrightwood
$120 adults, $60 children
Our annual native culture weekend features Native American craft projects, songs and stories, dinner with indigenous foods, and, this year, activities and projects especially for children, taught by amazingly creative Kelly Villarruel with the Wilderness Youth Project in Santa Barbara. Elder Jacques Condor Tsimshian/Abenaki/Naskapi) will be coming from Arizona to teach the making of Yupik cultural dolls and we are also joined by Robin Cornett (Blackfoot) and Barbara Drake and Jimi Castillo (Tongva). Accommodations in cabins or tents. Class size in limited so enroll now!
If you’re like us, the real reason you love spending time in nature is to achieve some perspective and balance, an antidote to an otherwise crazy world. In nature we receive clarity about what’s really important, because the phrase “everything is connected” is not abstract but dynamically evident everywhere we look. That’s why our ancestors, and indigenous people everywhere, looked to nature for essential teachings that kept a community respectful and in balance.
The question seems to be, what happens to the wisdom we receive from a walk in nature, a vision quest, a sit, a conversation with a hawk, a spontaneous quiet moment watching water and wind? Does it fade quickly, or is it brought back to the world we live in – a culture dominated by superficiality and instant gratification?
Our Earth Philosophy graduates seem to be able to hang on to nature’s wisdom, integrate it into their lives, and influence the world around them in a positive way a little more than the average outdoor enthusiast. Using nature as a constant reference point, keeping the communication channels open so to speak, and being aware, open-minded and respectful, they tend to “walk the walk” as examples of what’s essential and balanced. In a way they have chosen to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Therefore we consider the Earth Philosophy series of classes to be our most important ones. They’re based on our classes with Tom Brown, Jr. and pass on, unaltered, techniques and wisdom learned from his Lipan Apache mentor, whom we call Grandfather.
May 4-5 (Saturday-Sunday), Santa Monica Mountains*
$30 or what you can afford
We have decided to waive the usual $195 course fee in lieu of a modest donation that will cover food and materials, because we feel the skills presented here are so important.
This intensive class combines two levels of the Earth Philosophy curriculum, beginning Friday evening and running to Sunday afternoon. In the Intuitive Skills part of the program, we show you, through many activities and lots of practice, how to own and trust your intuition. Working in a natural setting, you will learn how to access intuitive communication at any time, how to clarify it when necessary, and how to integrate intuition into your ongoing awareness.
In the Personal Skills curriculum, you learn how interactions with the natural world can address personal questions and empower personal gifts that may be temporarily lost in the modern world. As our ancestors experienced, teachers in nature motivate, clarify, cleanse, heal, balance and prioritize. This direct teaching from non-humans was an essential part of our evolution and remains valid and powerful today. In these two days, we deepen and expand the tools of intuition and awareness, and show you how to use them to honor your personal gifts, get out of ruts and stay in balance.
*Badger Hills Retreat Center, private facility near Malibu Creek SP.
June 8-9 (Saturday-Sunday), Frazier Park area
“The goal of the community,” writes West African author Sobonfu Somé, “is to make sure each member of the community is heard and is properly giving the gifts they have brought to this world.” We offer this workshop, as it were, for the “scout” (the Personal Skills graduate) who has come back to the community with wisdom and the desire to contribute gifts for a larger purpose. We work on larger awareness tasks, as well as introduce healing skills in the broad and specific sense.
August 3-10 (Saturday-Saturday) Call or email us for details
Note on Solo Wilderness quest cost: We set the price to cover direct expenses only. Some scholarships are available.
For the seventeenth year, we are excited to offer the Solo Spiritual Quest, an experience for answering deep personal questions, balancing and grounding one's life, and empowering one's personal gifts. Our past quest participants have ranged in age from 18 to their 60’s, with extraordinarily varied backgrounds.
While the quest has roots in ancient ceremonies that have occurred in many cultures around the world, it maintains its relevance and power for us modern people. This is because the very act of being alone for four days and nights, and fasting within the rhythms of nature, brings you to a threshold of teaching and centering. The unessential tends to be stripped away, allowing you to discover what is real and necessary for you at this time. Some have quested to sort out important decisions, some to empower underused gifts, and some to shed the complicating “chaff” that modern life bestows. Some of our questers repeat the quest every few years.
Like most significant learning events, the quest does require sacrifice and usually has challenges that tend to be unique for each quester. It is not an experience to undertake out of mere curiosity because it requires a significant commitment. However, the strength you find within yourself, and your willingness to go to the edge of the unknown to learn, create an experience that you can draw on for a lifetime.
Our Solo Quest borrows from no specific tribal tradition. It is a four-day fast, during which you drink ample water. Though others will be questing at the same time, you will be alone in your personal quest circle in a pine/oak woodland. You will have no distractions (journals, cell phones, music, etc.) but will have a sleeping bag and sufficient clothing. You leave your circle only to use your personal latrine and to leave a marker for the facilitators once a day. You will see no one during your fast, though we do set up a communication system for your safety. There is a day and a half of orientation and preparation before you begin your quest, and there is a day of transition after you come out. We feed you before and after your fast and watch over the area 24 hours a day during it. The 2012 quest will be held on 320 acres of private land in the southern Sierras at about 7000 feet elevation.
The fee for the quest, $395, goes entirely to direct expenses such as lease of the land, insurance, food and travel costs for the staff, who volunteer their time for this seven-day program. Some scholarships are available.
To participate in this year’s quest you must ask for an application and return it to us by June 15, 2013. If you have any questions, please contact Jim or Mary at any time and we would be happy to talk to you.
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