Tags: bioregion

Starting On The Bioregional Animism Path

What IS Bioregional Animism? Do you know what your bioregion is? Do you know what animism is?

I'm serious...Do you know what your bioregion is?

=If you live in the U.S., start here. (Here's another system I've seen.)

=If you live elsewhere in the world, start here.

Bioregional animism, the philosophy and/or belief system that the world is alive and is full of spirits, merged with the knowledge of one's local ecosystems and dependence on them, has been part of the human worldview as long as there have been human beings, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of years old.

The thing I like about bioregional animism is that it focuses on one's own animals, plants, weather, etc. instead of neopagan and other sites that used a "sacred wheel of the year" and sacred trees and herbalism that have little or nothing to do with most bioregions in the U.S. ...In addition, animism doesn't say you have to worship a particular god/goddess, nor does it say you have to switch from the religion you already practice. Nor does it say you have to have any god or religion at all. It's just a matter of knowing and respecting your own ecosystem, and relating to other parts of the ecosystem like they are thinking and feeling creatures just like you!

To me, bioregional animism isn't so much a religion, as it is a philosophical and ethical system, based on ecological principles and the most ancient human beliefs: animism (the IDEA that everything is alive and has a spirit that can be communicated with) and shamanism (THE PRACTICE, active engagement with the living world and its spirits by shaman-practitioners). Shamanism is actually a particular practice, but given that there aren't really any satisfactory umbrella terms for these practices and approaches, I'll use it with caveats). Respect and understand your ecosystem/ecoregion and take care of it, and know everything is alive in some sense.

You can combine bioregional animism with almost any belief system: Christianity (of whatever kind), Paganism (of whatever kind), Traditional Religions (of whatever kind), Scientific or Agnostic or Atheistic worldviews.

To be clear, there are a lot of takes on bioregional animism, and a lot of variations in philosophical approaches, but my own view is, following from nature and ecosystems, diversity is good. Divergent thinking is necessary in the "ecosystem of ideas". I tend to be an oldschool kinda guy, based on my own life experiences and my Ioway tribal roots, combined with my fascination with natural history and tribal legends. Other approaches in bioregional animism are newer, postmodern or psychological approaches, reassessments by people like Graham Harvey. For more modern people who can't or don't literally believe in actual animal and mountain spirits like I was raised with, these newer psychological approaches based on Mind may be more satisfactory. Whatever floats your boat :-) You don't even have to decide on this stuff. Just focus on the PRACTICES, and make up your own mind if or when you feel like it.

So...How do you do it? DO you do it? How do you help someone grok (understand/see/get/comprehend/feel) bioregional animism? (such a word)

You don't really need to "do" anything. It's the Land that does it. Through talk, through good feelings, even through terror.

Ask questions when you are walking around with them in the outdoors away from "people stuff."

Ask, you talk to your dog right? Your dog is alive. How about a cat? Did you ever talk to a bird? What happened?

Did you ever see any faces in clouds? In rocks? In the leaves of trees?
Do you hear music and voices in the water? In the wind?

Did you ever go to a place that made you feel so relaxed and happy you just wanted to lay down and nap?
Did you ever go to a place that made you feel so uncomfortable, even scared, you got out of there right away?

Did you ever feel so connected to a place you felt moved to pour a little beer/water/etc on the ground, or leave some of your picnic lunch for the birds and animals?

It's already in us. The Land does the work. Don't tell anyone. Ask them what they hear, what they see, what they feel. WHEN the time is right.

Long post: The Tourist Test

OK, I told you last time I was going to give you the results of my taking the Kamana “Tourist Test,” so here it is:


“…If you don’t know the answer right off, just move on to the
next question. It shouldn’t take you that long, maybe an hour.
Enjoy the test and regardless of whether you feel you were able
to answer many of the questions or not, take time to reflect upon
this once you have finished.”

Name: Lance Foster
Today’s date: Jan. 2, 2013
Name of nearest town: Helena
Simple description of the area: Intermountain valley in western Montana

INSTRUCTIONS : The first thing you should remember when taking
this test is that honesty is the best policy. The object is not to
prove anything, but simply to find out what you know and what
you do not know. The test will illuminate for you what Wilderness Awareness School is all about. If you find yourself interested in
knowing the kinds of things that are on this test, then this school
is for you.

Find a quiet place where you will be able to concentrate. Answer
the questions in short, succinct phrases or with single word
answers. If you do not know the answer, leave a blank. Quick
guesses are fine. If you were asked, “What is 2+2?”, in a second
you would write “4.” This is how we want you to treat this test.

When answering the questions on the following pages be sure to
think of plants and animals that are specifically located in the area
described above (only name animals and plants from the bioregion
that you have chosen). Have fun!

1. Name two species of ticks found in your area.
a) Deer tick
b) Dog tick

2. Describe these ticks by size, color and general characteristics.
a) Brown, small, flat body
b) Smaller but similar to above

3. What two diseases are carried by ticks?
a) Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
b) Lyme Disease

4. How does one prevent tick infestation when traveling in the
= Tuck pants legs into socks or boots; keep out of brushy areas

5. Which wind in your area is the harbinger of heavy rains?
= West/southwest wind

6. Which direction does the cold, clear air blow from?
= North/northwest

7. What type of tree is lightning most likely to strike in your area?
= Boxelder (I see lightning scars on several in the neighborhood); large Ponderosa pine

8. What five plants in your area are most poisonous to eat?
a) Death camas
b) Water hemlock
c) -
d) -
e) -

9. Name one poisonous snake in your area. (If none, write “none”)
= Rattlesnake

10. What is a sign in your area of a particularly cold winter to
= Extra fuzz on fuzzy caterpillars

11. Which plant growing locally is known to natives of the region
for its effectiveness in cases of fever, colds or respiratory ailments?
= Chief’s medicine (I think it’s horsemint or bergamot, but not sure at the moment, I just knoww hat it looks like when flowering- pink-purplish flowers)

12. Which plant growing locally is known to natives of the region
for its effectiveness in aiding insect bites or stings?
= Not sure what the Indians used here, but I use either mud or plantain weed

13. How are they used?
a) chief’s medicine: tea and/or in sweatlodge on hot rocks
b) insect bite: mud, apply to bite; plantain weed: chew and apply

14. When is the best time of year or in their life cycles to gather
these plants?
a) chief’s medicine: just before or during flowering
b) plantain weed: anytime

15. Name two plants which are edible that have poisonous lookalikes
growing in the same bioregion.
a) camas/death camas
b) water hemlock/cow parsnip

16. When people encounter bears in the wild, they sometimes do
things which cause bears to become aggressive. Name two of the
most dangerous and common situations where bears are known
to attack people.
a) bear surprised esp. when guarding food
b) cubs present

17. What time of day (during daylight hours) is least active for
birdsong and calls?
= Afternoon

18. When a mountain lion makes a kill, what does it do with the
carcass after it has had its fill?
= Covers with twigs, leaves, loose dirt, etc.

19. What are the symptoms of rabies in a wild animal?
= Stiff legs, growling, foaming/salivating a lot

20. Which mammal in your area does not have the potential to
carry rabies?
= Deer

21. What are the symptoms of distemper?
= Not sure

22. Name an animal in your area which commonly carries distemper.
= Fox?

23. Which trees are most dangerous in a wind storm? Name two
species and explain why they are dangerous.
a) Box elder: brittle limbs
b) Cottonwood: same

24. Name a tree that is good to hunker down by during a severe
wind storm.
= Not sure, maybe spruce?

25. Which trees make the best products for use as insulation in a
survival situation for building a temporary shelter.
= Juniper, spruce, fir, Douglas fir

26. Which trees in your area indicate an area of low sunlight, cold
or wet situations which should be avoided in a cold emergency
= Spruce and fir (not Douglas fir, real fir)

27. When a twig is ready to be harvested for burning there are
ways to tell. How does one recognize twigs which are perfect for
= Very dry, break/snap easily but not crumbly

Track Identification
Use the illustrations A through L to answer question 28.

28. Pick 10 of the 12 tracks from the previous page and identify
the animal, or a close relative that lives near to you (non-human
that is). Identify the species (or at least family) of animal for each
of the 10 that you have chosen. Place the letter of each track next
the name.
1) A: Mink?
2) B: Cottontail rabbit
3) C: Squirrel
4) D: Looks like an opossum but they don’t live here, nor any of their relatives
5) E: Deer (we have two species, white tail and mule deer)
6) F: Some kind of cat, maybe bobcat
7) G: Dog or coyote
8) H: Fox?
9) I: Muskrat
10) J: Some kind of weasel?
11) K: Wolf or large dog
12) L: Fox?

Trail Interpretation for Gaits and Body Mechanics
Use the illustrations/questions A through L to answer question 29.

29. Look at the track and trail patterns on the previous two pages
and choose 10 which you can interpret. Place the letter of the
track pattern next to your brief interpretation.
1) A: Deer walking
2) B: Deer running
3) C: Cat walking
4) D: Cat running
5) E: Too blurry on test; can’t tell what it is, but it looks like it’s foraging
6) F: Rabbit, looks at #3 like it sped up
7) G: ?
8) H: ?
9) I: ? (Don’t know gaits at all I guess)
10) J: Doe?
11) K: Decrease?
12) L: ?

30. What is the relationship between the rate at which a track ages
and sunshine?
= If it dries out faster it ages faster, so if the track is in full sunshine would increase rate of aging.

31. What is the relationship between the rate at which a track ages
a) sand content?
b) clay content?
= Sand drains better, so I would think the track would not only dry out faster, the grains are coarser so the track would lose shape faster as the particles crumble away from the edges as it dries. Clay would hold both moisture and shape longer, so the track would age more slowly

32. When a bird is singing from a low perch, how will a feeding
deer respond?
= It would imply there are no ground-based predators so that would calm the deer

33. What predator leaves its droppings at the base of large trees or
on logs?
= Bobcat? Fox? Not sure.

34. What predator leaves its droppings concisely at the intersection
of two trails but only in places in open country or with open
sky above?
= Not sure, maybe a member of the dog family

35. What predator marks its droppings, or those of another of the
same species, with urine?
= Don’t know

36. What animal sometimes fills hollow trees or caves with its
bean-shaped droppings?
= Don’t know

37. What is a deer’s most likely response to approaching humans?
= A quick look and then flight

38. Why do deer respond to approaching humans in this fashion?
= To identify what kind of predator is coming

39. Think of a deer’s most common response to approaching
humans. How do jays respond to the deer’s actions?
= Jays begin scolding?

40. Describe the odor of red fox urine.
= Don’t know- never smelled it.

41. What predator will eat a bird and leave feathers which are cut
neatly at the base—especially of the larger feathers?
= Don’t know

42. What predator will eat a bird and leave the feathers mangled
and matted with saliva?
= Something in the dog family

43. There is a large tree on the edge of a dense thicket bordering
a field. There is a slight breeze blowing from the southwest to the
northeast. There are many intact dove feathers in a northeastsouthwest
line with the smallest the furthest out into the field, the
largest right beneath the tree. It is afternoon. That morning at
dawn there was no wind, last night a south breeze blew. What is
the predator most likely to be?
= Owl of some kind, maybe great horned owl?

44. At the base of a pine tree there are several egg-shaped gray
masses of fur, skulls and feathers littered about that are of varying
ages. The masses are about golf-ball-sized in diameter. What are
these most likely to be?
= Owl pellets

45. Name an insect that becomes very abundant during late summer
and early fall in the grasslands and meadows and that provides
an important staple food for many ground feeding mammals
and birds.
= Grasshopper

46. What do green, shiny flies in large concentrations indicate?
= Feces around somewhere (or is that, a dead body around somewhere)

47. What type of caterpillar feeds on cherry and makes visible
webs that are commonly seen in spring?
= No idea, we don’t have cherry trees here; maybe a tent caterpillar?

48. What is one of the most dangerous spiders of your area and
what markings identify it?
= Black widow; red hourglass on underside of abdomen

49. What four-legged animal has five toes on the rear foot, four on
the front, and leaves footprints in the snow around the base of
berry or seed sources in the snow showing a predominately hopping
gait, with tail mark in the powder and a trail width of 1.5”?
= Not sure, meadow vole? Deer mouse?

50. What animal is so strong that it can hardly contain its energy
when it moves across the level ground and must jump extra far
every so many bounds just to use up that extra energy? Hint: It is
quite dense in body mass, it has bark colored fur and speaks with
its tail.
= Some kind of squirrel?

51. The tracks of this animal are in a pattern often confused with
the animal in #50, as they are similar in width and in the number
of tracks together. But it is almost its opposite in body density:
light, almost bird-like in its build, especially its bones and skull. It
uses its tail in a different way. It is colored like the ground it lives
next to and uses almost no trails in its usual forays for food—that
is, unless one considers the whole of its environment a trail.
= No idea from this description.

52. Where would one most likely encounter a network of vole
trails (Describe the environment especially concerning the relative
height and species make-up of the vegetation)?
= Meadow which has heavy snow during the winter; not sure of further details

53. What is a small mammal that feeds beneath the leaves and litter
but above the soil, either moving incessantly in its search for
insects and other invertebrates, or going into a state of torpid rest?
Its remains are often found in the pellets of owls.
= Shrew?

54. What small mammal feeds on insects, insect larvae, and other
invertebrates by wedging the root mass of surface vegetation into
a continuous trap for its prey?
= Mole?

55. Deer trails in the wilderness (away from the influences of the
modern world) appear and disappear as one follows them through
the forest. What is the reason for this?
= Because they concentrate in areas they must go across if those areas are steep so they make common trails in the easiest way to go up or down a slope, or through heavy brush, and that makes a deer trail. But in easy more open terrain the deer spread out more and so a trail is more rare since they don’t have to stick to one route,

56. What are two common rocks of your area (by name or description)?
a) Flathead sandstone
b) Madison limestone

57. What are three basic soils of your area?
a) Don’t know the names
b) “
c) “

58. What can you predict about the whereabouts and/or exposure
of deer regarding their winter daytime bedding areas in relation to
the four directions, weather, and position of the sun?
= Facing south/west to get more warmth if sunny; more in deep timber of weather is bad

59. How do squirrels and birds behave before a cold weather pattern
arrives in the winter or fall?
= Very active to forage more food in case they have to hunker down when the storm/cold hits

60. What did the settlers of the region do to the area that created
a major impact on the life of the area?
= They settled all the watered valleys and cut trees, changed all the vegetation to put in agriculture, drained ponds and marshes, made irrigation ditches and dams to alter the hydrological patterns. The mountains are still much like in the old days but the valleys and the wildlife depending on them are very changed.

61. How did this change in the land effect the rivers, lakes and/or
bays of the area?
= The Missouri River was dammed in several places, creating several artificial “lakes” (reservoirs) and drowning riparian systems, creating new systems with more infertile margins. The reservoirs are deeper and the water column is different; they were stocked with nonnative fish which meant the native species are gone or rare, and the introduced species (walleye for example) dominate the waters there.

62. What is the single most important factor affecting a deer herd’s
choice of trails in a suburban setting?
= Vegetative cover

63. What animal leaves a dropping, or series of droppings, in one
location composed entirely of one food type including all yellow
jackets, all berries, all animal products or all acorns?
= Bear?

64. List two mast (nut producing) trees of your area.
= We don’t have any nut-producing trees here; no “mast” happens. The whitebark pine up in the mountains produce pinecones with pinenuts that bears depend on, but the pines are in severe decline.

65. List four types of edible berries of your area.
a) chokecherries
b) currants
c) strawberries
d) huckleberries

66. If there were no sun shining (cloudy sky) and you needed to
walk in a straight line for several hundred yards through a thicket,
how would you do it? List three ways.
a) The right stride tends to be longer than the left, so overcompensate with the left
b) Look straight ahead as far as you can and straight back, and keep looking back and forth as you move to keep moving in a straight line
c) ?

67. Describe three methods that you can use to find your way
back through trackless wilderness in a situation where there is no
snow or sand and where tracking is difficult (such as through a
forest)—in other words, back tracking is not an option.
a) Follow drainages downslope
b) North star
c) Using the sun stick

68. Where in the sky is the sun at noon?
= Overhead, but depending on time of year, more to the south (winter) or more overhead (summer)

69. In the summer, the sun rises __North__ (North, East,
South, or West) of __East__ (North, East, South, or West).

70. The most reliable part of an herb to be studied as far as identification
is concerned is which structure or part?
= The flower

71. What is a compound leaf? (Draw one.)
= One petiole, several leaflets often confused for leaves

72. What is an irregular flower? (Draw one.)
= I forget

73. Name two ways you can be sure you are looking at a leaf on
a tree and not a leaflet.
a) Look for the petiole
b) Look underneath the tree for fallen leaves, as leaves fall whole at the detached petiole

74. Draw a simple map below and simply place a check mark next
to the letter if you have completed that task as indicated by the
instructions and letters below.

If you were flying above your neighborhood at the altitude of a
high-flying hawk, could you easily map out the waterways (a.),
the forests (b.), the thickets (c.) and the other features of your
neighborhood for a one mile radius (d. indicate the four directions)?
a) x
b) x
c) x
d) x
= Not going to draw a map right now, but I know where these features are within a one mile radius.

75. Name five plants that are extremely common in your area:
a) dandelion
b) box elder
c) lilac
d) lodgepole pine
e) knapweed

76. How did the native people ensure that there would be enough
plants for medicines, crafts and other uses of herbs, in their area?
= Burning, although here lightning-caused forest fires were very common (still are) so I don’t think they did it here as much as elsewhere in the U.S.

77. Why did the forests flourish as result of the interaction of the
people and the land?
= Not sure what they are getting at here; the forests here didn’t flourish that I can tell

78. Name four non-flowering more primitive plants of your area.
a) horsetail
b) moss
c) lichen
d) algae

79. What was the indigenous culture of your area?
= There were several ancient indigenous cultures. Archaeologically they were the Paleoindians (Early Prehistoric), the Archaic period (covers part of Early and Middle Prehistoric Periods), and the Late Prehistoric Period, before the Historic Period. The Historic Period tribes that were in this place were the Salish (the earliest named tribe here), the Shoshoni, and the Blackfeet. Later on the Chippewa-Cree came in during the European settlement period.

80. What was their primary staple food in winter?
= Meat from buffalo, elk, deer; supplemented by dried bitterroot and camas.

81. What was their primary staple food in the autumn?
= Same on the meat, except berries in the fall.

81. What was the most important food in the summer?
= Same; Summer was the season to dig and roast bitterroot and camas

82. Did they migrate?
= Yes, during the buffalo hunts

82. From where to where?
= From/through this area to over near Great Falls and the plains beyond

83. What time of year is the time of most rapid plant growth?
= Spring and early summer

84. What is the time of year where plants add wood to their structures?
= Fall?

85. What key animal and/or plant species are missing today from
your local forests (name three)?
= We pretty much still have all the key animal species here, although in much fewer numbers; only the buffalo is missing. Frogs also seem to have declined since my childhood.
As far as plants, it’s pretty much the same picture, all still here but some are very much threatened, especially those depending on the valley habitats that human beings have changed the most.

86. Describe second growth forest.
= It kind of depends on whether the primary growth (old growth) forest was done away with through human action (logging) or natural action (forest fire). In either case, the trees are smaller, and usually of a different species. I don’t know of any old growth (primary growth) forests around here.

87. What in an aquifer is the recharge zone? Describe it.
= I think it’s the area where the most water (rain, snow) falls and has the opportunity to not run off but soaks in and gradually adds to the aquifer?

88. What does an established river otter population indicate about
an ecosystem?
= I would think the area is diverse and healthy, so that the food pyramid in the water supports enough fish to support the otter, as well as low pollution and a lot of native vegetation remains; water is fast and pure.

89. What does the presence of many frogs indicate about an
= Same as above I think; water is slow, slow change in environment

90. What does the presence of many kinds of vines and thorns
indicate in a forest?
= Stress on the vegetation, such as overgrazing, by either livestock or too many deer

91. Name local ecosystems of at least six types.
a) Alpine
b) Subalpine
c) Montane
d) Mountain meadow
e) Riparian
f) Plains grasslands

92. Where in your area can you:
a) find sand?
b) clay soil?
c) really rich soil?
= Sand: In the valley, where the sand and gravel operations are going on; Clay: Certain places along creeks (I used to know some specific areas but no longer); really rich soil along creek benches.

93. What is the first type of tree to move into a newly cleared area
(name two)?
a) lodgepole pine
b) douglas fir

94. What is the most common soaring hawk of your area?
= redtail hawk; this is the type I’ve seen most often here

All animals have certain strategies which they follow. Their bodies
and behaviors are a reflection of this. For instance, a house cat has
large eyes, as that is the dominant sense, and therefore its strategy
is to walk slowly, and to look around often during a short
pause. Considering that, answer the following questions:
95. Coyote:
a) What is the dominant sense of a coyote? = Hearing, and smell
b) What is its hunting strategy? = Listen for prey under snow, then leap on it, as an example
c) How does this strategy influence a coyote’s choice of trails? = Interesting question, never thought about it

96. Weasel:
a) What is the dominant sense of a weasel? = Sight?
b) What is its hunting strategy? = Look for prey
c) A weasel has a concern that a coyote does not, which greatly
affects its behavior. What is this concern? = worry that a flying predator might get it
d) How does this affect a weasel’s behavior? = hangs out in heavy brush

97. Deer:
a) What is the dominant sense of a deer? Hearing, then sight
b) What is its feeding strategy? Browse, stop and listen and look, then browse again

98. What is the activity strategy of a typical, suburban house dog?
= Smell around for something interesting, then follow the scent

99. Where are the descendants of the native people who once
inhabited the area located today (What states or reservations primarily)?
= The Salish are on the Flathead Reservation up by Ronan, the Blackfeet are on their reservation up by Glacier Park, and the Shoshoni are mostly down on Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho

100. Describe the difference in forest cover between a North slope
and a South slope in natural-timbered areas. What species really
gets more numerous on the north side?
= Different species of trees – the cold-tolerant species like spruce and fir are more common on the north slope, but it also depends just as much here on the altitude

101. What herbs grow in the winter on southern exposures in local
parks, yards and roadsides (name three)?
= I haven’t looked – good question

102. Draw a fast and effective shelter for emergencies (label materials
in a cut away view showing some detail of structure, insulation
and other important aspects of practical shelter building).
= Not going to do this here as it’s a hassle to do and post a quick drawing; main thing is a shell to protect from rain and wind, and then an insulating layer inside

103. What tinder works fastest in your area under:
a) dry conditions? = Grasses, pine needles, pine sap, twigs
b) wet conditions? = Pine sap and maybe twigs on drier part of the tree

104. What trees in your area have opposite branching with compound
leaves (name two)?
= None that I can think of, off the top of my head. We have few hardwoods and mostly conifers here.

105. What are the most common native trees in your area growing
in wetlands (name two)?
a) alder
b) willow

106. Name three more shrubs not mentioned in the previous questions
that are common in your area.
a) mountain mahogany
b) wild rose
c) buckbrush

107. What is a common creekside plant in your area?
= willow

108. What are three native grasses of the area?
a) buffalo grass
b) fescue
c) wheatgrass

109. Name four plants which are used for making baskets in the
a) pine needles
b) willow
c) ?
d) ?

110. Name three plants good for making cordage in the area.
a) ninebark
b) cottonwood inner bark
c) nettle

111. What wood in the area makes good bows (name two)?
a) mountain mahogany
b) ?

112. What wood in the area is good for arrows?
= ?

113. What wood is really hard in your area (name two)?
= None; even the “hardwoods” are soft, like box elder or mountain maple

114. Which are the hottest burning woods (name two)?
a) pine
b) ?

115. Which tree grows really fast?
= cottonwood

116. Which tree grows really slow?
= Whitebark pine or subalpine fir perhaps

117. Name five animals that can be physically or strategically imitated
in your area which would help you in a survival situation.
Give the behavior you would mimic from each next to the animal’s
a) bear – general habits, looking for berries and roots, living in cave
b) deer – watching and listening, bedding down in bad weather, move in dusk/dawn
c) wolf – pack for hunting and defense of territory, raising young
d) wild cats, hawks – get good vantage point for observation of surrounding area
e) squirrel – nest building for warmth

118. Name one type of call (a sound emitted by wildlife) that
affects many species of birds or animals.
= Jay or flicker warning cry

119. Name two kinds of insects which call in your area.
a) crickets
b) grasshoppers (clacking sound)

120. What common bird in your area has a crest on its head?
= gray jay in hills; in town, cedar waxwing

121. What common bird of your area has a white eye-ring?
= Not sure

122. What common bird of your area has white wing bars?
= mallard duck

123. What common bird of your area feeds on the ground and has
white in its tail feathers?
= not sure

124. What common bird of your area lives in thickets and will not
usually be seen in tree tops?
= forget the name (creeper? Kinglet?), a small bird hard to see

125. What common bird of your area loves the tree tops?
= red tailed hawk

126. What are five really common birds in your area that you
haven’t named yet?
a) junco
b) common sparrow
c) chickadee
d) robin
e) meadowlark

127. Name two kinds of common woodpeckers in your area.
a) flicker
b) ?

128. Name two birds that will tell on a stalking hunter or animal
in your area.
a) magpie
b) gray jay

129. Name a bird that will tell of the presence of a large soaring
hawk or owl by mobbing the predatory bird.
= Crow

130. What is the most common snake in your area?
= watersnake (don’t know the scientific name)

131. What is a common turtle of the water in your area?
= turtles are not common here; there is a water turtle I’ve seen but don’t know the name

132. What is the first frog, toad or treefrog chorus to sing in your
area in spring?
= I never hear any here

133. What is a common salamander in your area?
= No idea

"TOURIST TEST REFLECTION: After you finish all four levels of the Kamana program, we will ask you to go back and take the test again so you can compare the differences. Take a few minutes to reflect on your experience before writing.”

My own reaction?

They don’t give a key for the “right answers.” That’s just as well, because when you do this test, it gives you an idea of where you might start improving your knowledge. I was spotty overall, but according to this test and how I felt about it and where I struggled most, tracking is probably my weakest area right now overall.

I certainly learned a lot about what I -need- to learn!

So what can I learn about where to start? I guess I should start with improving my understanding of tracking and how it interacts with the ground conditions. So I’ll be digging through some websites and books to begin with, to see how to learn and what resources for tracking there are. I’ll also be taking a walk later today to see what I can see in the way of tracks and animal sign in the neighborhood. I’ll look at the condition of the snow too. It’s sunny and cold, like yesterday. I might see only human tracks, dog or cat. But that’s all part of the picture too, right?

How about you?… maybe you could pick one or two of the questions that interested you most. Perhaps you ran into a question whose answer that you didn’t know, but that you thought you did know or should know. That’s my challenge to anyone who reads this. Even if you don’t take the whole “Tourist Test,” pick ONE of the questions that interested you most, and find out the answer. And if you are having a hard time, let me know and maybe I can help you find the answer, because that’s how I learn too!

Bioregionalism and the Helena Area

I have been reading "Life-Place: Bioregional Thought and Practice" by Robert L. Thayer (University of California Press, 2003).

"A bioregion [italics in original] is literally and etymologically a "life-place" - a unique region definable by natural (rather than political) boundaries with a geographic, climatic, hydrological, and ecological character capable of supporting unique human and nonhuman living communities. Bioregions can be variously defined by the geography of watersheds, similar plant and animal ecosystems, and related, identifiable landforms (e.g., particular mountain ranges, prairies, or coastal zones) and by the unique human cultures that grow from natural limits and potentials of the region. Most importantly, the bioregion is emerging as the most logical locus and scale for a sustainable, regenerative community to take root and to take place [italics in original]." (p. 3)

"A number of simultaneous movements toward 'relocalization' are now converging that challenge many of the basic and most dis-placed [as spelled in the original, emphasizing the removal of the notion of an actual place] assumptions of postmodern culture: grassroots watershed conservancies, 'Friends of...' groups for particular natural features, holistic ecosystem management efforts, coordinated resource management plans (CRiMPs), community-supported agricultural establishments, alternative local currencies, farmers' markets --even microbreweries that produce beer with proudly local labels. In particular, a body of theory and technique with great significance to the nature of community life, public citizenship, personal lifestyle, regional planning, ecosystem management, and education is coalescing around the term bioregion [italics in original]." (p. 3).

Here are some examples of the movements and organizations in and around Helena that seem to mesh with this idea:

Growing Friends of Helena. "Growing Friends is an urban tree-planting organization. Its purpose is to enrich the quality of life in the Helena, Montana area with extensive planting of suitable, attractive, diverse, and well-cared-for trees and shrubs. Growing Friends works by funding and conducting planting projects, by educating the public and decision-makers, and by encouraging and assisting local governments."

Friends of Centennial Trail. "The Friends of Centennial Trail are raising funds in conjunction with the city's Non-Motorized Transportation Advisory Council and Prickly Pear Land Trust to complete Helena's backbone west-east safe walking and bicycling route from Spring Meadow Lake to East Helena."

Prickly Pear Land Trust. "Prickly Pear Land Trust is an association of community-minded individuals committed to protecting the open space in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater and Jefferson Counties in Montana. Founded in 1996, the Trust now has almost 700 active members with backgrounds reflecting the diversity of the area. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, we work cooperatively with willing property owners to conserve our region’s most valuable natural asset…land."

Montana Land Reliance. "The mission of The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) is to partner with landowners to provide permanent protection for private lands that are significant for agricultural production, forest resources, fish and wildlife habitat, and open space....The immediate accomplishments of MLR's conservation work are measured in miles of streambanks and acres of land and habitat protected. The lasting benefits of MLR's work are the perpetuation of a lifestyle and an economy that rely on responsibly managed private land and increasingly valuable Montana open spaces that will continue to nourish the spirit of future generations."

Lewis and Clark Conservation District. "The Lewis & Clark Conservation District is located in Lewis & Clark County, Montana. Encompassing parts of the East Front of the Rocky Mountains and range and crop lands of the Montana plains, the District assists large and small acreage landowners with their management concerns....The mission of the Lewis & Clark Conservation District is to provide leadership in the conservation and wise use of soil, water, and related resources. ...The Lewis & Clark Conservation District is a member of the Montana Association of Conservation Districts."

Helena Farmers' Market

Blackfoot River Brewing Company.

Lewis and Clark Brewing Company.

This list will continue to be developed.

Seeking the Old Ways

For me, the origins of all these ways was living on and off the land, what you
could hunt and what you could gather. Later on, what animals you could raise and
what plants you could grow and harvest. And in most places, a combination of
these things.

To be frank, I don't think many of the common people in my own experience
concerned themselves much with the solstice and equinox times. They did depend
on the moon and its phases, and the winds, and the weather and seasons, for
hunting and planting.

Most of us today don't farm or hunt for a living. We work for wages, often live
in cities, and are more distanced from the land in our day to day lives. We have
to try and remember they were people who made their living from the land.

Anything magical and mystical was not just an intellectual exercise, it
supported their daily needs, to keep cows in milk, defend against crop-damaging
storms, keep the invisible world in check. For many of the common people, the
gods were less important than good relations with the spirits in the land or the
spirits of the animals they hunted. And defense from those people or spirits who were malicious.

Some folks look to the European wheel of the year, the solstices and equinoxes, Beltane, Imbolc,
Lammas and Samhain. But the European-based wheel, except for solstice/equinox,
doesn't match either our weather patterns or our resources, so I don't follow it.
Those European traditions came from their land anyways.
One should look to the one's own land and its rhythms first.

For foods, one can learn from the original Indian tribes from your area, which,
here in Montana, depended mostly on meat year round. Of course the buffalo aren't
running around anymore, and there were way less than 400,000 Indians depending
on the game back then too. Up here in Montana, we are going through a population
crash of deer and elk and unless you have access to private land
(ranches, etc.) or have expensive off-road vehicles, hunting just isn't worth it
right now. The old days when I was a kid of driving out in the hills, walking
and stalking, and getting your game, are over. All the old guys I know aren't
even getting their licenses this year.

The Indians did gather some plants in season, like greens early in the spring
(too bitter now) and berries especially this time of year (currants,
chokecherry, serviceberries) and pounded the berries with dried meat to store as
pemmican. Tribes up this way didn't fish much, they really only wanted red meat.

So the next thing is learning what the oldtimer Euroamerican settlers planted
and depended on, which in this area, weren't so much grains (winter wheat here),
but spuds (potato), beets, cabbages, squash, peas, and onions. Those were the
staples. Stored in a root cellar and/or canned, along with whatever tomatoes or
garden produce the grasshoppers didn't get. And of course they depended a great
deal on imported flour, dried beans, sides of bacon, etc. People have to
remember, there weren't the varied foods and fancy cooking back then as there is

Yes, they planted apple and crabapple trees, but it took a while to get them
going, and deer eat them. But other fruit and nut trees don't grow very well in
most of Montana, although the Flathead Lake area is a microclimate where
cherries do very well. Another plant they imported from Europe that mark many old homesteads
where the houses are long gone is the lilac bush.

The Land and Ancestors Again

I remind myself every so often about what I am doing and how.

As I have said before, the Three that are important to every indigenous way I have experience with are: one's Ancestors/Family, the Land (and everything on and in it, seen and unseen), and the Creator/Great Spirit/God(s)/etc.

You take your Ancestors within you, wherever you go. You ARE them, they are in you. Sometimes this is a big difference between how the old traditions see things and how people today look at things. People have always had troubles with some family members. But only today, in our hyper-individualized society, do people see themselves as something separate. Blood is blood.

Now, of course the Land(s) that made/shaped your Ancestors still have some connections to you, through your Ancestors. But when you move to a new Land, you have to make a relationship with that new Land, the plants and animals there, the weather and natural cycles, the seen and unseen Beings.

That is one reason I don't go so much with the cycle of festivals that is European. You know, Imbolc, etc. It's good to know about of course, because those were connected to your Ancestors. If you feel a desire to follow them, that's your business of course. But the origins of those cycles and celebrations were based on the rhythms of the Land and the ways of life that depended on those rhythms. Solstice and Equinox cycles, fine, that's a natural pattern everywhere.

But unless you are a shepherd or woolgrower, why are you focusing on Imbolc (ewe's milk, when they prepare for lambing)? And the seasons themselves are different here than they are in Britain. It's so disconnected, people who do everything from books. But again, that's your call of course. Just don't harangue me and I won't harangue you.

In fact, people trying to follow European ways focus on Halloween as the time when the Dead return. But that's just the Celtic point of view. The Saxon-Germanic-Norse culture held that Christmas time was when the Dead returned (which is why the English (Anglo-Saxons) told ghost stories around Christmas time, like Dickens' "Christmas Carol" with Scrooge and Marley.

It's been my own experience that when it comes to Native Dead, the place is much more significant than the time. You can run into ghosts and spirits here just about anytime in my own experience.

The directions are different too in their meanings and qualities. The rains come from the West, the water flows from the Continental Divide which is west, and the creeks gather and flow to the East, where they join the mighty Upper Missouri River, which flows north along the mountains, until it breaks out up north and then begins its flow east. I do not care for standardized directions and colors and animals etc. The Place you live shows you what you need to know to be there in a good way.

Also, for me, it's the same with those deities from another Land. There may indeed be connections you choose to follow, or some kind of responsibility through your Ancestral lineages to Wodan, or Sango, or Hermes, etc. Those are gods of certain Peoples and bloodlines. Again, that's your call. I personally have no draw towards the Genius Loci or Place-Spirits of other lands where I have never lived and know nothing about other than through books.

For me, even leaving out my European ancestry for a moment, my Native American tribes homelands were in the American Midwest. A place of oak-hickory woodlands, tallgrass prairies, marshes and immense rivers. But I was raised here in Montana. The Land is different. Here there is no oak in the mountains, which are tall and covered in pine and spruce and douglas-fir. The prairies are dry and made up of shortgrass plains.

You really can't grow corn very well here, so the tribes here didn't have cycles based on planting and harvest. You have to water everything from a hose (gardening can be a real challenge), and many of our medicinal plants back in the midwest have no place here. There are different plants here, different animals and birds. The cycles here are based on the ripening of wild berries and roots, and the lifecycles of wild birds, fish and mammals.

So although I honor the worlds and lands of my European and Native ancestors for the events that led to my existence on this Earth, my life now is on THIS Land. This is the place I know, the place where I am healthy and my life joins its Life. I would be an alien in those ancestral lands.

I learn what I can from the Land here, from tasting and watching, smelling and feeling and hearing. I read the natural histories of this place and its ecology and natural communities. I read about the different plants the tribes here used. Some are the same as the ones we had in the Midwest. Some are similar or related, and some are different. Some plants even are migrants (invasives) from Europe and Asia, just like the human beings who now live here. Leaving judgements aside, this is where I live and what I keep learning more and more about.

One should be careful to distinguish what you can learn about the Land from the tribes who once (or still) live where you do now. The ethnobotany, medicines and foods, the stories of animals and plants and weather and rivers and mountains. Those are things you can learn from. But you have to work out your own covenant with the Land and its Beings. You can't piggyback on someone else's tribe.

You can learn what the Blackfeet or Salish or Crow or Shoshone did, what they called the animals, how they learned to live here, the different wild foods and behaviors and natural patterns. You can learn a lot from the cultural ways and insights. You can learn about the Other beings too, the Underwater People, the Little People or Stick Indians or Dwarves, and so on.

But you can't take up their religions and begin to try to copy the spiritual practices of Blackfeet or Crow or Salish or Shoshone. You can't just copy a sweat ritual or a dance or some bundle system, that was something that was worked out between them and the Powers. You can't just hop on someone else's covenant or agreement because you want to. That isn't how it works. They didn't even do that to each other, as Indians. You have to work it out yourself, between you and the Land and the Powers there.

Wheel of the Year

When I was first learning about these things, on my own, I tried to pay attention to the Wheel of the Year. For me, Imbolc never connected at all. I am not around sheep, and here in Montana, February is as nasty as January, and often worse than December. Nothing at all is waking up.

I have come to a point, where except for Solstices and Equinoxes, I don't pay much attention to dates and such. I pay most of my attention to what Nature is doing. I key what I do, what I think, to the Sun and the Moon, the Major Stars (for me, mostly the North Star and the Great Bear, as well as the Hunter and his Dog) and the Winds, the animals and plants that are born, mature, fruit, seed, and die here in my home ecosystem. When the ice on the creeks and rivers forms and when it breaks up. When the snow comes and when the lightning first strikes. When the chokecherries appear and when the grasshoppers are seen and when the geese come winging through, south and north.

I have noticed, for me, that some days and nights are more liminal than others, as well as the dawn and the gloaming. For tradition's sake, I do love Samhuinn and Yuletide, but sometimes my antennae wave more on certain other days and nights. You can feel it in the air and in the earth when the Powers are about, for their own reasons, own purposes, own pleasures.

This week, this is the third day, the winds have knocked like a questing hound against the loose panes, and last night the snow dusted us. Such things are not always tied to Christian nor Roman calendars. For Sun and Moon, I read the calendar. But not for the rest. The Land has its own Calendar, and that is the one I am trying to learn now.

This is More My Kind of Reality TV

Reality TV pretty much sucks in my opinion. It brings out the worst in people because it rewards the worst: selfishness, self-promotion, deception, manipulation, viciousness, gossip, greed, etc. But it didn't start out that way.

In 1978, the first reality show was made in Britain. It emphasized cooperation, community, working out problems together, self-control for the good of all. It was called "Living in the Past."

“In 1978 12 adults and 3 children were selected from around 1000 volunteers for the first 'reality tv' series by living for a year on an Iron Age farm as Iron Age people. This film looks back at the original shows and what has happened to them in the 30 years since then.” The hour-long program is on YouTube, in six parts.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

This is a fascinating documentary which shows how these strangers lived together for a calendar year under Iron Age conditions of about 2000 years ago, showing how Celtic Britons lived in a small village around the time the Romans first invaded Britain.

Such "living history" experiments have taken place a number of times in the last decade or two. Here are two others, set in later periods in Britain, for comparison.

1620 Welsh Farm: “Tales from the Green Valley”

1880s Shropshire, England: “Victorian Farm”

Connecting to One's Place

I have always enjoyed walking and sitting in certain spots. That's one thing I know is true from Castaneda: not only are there "power spots," there are certain "power spots" that are specific to YOU and not others. Look out of the corner of your eye for "difference" (colors, etc.).

Once I found "my spot" in a strange place, I slept there all night peacefully in the middle of a lawn on a campus...and in the morning the night security guy asked where I had been, as he had tried to find me...he heard my snoring but could not see me anywhere. It was open lawn with no bushes. That's what I mean by "your spot."

My preference to get out either is in inclement weather: storms, rain, snow, lightning, hail, winds...any conditions like that...or times when the sky has odd clouds, sunrise or sunset, rainbow, the gloaming/dusk, when the stars are out and sharp in the black skies. Sharing food or water with the place and its "people" is also one of my things.

I am an inhabitant of an intermontane valley of the Middle Rockies ecoregion/bioregion, the Helena valley. I have lived here most of my almost 50 years. I see it as a bowl, with the mountains the sides and rim of the bowl. The shapes of the mountains are as familiar as the faces of people. I mark the year by what mountains the sun touches as it comes up and goes down.

Although I have connections with many of the inhabitants, I feel personal connections especially with the meadowlark, white sage, and the cottonwood tree, balsamroot and beebalm, as well as lilac and sparrow, honeybee and kestrel...too many to say...

"4. How long is the growing season? "

I don't garden currently because I don't have a yard. The photo here is of me in my tiny little patch in my folks' backyard in 2007. I didn't grow a garden in 2008. I'm still learning.

This was just a little first-year patch on hard clay soil. I dug in some lawn clippings, as the only soil amendments. All the crops were of heritage varieties; the corn, beans and squash were varieties grown by my Indian ancestors. The native varieties of corn were bushier and shorter than the more familiar types. Someday it would be nice have my own yard, so be able to grow food, medicines, and have some chickens. Economics and lack of fulltime employment makes that unlikely for now. But you do what you can with what you have.

According to the 2001 Weather Almanac, Helena's growing season runs from April through September. (http://www.weatherexplained.com/Vol-4/2001-Helena-Montana-HLN.html)
The Montana Garden Guide (http://gardenguide.montana.edu/pdf/Montana_Climate_Summary.pdf) says:

May 2 through Oct 2: 153 days
Precipitation: 12.54 inches

East Helena
May 14 through Sept 22: 131 days
Precipitation: 9.39 inches

These are approximations, with actual growing seasons varying from year to year by 2 week or so. And of course it also varies by site microclimate. The variations in the Garden Guide are also interesting, since East Helena and Helena are only 5 miles apart! It must have a lot to do with the actual site selection of the stations. Of course these are all figures for sites within the valley itself; the mountains' growing season will be much, much briefer!

Helena is in Zone 4 according to the USDA's Hardiness Zones system; the Sunset magazine system lists it in Zone 2. Yes, the systems are quite different; the Sunset system is more detailed and is considered more authoritative for gardening.

Comparison of USDA and Sunset: http://www.backyardgardener.com/zone/index.html
The Sunset system: http://www.sunset.com/garden/climate-zones/sunset-climate-zones-northern-rockies-00400000036338/