4 Months of Deep Nature Connection Training in Northwestern USA
I made a request and it was answered. I was told by a mentor of mine that anytime a prayer is answered, we should feed the people. This value comes from the tradition of the potlatch, also known as the giveaway feast, common in many indigenous cultures. During a potlatch, a meal is shared, stories are told, and gifts are given away to guests. After four months of training in deep nature-connection mentoring in the Northwest of North America, I held a giveaway for my community. Here, I’ll share my story and later on detail the step-by-step process of a giveaway feast, so you can host one yourself!
In the autumn of 2021, I began feeling called to deepen my relationship with nature, find out ways to help others do the same, and investigate a romantic, theoretical concept I had of ‘being in a deep relationship with place’. I found a mentor in Idaho, USA (Northwest) who co-directs a wilderness school. She agreed to accept me as an apprentice in the form of an intern instructor at Twin Eagles Wilderness School.
Throughout four months in the spring and summer, I lived 80% of the time in a tent in various locations of forest in northern Washington and Idaho. On paper, my position at the school was an intern wilderness instructor. I assisted outdoor homeschool programs and summer camps. I connected with 6–13 year olds and saw myself as a child with them. I remembered catching frogs, snakes and salamanders with my friends, crashing through my neighborhood and getting to know the crevices of the local ponds.
I wandered giant sand dunes with teenagers, tracking coyote, deer and beetle and sleeping out in the cold spring. On a separate occasion, we cooked foraged mushrooms, fish and nettles over fire with fathers and their sons after they built group shelters among 500 year old Western Red Cedars.
Further into the journey, I assisted in guiding a boys’ rite of passage into young manhood for six initiates of 13–15 years old alongside a team of four other male guides. A rite of passage shows an initiate that he holds within his unique human blueprint, a gift. In the initiation process, he may choose to investigate that gift and develop it to later share it with his family, human community, and the community of non-humans and the earth itself. This is a process that is unfolding for me now as I write literally as I speak now.
I considered how I was welcomed into manhood myself. I felt grateful for the work of supporting young men to see their light and shadow and feel deeply into both of them. Through the ceremony, the initiates were guided to consider and later know for themselves that the feminine is of utmost sanctity. For the benefit of our society and earth as a whole, this feels to me like one of the most important messages for a young man to understand deeply. Honor and safeguard the feminine (woman, mother, ecosystem earth).
I learned to make fire with nothing but cordage and wood (bow & drill). I slept in direct contact with the soil sheltered by conifer needles and cedar bark and realized more than I have ever before, that I am safe. In the state I am now in this moment, I belong here in my body and on the earth no less than I do with my most-trusted friends and family members. I’ve gripped more tangibly the sense that the ecosystem can always provide for my needs.
In the short stretches between all of the programs I was outdoors nearly every day and practicing routines of relating with the land, animals and plants. I’ve established habits of listening and looking that provoke intense curiosity and further engagement with the non-human world. After leaving the Northwest, my first stop was Amsterdam. The sleek electric trains and minimalist laptop bags showed the stark contrast to the environment I had recently departed from. I felt uneasy, disconnected to the metallic, abstract materials. I went straight to a city block-sized park, lay down and watched a blackbird pinch a blackberry in its beak. I looked to where it flew from and followed to collect berries for myself. I felt just as interested and excited as if I were in the Rijks or Van Gogh or meeting an exciting new human. I feel a deep sense of relationship with nature, greater and more automatic than ever before.
I arrived in Idaho with questions about how to develop a tangible relationship with non-human beings and I left with more: “What do the people around me now need most?” “Can I truly impact others to cultivate relationship with the land as I have thus far?” “With my newfound perspective and skillset, what unique position do I hold in the movement of regenerative culture and ecosystems?”
Giveaway Feast (as I did it)
- invite people with clear time and place, ask for RSVP by a specific date
- Prepare gifts. Make special gifts for the individuals who have impacted your path in a uniquely meaningful way. Make general gifts for everyone else.
- cook a meal on the day of the feast
- welcome & gratitude
- orient on what will happen
- guests sit and relax
- serve them food & drink (with a helper if needed)
- remove plates. wash later
- change spaces: gather
- Tell your guests that you’ll give them gifts, but the first gift is a story
- Tell your story. You can use this outline:
- My journey began with this question: …
- What happened & changed around and within you?
- What new questions arose?
- The questions you carry now
5. Gifts — layout all gifts on a blanket
- One by one, give gifts to each person. “I’m giving you this gift because… (for each person)”
- Thank them for coming, eating, and listening
- Wait for feedback/insight to come from guests or invite them to share if they’re quiet
- Close the space with some short words and/or action