The Old Way:
restoring our webs of connection
Gemma joins The Old Way, a year-long course tracing the migratory route of hunter-gatherers through the seasons – searching for food in the woods, along the coast to the seashore and over the moors. The experience invites us to learn from our ancient past to help shape better futures, by exploring our own rewilding and how we can reconstitute the webs of connection that we have lost with each other and the natural world.
Made by Jo Barratt and Gemma Mortensen, with Iris Andrews, Lily Piachaud and Hadeel Elshak, featuring The Old Way 2021/22 cohort.
Recorded music by Emily Fawcett.
There’s a flotilla of about nine or ten boats, these beautiful open top Canadian canoes, all these lovely wooden paddles and we’re canoeing down the river dart with marshland to either side of us and rushes and rolling Hills and woods. And some Egrets with their whiteness against the green banks. Beautiful still, spring water, off to our little camp site.
I think we’re about half-way now. And the river is so wide, feels so un-English, like being in a big American or South American river with trees on either side and no signs of civilisation. The pop of trees, the beach, the oak that are just coming to leaf and all the other, still skeletal and red tipped.
We’re in our little cove now. At our first night, it’s very foggy. There’s lots of dew on the tarp and covering the grass this morning, we’re camping at the bottom of this steep hill for this flat piece of grass this land going out towards the estuary. And you can see all the different tide lines, low tide with the mud and the seaweed, and then kind of mid-tide with the moss. And then the moss mixes with the grass. And then finally the grass breaks away where the tide doesn’t reach, but we’re expecting quite a big tide, cuz it’s gonna be a full moon while we’re here. And I can see an Egret picking its way through the mud and the seaweed. It’s all very calm and tranquil sheep grazing the banks on the other side, flocks of birds flying overhead. In a very lazy, current drifting past on its way back out, not quite low tide yet all the way back out to the sea.
[people foraging for plants]
So I co-founded The Old Way with Robin Bowman. Yeah. So I’m, I guess, the behind the scenes organiser and one of the teachers on it and sort of make it all run smoothly, I guess. I grew up in the South-East of England on the Kent and Sussex border. I had the run of about a hundred acres because I live next door to what is now a nature reserve and was managed by a family who sort of mentored me, in nature. You know they had rocks and minerals and displays of butterflies and they were really into birds. So they taught me a lot about the different bird songs. And so I learned through them and through being able, just to wander freely on this piece of land. It wasn’t till I actually moved back to where I grew up and reconnected with that piece of land again that I started to really want to get to know all the other creatures and all the other plants and things and fungi actually, I got really interested in edible mushrooms at that point and started to, you know, really scan the environment for those, these different, different plants that our ancestors would have eaten. And it wasn’t long after that, that I actually moved to New Zealand and I had to start all over again. It was like being completely levelled with like, wow, I had had this knowledge when I, you know, when I grew up and some of the plants are the same. Some of the birds are the same. They’re, you know, mammals completely different. And so I felt like I was sort of an alien in this different landscape, which I imagine is how a lot of people feel who haven’t had the fortune to grow up in the countryside as I did. So I sort of realised that I had a duty, I guess, to help people connect in the way that I now needed to connect with New Zealand. Returned to Britain. And it was just like heaven, really. Like just coming back to a time where, a place where you really get the seasons. So just every single day I’d go out and something new had arrived, had appeared in my landscape and it was just this, this constant gratitude. And I still feel that it was seven or eight years ago now. And it just, every day I just, I feel so grateful to live in my home you know, in the place that I really belong.
[people foraging for plants]
So actually, when I first got back, I went back to uni because my kids were teenagers by then. And I studied experimental archeology as a way to really practise the primitive skills that sort of, it gave me a kick up the ass every day to, you know, to actually meet these deadlines. That meant I had to make a complete box skin outfit because I needed it to go and be part of a living museum or I had to learn how to do bone making because I was doing a, you know, a project on it. I had a moment of realising that I would love to offer something like a primitive art school. Which had a sort of a taste of everything that our forebears used to do. And to give people, give people the opportunity to drop in, in whatever way that they felt more aligned with. I guess it’s in their ancestral blueprint of, you know, where they’ve come from the way in for them , might be plants or it, it might be making a basket with their hands, or it might be paddling down a river. It’s just whatever gives you that timeless feeling, I felt like I wanted to offer those different things as a way into re really reconnecting with what it really means to be human
[people foraging for plants]
I guess it’s knowing our place in the landscape amongst all the other species that live here as well. It’s how can I be here with that butterfly or, yeah, these dandelions and you know not take all of them, just use what I need to survive and not have a, you know, not have an impact, have a very, very light footprint and maybe live it better than I found it. I think essentially there was a sense of balance and that’s what I would like to, yeah, very much like to find a way back to. There’s this timeless sense. I think that hunter gatherers had a way of life that worked for millennia, but we’ve come to a place now and where there’s just, there are obviously too many people for so many of us to all go back to that. But there’s perhaps a way through that we can learn some of those old ways. And, steer away from the crash collision course that we’re headed on. And perhaps come back to us, some kind of mosaic may be a way of being, which is a, which is partly agricultural and on a small scale, partly foraging and very much living locally within our own bioregions and sustainably.
[people foraging for plants]
Coming down here to the river from, from the moor and we live up on Dartmoor and our last module of The Old Way was up on Dartmoor. And so to come down here now, you know, the sun’s shining on my face now it’s so warm. The plants are responding to that and they’re just, they’re way ahead of what they are up on the moor. And I think, you know, over the years I’ve realised just how many edible plants there are. I mean, yes, there are poisonous plants too, and yes, there are some inedible plants, but I would say the edible ones dominate and there’s just so much out there, it’s just fantastic and to be able to walk along a Hedgerow and just to say, oh yeah hello dandelion. Hello plantain. Hello purslane. And hogweed. And it’s, they’ve all become friends. Actually river and estuarine plants are some of my absolute favourites. I love, love being out and about sort of from Midsummer onwards on the estuaries because you can find marsh samphire and sea purslane. There’s always lots of sea beet all year round. So those are particular favourites. So it feels like you can just come here and live off fish and plants. I think really about 30 different species of plant altogether on average in our Western diets. And whereas a hunter gatherer would eat well over a hundred different species. You know, if we think about what we eat in the supermarket, it’s very, very limited range. So the more plant families we eat from the more benefits we’re gonna get. And so, yeah, if you’re getting to know all the different species and plant families that live in your area. You’ll realise that there’s really quite a big diversity. It’s so easy in sort of bushcraft circles and things just to learn a few skills and just sort of for yourself make fire with a bow drill. Aren’t I great? But it’s really, it’s not about making fire with a bow drill. It’s about the feeling that making fire with a bow drill gives you it’s the connection and the appreciation of what our ancestors have actually, how incredibly, like what geniuses, they were to be able to come up with all these things and how humans have passed on all this knowledge down and down and down the generations and it could easily end with us. So I just feel it’s important, it’s an important way of acknowledging them and giving us that thread back, that connects us and yeah makes us know where we’ve come from.
[people singing the hawthorn song]
[instructions for fishing]
My name’s Brad. I’m trying to find out what it’s like to live as our long distance ancestors used to, how it feels in my body to do that. So getting rid of the TV, getting rid of the junk food, getting rid of the nine to five grind and seeing what happens, especially by the coast, living by the coast for four or five days, I found that there were very few thoughts in my head. There was just kind of like a beingness. So I’m stood on a creek, I’m fishing for flounder with Lugworm and bread. I dunno if I’m gonna catch any, but I’m gonna give it a go. Oh, what have I got? Oh, oh, I think I had something there and it just fell off. It’s alright. Try again.
I love seeing the animals. On the estuary, you know, the Cormorants sat in the tree and shell ducks, you know flying past making a racket, which is a lovely racket. Seeing the land from a canoe gives you a completely different perspective and egrets everywhere. I mean 20 years ago, you didn’t see one and now they’re everywhere. And that’s lovely to see. When I first got in the boat, there was a sort of feeling of transition from, you know, busyness to getting in the boat. And then I had this sort of strange sense of feeling a little bit jealous of the animals being well freeish, you know, doing their thing, but no clock, you know, to go by. I’m a builder in my day to day life. So I’m physical pretty much all day long, on my feet all day long using tools, making a racket, making a load of dust. And this forces me to not do so much doing and a bit more being, you know, a bit more patient with, well not really noticing the passage of time either, there’s no clock to watch. So, yeah, it’s different. And then for the next two or three weeks, I hanker for going back to it until a sort of busy life takes over again. And that kind of, it goes to the background, but it’s always there sort of niggling at me wanting to come back. And I don’t, I mean, I can do spirituality, but I mean, in a very practical way, you know, and maybe the spirituality falls out of that, but I mean, from a very fundamental, fundamentally biological perspective, you’ll feel how we’ve evolved to, to be.
[people talking about catching crabs]
[People chatting around the fire]
My name’s Sam. Yeah, I’ve been with the old way since the beginning. My passions are yeah, engaging with the fire experience that, yeah, I guess it’s often initially looked at as a tool that we can use to, you know, keep us warm or cook our food or give us light. Does this, this sense of magic that comes with fire, not only its practical uses you know, the way you can actually relate with it as another, almost a living thing. So I see fire as you know, as a teacher and a companion, as much as a tool. With fire particularly I find, you know, there’s something it’s so easy to relate with what it must have been like to live in these places and how much fire was, you know, was an essential part of what allowed us to be here.
It’s definitely a journey and fire in any context, but particularly fire by friction is a real teacher of patience and perseverance when I’m teaching people. I can tell when someone’s gonna get it. That moment when, you know, that that smoke turns into a tiny ember and then bursts into flame when you blow it into a tinder bundle. I think there’s just the magic that I experienced in that moment. The first time doing that and every time doing that, you know, seeing that, just that magic in people’s eyes is real, real good.
[People singing a song around the campfire]
Morning. So it’s about 20 past five. It’s currently dark and there’s a fog everywhere running through the valley, over the water. The trees are surrounded in mist and down the hill. I can see the hearth fires already being lit, gonna gather around there and then, we’ll spread out to sit and listen to the dawn chorus.
So it was mostly Robins. It was nearly all Robins at the beginning. Like there were lots and lots of birds singing. It was nearly all Robins. But a Dawn chorus is mostly Robins, some thrushes and black birds. The Skylark started singing across the stream before. That’s the dunnock, that joined in after about 15 minutes. Um, that one. Quite nondescript, do you hear that dunnock? It’s really almost the most nondescript just goes (mimics sound), Dunnock or hedge Sparrow. So there’s a wave of Dawn chorus going around and around the globe for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years, never stops. I always get super excited when the first bird is actually in the east. Cause when I went to bed, I was thinking, okay, it’s the Dawn chorus in India. And then I got up for a pee in the night and it’s the dawn chorus in Romania. Now it’s the Dawn chorus in Cornwall. Does that make sense? And then in four hours, it’ll be the do chorus on the Eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada. And then it’ll kind of go through Canada and out the other side.
I’m Charlie, Charlie Loam. And I’m one of the facilitators of The Old Way. There’s this sort of tripod of people, three of us who hold the whole course organisation and then there are other facilitators and helpers who come. It’s just after breakfast and the sun is just coming over the hill and beginning to warm us up a little bit. We’ve just separated off to do various tasks to keep the clan going. So there are people chopping wood in the background. There are people washing up and sorting out water, and I can hear people singing as they go about their morning chores before we then get into the activities of the day. The Old Ways. Two things. It’s a course that we run over six months of every year between April and September or October held in Devon where we visit four different ecosystems and participate in the landscape of those ecosystems. We’re remembering or exploring, re-exploring how together ancestors may have moved across this landscape.. They would’ve followed the food and they would’ve very likely have done a circuit, a sort of nomadic circuit following the food. And that, that circuit could well have been starting just in the winter months up on, yu kow, in sheltered valleys, in the high ground where there’s plentiful food in terms of deer and plentiful firewood and lots of shelter for making a winter camp. And then as temperatures warmed, they might have followed the rivers down towards the estrees which is where we find ourselves now. So there was a way in which humans lived in relative balance and harmony with the rest of life as hunter gatherers, you know for 95% of our time as humans we’ve existed as hunter gatherers and that we are living in this little blip of an experiment, which we call agricultural civilization. And so most of what makes us human. Comes from that time that 95% as hunter gatherers and it’s called The Old Way rather than The Old Ways. I mean, obviously it’s what we teach here is made a lot of old ways, but there was a way that any hunter gatherer would understand that where we were just another creature within a whole kinship network of creatures and non living-beings. The term The Old Way comes from a book by a woman called Elizabeth Marshall, who worked with the Sand Bushmen. And she describes how she sees the old way being exemplified by them back in the 1950s. What I hope people get out of The Old Way, this experience, is a sense of belonging, a sense of being at home, both in the natural world. And in themselves, sort of shedding those civilised parts of ourselves, that aren’t our true nature. You know, we all have a memory of how we were as children, that sort of freedom that we once had. And we may, you know, depending on our childhoods, we might just have glimpsed it or we could have fully immersed ourselves in it, but almost everybody has that sense of belonging, feeling at home, particularly feeling at home in a natural setting somewhere, you know, maybe it was a tree in a garden or in a park or a den out in the woods and that sense of play.
I see people discovering possibly for the first time that humans are an important species within all the other species within our ecosystems. You know, we are a keystone species, just like the wolf or the bear or the beaver, and that we have an ecological role to play within environments within biomes to begin to explore what might our ecological niche be. Clearly, you know, humans have played, you know, a devastating role on the planet, but we haven’t always done that. It has been a facet of human nature at certain times in history but also in other parts of history and I’m referring to sort of, you know, ancient, ancient history we’ve learned from the mistakes that we potentially made and have created other ways of being so that we are a regenerative force within a landscape rather than a purely destructive force within a landscape. Really what I hope people take away with them is that humans can once again be a regenerative force. So we’ve got this young 13 year old. I think he is, he’s, Robin’s son who has just got the most insatiable passion for primitive skills. He’s one of the most highly skilled primitive practitioners that I know and I know a lot who are an awful lot older than him and he’s you know, he’s got that youthful timelessness to dedicate to his craft. So he’s gonna teach us how to make a very primitive fishing set up that he’s successfully caught fish with in the past. So he’s our tutor for today. And it’s just, there’s something so beautiful about being taught by a 13 year old and to be utterly in awe of his skills.
I’m called Tawny and Robin is my dad. I’m 14. I love fishing. I love flint knapping. Yeah, those kind of skills. Probably tracking for me is like, as far as like bushcraft goes, like the icing on the cake, probably. Yeah. So yeah, that’s probably the best part of life for me. I used to live in like a bender, which is like a house made of kind of hazel poles and tops. And that’s where I was born and from a super young age then like dad would take me into the woods. And I think from when I was maybe like half, like, you know, half a year, he’d like, show me like penny, he would be like, you can eat this and mine eating it and show me Foxglove and then like throw it away. You know, like people with nature connections, like much more healthy, like mental health and like dad often frames it as like your ropes of connection. And like when those are like severed, right? Like they are a lot in modern culture. It’s almost like, you know, that Philip Pullman book, when you have your daemon severed, it’s gonna be like that. There’s this one hawthorn tree near my camp in the woods that has just like, I’m so grateful to that hawthorn tree, like it’s like I’ve eaten its berries. I’ve like, last year I had kind of like a hard time and I was drinking a lot of heart tonic all from that, like all from that tree. And I’ve used its hook so much for fishing I’ve used, yeah, eated like the flowers, the leaves made leather of the berries.
I was talking to mum about like what GCSEs I might wanna do and kind of talking about like history and if I wanna history GCSE, and I was like, well, I’m not really interested in history till it’s like, you know, mesolithic. Anything like post agricultural revolution doesn’t interest me at all. I guess, with nature connection, I then wanna like do nature connection as like pure as possible. So, for me, purity is a lot about this, like not having modern gear and then that kind of is like what we used to have and then I guess that’s like the connection for me, probably like. I don’t know I kind of wanna like live in a horse-drawn gypsy wagon and snare rabbits, but I also, I dunno, it’d be kind of cool to like to go to uni and stuff, I don’t really know.
I guess what I hope for really is the past, but that’s not gonna happen. Like, I wanna live in like a pre megafaunaic extinction kind of like an egalitarian, incredibly low population, like wilderness. Like I wanna live in like late palaeolithic mesolithic, really, but that’s not gonna happen. I’ve got kind of in some ways, like quite dark views on the future. And I feel like most of this might come, we were talking a lot about like breakdown in collapse last night. And I feel like that is the way that most of this might be, might have to be heading. There’s a reality. There are just some like bastards out there, right. And it’s kind of, and those are mainly the people who like need to stop if we wanna change climate change. And they’re not gonna feel the effects of climate change, right. Because they’ll be dead. So I can’t see them stopping anything. You know, they’re making a load of money. They’re, you know, I can see them like being forced to stop by like the collapse of like civilisation.
I feel like that might be the only way we can kind of rise again. Like all my life. Right. I’ve lived under the shadow of climate change. My parents did not grow up like that. So I guess like there’s only a certain extent you can empathise.
[people searching for mussels]
So I’m Jen Lamarenelle and we are dispatching some crabs that we’ve just picked from the shore. So we’ve got a load of shore crabs and we just went and harvested them from the rocks and the seaweed. And I am now dispatching them by pretty much just putting a knife right down through and cutting them in half. And I’m choosing to do this because it’s actually finding it really hard just to take a life just like that. And, you know, we had a conversation about gratitude and the fact that these crabs are giving us their lives and we’re gonna be taking them in our bodies. And yet it’s still not a small thing to take a life. And we’ve got, I don’t know, tens of crabs here. It feels pretty brutal and yet I personally feel it is kind of important if you’re gonna eat the stuff to actually experience taking the life. I’ve eaten meat, you know, pretty much most of my life. And I always try and eat, you know, good meat where I can, but there’s something for me that’s been really important about being full part of, you know, taking the life from the beginning and then eating it. And it’s made the whole process really, really profound really. And obviously right at the beginning, we butchered the deer. We didn’t, you know, take the life of the deer, but we butchered them And then ate the deer and, you know, it just sounds probably cliche, but it tasted better having been through the whole process. But then the first life I actually took was down at the coast where I killed some lobsters, some crabs, some fish. And I’m not sure it gets easier but it feels like I’m even more a part of The Old Way now having kind of been through the entire process and seeing how we’re using them and you know, being really respectful, but also like it’s important to be respectful, but also, you know, this is life and this is us eating and it sort of makes us think, we don’t do this every time we buy a pack of beef from the supermarket. And there is an element of, you know, the amount of food we need, the amount of oysters, the amount of crabs, you’ve just gotta get on with it. So even I’ve just, you know, I dunno how many crabs I have killed now, but it’s sort of getting a bit more like, okay, this is part of the circle of life and we’re not doing this lightly. We’re not doing it just for fun. But it’s yeah, it’s still pretty hard to see these creatures moving and then just, goodbye crabs.
Yesterday when we stood here, I said to the group, I can guarantee you that we are about to go out and get enough protein to feed our village and our community for the evening. I guarantee it and more than that, we could probably collect enough protein in 10 minutes. And, you know, it’s not that hard to guarantee certain things like, oh, I guarantee we could go get enough stinging nettles to feed us all for green to dinner, or even like in maybe hazelnut season or I’ll go get enough. But to guarantee to get enough protein from the land, you know, even if you are the best stalker, the deer might not be in that place, you might shoot a deer to feed everyone, but you might get enough rabbits, but to guarantee it. And the truth is we don’t even need to get out of our boats. We could literally pick them from around us. Oysters used to be so abundant. I mean in London in one year in the 1850s, mid 1850s, 124 million oysters were eaten every year in London. Those oysters are gone so that our native oyster, the European flat oyster is ,it’s a classic example, like the passenger pigeon of just massive over harvesting and a virus ,knocked them out, but it was massively over harvested. And so in 1926, we had to reintroduce oysters. So we reintroduce the Pacific oyster, which is the one we’re eating, which is the bigger oyster, which we’re about to go get off the sand bar, but they weren’t, they didn’t think it would breed because it only breeds in water temperatures of 18 degrees or more. But with climate change and the way things are and I think they’re just warmer water temperatures than they realise in the Southern counties, they have bred. So that they’ve actually proliferated. And I think the female lay something like, I dunno something like 20 million eggs, she disperses. And then the male releases a whole clouds of sperm and they meet and fertilise and within I think, I can’t remember something like 12 hours, they start hatching larvae, and then they float about might be really small until they find something to adhere to.
There must be thousands of pounds worth of oysters just within eye shot here. And the difficult thing is finding them in small enough clumps so you can actually pick them up. So that’s the main, that’s what we’re up to.
These beauties, Pacific oysters. You ever had one before? Never. I’ve never picked oysters. I always thought it was like a luxury good that I don’t know came from somewhere exotic that I never knew about. But actually there’s bloody thousands of them on the sand bank in Devon and they’re massive. Look at them. Look at these ones, all stuck together.
So I’m in the river with my bum, nearly in the water in a very muddy water there is about like an inch from my bum. And I’m moving as the river moves basically and there’s about three people behind me. That’s nothing really from what I can see. However, tonight we’re gonna have an excellent dinner, we cleaned about 200 oysters just now. And it’s basically a big mamas that’s full of mud and stuff, and I’ve got a big thick brush and I’m having to go through every tiny little crevice and little hole to clean it as mud. And it’s a very interesting activity.
[People cleaning oysters]
So everybody at the moment they’re shucking, the oysters that were just boiled, they were harvested and all the grit was scrubbed off them. And they were just giving them like a real hard boil for like 15 minutes and that just kills everything in them to make sure they’re safe to eat. They’re easy to open. So they’re slightly open. It’s called shucking them when you get a little kind of little knife with the pointy end at the end of them, and you can easily open them up. And then all the oysters, they kind of look like big can you imagine big muscles, like kind of meaty and similar, but, so now they’ll get pan fried in all the flavours. So you can use olive oil, mainly it’s butter, garlic, sometimes Edel wine. And wild garlic we have that we’ve foraged and nettles and yeaah, that’s one way of cooking.
My name Eda Fibritzio and I have been here to manage the half. So I’ve been on the cooking. We’ve tried to keep the diet mainly on a local, what’s grown locally in this country, like traditionally, so no Mediterranean vegetables. So mainly it’s kind of like native , like root vegetables.
Everyone’s just saying that all the oysters look like female genitalia.
We’re gonna fry up the female genitalia in plenty of garlic and butter.
So the diet, we’ve kept the diet really simple and just not using any vegetables that weren’t traditionally growing on this land. And one luxurious item could be lemon as well, but they are just nice fried in butter, butter and wild garlic.
It just tastes of salty estuary water, sunshine, canoeing, a little bit of nettles, living in the ocean and the sand. Absolutely delicious. Very deep, very extraordinary creatures. So once was quite fascinating, seeing the shell itself and it had sort of various ridges and they were amazing and then opening it up and then the being inside had all of these layers and frails, and then it really looked sort of just like a vulva really. And so it opened up like a mystery and I loved also the contrast between how delicate the inside was and how tough the outside was. And how complex the whole being was. So actually I was nearly in tears with the whole moment. I had an epiphany of sorts and I’m still in a deep space and kind of really grateful. So I think my world will never be the same with regards to oysters and everything else.
My name is Ben and when I did The Old Way, the first year it ran, I was just so ready to do it. I think I was at a time of my life where I was ready to really deepen my relationship with nature and also to form connections with a group of people in that sort of tribal way, in that old way of living, it was just a very different way of being than I’d experienced before. It was quite a painful journey in some ways, because I realised that I actually felt safe with a group of people for the first time in my life, which was an incredibly joyful thing to experience and also painful as well there’s grief attached to that. How come I’d lived, whatever it was 38 years up until that point and not felt what I was feeling with this group of people and, oh my God, how amazing it is to feel that now. I think I’ve discovered a much softer way of being in the world. I think there are certainly times where you are required to dig deep and you are required to, you know, get on and achieve something. But I feel like there’s such an imbalance in our culture that that’s sort of the only thing that’s really valued most of the time in our culture of work and education that actually, leaving some space for a softer way of being felt very new to me. And I’ve found it incredibly nourishing. I feel really excited. That’s another thing, you know, that’s come from The Old Way. It’s just feeling really connected with, you know, more with nature and more with the land than I was before. And I grew up in a rural place and I already feel like I had a pretty good connection with nature, but I feel like the whole spectrum, you know, things are now in sort of ultra high definition, whereas before it was, it was not quite so, so clear. Yeah. So I notice much more when the leaves are just starting to come out on the trees and that feels genuinely exciting in my body. You know, seeing those really bright, vibrant greens coming out and it’s almost like sort of friends returning like, oh, the oak trees are waking up and the hazel’s coming out. It’s really nice. And I can feel in my body that excitement for spring and longer evenings, longer days, warmer days. Yeah, more gentle time than winter can be.
My name is Ruth. I was really in need of a community and a sense of who these other people are that want to be outside in the world, exploring and challenging in the way that I do. And I hadn’t felt like I was finding them. And there’s something for me around the very sort of practical approach of just being in mud and looking at mud, that opens up a possibility of a ginormous world encompassing conversation, or maybe just believing that there are other people that wanna have those conversations. I think I lost a bit of faith. I do have the possibility of feeling very deeply alone in the outside world. But more and more, I don’t. It feels for me that one of the hugest sensations and thoughts and inhabiting of a human being is love and that in its essence, it is boundaryless in the, all of it in the like the looking the finding of the plant. Like so much love in that, so much love, the love in which we show to every single living being that we interact with. And the love of community, I think really is probably I don’t know in a way that’s almost maybe the heart of it all. I think there’s a real love of community.
I’m Biz and I’ve been doing The Old Way over the last year. I just moved to Devon and I really wanted to get to know the land here in quite a deep way, quite fast. And so it’s been really nice to get to know the place I live in and all the different landscapes of the place I live. I think at the centre of it all is like just a different way of relating with life. Like a different perspective, almost like wherever I go, I guess I’m following more of my senses of what’s going on around me.
At the beginning of the course, it was all about creating these webs of connection and the more that we invest in a relationship with something, so the more that I invest in the relationship with fishing, for example, the more I’ll get out of it, the more I learn, the deeper that connection will be with the tides, with the water. I feel like I could just do that in so many different directions now. I hold retreats and, and ceremonies with essentially magic mushrooms with psilocybin in quite a therapeutic way. I’ve built this relationship of creating spaces where plants come together with people and plants can have conversations with people. What I really wanted to do with this course is actually find my way to those magic places and those altered states of consciousness, but kind of like walking rather than flying there, if you know, like not cheating, but actually through the hard graft of like, you know, learning to make a fire from scratch, you can really build a strong connection with fire. I think it’s really hard when you deepen a connection with anything to see how it’s happened or to see or even perceive that it’s happened. I feel like when you get exposed to like wilderness or wildest ways of living and you realise how much we don’t have control, which is a lot of what my work with plant ceremonies does and how much there is to know by just listening to what’s going on around us and responding to that rather than just creating things from our mind.
I haven’t learned how to survive in the wild, but I have found lots of tools and techniques and ways to bring more of this into my everyday life. We’re absorbing so many different experiences and I feel like part of integrating that experience is to reflect on what we’ve learned and a really amazing way of doing that is to use creativity and quite a number of over the years, quite a number of participants in this course have written songs about their experiences. And I feel like it really helps to encapsulate the potency of what we’ve learned, but also this is something like songs feel like they have their own life and the more that we practice and the more that we were there to catch them when they come.
And I know there’s something amazing about songs and also that like songs can be used, you know, like fishermen have used songs or sailors have used songs to get through hard times. Or they’ve used them as ways of making the boat work so they can be used in a really functional way, but I feel like they can also be used in a real way of like connecting people to place, connecting people to people. It feels like a language of the heart. And there’s just something about, yeah, we can go and do these practical things during the day, but it feels really important to keep the spirit alive.
Hi I’m Matt, I’m sitting in the sunshine making a cordage strap, which is a piece of woven yarn. That’s going to form the neck piece to a pouch that I’ve made, sewn together made from the dear skin that we stripped and prepared and rinsed in brain juice and sorts of things during the course of the program. It’s a very special pouch because it is going to contain as yet an undecided piece of jewellery for my little girl, she’s not little, actually, she’s going to be 21. So this is fantastic for me because this is testing my competence to the limit, which is a very good thing for somebody who spends most of his time doing things that he’s competent at. By day, I am a leadership development consultant and a coach and The Old Way has, well, it’s asked lots of questions and I think I’ve come to an understanding of what and why through reflecting on what the opposite of wildness might be. What is it about captivity in our day to day lives in my day to day life that The Old Way has freed up. So I see it as a journey to some kind of freeing up or freedom. Originally I signed up to come along because I recognized how much time I spent in heady intellectual experiences, partly because of the nature of my work. So The Old Way’s inherent philosophy actually that just shifts one into a right brain perspective on the world. I’m really enjoying the process down to the last two inches of my cordage and I’m thinking, hmm, perhaps I might decorate the pouch. It’s made me desire things for her experience of the world, particularly at the moment. But in fact, at any time, I’m sure that would be true, which is to give less attention to, or be less influenced by or less held by or less gripped by less had by the kind of consensus reality requirements that, you know, living in the UK and the 2020s puts on young people. A whole set of expectations that I just don’t think are realistic or healthy. So perhaps she’ll fly the flag or represent some of the changes or bring some of the changes to the world that to her society, to her world, I’ll be gone by then, which will be somehow gentler, more human, more, more the old way.