All Classes Offered At Medicine Bow
(See Schedule Page for class schedule and pricing)
Besides the many workshops open to the public at Medicine Bow, Mark takes his lessons into your school classroom, elementary, high school and college, or to any interested group. His most popular traveling program is THE NATIVE AMERICANS , a 1 1/2 hour history and demonstration beginning with the first foot set upon North America. He follows the progress of the Indians as they migrated into the new ecosystems that would shape their cultures into the discrete tribes that finally reflected the land, plants, and animals where they settled. He has an abundance of crafts made in the old way. The program eventually focuses on the Cherokee, the people who once walked the trails of Medicine Bow – the people who knew the Nature of this land like no people ever will again. After this class he likes to take his audience outside to see first hand the secrets of the Indians.
Some of these programs include: Ecology, Design in Nature, the Secrets of the Indians (an outdoor exploration), Conservation, the Wonders of Water, Plains Indian Sign Language, Animal Tracking, Botany, the Quest for Fire, Archery Demonstrations, and Musical Concerts of original compositions.
Weekend Workshops are held at Medicine Bow all through the seasons for students of all ages.
How to sign up for a class: (See Schedule Page for class schedule and pricing)
Each class is filled to its limit (usually 13) by a first-come-first-served receipt of check made payable to Medicine Bow, Ltd. You can reserve a spot by email or phone and that spot will be saved for one week, giving the applicant time to mail in a check. A letter of information and directions is then USPS mailed or emailed to the applicant. A check received after a class fills is, of course, returned in full. A cancellation 7 full days before the class is also returned in full. For a cancellation made 4 full days before class, 50% is returned or 60% is applied to a future workshop.
Overnight classes use Medicine Bow’s campground, where lasting friendships are made around the campfire. If you are not up for camping, local Bed & Breakfasts and motels are available in Dahlonega. I will be glad to help with those contacts. Students bring their own camping gear and food unless otherwise stated.
Individual Class Overview
TRACKING- In this class you will learn what a specific print looks like for a given animal; for example, you will know how to distinguish a gray fox from a bobcat from a red fox etc. This study will involve most of the tracks you will encounter in southern Appalachia (95%). But in the wild, tracks are often not crisp; so it is important to understand track patterns. Broadly speaking, there are about 7 ways that 4-leggeds move. In the tracking class, you’ll learn them by doing them and thereby see with your own eyes the resulting track patterns. Not only can this enable you to identify the trackee, but it can aid in interpreting what cause-and-effect situation your particular animal is experiencing. Each animal, you see, has a preferred gait. When that animal deviates from its norm, the story becomes more interesting. You will also actually track in a “tracking team” and learn the many nuances that the earth can reveal as an animal leaves clues on dirt, leaves, sticks, rocks, sand, plants, standing trees, and logs.
MEDICINE- (Read the section on Wild Foods.) Some of the medicinal plants you will learn how to use aid in the cure of stomach ache, fever, poison ivy, headache, skin rash, wasp sting, external bleeding, pain, topical infection, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, sinusitis, bronchitis, and annoying insects.
WILD FOODS- Since the beginning of animal life, the earth has provided food. But we humans have moved to an illusory dimension, seeing foods “originate” in stores. And so we have lost an instinct that anthropologists believe once guided humans to foods effortlessly (just like wild animals today). Without that instinct we are quite vulnerable in a scenario of random foraging. Many plants have developed serious poisons over time as a way of protecting themselves. Neither can a survivalist expect to be guided benevolently to edible plants by watching the eating habits of wild animals. This does not work. So there is no alternative today but to study. This class accelerates your life study of wild foods by having positive identifications in the wild with an expert.
SURVIVAL SKILLS- What was once common knowledge to all Native Americans is now a seemingly esoteric knowledge to most, because modern man and woman appear not to need the raw strength, the skills, and the academics of nature. It is true that most will never be thrust into an emergency survival situation in this time as we know it. Or is that true? Could our structure of subsistence collapse? If so, we may have no recourse but to return to the most basic of skills. That alone is a practical rationale for survival skills. (Imagine that beginning tomorrow, for the remainder of your life, you would have not a single store at which to shop. Every need must come from nature. This was the way life once was.) But even if that tragic and traumatic event should not crash upon your life, there are two poignant reasons to learn these skills. 1. Self-reliance (and self-esteem) soars. 2. Your relationship with the natural world matures, fulfilling a critical piece of your physical and spiritual life. In this course, you will learn about shelter, fire, food, cooking, hunting, snares & traps, water purification, tools, and plant medicines. These skills are taught in a complete manner but suggested as accumulative projects until you are ready to undertake a self-imposed survival trip. Up until that point, your camping trips will become more memorable adventures as you complement your wilderness time with your newly learned skills.
BOW-MAKING- Shape a Cherokee style bow (arc bow or handle bow) from mockernut or pignut hickory or from yellow locust (for the veteran bowyer).
FLUTE-MAKING- Craft an Indian love flute from cane in your choice of major or minor key. Or try a traverse-blow flute, easier to make, more difficult to play.
BASKETS- Berry baskets of spring tulip tree bark (makes a good arrow quiver too) and acorn-leaching baskets of grape vine.
ARROWS- Shafts of river cane heat-straightened and fletched with wild feathers. Hardwood foreshaft and nock inserts. Points of stone, antler, bone, or shell.
BOWLS- Wooden bowl burned out by fire using a hot coal and blow tube of plant stem.
BLOWGUN- River cane barrel, wooden dart fletched with thistle down.
STALKING-This demanding art is beneficial to body and mind in much the way Tai Chi is. But this skill brings you close to wild animals, whether you are observer, photographer, or hunter. The Indians learned this skill from animals. You will learn to emulate the fluidity of fox, the quiet foot placement of deer, and the patience of heron. Most of the animals people wish to see (both predator and prey) have lost their capacity for color vision (except for birds) in order to isolate their vision on movement. Stalking teaches you the trick of invisible movement. The rewards will be stories of animal encounters you will tell and remember for all your life.
FIRE- The magic of fire-by-friction is unique. A kind of humble power comes with the accomplishment of this skill. It is quite a feeling to stand before a dead tree of your careful choosing and know that the two of you are about to conspire in the creation of fire. Some survival schools put a low priority on fire as an essential component of staying alive. At Medicine Bow, I afford it a high rank for two reasons. In late summer and early fall when chiggers are still active but nights are cool, it is pure misery to subject yourself to a debris hut for sleeping. An excessive number of chigger bites can truly affect your state of mind. Also, fire gives a positive psychological comfort to the camper. This cannot be over-rated. Methods taught include the hand drill and the bow drill, not to mention EVERYTHING you ever need to know about constructing your pyre of wood. You will learn about the types of trees that swallowed fire (can make fire) and those that did not. And you will learn which types of wood are best for the burning as your fire reaches its different phases.
HIDE TANNING – Using the ancient technique of “brain-tanning”, you will learn the process of taking a fresh pelt (deerskin provided) and converting it into rawhide then supple buckskin, which feels just like chamois and makes wonderful clothing. The process includes smoking the skin to protect the reversal of the tan by exposure to water. The brain provides a fine oil to soften the dermal fibers and embodies the spirit of using all the animal. These deer are not killed for their skins. Their skins are saved by me from the dumpster by hunters who don’t know their value.
HISTORY- I take many programs into schools, scouts, or other groups. The most asked-for program has been THE NATIVE AMERICANS in which I demonstrate many handmade crafts and skills of the old ways. The story begins with the first human foot set upon North America and from there branches out into the 500 resulting tribes. What created these discrete tribes? The land itself. Each mini-environment placed its influences upon the new native settlers. The program delves into culture, living skills, and tribal philosophy, which offers the opportunity to compare ancient values to our contemporary attitudes toward our environment. This 1 ½ hour seminar can be followed by an outside tour of THE SECRETS OF THE INDIANS, a hands-on exploration that brings the magic of history into the familiar components of your backyard. In walking your land during this part of the program, you encounter the same resources that shaped the lives of people who first lived on “your land”.
BOTANY- This is the heart and soul of Medicine Bow, because all the skills taught start with a knowledge of plants. A comprehensive study of plant anatomy (in which you begin composing your personal life-study book of botany) prepares the student for extensive field study. This program is tailored for all ages. From this first class a student is prepared to continue his/her life study of plants and their uses as food, medicine, and craft material. By walking in the field with an expert who can eliminate the guesswork of plant identification, your competency in plant study accelerates so much beyond solo study. But eventually it is your solo study that instills in you the sense of really knowing your plants.
ECOLOGY- Another program brought to a group, ecology is not, as many believe, a way to treat the earth, but a science (a process) that has been in place since the beginning of time. It is a study of inter-relationships between the earth’s puzzle pieces. Ecology is the science that taught humans by example to embrace conservation, recycling, etc. This is a good indoor program to be followed by outdoor time. Before conservation can be truly embraced by a student, an understanding of ecology is a must - as is the human place in that intricate puzzle.
WILDLIFE-Medicine Bow has no captive animals, because it is a wildlife sanctuary. But it affords wonderful opportunities for animal study (see tracking, stalking). Birds are plentiful for a program based on our winged friends. Some of the other animal residents include: white-tailed deer, raccoon, bobcat, red and gray fox, coyote, wild squirrel, black bear, white-footed mouse, dozens of species of snakes, etc.
DESIGN IN NATURE- This program is well-suited for indoors or out and provides a lot of excitement for those who like riddles. Everything that exists in nature is displaying its “temporary end result” of centuries of evolutionary experiment. Because a design exists today, it boasts a certain success in its architecture. So from my box of natural goods we try to reconstruct that animal’s or plant’s need for that design. The other aspect of this study that is fun is to consider this: everything that humans “invent” can usually be found first in nature. Two examples for you: 1) the zipper comes from a feather. Look at the soft filaments of a feather under a magnifier as you separate two adjoining sections. And you can hear it unzip. 2) Tick trefoil is a plant you might not know unless in fruit. You’ll know its little green, triangular seeds that stick to your pants and socks. (Beneath that husk is an edible bean). As you pull them off your are removing the “hooked” side of Velcro from the “loop” side (your clothes).
INDIAN SIGN LANGUAGE- The tribes of the Great Plains developed a way to communicate with the hands because they were migratory (following bison) and in their travels always coming into contact with tribes who spoke a different tongue. This quiet language then became helpful in times of stealth, such as warring raids and hunting. The language is beautiful and easy to learn with a teacher who can explain to you why a certain sign took on its meaning. Like making fire, it contains a kind of power that you will feel expand your sense of self. What use is it today? At my summer camp I have designated “silent days”. I watch campers get frustrated with their communication failures and in the process begin to make judgments about what ideas are really deserving of the effort to communicate. Think about that as applied to life. As they learn more and more signs, their economy of “words” remains intact. And there are times in my life that signing is very useful. I have conversed with a friend across a river rapid, even across a crowded and noisy room. If this class interests you, be sure to bring a friend to learn along with you so you will have someone to put this into practice. It’s also a lot of fun.
SWEAT LODGE- Many cultures around the world have incorporated some kind of heating lodge into their lifestyles. The Native Americans used it ceremonially as a way to prepare for hardship, as a way to celebrate a season, as a milestone in personal growth (especially in a coming-of-age), as an aid to health, and sometimes for recreation. The sweat lodge is a wickiup sealed by a cover. Inside is a pit about the size of a grocery bag. In a large, blazing fire outside the lodge, cantaloupe-sized stones are heated for hours until their centers glow cherry red. The stones are lifted from the fire by forked poles and dropped into the pit. Participants then file into the lodge where a leader drips creek water over the stones until the space is saturated with steam. The experience is historic, timeless, and mystical, if you will.
The sweat lodge is used at Medicine Bow primarily as a consummation of the naming ceremony in which a person or persons has chosen to receive a spirit name that defines the essence of his/her spirit in the vocabulary of nature, much as the Native Americans chose to name their kind. My role as namer is a discreet, dedicated, and creative process. I am honored to be entrusted with the privileged information volunteered by the namee. This in no way invests in me any status such as medicine man, shaman, etc. Out of respect for the one who asks, I work hard at the interpretation process. I am not Native American. Nor am I a spiritual leader. And I do not aspire to any such role. But I believe in ceremony as the tangible motion that symbolizes our reach toward spiritual growth. I only hold such gatherings when I am asked by students. I share what ceremonies I have adapted and adopted for myself from the inspirations of several cultures – Native American being only one of these. But even more than these historic influences, I have created my own self-directed rites which I value even more for the sense of ownership attached to them. And simply put, I am willing to share them.
If you seek authenticity of Native American rites, look for this kind of event elsewhere with this caveat: research your host. There are self-ordained medicine men. The gatherings at Medicine Bow make no such claims. On the contrary, I learn ways from the students just as I hope they learn from me. I proudly stand by this Medicine Bow offering, the only abstract class offered here; because of the opportunity it provides those who ask for the experience – people seeking ways to further their bond with nature and self.
THE OLD WEST PEACE OFFICER- I have offered this class to American history courses in schools because it has been one of the most important interests in my life. After 40 years of study, seminars, private meetings with top historians in the field, and my travels to the historic places in the West, I can offer a fresh perspective of history versus American mythology. The American frontier was unique to the history of the world and offered an interesting stage for those who would take part. Of course great tragedies underlie this westward expansion: the demise of the bison and the Indians and the disregard for the land as resources were chiseled from the earth. But an unparalleled adventure was ripe for the person willing to follow the frontier. I find none more compelling than he who pinned on a badge to bring order out of chaos. For some it was more than just a job. My specialty is the life and times of Wyatt Earp.
CONSERVATION- I harbor the opinion that conservation cannot be taught. It must be logically appreciated by first exposing people to the treasures of nature. But this class certainly has its place, because today people are so removed from their true sources (in nature) that they might never conceive of the ways they can practice conservation once the obligation blossoms inside them. This class is recommended for school students and adults who are ready to assume some degree of stewardship toward the earth. The course addresses energy consumption, water quality, solid waste, recycling, animal rights, lifestyles, consumerism, philosophies, air quality, food, … in ways that apply to our daily lives. The program ends with the challenge of a commitment by each student.
LEGENDS- Storytelling once used as its canvass the curl of flames against the black of night to free the imagination of the listener. The lessons, allegories, and warnings hidden in these stories were an integral part of tribal education. (This bond between storyteller and story painter has been replaced by the TV/VCR/video game screen.) Camp-outs at Medicine Bow provide the path back to the original entertainment. I create the stories I tell with a purpose in mind to teach something to the listener, or better yet, to have the listener make the choice of what he/she learns. Many are stories that explore courage, honesty, courtesy and the wisdom of paying attention to nature.
ARCHERY- The bond with the bow and arrow overtook me 30 years ago and, interestingly, without any provocation or introduction. The idea simply ambushed me one day as I walked through the woods. Beginning the next day, I was as archer for life. I have pursued many techniques of shooting and believe I have gravitated to a very fine method of teaching; in fact, I consider Medicine Bow’s class the best course of its kind. It is for beginner, intermediate, and near-expert. I am a dedicated archer, though I choose not to hunt. Archery is an art to me. In this course you will learn direct shots (the hunter’s shot), clout shots (once used in castle siege, lots of fun and beautiful to watch), and lob shots (once used for signaling). You will learn to shoot at stationary and moving targets, two very different techniques. Indian and old English styles will be covered. All gear is provided, but if you have your own you should bring it. Besides this class, Medicine Bow offers a monthly adventure for archers who would like to try to win the Silver Arrow at an Archery Rendezvous. All ages 7 and up and all skill levels are welcome as we use a handicap system.
CAMPING- All the weekend workshops are camping experiences if they last more than one day. Some folks elect, however, to secure lodging in nearby Dahlonega. Many students are first-time campers and find that this is the perfect chance to get some experience by rubbing elbows with seasoned campers who are gracious with help and ideas. When school classes visit on week days, their camping experience becomes one of the most important aspects of their stay, no matter what the nature-study agenda might be; for they learn about self- sufficiency, cause and effect, and accountability. Students in teams do the cooking, water-hauling, fire-making, cleaning of their utensils, etc.
PARENT/CHILD CAMPOUTS – Many of Medicine Bow’s week-end adventures are designed specifically for quality family interaction in a camping environment. These gatherings are an excellent opportunity for those just learning to camp and seeking the know-how to do it on your own. The activities are varied: sometimes centering around archery, Native American games, original Medicine Bow games, or certain aspects of nature study or survival skills. Usually one or two meals are provided to simplify your packing and to teach you a little bit about what kinds of foods are great for preparing in the woods. Families can attend in any combination: Dad/son, Dad/daughter, Dad/all kids, Mom/son, Mom/ daughter, Mom/all kids, or everybody come at once. No pets please. We recommend as a minimum age: 6 or 7.
CANOEING- I teach whitewater techniques and use the mountain streams as my teaching partners. Clinics are for beginners and intermediates and can be arranged as private lessons. For paddlers who have evolved to higher skills, I teach specialized courses in canoe slalom. Though my preferred craft is the open canoe, I have raced in all the other classes of boats and so welcome kayakers and C-1 and C-2 paddlers. Several schools send their students for canoe lessons through the year then culminate their year of water classes in a special series of whitewater river trips with me.
The Nature by Canoe class uses the river as the quietest path into the wild as a means to study riverine flora, fauna, tracks, water dynamics, canoe stalking, and the basic paddling techniques that make such an adventure possible.
MUSIC CONCERTS - Mark has been writing music for 38 years. He plays guitar, piano, and sings songs inspired by nature, history, and personal experience. His piece “The Trail of Tears” was made a gift to the Cherokee people of North Carolina. “Letter From the Alamo” is on display at the Library of the Daughters of the Texas Republic. He has written scores for professional plays in Atlanta and had one symphonic work, “The Once and Future King”, performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In 1997 and 1998 he performed two concerts to benefit the Cherokee people of Georgia.
TEACHER WORKSHOPS -I will travel to your school to help your teachers discover ways to incorporate environmental education into their curricula with a minimum of effort. Part of this is learning to make the most of your school grounds. It is true that not every teacher is adept at presenting value choices in environmental education. But at the very least, every teacher should be visibly engaged in some aspect of environmental conscientiousness; for the teachers are role models who have a golden opportunity to help reverse the momentum of a culture disengaging itself from a reverence toward nature. No matter how removed a person may “seem” to be from the natural world, we all still depend on it as critically as did the people who chose to live closer to the land on a day-to-day basis.
If you would like to talk more about Medicine Bow, give me a call at
706-864-5928 or e-mail by clicking here.
- Mark Warren – Director Medicine Bow Ltd.
104 Medicine Bow
Dahlonega, Georgia 30533