Old women wash and the sacred spiral

Preparing the deer hideThis week’s adventure took the team to the San Rafael Reef.  Old women wash was the perfect base camp for a week of canyons and traditional skills instruction.  With the slickrock canyons and pinyon and juniper filled mesas, the team was excited and anticipating a great week.

The adventure started with the Field staff letting the group know that the week would consist of day hikes into some of the most beautiful and remote canyons in the course area, as well as, the tanning and sewing of medicine pouches.  The pre-trip planning was met with both excitement and nervousness and Mark and Brandon laid out what would be required to finish a tanning process of a mule deer hide.  But wait a moment I’m getting ahead of myself here……

Before the week began a donation was made by Yellow Ledges Buckskin of a Mule Deer rawhide.  A deer that was harvested by a local hunter, and the skin was given as a gift to Yellow Ledges Buckskin and then in turn donated to Legacy Outdoor Adventures.  As the field staff retold this story to the clients, a theme of community, and connection started to be portrayed.  The life of the animal was recounted as well as the sacred circle of life that we are all part of.   The guides weaved a spiritual tapestry of how a person can connect with their human roots by learning an ancient skill that at one time, all people knew that of making and producing their own clothing, clothing that would last a life time.  As the tale grew the clients could feel humility in the face of death of an animal, the reverence for life, and the connection to the earth that primitive skills bring.  We weren’t just learning a skill we were reconnecting to something that is the birthright of all humans.  Emotional thoughts and feeling were expressed by students and clients alike, as what the rest of the week would look like was discussed.

The first few days of the week consisted of re-soaking the scraped hide, and a day hike up a beautiful canyon called Little Wild Horse and a connecting canyon called Bell.  This loop is one of the best in the course area, and a late afternoon snow storm did little to dampen the spirit of those who saw it.  As the week progressed so did the spiritual connection and the exploration of the beauty of the San Rafael Reef.  We did hikes up Iron Wash, Old Woman Wash, and Ernie Canyon.  Each unique and beautiful in their own right.

The Buckskin was softened by hand, and smoked to finish, both in the ancient ways of the indigenous cultures from here on the Colorado Plateau.  Each person made a medicine pouch from the tanned buckskin.  Decorated with the perfect amount of bone and horn beads,(also donated by Yellow Ledges Buckskin)The bags each took on the personality of the makers.  The medicine pouch, a small bag that is worn around the neck is a seemingly simple idea, but the metaphor and spiritual touchstone is much bigger.  Each student found something from the natural area to put in the bag to remind them of the week they spend in the sacred spiral, honoring the life of an animal, and their own, and the place where the two intersected.

As a field guide for the  last 9 years of my life, I have been waiting for the opportunity to do a week where we not only could use and make medicine bags, but produce the leather ourselves.  I have a great deal of gratitude for the people at Legacy for the freedom, trust, and foresight to allow this week to happen as it did.  I am both humbled and inspired by the work that happens here.

Written by Mark McKillip