The morning after my first dinner at Wild Roots, I learned of another person who lived on the property, Cee. Cee was quiet when I first met him, but his fashion said about all I needed to know. He hosted the typical “feral punk” style, with dreadlocks, tattoos, animal skin clothing, and patches of bands sewn into his shirts and pants. Despite his boisterous style, though, he was quiet with me, and didn’t seem to want to answer any of the questions I was asking him.
After breakfast, Tod let us know that we had a hookup for black locust wood, which, he explained, was useful for the trails because of how slowly the wood decayed. Cee volunteered to drive to the location, and I, eager to get into the drift of things, went with him. Again, most of the work was done in silence. During the car ride Cee seemed reticent to talk to me, and while at the farm he spent most of his time talking with one of the women there, a former lover. About all I had learned by the time we arrived back at the commune was that mountain roads were pretty shit to drive on.
We spent the rest of that day splitting the locust logs for trail repair later. It was my first real attempt at dealing with natural materials, and I sucked at it. My problem was mostly that I viewed every instruction as a step in a how-to guide. But the trick to primitive living, I would learn later, was to explicitly avoid thinking in terms of how-to manuals. It is much better to learn to become familiar with natural materials: their qualities, like their durability or softness; where they could be found; what they did when you did such and such a thing with them. Then when you started any kind of project, you could just mine your mental inventory for the appropriate materials. In other words, the key to primitive skills is less about learning the process — everyone’s process was a little bit different anyway — and more about learning a new way to think.
But I didn’t know that then. It took me a couple hours to split enough wood for the trail project, and the next day I fashioned some of the split wood into stakes that I beat into the sides of our trail system. All the while, no one spoke to me. It went on like that for about two weeks, and it started to make me worried. Maybe they’re closed off to outsiders, I thought; or maybe they are too unimpressed at my skills so far. During that time I spent a lot of time with the forest, really bonded with it. The silence beat me down a bit, for sure, but by taking solace in the forest I got familiar with it and the vibe of my new life. My mindset began to change, and the forest began to feel like a more comfortable place to be. Eventually I would start saying that it was “everyone else who is homeless.” So when people finally started talking to me, it was decided: I had become a forest punk.