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On Surviving

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By Frances Hamilton

The ground is magnificent,

Yet subtle

And when I clutch it in my hands,

I can feel all the world, moving…

Moving closer together,

And moving closer to me.

Every slash my knife puts into the trees,

I feel a slash in my heart…but I know

That the earth forgives me. Like my teacher Star

Says, “We, as Earth’s generations, should be thankful for our roots.”

I find them deep in the souls of the branches and high in the memory of the sky.

She says that she is mostly grateful for the earth’s fur:

The pine needles of branches,

The clouds in the sky, and

Even the peach fuzz on our cheeks.

They are all so different but also just the same.

While lots of my friends are learning about the Constitution, or the parts of a cell, I spend a lot of time learning how to survive in the wilderness. It is challenging and it is so much fun. I just spent a week in the Redwood National Forest with my friends and teachers from Fox Walkers, an organization based on Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School. We shared and practiced the survival skills we learn year-round, recognizing and experiencing all nature gives us.

I started with Fox Walkers when I was 7, learning to use a knife, make fire, and throw tomahawks. Now, every Friday, my friend Austin Armstrong, 14, and I travel to Nevada City to learn with other teens, mostly homeschoolers like me. We track, stalk, carve, build fire with tools we’ve made, identify scat, and work with hides; we eat our lunches in trees, build debris shelters, set traps, recognize plants for what they give us in survival situations, learn the importance of women, and the Native American culture. I am learning every single minute, but I never once sit at a desk.

I come most alive when I spend longer periods of time with Fox Walkers. Every year, we take four weeklong trips to dive deeper into ourselves, our skills, and nature. During these longer sessions, like in the Redwoods, we sink into a rhythm, and my teachers find lots of ways to show us that life is more precious when we live with the Fox Walkers’ values: have awareness, show respect, and take time to practice and recognize both values.

Have Awareness

At night we played stalking games in the ancient forest. By day, we tracked in the cold, wet sand. Night was foggy, moonless, and starless, so in teams of three we stared into the sky to adjust our eyes before we attempted our goal of creeping, cunningly, to the other team’s camp, silently grabbing their pile of sticks, and just as silently returning to ours. At times, we held onto each other’s shoulders to keep from tripping, and it felt like we were one big inchworm rising up and over a log. In the morning, we were tired but excited to track. In these games, our teachers taught us how to combine situational awareness with focusing on the trail. So, for hours, we kept our ears open as we used our eyes to see things that looked out of place, like a maple leaf in a fern grove, or spruce scattered in the sand. We saw the clues and followed them until we found the destination our teachers described before we started.

Show Respect

Respect is the balance point between giving and getting. By walking like a fox, and not trampling the ferns, I got to hear the soft animal calls. By holding a branch so it didn’t whack a friend behind me, he then remembered to hold it for the next person. Flinging branches hurt, just like disrespectful words, so we try to create a chain of respect and not one of disrespect.

Take Time to Practice Both

For two hours I sat on a log that felt like a pillow because of all its moss. I could only hear birds and the sound of my own breathing. The time we sit alone in the wilderness and wonder is called a sit-spot. Sit-spots teach me that aloneness isn’t loneliness. Slowly, on that log, I took in the simplicity. I noticed spiderwebs all around me, sparkling in beams of light. Some were big, some tiny, and none had the same design. One foot away from my head, a spider wound its web. I focused on that powerful, fragile animal and it felt like we stopped time. I noticed tiny lives crawling, happy, and surviving in a world where humans think we control everything. I realized I probably took many of these little lives just walking to my sit-spot! I walked back with care and thankfulness for those creatures and plants that make up the forest floor.

The Challenge

In the Redwoods, my heart, mind, and senses widened. I constantly thanked all of what makes up the world and my own being. I recognized things for what they were and could be, not what they seemed to be at first glance. But back in Truckee, I feel a little bit like a dandelion in the middle of an ice age. My life at home is fast with a schedule that’s always running. I take classes, play music, train for skiing, intern at Atelier, do chores, and like every teenager, I wonder what other people are thinking of me. I can’t find time to be aware of my incredible surroundings. I forget to be confident and proud I’m a girl. I forget to be excited to share what I learn. Stalking at midnight is hard. For me, making fire is harder. But my biggest challenge is bringing home the values I live by in the wilderness.

For more information on Fox Walkers, visit

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Reader comments so far...

Allison Brunelli's picture

Allison Brunelli | Reno, Nevada
There are many beautiful thoughts in this article, Frances. You live a beautiful life and you show such a deep understanding of the differences between the world of the Redwoods and the world in Truckee. Your writing enriched my soul this morning. Most particularly, I enjoyed your reference to Respect. I want to walk like a fox more often and listen more carefully to the sounds around me. Here's a thought: My cattle dogs love to howl in unison in the early, early mornings, not long after we've gone for a run, puncturing the cold morning air in an attempt to recharge our spirits. When they howl, I play along and howl with them. After our song, I laugh and they wag their tails. Is that sort of like walking like a fox?

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February 14, 2019