bush skills

OK, time to play catch-up on my posts...

My second to last week on the farm had the most busy and compact schedule of any week yet. Thursday through Sunday (March 5th thru 8th) was the 3rd Annual Bush Skills Caribbean Rendezvous at Creque Dam Farm. Bush Skills is a four-day event where people gather to learn primitive skills - everything from basic survival (or as we call it, "thrival") to preparing and enjoying a feast. Several instructors flew in from the states to help teach classes, and many more people came to the farm to camp and enjoy our beautiful setting during the event. The farm went from a relatively quiet crew of 25 to a bustling community of 50 or more.

As an R2R student, I took on several responsibilities throughout the week. I helped teach a class, run the registration booth, prepare meals, clean dishes, keep an eye on the dogs, etc, etc, etc. It was exhausting - but it was so much fun.

The theme of this year's rendezvous was "Hunting, Gathering, and Growing" - and each day had its own theme as well:
Day One - Survival: The basics of tropical living - fire, shelter, water, fibers
Day Two - Tracking and Awareness: The functional art of blending with nature for heightened sense of being
Day Three - Plants: Medicines, herbalism, crafts, and food
Day Four - Food Day: How to grow and prepare an all-natural island feast
We started off each day signing up for the two classes we wanted to take during the day - one before lunch and one afterward. Throughout the week, I made traditional pottery from local gray clay, I made a cooking set completely out of bamboo - a rice-steaming pressure cooker, two small cups and a spoon, I made art out of coconut palm fronds, I killed, skinned, cleaned, and tanned a rabbit hide, and I made a "mongoose stick" and learned how to properly throw it for a kill.

There were several classes that I didn't get to take because of conflicts with my work schedule that looked great as well - calabash art and utensils, cordage weaving, vine baskets, tracking and hunting, shell art and bamboo weaponry.

I did get to help Marshall teach a class on trapping, where we taught a group of high school kids how to build a mongoose trap. We showed them how to set it to trap their very own mongoose-dem.

Each night during the rendezvous, one of the instructors known as Snowbear, would start a fire and gather everyone for a drum circle. Everyone was given a chance to share a song or story or thought - it was almost like open mic nights around Snowbear's fire. Marshall and I shared a couple of our favorite songs to jam to: "In Spite of Ourselves" by John Prine and "Meet Me In the Morning" by Bob Dylan. I'm surprised we never got around to sharing "The Weight" by The Band since we had spent so many cabana nights trying to get those harmonies down just right.

The last drum circle we had was just a couple of days before the full moon, and we didn't have a fire going. It was also more like an actual drum circle - everyone had something to beat, rattle, or shake. I had a large calabash filled with loose seeds that I used to add to the moonlit rhythm. After we had the rhythm going hot for a few minutes, we were visited by a creature from the bush.

This is a Moko Jumbie. Urban Legend has it in St. Croix that the bush is filled with evil tree spirits called Jumbies. They are tall and slender (I imagine like a dark, shadowy Ent from LOTR, but evil) and come out to spoil the enterprises of man. To combat these spirits, St. Croix has a tradition of stilt-walking dancers in bright costumes called Moko Jumbies.

When this came out of the bush and started dancing in the middle of our circle, we were all astounded. Nate had obviously planned the encounter, but hadn't told most people there. I was just shaking a gourd in the moonlight, and next thing I knew, there was a 12-foot-tall creature in front of me. It was quite surreal.

The last day of Bush Skills was feast day. We spent the whole morning preparing the food and cooking using primitive techniques.

When all was said and done, I had eaten:

Stone soup - soup cooked inside a pumpkin using fresh vegetables from the farm, heated using hot rocks that had been in the fire for a while. When the rocks were placed in the cold broth, it began to boil within a few seconds.

Cornmeal biscuits that were cooked inside bamboo rounds on a cooking stone that was placed over a flame.

Rice and vegetables cooked inside a bamboo pressure cooker.

Pasteles, which are bananas cooked inside their own leaves with garlic, peppers, potatos and other vegetables.

Mongoose. Yes, mongoose. Boiled for an hour, then doused in BBQ sauce and grilled.

And my favorite - bread. We coiled the batter around a stick and cooked it like a marshmallow for s'mores. I drizzled mine in honey and chowed down. Then I made some more. It was heavenly.

All in all, Bush Skills was probably the most exciting week on the farm. There were so many new faces in and out of our community during the rendezvous, and I learned so many great primitive skills.

And I ate Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.