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Protected: A Curriculum Vitae- The “course of one’s life” for Michael Blackwell for the Glen Helen Nats.

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2016 Apprencticeship at Turtle Crossing Farm

st andrews group 13 mjb crop


I’m looking for a person or two willing to learn and help out at Turtle Crossing Farm this year. The commitment would be one, possibly two days a week. It would be an opportunity to learn about the small homestead lifestyle, possibilities and complexities. It will be an opportunity to learn skills such as gardening,


Garden in late spring


Sometimes it helps to have a chainsaw to get up the driveway.

orchard care, DSC05639berries, carpentry, cooking, woodlot and chainsaws, food processing, machinery, tools, community care and development, nature connection,


we get visitors

animal tracking, music, and the like. The farm is organic (but not certified.) Payment would be in knowledge, practice, mentorship and a share in whatever food we produce. I’ll be traveling some this spring and the volunteer may elect to stay at the farmhouse while I’m gone. The farm has been a little dormant the past few years, but this is a year of regrowth and renewal.

If you think you want to be a small-scale homesteader, come learn how to do it and what the life really like. (Hint: It’s pretty amazing, but not always easy.) Position is currently open. Please contact me if interested, at

The farm is located about 30 miles west of Blacksburg, and is an extraordinarily beautiful place.  valleyview2

At Home on the Earth: Harvest and Hearth Day

In the spirit of the change of seasons, transitions from the activity and outward directed energies of summer, to the infolding and gathering energies of fall, I’d st andrews group 13 mjb croplike to invite everyone to join me at the lovely Riverstone Farm in Floyd, on Saturday, October 17th, from 12 noon till 8pm.


Among the activities of the day will be introductions to natural way-finding, shelter-building, fire-making and we’ll finish up the day with a Riverstone farm sourced, harvest meal cooked over an open campfire using primitive cooking techniques! Of course, no campfire is complete without stories and songs…so bring some to share.

Event is rain or shine, so come dressed for the weather. All ages are welcome, including kids accompanied by parents. Holistic Tracking group 0615The cost is $30/per person for the day, and includes supper. Contact me if you’re interested in arranging a work-trade or sliding scale. We do ask that everyone register and pay before hand so I can get the supplies and food. You can send money via Paypal here: or make other arrangements with me at

Details of activities for the day:

All activities will be geared towards beginners and will be fun introductions to important skills that should practiced later for mastery.

Way-Finding is the blending of the cognitive skills that we can grow allow us to perceive and to internalize a landscape, with the capacity to observe and interpret ecological cues, such as weather, flora, and stars that we can learn to “read.” The blend of the two deeply strengthens the ability to have a “sense of direction” and to know where we are and are headed at all times. blindfold tree touch

Shelter-building is the ability to create from found, natural materials, temporary structures to protect ourselves from the elements.

Learning from the pros.

Learning from the pros.

Exposure is the typically the most immediate danger in a survival situation, so shelter is a key skill.

Fire-making. We will primarily cover common issues in starting and maintaining fires in difficult situations. We might play around with bow-drill/friction fires, but the focus will be on quick, one match, or lighter started fires using natural tinder and fuel. ast fire 2011

Cooking. We will explore a number of ways to cook food without utensils or pots or pans. We will prepare a variety of foods, vegetable and animals as our ancestors did.

Floyd Fest16 Naturefun

FloydFest16 Natural Intelligence Designs Nature Activities


(Workshop Descriptions Below. All events are rain or shine.)

Thursday, July 28rd
9:00am-11:00 am–Understanding Bird Language (OA)
Friday, July 29
10:30- 12:30–Art & Science of Tracking (OA)
Saturday, July 30

2:00-4:00 Family Nature Adventures (OA)

Sunday, July 26
11:30 -1:30–Nature Based Mindfulness?Forest Bathing (OA)

Event Descriptions

All events are participatory, experiential, playful and adventuresome!
Thursday, July 28rd
9:00am-11:00 am–Understanding Bird Language (OA): The birds are the eyes and the ears of the forest. I will teach you a simple system to learn the bird tracks in snowstory written on the wind: what the birds are saying, what’s going on in their lives, what predators are moving around, where the nearest people are.  Over time, understanding that the birds are telling stories about us, and about the land, will change your life forever.


Friday, July 29
10:30-12:30 Art & Science of tracking (OA)

“This alphabet of “natural objects” (soils and rivers, birds and beasts) spells out a story..” Aldo Leopold

An introduction to tracking, the activity that gave rise to human intelligence. We’ll roam the landscape looking for stories written on the earth, discovering evidence with our all senses, asking: Who made this track? When did it happen? Where on the landscape is the animal? Why was it here? How was it moving?

sneaking kids tcf 2008


Saturday, July 25
2:00- 4:00–Family Nature Connection Adventures
Designed for parents and with younger children, Destiny Leahy kid rain 2I will share outdoor practices to foster peace, curiosity, intelligence, health and connection within families gleaned from 17 years of parenthood and nature-based teaching and learning, and supported by brain science and psychology.

11:30 pm-1:30-Nature Based Mindfulness/Forest Bathing

cropped-autumn-spider2.jpgA beautiful, nature-based shivasna to wrap up an awesome weekend! We will share the core routines of mindful connection in nature, to nature and to others. Take “being here now” to a new understanding of what is really “here.” If you have a meditation practice this will be a beautiful complement to it, and expand the zone and depth of your practice. If you’re new or unfamiliar with mindfulness, these techniques will be easy to integrate into your life and help create patterns of peacefulness, curiosity, playfulness and connection within it.

About Michael Blackwell:

I have been studying tracking since 1998 and teaching it since 2000. I have studied with some very skilled trackers, including Tom Brown, Jon Young, and Rob Speiden. I designed and taught “The Art and Science of Tracking” for Virginia Tech’s Honors program from 2008-2012, have taught a variety of tracking and nature-based learning skills throughout the region for the past 10 yeas. In 2013, I presented a talk on the power of awareness and curiosity, and on tracking in the “real” world at TEDxVT: Forget What You Know.

You can see more of  my background here and recommendations from former students here.

Tracking Workshop, Riverstone Farm, Floyd, June 27 and 28

An Introduction to Holistic Tracking:

Learning to Read and Live The Great Story

“I am trying to teach you that this alphabet of “natural objects” (soils and rivers, birds and beasts) spells out a story. Once you learn how to read the land, I have no fear of what you will do to it, or with it, and I know many pleasant things it will do to you.” –Aldo Leopold

The ancient/modern art/science of tracking requires knowledge of ecology, animal anatomy, behavior, weather, seasons, soils, and self. The tracker uses highly developed attention, perceptual skills, patience, creativity, and imagination to notice and interpret information on the landscape, wherever it may appear!

What does this mean? How did this get here? Who left it? Why?

What does this mean? How did this get here? Who left it? Why?

The tracker’s sacred question is: “What does this mean?”

Wonder what he looking for?

This probably means I left a tuna fish sandwich in my car.

Tracking may be the origin of human intelligence, symbolic reasoning, storytelling, writing and science. Because of its roots in the development of human cognition, tracking skills and a tracker’s mindset are useful in every aspect of life.bird tracks in snow

Over time, tracking helps us learn to read what Thomas Berry calls “The Great Story” of life and to see our place in it more clearly and vividly. We learn to see how our life connects to the lives of all beings. Tracking will change how you see and live in our home, the world.bear visit4

Nuts and Bolts

To register, send me an email at

June 27 and 28th, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm

Riverstone Farm, 708 Thompson Rd SE, Floyd, VA 24091, (650) 814-6426

Cost: $40.00

Maximum 12 participants

Suitable for mature, interested children, approx 12 and up, and adults of all ages and maturity levels

Some one-day spots for either Saturday or Sunday may be available for $25 each, depending on overall registration, but I highly encourage anyone who can to sign up for both sessions.

The Basic Toolbox of Tracking:

This workshop will be a balance of exploration, experience, activity and information. I will ensure that each student begins to develop, and takes home for their continued use and growth, their own “Basic Toolbox of Tracking.” The toolbox has four major components:

  • “Cheetah Mind”: Borrowing a term from the San Bushmen, we learn to develop the attitudes and awareness of the tracker, including imagination, curiosity, mindfulness, playfulness, openness, passion
  • Tracker’s Tools: Gathering and making the “tools of the trade” to facilitate tracking, including a lexicon of fundamental terms
  • Techniques and Strategies: An introduction to the basic “tricks of the trade,” the strategies and techniques a tracker uses to find and interpret sign and tracks
  • Knowledge of species and ecology: Techniques to build your own internal database of animal characteristics, landscape, natural phenomena and their ecological relationships

What to bring:

Water bottle and snacks

Small daypack or fanny pack

Small pocket sized notebook


Small tape measure, 3 to 10 ft range is fine. (I have a few to lend if necessary)

Small flashlight

Camera/camera phone

Small folding knife

Bathing Suit and Towel

Water shoes


About Michael Blackwell:

I have been studying tracking since 1998 and teaching it since 2000. I have studied with some very skilled trackers, including Tom Brown, Jon Young, and Rob Speiden. I designed and taught “The Art and Science of Tracking” for Virginia Tech’s Honors program from 2008-2012, have taught a variety of tracking and nature-based learning skills throughout the region for the past 10 yeas. In 2013, I presented a talk on the power of awareness and curiosity, and on tracking in the “real” world at TEDxVT: Forget What You Know.

You can see more of  my background here and recommendations from former students here.

This just in from a former student, from a recent class:

“Dear Screech Owl! I was just thinking about you today and figured I’d drop you a line to say hello and share a little bit about what I’m up to lately, as it does involve a great deal of what I learned in your tracking course! I’ve been working in Illinois since graduation at a few different jobs, all environmentally oriented — first as a communications intern with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant through EPA, and then at the University of Illinois as an interview research specialist through a project on environmental equity in urban settings… I’m working as a botanist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, and get to spend three days a week in the woods all over the state, cataloging every plant, bird, and insect we come across. The tracking skills I learned — how to listen to bird language, follow deer paths, and be generally attuned to my surroundings and the lay of the land — have been incredibly useful out here for sure, and while it’s exhausting work, it’s very, very cool stuff. I just wanted to thank you for inviting me to join in on that class…I thought I should mention I use a lot of the lessons I learned from you on the regular to this day! I hope you’re doing well! – Black Willow”

Stephen Hawking Is An Idiot

There, I said it. That felt good. I mean, I’m sure Hawking’s got game on other fields, but his comments last week betray a serious misunderstanding of how things work in the real world. Hawking took the trouble to beam his hologram half way across the world to say: “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.” Hawking’s dream is just another iteration of the post-adolescent Libertarian, transcendist, escapist fantasy, a trope as old as Icarus.icarus Which “fragile planet” is Hawking referring to? The one that founded and supported life here for the past 3ish billion years? The one that took the trouble to grow us right out of its womb and in whose breath we breath and at whose breast we nurse? The one that has tolerated (at least for now) the exponential population and pollution growth of the past two hundred years? The one, that given even half a chance, heals and regenerates itself spontaneously? The one that when cared for and protected properly, produces a superabundance of life and resources? The one that autotelically adapts, generates, recombines and creates life?

Our destruction of this Earth, has NOTHING to do with its supposed fragility and everything to do with our ignorance. It is largely a result of what might be best understood as a developmental crisis. In the childhood and adolescence of the human beings as a species, which (not coincidentally) is just now ending, it didn’t matter that much how we treated anything. Worst case scenario was a local degradation, and well, one could always go West, young man. There is no West anymore…”Huck, honey, there’s no territory to light out to…” (Marge Piercy) We are living, and hopefully will continue to live, through the time in which humans quit grabbing the candy in front of them and smashing their little toddler friends to the mat, and mature into a deeply and commonly held understanding that we are responsible for tending the substrates of life: soil, air, and water. Duh, right?

Space is the new West, and the place where our fantasy of liberation from the heavy, dying body and its surrounding sticky, womb matrix (from the Latin: mater, Mother) web of life will be complete. There, in the clear, cold, abiotic ether, we will arise in fire and spirit and be shed of our mortal coils. And party with harps and angels and streets of gold and stuff. Or 72 virgins. (Can I put in my order from some experienced ladies on the other side? And honestly, don’t get me wrong, I’m all man, and am quite fond of women, but 72 seems like a lot.)

Please help me understand how a species that manages to shit its own nest- on a world where shit is literally fertilizer, is going to make it good on some barren lifeless rock, huddled under a glass dome watching kitty videos while munching InsectaBrix(tm)?  Because “in heaven, as on earth, the dishes must be done.” (Piercy, again.)

We have work to do. Here. In ourselves. With each other. With our world. Space is nice, I’m sure we learn useful things there, touch the face of God, etc. It helps us see ourselves more clearly. Let’s do space a little. Let’s do us and earth, a lot. What we need is here.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

-Wendell Berry


Riots and Quiet Cats

I live alone with a quiet cat. I don’t know that she’s quiet by nature. She likes to go outside when the weather warms up in spring. When April greens up, she gets a little restless, and will begin to turn in gentle circles by the back door. If she sits there and glances at me, she is waiting for me to let her out. In any case, I have learned that those circles she makes, punctuated by the occasional glance, are the early, quiet form of her asking to go out. If I am attentive, I meet her subtle, articulated need and open the door. Out she goes. My attention is sensitive, and my response is timely.

We are largely happy in our skillful communication. She never cries or whines…unless I ignore her for too long. And she tends to be patient with me, because she’s confident I’ll be there to help her out. But if after a while, I continue in my ignore-ance, she ups the ante, with some annoying mewling.  If things get really bad, she’ll find it in her heart to bite me, rather gently, really. When this happens, I consider it a refresher course in attention..a “language of the unheard.” Do you know anyone with annoying pets or other relationships (cough, cough) who demand attention by making a big fuss?

It seems clear to me that the amplitude required to make an impression in a conversation is a function of the sensitivity of the receiver. This week we have been hearing MLK’s famous notion that “Riots are the language of the unheard.” Civic violence is a loud form of communication, a bite, and not a gentle one, intended to wake the insensitive out of the dull, un-empathetic, waking sleep of their life.

So I thought of tranquil, happy cats and their people, and the utility of sensitivity, of attention, of care, of response-ability. And how becoming so attuned to life that you are sometimes able to identify a species of bird by the sound its wings make  beating the empty air, or to know what kind of tree you sit under by the song the wind sings moving through its branches, might be a rather more useful skill set than is readily apparent.

Residence on Earth

A Sustainability Blog

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the exception that proves the rule