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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.

Earth Week: More Reasons to Hope: The Emerging Personhood of Animals…and plants?…and..Oh my!

The intellectual traditions established in Classical Antiquity and cresting in the European Enlightenment that somewhat defensively established humans at the peak of the great pyramid of existence, are in transition. It seems that a new study documenting social, linguistic, symbolic, cultural, or emotional intelligence in animals is released every few weeks.  A nice overview of this trend is Jeremy Narby’s book and this talk: Intelligence in Nature.

I have wondered about the impact on human understanding of animal person-hood as we have begin to capture and see so much amazing animal behavior on video. Animals start to look and sound a lot like they do in the traditional tales native people all over the world tell of them. Tales based on serious empirical study. This story of the girl who gets gifts from the crows, and the change that the idea of reciprocity and communication from the animal world makes in her life, is practically lifted from native lore. I think that is very interesting and I’m hopeful that as we come to perceive them as beings, and not animate things, our level of respect and care for them will increase correspondingly. Who knows? Maybe we’ll become native someday.

Here in no particular order, are some that I have found really remarkable. If you know of other good ones, please feel free to share a link in the comment box.

Humpback whale asks for help to be freed from nets binding its fins. (Make sure you see the last minute or so.)

A dog heroically saves another dog hit in heavy traffic.

A crow goes crowboarding down a roof! crow-sledding-on-roof

A raven asks for help with porcupine quills stuck in its face, and accepts it.

Foxes frolic on a trampoline.

An elk calf frolics in a mud puddle.

Two thousand pound polar bears play and snuggle with husky dogs:

And next up: Intelligence in plants:

And then who knows? We might even recover the wisdom of our ancestors who were quite sure that everybeing had a kind of intelligence or sentience. And they made it through some tough times for millions of years. They were no dummies.


“Are We Special?” Day 5 Earth Week: Reasons to Hope

I had intended to write about something different today, but as I drove in this morning, I listened to a brief NPR piece on the 25th anniversary of launch of the Hubble Space Telescope and suddenly found myself wiping away tears. Because of Hubble, and its widely shared images, we have come to understand that the universe is more vast by many orders of magnitude than we had thought. “There have been a few times in our history that we have completely transformed our understanding of the basic, fundamental question of “What is our place in the universe,” observed Jason Kalirai, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. In 1995, a 10 day glimpse into what seemed a dark part of the sky, the “Deep Field,” revealed over a thousand hubble fieldundiscovered galaxies, each containing billions of solar systems.  And then Kalirai reflected on this sequence of photos and said a most curious thing:  “I think Hubble’s contribution is that we’re not that special.”

I suppose if you consider such an expansion of the map of the universe to be primarily the discovery of more matter, on top of the matter we already knew about, which means we are an even smaller percentage of the universe’s matter than we thought previously, this discovery is sort of literally diminishing: “We are not that special.”

But through another lens, so to speak, here, some billions of years after all this matter and energy were hurled through halos of fire across endless space, we find that the universe has organized itself into beings that can view the edges of infinity. We are these sentient – sensing, thinking, feeling-  beings. In a certain light, we are sense organs of existence itself. We live in a world that thinks, feels and knows. And one of the creatures it made for that work is… US. To paraphrase Gibran, we shouldn’t speak of having the world in our heart, as much as we should understand that we are in the heart of the world. What could be more special?

Two years ago, I snipped a pic from the Deep Field photo library and made it my desktop background. Sometimes when I’m flailing around in the cognitive (dis)array so common these days (and so precisely represented by the desktop icon mayhem) one of those little blinks in the picture will capture my attention and I’ll take a deep breath and pause for a minute and send my attention out into the universe. Hubble deep field desktopEach of those little blinks is a galaxy. Not a solar system. Each contains billions or hundreds of billions of solar systems. Those suns are orbited by planets, some like ours. These pictures represent about a three degree sliver slice of the whole pie of the sky. I am reminded of Einstein’s famous decree: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Of course there’s no objective way to know if we are special. I’m not sure it matters. Either way, this life and the chance to look at it through these eyes, through the Hubble telescope, seems like a bit of a miracle to me. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

“See?” Day Two, Earth Week: Seven Reasons for Hope

m eye


We look into the future

Troubled by what we see

and don’t see

there, for ourselves

for our children and grandchildren

and the seven seven seven generations beyond.

On this count

be not troubled. Or not overly so.

Keep the faith and grow your sense of hope

with each breath

that rises

then falls

with each seed that breaks open

then rises

then falls

Sure things

against every odd.

Imagine being, before Being

some billions of years ago (plus or minus)

poised on the lip

of the first silence


Seeing NoThing

Darkness only

so consuming

even Time is folded into its crenelations

An Ouroboros

curled feverishly in upon itself.

From this NoThere

could you have predicted what was to come?

The Fire, then the disremembered elements hurled into being, then the infinite suns, circled by icy or burning or dry worlds innumerable, then the water, then the green, growing, writhing, knowing

Life under this this blue sky? THIS one!

Look up.

Could you have seen it?

Didn’t think so.

But it did.

The impossible takes a little while.

Laugh. Cry. Love. Lean into the work. Don’t despair.

Did I mention love?

Life wants this … even more than you.

In fact, it invited you to be exactly where you are

to stand Here

peering into the dark of the future

making Way

making light

of it all.



Day One, Earth Week: Seven Reasons for Hope

I’m going to try to write briefly each day this week, Seth Godin-style, offering a reason why we should be hopeful about the state of the Earth, and its future, and ours.


What do you see here?

moss at base

Aha, more green at the base of the cart return.

I was in the parking lot of Kroger’s in Troutville after work on Friday, noticed that bright clump of green at the base of the light pole, as I loaded my groceries, and began to nose about a bit. I noted the wet asphalt spotting the pavement. I knew it had rained the day before, but not today, and it seemed like too much water and too localized to this area to be just leftover from the previous day.  Walking around, peering between cars, ignoring the puzzled glances of passerby (I’m used to them) I gradually picked up the sense that there was significant ground water seeping up from below various areas of the parking lot.

The seeps from a few places in a 20 foot radius, join up and run into this little channel future stream1 and then flow towards a drain down at the bottom of the lot. If you look carefully in the upper right hand quadrant of the picture,

Someday, I'll be a real rill.

Someday, I’ll be a real rill.

you can see where the action of the water has begun to wear the surface, grain by grain, carving a small, coarse proto-bed for the stream that wants to emerge. (You can double click on the picture for more detail.)

“The Force of Water,” we sometimes say, when we speak of true Power. “Nothing softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it,” said Lao Tzu. Make no mistake, that little tiny ripple has the intent, the will, the capacity and the patience, to carry this entire joint into the Atlantic.

Sure, these little insurrections will be repaired at some point, paved over, again and again. But still, (barring a long term climatic shift towards drought,) this stream will rise. Still this stream will rise. Long after the building and maybe the people, and certainly you and I, are gone, this stream will flow. The little plants at the base of the light post will grow to trees in turn and pull the concrete and metal back down to rest against the earth. The moss will open channels for water and soil and seed to lodge underneath the pavement and turn it over as surely as a moldboard plow making a row. Every time has its sense of permanence and finality, but in the end, we are Ozymandias’, all.

There are many things in the world, mostly hidden, only some revealed. There are energies of water, of love, of spirit that lay concealed beneath, or perhaps are interwoven with, the thin veneer that we commonly perceive as reality. They emerge when the time is ripe. When the time is ripe, they will rise.

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