[03:17] How Tim Became The “Wilderness Ninja”
[10:13] The Two Concepts That Stood Out To Tim
[12:15] Fresh Chickweed Vs. Vitamins
[17:01] Other Common Plants In The Wilderness That Are Good
[20:28] Are Plants Really Bad To Eat
[22:23] A Good Book To Use As A Reference For Wilderness Survival
[24:04] Important Wilderness Survival Tips
[27:05] Skills People Should Know
[29:39] Water Sources In A Survival Situation
[32:37] Tribe and Community
[38:54] Rites of Passage
[41:52] What Goes On The Rite Of Passage
[47:53.4] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield here and I've just finished an invigorating walk about on the forest outside my house with a guy who is an expert in medicinal plants, wild edibles, primitive survival skills, wilderness exploring, animal tracking, you name it. This guy is like a Native American warrior, except you're wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Tim Corcoran from Twin-Eagles Wilderness School in Sandpoint, Idaho, located about an hour from my house is here with me. And maybe you've wanted to know about things in your own backyard that you could eat, or maybe you wanted to know that you could at least survive maybe for, what do you think, Tim? A day, two days, three days in the wilderness?
Tim: Maybe a week?
Ben: Maybe a week. Or maybe you just really want to get more in touch with nature and back to your roots, and kind of get to know the area that's around you, which a lot of us are pretty much disconnected from these days. Tim and I are going to tell you how you can do that. And one thing that you should really know, if you want to get the full benefit out of today's podcast, is if you go to the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/plants, you can see video links to all of the videos that Tim just shot in our backyard. What did we look at, Tim? We looked at dandelion…
Tim: We look at Oregon grape, we looked at Ponderosa pine, we looked at serviceberry, mullen in there, and I think a few…
Ben: It was amazing. Like we found, for example, you may have purchased before goldenseal or berberine at the supplement store. We found this stuff growing literally about 50 yards from my front door in something called Oregon grape, which you can open up and you can, you showed us, Tim, me and the boys and my wife were out there, how to open this thing up and find this berberine inside this common plant.
Tim: It's got a beautiful root that's yellow, and it's bright yellow. And that is the berberine inside the root right there.
Ben: Yeah. It's exactly the color of what it would look like if you open up your $60 capsule of berberine from the supplement store.
Tim: And a lot cheaper.
Ben: Yeah. And even showed us how to do things like make fritters out of dandelion, and pine needle tea, all sorts of cool things. So check out those videos over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/plants. You can access the show notes for everything and get to know Tim and what he's doing a little bit more. So Tim, how'd did you get into this, man? How'd you become the wilderness ninja?
Tim: [laughs] Well, thanks. Yeah, and I just want to say it's an honor to be here on the audio podcast with you, Ben. It's been great meeting your family here so far and seeing your home.
Tim: Yeah. So, well I'm 40 and from Sandpoint, and I got involved in this about 15 years ago consciously. But really my story started when I was a kid. I grew up in the '80s in conservative Midwest Indiana. And at the time, I was a fireball kid full of energy. I'm sure folks, you've seen kids like this a lot. And going through my childhood years, I was always full of passion and full of energy. And as I looked to the adults in my community, there was always like a sinking feeling of “what is my life going to be as an adult”. ‘Cause what I saw was I saw adults who were really disconnected from their passion. Most adult were working in a cubicle for decades upon decades and it just seemed like life wasn't even fun anymore. I could never come to terms with that. And I always wondered, “Is that what's going to happen to me?”
Ben: Right. All part of growing up?
Tim: Right. And sometimes I, it might sound a bit extreme, but sometimes I use the analogy or the metaphor of that old movie, The Matrix, that it seemed like there was a sleepiness to most people in general. But I always knew that there was something deeper, a deeper reason why I was here, and I had a strong connection to life and the life force itself and I wanted to express that. So yeah, growing up, made it through the childhood years and the teen years. What happened was in my college years, as I came closer and closer to adulthood, what I realized, I was getting more and more concerned about “what am I going to do with my life”. And I made a decision somewhere along the line that I wasn't going to follow a standard route in life. I knew there was a reason why I was here. I didn't know what that was, but I knew there was a reason, and I knew that sitting in a cubicle for the next 60 years was not my passion.
Ben: How old were you? Were you like a teenager at that point?
Tim: Well, this is was like in college. So, yeah. I was 20, give or take. And I had a mentor actually, I had my first mentor, and I would differentiate a mentor from a teacher. A teacher is someone who transfers data. A mentor is someone who guides others to their greatness. And so I had my first mentor, and he was actually part Indian. He was a quarter-blood Lakota Indian, a professor back at Purdue University called, his name is Vern Foley. And he introduced me…
Ben: It almost sounds like a nature name, Vern Foley.
Tim: It almost does, yeah! [laughs] He introduced me to a lot of indigenous concepts, concept of Mitakuye Oyasin, that we are all related. The concepts that really broaden the life spectrum, that pushed beyond the physical realities of life and opened me up to some of the deeper spiritual realities of life and help me see that this concept of synchronicity, that life is full of events that happened that connect us. And in those moments, those aren't random, those aren't coincidences. There is a reason behind that, and those are like light posts on our journey of life guiding us to our purpose. And so I made a choice after college, rather than getting some 9 to 5 job in a cubicle somewhere, I set out and really my life began at that point. I set out and I wound up moving to the Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona, and found my way there and lived there for about a year and a half. What I was looking for was people still connected to this Earth-based way of life. I was pretty romantic about the whole thing at that point and pretty naive, to be honest. And what wound up happening was I met a bunch of modern day Native Americans basically trying to live the American dream and I didn't find the old connection. That was present in the community, but I didn't have the connections yet. And so it was a struggle.
Ben: So what'd you do? Did you just follow people around or did you get immersed in their ways and just live as a Native American for a year?
Tim: Well, it was a challenge. It was a challenge. I went out, there weren't many white people living in the community at that point. This is in northeast Arizona. And so what I did was I found a little rental and I tried to get a job. So I went to NTUA, The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. And I applied for a job as a computer programmer 'cause that's what my degree was in, Computer Science. It's a whole other life. And there was a little line at the bottom of the application saying “Navajo Preference Policy. We reserve the right to hire a Navajo Tribal member over someone else.” Makes sense.
Tim: And so I asked him, I said, “How many people applied for the job?” “10.” “Okay. How many were Navajos?” “Nine.” I was like, “Okay. There's no way I'm going to get this job.” So at the end of the interview, the woman interviewing me, she asked me, “Okay, Tim. Great job and everything, but why are you here? You're a white guy? Why are you applying for a job on the Indian reservation here?” I said, “Well, because,” and I took a risk. I opened myself up, I said, “Because it's always been my passion to learn from the first people who originally lived here on this continent.” And she really heard me, and I think her heart heard me.
And it was just a month or two later, I wound up getting the job over the Navajos. Amazing. And well, long story short, I made some inroads with the community but I didn't really, at that point in my life, I was 22, I didn't find the connection to the old ways that I was looking for. I didn't find the spirituality. Again, it was present, but it wasn't quite my time yet. So I wind up falling in love and chased my now-wife, Jeannine, up to Ashland, Oregon and we lived there for a couple years, and wound up moving back down to the southwest to Taos, New Mexico, and it was about 1999 at the time. We were in our kind of early mid-20's there, and we hadn't gotten married yet, we didn't have kids, we were still on the front end of our, well the bulk of our adult years. And we were looking for, “What's our pathway going to be?” I was still working kind of random computer jobs, she was a Waldorf teacher assistant. And, well we came across a book on wilderness survival and a couple of things really stood out to me, Ben. It was two big concepts, and this is where I really consciously chose to set out on this path.
So, two things. One was this idea of wilderness survival, that as human beings, it's possible for us to get our basic needs met directly from the Earth. We don't need these complicated systems of roadways, and telecommunications systems, and this whole giant matrix of modern life that we have. And that spoke to me as a young man because I was connecting with my archetype as a provider. Could I provide for myself? For my family? And I know I'm not recommending we all go back and go back to the Stone Age, but there is something deeply nourishing…
Ben: Yeah. You did drive here in a car. He did not arrive on horseback.
Tim: [laughs] There is something deeply nourishing though about going out, making fire by friction, building a wilderness survival shelter. We connect with a deep part of ourselves and a deep part of the Earth. And that does something for us as humans.
Ben: Yeah. It does. And Tim and I still smell a little bit like smoke because we were actually out behind the house. He was showing my boys how to take a… what was the style of fire that we made out there?
Tim: Bow and drill fire making.
Ben: Bow and drill fire making.
Tim: Friction fire making.
Ben: And actually just go to the video at bengreenfieldfitness.com/plants and I'll put a link to it if you want to see what bow and drill fire making looks like. But it's amazing how you can, within literally 10 minutes, be holding fire from what was first a dry leaf and some sticks. No flint, no steel, no cigarette lighter, no matches. It's amazing what you can do with just a few small tools and the knowledge. And Tim and I want to give you some practical tips here too and delve into some of that knowledge.
So Tim you said something really interesting. When we were walking around the property, we came across chickweed and you were talking about the vitamin C and the vitamin A that you find in chickweed, and then you made a really interesting point that the whole plant and harvested fresh like that is different than if you were to go buy vitamin C or vitamin A. Can you delve into that a little bit?
Tim: Absolutely. Yeah. So wild edible plants, right? Literally our backyards and our natural ecosystems here in the United States as well as throughout the world are bursting with wild plants that are absolutely edible and full of vitamins, and minerals, and health benefits that easily rival and surpass anything you can get in the best health food stores. Wild edible plants are an amazing source of nutrition and I believe, and I think you would join me in this, Ben, a pathway to developing our superhuman level of fitness and becoming the greatest expression of who we are. And you really need to look at this. There's a lot of wisdom in the old statement that we are what we eat. Right? What are we putting into our bodies? And so when we consider whole foods, just that one element alone, whole foods, science has documented, and this is of course what native wisdom has been telling us for millennia, that the nutrition of a whole food is much greater than the sum of its parts. So yeah, we can tear foods apart, and create supplements, and all that, and there's goodness in that for us, but it doesn't compare to what it means to actually take in a whole food.
Ben: Yeah. It's like the tomato is the old example, right? How the lycopene in the tomato is more supportive for prostate health I believe is what it was compared to the extracted lycopene, when you don't actually eat the whole tomato. And it's very interesting, I've noticed this as well, even with these super food powders, these greens blends, and I live and die by that stuff when I'm on an airplane. When I'm traveling in airports, it's like that's so much better than airplane food. But when I go out to the garden bed and I pick kale, spinach, little bit of cabbage, some leaves, some mint, some parsley, and I throw all that in a blender and blend it, you feel so much different than when you take the dehydrated powders or the extracts.
Tim: Absolutely. And so beyond whole foods, what I'm really offering is that wild foods are an even higher level of nutrition and wholeness for us. I mean just think about it. Compare a domesticated cow to an elk. Think about the life cycle. Think about what that cow has to do day by day. Think about what the elk's doing. One is sitting pretty dormantly in a cage. Maybe it's a big cage, or fenced, or maybe it's a small one. The other is a wild creature that has to deal with predators. It's climbing up and down mountains. The quality of life energy is so much greater in anything wild compared to anything domesticated. So that goes for animals, that goes for plants. When we put that into our body, we connect with our wildness and we connect with that very high level of nutrition that's present.
Ben: Yeah. I actually looked into some studies a couple of years ago when I was looking at wild plant extracts and they've done some really interesting investigations into the antioxidant potential of a plant that's been stressed and has had to fight environmental stressors, predators, sun, wind, fluctuations in temperature, et cetera versus a domesticated plant.
Tim: Yes. That's had it easy, right?
Ben: Right! Exactly! It's that thing that was in the news a couple of years ago about how if you even do something as simple as, I'll use kale as an example again even though I know it's a domesticated plant for the most part, but if you take it and you rip it up, and you let it sit overnight, it actually thinks a wild animal is eating, it produces it, upregulates its production of antioxidants. And when you eat it, it's more nutrient dense.
Tim: And is it any surprise? Look at us as human beings. What creates the best resilience, the greatest resiliency in us as people? It's not sitting on the couch watching TV and eating popcorn, it's when we face challenges in life. It's when we test ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally.
Ben: Yeah. Have you read the book, “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb? Or heard of it?
Tim: I haven't.
Ben: It's basically, a big, big part of the book is about that, about how these hormetic stressors, natural radiation from geologic formations, cold, heat, environmental stressors, the same as I was talking about with the plant, actually make humans grow stronger. And you want that stress to a certain extent. Like some stress is good.
Tim: Yes. Absolutely.
Ben: Now for people who might be listening in and wandering out into their backyard, one of the things we saw that you said was very common of course is the dandelion, and in that video you went into some really cool details about the dandelion, and go watch that video if you get a chance 'cause it's really cool. What are some other common plants that you think are big wins for people to just start to dig into? Pun intended.
Tim: Well, there's a lot out there. And of course it's going to vary by your bioregion. But certainly here in North America, there's some common ones that are really great. As you mentioned Ben, the common dandelion is, we actually consider it the supermarket of the lawn. It's super common and you can literally eat every single part of this plant packed with vitamins, minerals. Another really common one in the wetland areas is going to be the cattail plant. Most people here in North America are going to know this one, it's got the hot dog-shaped seed head on the top of. This one is known as the supermarket of the swamp. And it's, literally every part of this point you can eat from the rhizomes, the roots, to the new shoots, to the flower heads, to the pollen. Literally every part of this plant.
Ben: Yeah. I've come across those before and broken open the head of the cattail and it's almost like a starch inside.
Tim: Yes. Yeah, exactly. And the roots, the rhizomes are actually full of an amazing starch and you can take that out. If it's a survival application, you could roast those roots directly on open coals on a fire. A little bit more process would be to take those and tease out the starches in some cold water, and that's going to float to the top, and then you can actually preserve that as a wild flour and add that to your muffins, or your pancakes, or what have you.
Ben: So dandelion, cattail. What's another one of your favorites? Throw one more at us.
Tim: Oh, gosh. There's so many. Stinging nettles. That's a really fun one.
Ben: Oh, I've seen that in testosterone support supplements before.
Tim: Yeah, there you go. Again, a lot of these wild plants, Ben, are now getting very common in health food stores. You can find dandelion teas and nettle tea, burdock tea, and all kinds of stuff, it's now getting more mainstream. Which is great that it's gaining more attention, but again my concern is it takes us away from the direct connection to nature that this provides. But yeah, stinging nettle, amazing plant. So of course it's got the sting, it's got the little hairs up and down the entire plant that will give you a little sting. But it's easy to remedy that. There's lots of wild remedies as well. If you're careful, you can avoid that altogether by using gloves, or if you're really careful you can even grab it in such a manner that you don't get stung. But stinging nettle is amazing. It has packed in all sorts of vitamins and minerals. It's got vitamins A, C, E, it's got calcium, it's got iron, it's got phosphorus. It's even got high levels of protein in it. I mean a plant that's got protein. Amazing, right? So you can eat this stuff. Typically we would eat this, we would boil it down and cook it a lot like folks would cook spinach, but it's way… often studies have been done, it's off the charts if you look at the vitamin and mineral content compared to anything you're going to find even in a health foods store farmer's market.
Ben: Now I don't know if you saw this article, I think it was in the New York Times a couple months ago, and it was about how plants are designed to kill you. And it was all about how you've got to be really careful eating plants and how they're resistant to digestion. And really this is a little bit of a contradictory topic because paleo is a big popular diet these days and paleo was all about, “Don't eat many of these plants. They're designed to resist digestion. You really shouldn't go near something that's going to be a digestive irritant,” that type of thing. How do you approach that when you're looking at wild edibles, medicinal plants, things of that nature?
Tim: Sure. Well I know there's a lot of philosophies on it and through the years this has been a hot topic. It's going back and forth. For me, Ben, I really look to our Earth-based ancestors and ask the question, “How did they eat?” And if we take a look at, for example, the Spokane Indians right here, who have lived here for hundreds and thousands of years, what we're going to find, and this is true for across the world over is that our indigenous ancestors and indigenous communities had a blend of both plants and meat in their diet. Absolutely. And when we look at the human need for nutrition, what we see is that some of that is provided by plants, some of that is provided in animal proteins as well.
Ben: Yeah. And I think that what's really interesting is that a lot of these things, it seems like it can be irritating. Like quinoa is a rough example. It's covered with saponins, like a digestive irritant, but you can soak it, you can ferment it, you can sprout it, and my personal take on it is that humans are smarter than plants and we should be able to figure out a way to make these things that might be resistant to digestion actually be able to be a little better absorbed.
Tim: Sure. And there's a number of wild little plants that actually have the qualities of being digestive aids that can support in the process of digestion.
Ben: Yeah. Like the mint family and sort of that nature.
Tim: Yeah. Absolutely.
Ben: Yeah. Cool. Now I want to get into some of the things that you do with primitive skills and wilderness survival. But before we do, obviously the field of edible plants and medicinal plants is enormous. Is there a resource out there, I mean I know that you have a full school where you teach this, the Twin-Eagles Wilderness School. Say somebody lives in freaking Australia, is there a book or a website that you think is really solid for this kind of stuff?
Tim: Sure, yeah. I mean as a starting point, Ben, where I would direct people is, what we've done, my wife and I who run the school together, we prepared a top 10 list of wild edible plants for folks and it's a simple free e-book that we put together. It's quick and to the point. There's not a lot of fluff in there, but it's going to be a great way for folks to get started. And we're going to make it available for free, and I think we're going to have a URL, a link available on your site there.
Ben: Yeah. I'll put a link. Cool. Perfect. Okay. So check that out at bengreenfieldfitness.com/plants.
Jessa: Hey! Quick break here! This is Jessa Greenfield, Ben's boss. I mean wife. I'm not sure if you know this, but Ben, being a complete nerd that he is, keeps track of everything he ever recommended and found to work really well and puts it all over at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. From books, to lab tests, to supplement, he has it all there. So whether you want to build muscle, burn fat, fix your gut, sleep better, balance hormones, learn about smart drugs, whatever, it's all there. Check it out at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. Okay. Now back to the podcast.
Ben: Okay. Let's talk not getting your butt kicked by nature. Have you seen the video on YouTube, the Neature, Nearture video?
Tim: No. Not yet.
Ben: Okay. You got to look it up.
Tim: Great. Okay.
Ben: The Neature video. It's basically a parody of wilderness survival. Actually you'd probably hate it. Anyways though, when it comes to wilderness survival and primitive skills, what are some of the most important things that you think people should know how to do? Whether it be for a zombie apocalypse or just like getting out in the wilderness?
Tim: Well, that's a great question and oftentimes this is how I start my wilderness survival classes. I ask people, I say, “Okay, what's the number one priority in a wilderness survival scenario?” Now some people are going to say, “Food! You gotta have your food.” Others are going to say, “No, fire! You gotta stay warm.” Some folks are going to say shelter. Others might say water. And in fact it's a trick question 'cause those would be the four most common survival priorities, shelter, water, fire, and food. But before all else really becomes our internal state, our attitude. Who are we being in the midst of this? If I'm out there and I'm freaking out 'cause I'm lost and I'm afraid of being dying, I'm going to make some really poor choices. So the first thing we've got to do is, metaphorically speaking, tend our inner fire. We've got to take care of ourselves and remain with a positive attitude. Remember who we are, why we're here, what we're doing, and approach it from a calm and a centered place.
Ben: I was actually just training with the Navy SEALs and Mark Divine's SEALFit down in Encinitas, California, and his entire process that he teaches prior to going into a battle scenario, or a tough workout, or whatever is visualize, positivity, breath, and now I'm blanking on the last one. Anyways though, the idea here is that if you go into a stressful scenario, having to visualize success and thinking positive thoughts, and having to take in a deep breath to have your head on straight before you dive in, it makes a huge difference. And actually there's a book back behind us on the bookshelf, I forget the name of it, but it's about survival. And almost every one of these survival stories, humor and laughter was a huge component. Having the ability to make jokes under stress and dealing with light of your situation.
Tim: It's so crazy. And this is common sense, but of course the studies have been done. There's a great story that illustrates this point, okay. So there was a guy who was lost and the police sent out a search team after him. So they search for him, and he was in an area of a sandy substrate, so his tracks were pretty prevalent, fairly easy to follow. So as they tracked him, eventually his tracks came to erode. And it was clear before that that he was running, that this man was in stress. He did not have a calm center whatsoever. The guy was freaking out. So what do his tracks do? The tracks literally cross the road, go back into the wilderness on the other side, and they follow, and less than a mile later, they find his body dead. Crazy! But the point is that that is how literally how crazy we can get. We can literally miss exactly what we need to save ourselves.
Ben: Wow. So it's your internal frame going into a wilderness survival situation. How about practical skills. You talk about fire, water, air, food, shelter. What are some skills that you think everybody should know or find easy to learn?
Tim: Right. Because of course we have to ask the question what practices can we take on that will lead us to have a calm inner center if we are to find ourselves in a survival situation. So shelter, water, fire, food, I mean that the big ones, most deaths in real survival situations are have occurred from exposure ,which means exposure to the elements. Shelter typically is the number one physical survival priority. So if we're in a desert, this was going to be finding shade. If we're in a cold environment, this is going to be having a shelter to keep us warm. If it's rainy, again, a dry spot. And there are some very simple shelters that are practical, you can learn in a day that can make the difference between life or death using only natural materials. You wouldn't even need a knife for these. Very simple shelters that can insulate and keep you dry or keep you…
Ben: Basically like a lean-to type of thing?
Tim: Not quite a lean-to, but there's some modifications. And one of them that we work with a lot is actually called the debris hut. Most exposure situations are going to be exposed to cold temperatures and precipitation. So the debris hut is pretty much the ideal single person emergency shelter that's going to keep an individual warm and dry.
Ben: It's called a debris hut?
Tim: A debris hut. And it's literally like a tent and a sleeping bag all in one that you surround, you pack yourself in natural debris, leaves, grasses, et cetera that's been constructed around a simple frame. A lot like if you've ever looked up this, go find your local red squirrel or gray squirrel up in a tree and you'll notice that, I was just looking at one the other day with my boys, and they've got a big giant ball of tinder, basically like that tinder bundle we used to light a fire today right, and they've surrounded themselves in insulation.
Ben: Amazing. Wow. By the way, Naked And Afraid needs to hire you as a consultant. You ever watch that TV show, Naked And Afraid?
Tim: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ben: It's crazy. Those people just wander naked. It's nuts. I would make a shelter and sit around for [0:29:09] ______ days. Another question about wilderness survival, and that is water. So we were walking around on my land just now. One of the first things that you asked me was whether there was a body of water nearby. I'm curious why you asked that, but I also want to know what you do if you're on land like this, something goes wrong, and you don't have access to water. What's a good way to actually find it or make it?
Tim: Sure. So a couple of things. Water of course is the original source of life. Indigenous wisdom tells us that water is the first medicine and the first food. So water is a huge survival priority. We can think about the rules of threes. The rule of threes. When it comes to shelter, we might survive only as little as three hours before we may die from exposure. We may survive as little as three days before we die from dehydration. And then going forward from there, it might be three weeks before we die from starvation. So when it comes to water, it's a huge element and there's a number of different ways that we could access this in a survival situation. Water is, as I said earlier, it's the source of life, and so what we're going to find is a lot of diversity around water, and that's going to be true for our plant life and our animal life. So our survival needs will oftentimes be met in areas that are on the edge of water. We'll see a lot more diversity of species in those areas.
When it comes to procuring clean water, that's a big deal. Our ancestors enjoyed a world, Ben, where most bodies of fresh water were clean enough to drink out of. You can go up to a mountain stream, to most rivers and ponds, and drink that water and not have any worries about bacterias or viruses. These days, that's not the case. And so cleaning water is very important. Now boiling water is one of the simplest and surefire ways of cleaning water. Of course boiling water means you've got to have fire. So oftentimes when it comes to survival training, fire and water go very much hand in hand. But there's lots of ways to get water. If we find a wild source, whether it's a pond, or a river, or a stream, and boiling it from there. We can also dig shallow wells, where if we're in an area of high ground water, we can simply dig down and have water come up from the ground. You can tap certain trees, and the sap will come out, and you can access water that way. Those are a few of the most more common ones. There's some more tricks, if you've got some plastic, some clear plastic you can actually do a solar still. That starts to get into the more modern survival approaches. I'm a big fan of primitive survival and using only natural materials, but there's all those modern approaches also.
Ben: Interesting. I was hoping you wouldn't give the Bear Grylls answer of pee in a snakeskin, after you've killed the snake by hand and stripped the skin off it somehow.
So one of the other things that you do here locally, you're teaching people how to survive. You've got literally like a wilderness survival school, and one of the things that you expressed to me as we were kind of sitting on our haunches outside, making the fire and my little boys are gathered around, you talked about how important this is in terms of tribe and community. And I thought that was really interesting. What do you mean by that?
Tim: Sure. Well as I was mentioning, one of my great passions is looking at indigenous communities, Native Americans, and asking how did these communities function? and what do we, in our modern world here in 2014, what do we have to learn from that, and how can we model our own communities after that. Another question, that's basically the same question, Ben, is how can we learn from our natural ecosystems and model ourselves after nature. And so my school, Twin Eagles Wilderness School, we do teach wilderness survival, but more broadly than that, my big passion is really a deep nature connection as a pathway to human beings thriving. I mean as you mentioned, as a culture, we're very disconnected from the natural world and we're facing lots of problems with our bodies, minds, with emotions, we're facing environmental problems, cultural problems. And from my perspective, so much of this comes from a lack of connection to the natural world. These days people talk about connecting to nature like it's good for you, like I don't know, like it's a supplement or something you would buy at a health food store. But what you have to recognize is what are we talking about, folks? We're talking about connecting to the very earth that we live on. So in my book, it's like eating, or drinking water, or having a healthy family. This is an essential to life. This is not an optional, extracurricular activity.
Ben: You saying that makes me think of this Japanese term called shinrin, I believe is how you pronounce it. It's called forest bathing, and it's an actual prescription that they're giving to people now to fix seasonal affective disorder, depression is they'll go out and they'll forest bathe, they'll walk through the forest. But it's very much like you've just said, it's like an anomaly, right. It's like this thing that you do if you get sick, you go out and you look at a tree. And you're saying that should be part of our lives.
Tim: Absolutely. Well, look at the history of human beings. And depending on your definition of what a human being is, this might be anywhere from a few tens of thousands of years to maybe a few hundred thousand years. How long have we as a species lived apart from nature? Maybe a thousand years at most. So, what? One percent of our existence as a species, have we, and probably less depending on how you want to look at that, how long it's been that we've been living disconnected? So from my perspective it's like a big giant experiment we're in right now. How long can people live disconnected from nature? I mean look at the problems we're facing. Look at climate change. Look at obesity. Look at childhood obesity.
Ben: You got to wonder, also returning to what we were talking about as far stressors go, because we're really exposed nature. It's not walking on a nature trail. It's hard sometimes. You're cold. You're hot. You can't find food, you can't find water. You got to wonder how that affects mankind or womankind from an epigenetic standpoint. Our actual gene expression is whether we are, in essence, making ourselves soft genetically by not being in nature, by being this first, not necessarily the first generation, but at least the point you made, the first thousand years or so where we're just disconnected with nature.
Tim: Absolutely. And what I find, Ben, is that when I bring people into nature and bring them into connective practices, whether that's wilderness survival, animal tracking, wild edible plants, listening to the birds, what we find is that people tend to flourish. People become a greater expression of themselves. It's true for kids, it's true for adults. I worked with an old Lakota medicine man, actually. And I say this with the highest respect and in a humble way, and he talked about something called the Seven Sacred Attributes. That there were qualities that human beings can express that he looked at as indicators of a human being thriving. Or maybe another way to put that would be a human being with superhuman qualities. And this of course bridged the realms of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Things like access to the quiet mind, how many people out there can actually say they can take a moment and quiet their minds, and have the absence of thought, and have that deep level of peace inside themselves. Right? And there's lots of all the old spiritual traditions, talk about that being the pathway to deep intuition and insight into life itself.
Qualities like maintaining the happiness of a child. I see your six year old boys and I think of my own boys. They are constantly expressing this joie de vivre, this passion and connection for life. And this was the thing as a kid that I saw adults disconnected to that and it drove me nuts. Is it our birthright to be half asleep, zombie-like adults? No way. How do we maintain this happiness? Things like being truly helpful that we've recognized. I'm connected to you and you're connected to me. We are an interdependent species. And your success is mine, mine is yours. If I'm failing, so is someone else. We're in this boat together, this boat called planet Earth, called being alive.
Ben: So those are called the seven sacred principles?
Tim: He called them the Seven Sacred Attributes.
Ben: Seven Sacred Attributes, okay.
Tim: And what we've found is that, and these are common folks. I mean look into any of the old spiritual traditions. These are going to be very similar across multiple continents. And so what we find is that when people are guided into, and I would even go so far as to say when people are mentored into a deep connection to the natural world, that these attributes begin to emerge. And certainly we've found that at Twin Eagles and all the folks that I've worked with, particularly in long term relationship through the years.
Ben: One thing that I noticed on your website that I thought was really interesting and that I really wish I had to know that one when I was a kid was you do rites of passage. How do you do that? What is that?
Tim: Sure. Well this is an element of the tribe and that our indigenous ancestors had a strong connection to. So this is recognizing that there are basic phases that we go through as human beings: birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenting, elderhood, and death, and that each of these are unique and they call forth different qualities from us. And when these phases are honored that we tend to thrive as people. And when these phases are ignored and that we're disconnected to them that we tend to struggle.
For example, I work with a lot of adults and a lot of adults will tell me, “I still kind of feel like a kid.” And there's even songs about it. “Someday you'll be a man”. And it's like when do we become men? When do we become women? Our indigenous ancestors knew that the human psyche needed deep ceremonial acknowledgements of this that spoke to our mythic and archetypical nature. So that's some of the work we do. In my line of work honestly Ben, rites of passage are really sexy, they get a lot of attention, and there's a number of organizations out there that are doing what I call fast food McDonald's style. Like come on in, get your rite of passage, and boom, you're gone. Personally that's a pet peeve of mine. It drives me nuts. I can't stand that because rites of passage should be community based. I want to know the kids, I want to have worked with them for five, ten years before I'm going to take them through that really significant transition in their life.
And so yeah, a classic one of course is the adolescent rite of passage. And back at Twin Eagles, my wife leads girls through adolescence rites of passage and I lead boys through it. And this is really marking the leaving behind of one phase of life, in this case boyhood, and stepping into the next phase, in this case adolescence. And what do teenagers need? We know this. Teens love to test themselves and they love to test their world. And what happens when we, as the responsible community of adults, don't address this? Well we get all kinds of trouble. There's an old African proverb that if we don't initiate the boys, they will burn the village down. And take a look at our society today, take a look at the problems we have with gangs, with sex, drugs, all these things. And the boys are really, from my perspective crying out, saying, “Hey! I've got a need here that's not getting addressed by the mature community of adults.” So what do we do? And this is one of things I love, is we come up with the craziest adventures and challenges we can, but still keep them safe, but create a high perception of risk and danger.
Ben: Like what?
Tim: Well, I can't give away all my secrets.
Ben: We don't want the boys all listening in to use this podcast as their prep. But just throw a couple at us.
Tim: Sure. Obviously wilderness survival and the idea of the solo is one of the big ones. We draw from traditional indigenous practices like the sweat lodge. The idea is to take a young person in that phase of life and take them through an experience of the unknown because that's mirroring what they're going through in life and what they're going to face. They're going to face all kinds of challenges. So we have to create a situation that allows them to face the unknown and face a challenge they've never faced before to draw from within. And I'm sure you know about this through your training, to find inner resources that they previously did not have access to and to draw those forth and to utilize those. And in that process what happens? They discover themselves. They realize, “Wow. Look what I'm made of. Look what I can do. Look who I am.” And that then drives them, that is the beginning of a new sense of self that drives them forward and gives them the foundation they need to survive in that next phase.
And so when human beings have this, these phases of life marked by rites of passage, they tend to thrive. And when we don't, we don't. How many 20 year olds do you know out there who still act like teenagers? How many 30 and even 40 year olds do you know out there who are still living out their teen years?
Ben: Do you do the rites of passage for older individuals? For adults?
Tim: Yeah. So there are rites of passage into adulthood. Typically that might involve a vision quest, which is a deep process of discovering one's purpose. There are rites of passage into parenting. And then beyond that, of course there's rites of passage into conscious elderhood and of course even honoring the death process. So I'm a big believer in the stages of life, so I feel comfortable leading boys into adolescence and adolescents into adulthood. But that's about where it stops for me. I mean maybe I would initiate adults into parenting, but I wouldn't initiate someone into elderhood because I'm not an elder yet.
Ben: So that's really cool. You respect that too.
Tim: And we have members of our community who do that work. But those are the 80 and the 90 year olds. And again that's the tribe, folks. It's like we can recreate some of these elements that our indigenous ancestors enjoyed, but it takes conscious work on our part. And again when we look to the native communities that are still alive and present today, do they have it all together? No. Do they have problems? Yes. But do they have cultural elements in place that we don't as a mainstream American society? Absolutely. And there is much to be learned from those communities.
Ben: We need to give our kids unstructured free play. We need to get our adults into nature. And we need not put our elders into nursing homes.
Tim: That's right.
Ben: I'd say those are three places to start.
Tim: And weave the three back together, this is another important point is when we look at our modern society, there is no shared story anymore. Look at the experiences my grandfather had compared to what I had growing up…
Ben: I don't know, man. There's Facebook timeline.
Tim: So there's no shared story anymore, Ben. And part of bringing back holistic culture and us as human beings flourishing is bringing back a shared story. So what is the best shared story that will never get old, that will never be antiquated, that will never need upgrading is nature. I can still go back, I can talk to my grandma about dandelion fritters 'cause she was doing those too. I can talk to my grandfather, I used to talk to my grandfather about hunting. And there are shared stories when it comes to nature that we can bring back together and weave the different phases of life back together again.
Ben: Yeah. Speaking of nature, our Rhodesian Ridgeback just hijacked us and came down rolling around and growing on the floor. This is fascinating stuff. And Twin Eagles Wilderness School is in Sandpoint, Idaho, but like Tim said, he has a lot of resources there for you if you want to go and explore them, and I'm actually, you may see more of Tim in the future mentioned in the podcast because I'm actually going to probably send my boys over to some of the nature experiences and things like that that he has here in the Spokane area. But for now, if you want to delve into more of what he does, you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/plants. And when you're there, you can see videos of Tim walking my family and me through our acreage and looking at local edible plants and medicinal plants, you can see us starting a fire. You can go over in and grab that free e-book that Tim has on, what is it, Tim? The 10?
Tim: Top 10 Wild Edible Plants.
Ben: Top 10 Wild Edible Plants. And you can check out what he's doing at Twin Eagles Wilderness School. Tim, this is really, really cool stuff. Thank you so much.
Tim: Ben, you're sure welcome. And it's an honor and a pleasure again sitting with you and having this podcast, and meeting your family, checking out your land. Thank you.
Ben: Cool. Well folks, this is Ben Greenfield and Tim Corcoran from Twin Eagles Wilderness School signing out. Check out bengreenfieldfitness.com/plants and have a great week.
Ever wished you knew if you had plants in your backyard that you could actually eat – plants that might even be good for you, save you money grocery shopping, heal you, provide you with nutrient density and more?
Or maybe you just want to know how to survive in the wilderness for a few days on your own.
The fact is, if you know what to look for, you can find a wealth of edible and medicinal plants all around you. You just need to know where to look, and which plants to avoid so that you don’t poison yourself.
Not only that, but you can also survive in the wilderness with just a few primitive skills – fewer than you’d think.
In this podcast, I interview Tim Corcoran, an expert on wilderness survival, permaculture, edible wild plants and more. Tim is co-director of Twin Eagles Wilderness School · Nature & Wilderness Survival School, an organization he co-founded with his wife, Jeannine Tidwell in Sandpoint, Idaho (located about an hour from my house. Tim is a certified Wilderness First Responder, a graduate of the Kamana Naturalist Training Program, and a graduate of the Vermont Wilderness School’s five-year Apprenticeship Program.
During this episode, we discuss:
-3 wild edibles you can find in your own backyard…
-Two crucial wilderness survival skills that everyone should know…
-How you can quickly die if you don’t have the right mindset going into a wilderness survival situation…
-Why we’ve lost our sense of tribe and community and what we can do about it…
-How to go through a rite of passage…
-Why you should know Gilbert Walking Bull’s “Seven Sacred Attributes“…
-And much more!
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Click here for the YouTube videos that accompany this episode, click here to grab the free e-book that Tim is offering on “Top 10 Edible Wild Plants”, and leave your questions, comments and feedback about wild edibles and medicinal plants below!