- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

THREE LAKES, Wis. (AP) - There’s a group of four people in the woods somewhere east of Three Lakes, nearing the end of year spent in nature, living off what they can build, catch or gather with the survival skills of a caveman.

These four people likely were stretched to their physical, emotional and psychological limits in a unique educational program offered through the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. That school, founded and led by a man who calls himself Tamarack Song, is designed to teach people the skills to become self-sustaining in nature, help them escape the woes of the modern era and “facilitate the connection to self, and to the Earth,” according to the Teaching Drum website.

You won’t find another school like it in the world. Its teachings are a stew of American Indian culture and skills, Eastern Zen philosophy and the ethos of a 1970s-era hippie commune - although the use of drugs, alcohol and even caffeine is strictly prohibited, Daily Herald Media reported (http://wdhne.ws/1mDJSOB).

The school and its programs were created “because the modern way of life has isolated us from the Earth, each other, and our intrinsic selves,” the Teaching Drum website says. “This has left many of us with a profound emptiness - confused and frustrated by our deep unmet yearnings for self-knowing and relevant relationship.”

Solving those kinds of problems doesn’t come cheap. A yearlong stint in the wild under the tutelage of Learning Drum guides requires $10,200 and an openness to a philosophy of the primitive and the tribe, leaving behind almost everything from the modern world.

Teaching Drum attracts people such as Marcus “Adjul” Gardner, 30, who came to northern Wisconsin to participate in the yearlong program in 2005. He was a confused and angry young guy from Dover, N.H., who felt disconnected from the world.

“I was frustrated. I tried college,” Gardner said. “I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I was getting frustrated with myself and society. … I wanted to get away from what bugged me.”

He couldn’t even define exactly what was bugging him, and still can’t find the right words. But he felt attracted to Teaching Drum, which he learned about from friends and the Internet.

The program teaches a wide swath of practical outdoor survival skills, including how to start a fire without matches, how to eat off the land from fishing, snaring and gathering and how to build your own shelter that can protect you from the harshest of weather.

It’s all steeped in the religion-like philosophy, and the value of it all, Gardner said, is what you learn about yourself. “People really have to face what’s inside of them,” he said.

In Gardner’s 2005 experience, he lived alongside about 10 other people going through the same thing. They worked together as a team, or tribe, including packing into a winter lodge together to stay warm at night.

Gardner finds it difficult to explain what happened to him out in the woods. He didn’t have an “a-ha” moment, he said, and although he learned a lot of skills, he wasn’t really taught them. The most difficult thing, he said, wasn’t survival, but having vast open expanses of time. In a way, it was a deconstruction of everything he had learned beforehand. His mind was opened to new ways of living, he said.

Teaching Drum might be extreme, but it’s touching the nerve of a segment of society rebelling against the age of multitasking, technology and “it’s-gotta-be-now” mentality.

Although Roger Morken, 40, of Rhinelander is uncomfortable with the more spiritual aspects of Teaching Drum, he understands the need for people to get back to basics.

Morken was attracted as a teenager to re-enactments of frontier days that pay homage to the mountain men, trappers, hunters and American Indians who lived off the land before America was settled. He found many re-enactors looked the part, but didn’t have the skill set. So he has devoted more than 20 years to learning things such as fire-making, creating cords, tomahawk-throwing and wilderness survival strategies, and teaching others.

Although numbers of hunters and anglers are dwindling, he thinks there is an attraction to those old-school kinds of skills, exemplified in pop culture by TV shows such as “Survivorman” and “Duck Dynasty” or in books such as “Into the Wild.”

“We live in an age of instant gratification,” Morken said. “I’m trying to preserve these skills that will be lost, without a doubt.”

Morken is attracted to woodsman and survival skills because “when we are out in God’s country, in the backcountry, everyone is on even ground. Everyone is equal except for the skills they possess. (Nature’s) rules show no favoritism. … It equalizes everybody.”

Teaching Drum guides groups that range in numbers from more than 40 to about 15, Gardner said. The yearlong programs always begin May 1. People come from all over the world to participate, and the programs vary from year to year. One year people might live on their own with less interaction; other years include families living together. The program is popular with Europeans, Gardner said, particularly Germans.

Typically, 20 percent to 50 percent of people drop out sometime during the year. Gardner was nearly one of them. He was ready to fly back home when he stopped to think about what he would do with himself if he left the program. And he went back into the woods.

Gardner went through another yearlong program a couple of years ago. That was one that caters to families. And now he’s one of about 10 people who live and work at Teaching Drum full time. He was tapped as spokesman for the school for this story.

The students are cut off from society. They come to camp two days a month to use the Internet, speak with friends and family members and sleep indoors. They have GPS devices that they use to call for help in emergencies. Food is provided for students early in the program, and they gradually become more self-reliant as time goes by.

It’s a psychologically intense experience, which is why Gardner wouldn’t allow a visitor to speak with the four students now immersed in their program, no doubt celebrating spring like they never have before.

The group is in its “reintegration” phase, Gardner said, trying to figure out how they’ll enter the modern world once again. It’s not easy, he said, which is why he ultimately ended up returning to Three Lakes himself.

Gardner is not sure how long he’ll stay or what he’ll do in the future. But, “I know what’s important to me, and how to live with that,” he said.

What does that mean? “I want to engage in things that are challenging to me, and learn about them,” he said. “What’s important to me are relationships. … And I want to learn to value every relationship that I have.”

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Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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