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Art and Function

My first official survival class was when I was 17. At that point, I was just out of High School where I was constantly looking out the window in class and rarely able to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. At one survival class, where we made numerous survival crafts, I remember how I would rush through projects as fast as possible so that I could get to the next one. While the crafts I made were functional, nothing I made was worth keeping.

One day, my teacher (Tom Brown Jr.) came to me with a special task. He said he needed a new fish spear that he could use to hang in front of the classroom for the thousands of students that came through his school. I was beyond honored, and also a little confused as to why he asked me specifically. But, I was up for the challenge. He said he needed it to be not only functional but also a work of art. I spent all day for 4 days creating what was the best fish spear I had ever seen, until that is, I tried to 'fire harden' the tips of the spear, stopped paying attention for a few minutes, and burned the spear in half. For a few brief moments, I had fallen back into my old patterns.

I was devastated, as was everyone around me who had watched me slave away at that spear. Not to be defeated, I went right back to pouring myself into another. I became addicted to the feeling of hyper-focusing on a project and learned to channel my attention into anything I wanted to do.

Being still in the woods, surrounded by nature and working on crafts felt inherently 'right' to me. Even when making a simple hand-drill fire, my attention became so incredibly focused that I felt as if the only thing that existed in the world was me, the drill and the fireboard.

Survival taught me that everything is a ceremony, and by treating it that way, I would learn to focus and create art in everything I made.



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