Earth Connection is a school of primitive skills and wilderness survival located in Northern Virginia and North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham area) that has been in existence for over a decade. Our hands-on classes are reasonably priced because we don't believe in big price tags for primitive skills. That's just not natural!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hide Tanning Class - now every other year

Fleshing, racking, drying, scraping, braining, stretching, and smoking... lots of 'ings," make for lots of work... and it is that four letter word "w-o-r-k" too!

EC's Brain tan buckskin class is a very physical and demanding exercise that, as a primitive technology, has a sole purpose to clothe yourself. All the work is for creating a soft and comfortable cloth from the deer hides left over from the hunt that fed your family.

Speaking of spelling words out... It is also an exercise in R-E-S-P-E-C-T, where we use all the animal, wasting nothing. Ask anyone who took our class about how much work went into making their buck skin. You got to respect the animal. Life is not cheap!

Actually, in a manner of speaking, none of our hides were bucked (soaked in lye) in a process called wet scrape tanning. We used an older method of dry scrape tanning that uses the brain from the animal. Even more so, we actually used egg yolks instead of deer brain because we had no access to deer heads this year. It serves the same purpose.

We even had a fur-on tanning piece to the class this year with one student (Stu) tanning a beaver pelt.

This class takes so much work and preparation that we have opted to offer it only once every other year during the fall season when deer hides come available due to hunting season or by private class . Call three weeks in advance for rates and schedule your class (minimum of two people).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chronic Wasting Disease Risk?

The good news…

There is no evidence that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is linked to disease in humans or domestic livestock other than deer and elk.

According to 2004 research, the risk, if any, of CWD transmission to humans is low. There have been no documented human cases of prion disease with strong evidence of a link with CWD.

To date CWD has not been found in Virginia. The closest eastern state is West Virginia, next is New York.

What is CWD?

CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in the same genetic family as mad cow disease, scrapie (affecting sheep) and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (affecting humans) that is found in White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Mule Deer (O. hemionus), and Elk (Cervus elaphus) populations mostly in the western states. Visible manifestations of CWD include weight loss over weeks or months, behavioral changes (show little fear of humans) and excessive salivation (may look like slobbering). In some animals, head tremors may occur. Most animals gradually die within several months of illness.

The disease has forced the slaughter and incineration of thousand deer and elk in the West since 2000. CWD is known to occur in free-ranging deer or elk in Alberta, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. CWD also has been diagnosed in captive deer and elk in Alberta, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

The bad news…

The 2005 discovery of CWD in New York is causing immense fear and loathing amongst Eastern State's wildlife resource officials, hunters and primitive skills enthusiasts. This should serve as a warning to those of us primitive skills practitioners that regularly harvest deer by hunting and occasionally by picking up fresh road kill for either hide or meat. It would be wise to look for the signs of infection before butchering and using the animal, especially in the case of using the brain for primitive hide tanning.

Furthermore, research “evidence suggests that, provided sufficient exposure, the species barrier may not completely protect humans from animal prion diseases including CWD. CWD does not appear to occur naturally outside the cervid family. However, the passing of CWD to a secondary host (domestic animals, such as cattle and sheep) by infected deer could not only increase the extent and frequency of human exposure, but also alter its infectious properties, increasing its potential for becoming more pathogenic to humans. Because CWD has occurred in a limited geographic area for decades, an adequate number of people may not have been exposed to the CWD agent to result in a clinically recognizable human disease. Because of the long incubation period associated with prion diseases, convincing negative results from epidemiologic and experimental laboratory studies would likely require years of follow-up. In the meantime, to minimize the risk for exposure to the CWD agent, hunters should consult with their state wildlife agencies to identify areas where CWD occurs and continue to follow advice provided by public health and wildlife agencies. Hunters should avoid eating meat from deer and elk that look sick or test positive for CWD. They should wear gloves when field-dressing carcasses, bone-out the meat from the animal, and minimize handling of brain and spinal cord tissues. As a precaution, hunters should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent (e.g., brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes) from areas where CWD has been identified.”1

1. Belay ED, Maddox RA, Williams ES, Miller MW, Gambetti P, Schonberger LB. Chronic wasting disease and potential transmission to humans. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2004 Jun. Available from:

What you need to know about Earth Connection Brain Tanning Classes:

The hide itself will not be infected and can be used for hide tanning. All the hides used in our classes come from local sources and are not affected by CWD. We will make the decision whether to use the deer’s brain for the traditional hide tanning class or some other hide tanning alternative like pig brains or egg yolk after consulting local wildlife officials of the current risk.

Recommended precautions outside of class:

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is abnormal or appears to be sick. If you see a sick deer, please contact the local Wildlife Department immediately.
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer carcass.
  • Bone out meat from your animal. Do not saw through bone and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues or fluids.
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes of deer. Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fall Edibles Class Hampered by Southeastern Drought

The normally water rich south-east region of North America is drying up, so the weather forecasters have commented. So much so, that the drought conditions have impacted Earth Connection's wild edible classes, minimally this summer and gravely this fall. The plants we rely on for fall survival are suffering from lack of moisture on the Earth Connection School's land which is usually so close to the water table that we are not be able to dig a hole without water seeping to fill it almost as fast as we dig. Now the water seeps not.

Hue and Jamey attempted to teach a wild edibles class for Ancestral Knowledge in Maryland, but the drought has effect the wild edible crop there too. It is a sorry state when a class cannot happen because the weather conditions effect nature in such a way. All they got for their trouble was a million chigger bites and two weeks of intense itch. No fun!

Despite the harsh conditions and lack of any indication of coming precipitation there still were a few choice wild edibles available to talk about for the EC Wild Edible class on 13 October. Only Acorns were in enough abundance this year and we took advantage of this making this our main attraction. Drought also produced a pretty good wild grape crop this year.

For the wild food offerings this year we made Acorn Bread and Wild Grape Jelly (picture is of green spring grapes). Jen also made us all a sweet Acorn Pumpkin bundt cake that was delicious.

What can we expect in the future?

Weather forecasters are not offering much rain for the winter and are predicting a warmer and drier winter than what is usually expected. The dry conditions that range from Washington DC into Maryland down to the tip of Florida and out to western Tennessee are designated as severe. The Department of Agriculture's drought monitor indicates that 32% is in exceptional drought not seen but once or twice in a century. We wonder what this will bring for our next crop of wild edible that are normally hardy enough to survive a few weeks without much moisture. Maybe there is some validity to our fear that global warming will make droughts more common.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What Classes Do You Want to See EC Teach in 2008?

EC staff are currently working on the 2008 Class and Adventure Schedule. No worries, we will have the same curriculum as always, but we looking to give a wider variety and increased value to both our new and returning students.

We are kicking around many new ideas and are looking for what you want to see us teach or what you want to experience. Send an email with your ideas or what you like below to Hue and Tim at earth-connection.

Here are few we have been thinking about:

-- Primitive Trapping Class
-- Basic Land Navigation
-- Winter Survival Weekend
-- River Living Kayak Weekend
-- Shennandoah Walkabout Weekend
-- Primitive Pottery with professional potter Gernoble
-- Coastal Beach Survival at Assataegue 3-4 days
-- Homesteading Skills (soap, beer, canning, candles)
-- Primitive (knife and blanket) Living or Survival Week 5-6 Days
-- Primitive village (similar to above just shorter)
-- Wild Edible Plant Banquet; Free - all bring a dish and a story to share
-- Scout Skills Weekend
-- Tracking Intensive - 1 day - Off site
-- Sweat Bath (non-religious) Lodge construction and use
-- Plants for medicine (very basic)
-- Nature Observation and Awareness
-- Primitive Hunter
-- Avoiding Nature's Dangers
-- Wandering Skills Weekend
-- Survival Combatives