Every now and then you come across a person who is truly fascinating! They make you wonder how someone can come to learn and excel at such a wide variety of skills in life. Mark Warren is one of those people! Currently he is the director of Medicine Bow Wilderness School, a primitive school of earthlore located just outside Dahlonega, Ga in the Chattahoochee National Forest, but his skills are far reaching. He is a U.S. National Champion whitewater canoeist; he has composed music for the Atalanta Symphony; he is a world champion of longbow; he has authored many books on his work as a naturalist, and designed environmental education workshops for Georgia schools; he was named Georgia’s Conservation Educator of the Year by the National Wildlife Federation; he spent 10 years as the naturalist and environmental educator for The Georgia Conservancy and 17 years he was the wilderness director for High Meadows Camp. Needless to day, he’s been a busy guy in his lifetime!
Being the director of any school is impressive enough, but particularly when that school, by default of what it teaches, requires both very refined knowledge and physical ability. You can read all the books you want about identifying wild plants and proper tomahawk throwing technique, but to be proficient, there is nothing but time in the field that will make you successful!
We caught up with Mark and had him answer a few questions about the beginnings of Medicine Bow and more. Check it out!
Mountain Crossings: Can you briefly tell me about the beginnings of Medicine Bow? When was the idea sparked? When did you first start hosting classes?
Mark Warren: “When I began this work back in the 1970’s, I had no property on which to teach. I floated around as a teacher, using either national forest or private land where I was invited. I enjoyed a pretty large clientele from my work as naturalist/environmental educator for The Georgia Conservancy, and this kept me busy with school classes as well as providing me with students who were ready for lessons outside the classroom. When I finally leased a large tract of land on the Etowah in Lumpkin County, I established a more permanent camp for students. There I lived in an old farm house and hosted students for weekend classes. When that house burned down (along with virtually everything I owned), I chose a life in a tipi. I chronicled these two years in my first published book, Two Winters in a Tipi.
I purchased land at the north end of the county and have continued here up to this day, nearly half a century after my teaching began.”
Mountain Crossings: Can you speak on the importance of these ideas, techniques and skills as we move further into a technological lifestyle as a whole?
Mark Warren: “Survival skills represent to me the ultimate adventure, and yet these same skills were the norm once. It was the original way we were probably intended to live. And then along came the Evolution of Comfort, a most natural course of action. But as tasks were made easier, we lost our identity as autonomous humans, trading it for something more intellectual. There’s nothing wrong with that except that loss of autonomy erodes the human esteem. And worse, we lose our direct connection with Nature. These are the two driving principles that fuel my work. I like serving as a guide to self-esteem and then seeing a person find his/her true worth on the planet. I also want to bridge that human-Nature connection, because without it no one has reason to respect and become a steward for the Earth.
To my way of thinking, the greatest masterpiece is Nature. For us to taint it seems the ultimate insult.
I am actually more interested in self-esteem development and Earth conservation than survival skills per se. But the skills are a wonderful vehicle for my teaching.”
Mountain Crossings: Do you feel there is a particular skill you teach that would most beneficial to backpackers? If so, why?
Mark Warren: “No, not one in particular. But I would like to emphasize that using just ONE skill on a backpack trip could change the experience entirely. To eat a wild food … or to spin a stick for fire … or to resolve an upset stomach with yellowroot … or to solve a gear problem by using natural material (like pine sap glue) … elevates the hiker from visitor to participant.
If I had one jewel to share with backpackers, it would be this: Take time to integrate with the place you walk. You’re already healthier than most due to your sylvan milieu and your physical trek. Let the experience expand now by using this and that from the woods around you. That’s a major step. Of course, this means learning about those “this and that” items first. Welcome to the unending classroom.”
Medicine Bow offers a plethora of classes and courses for those interested in local ecology, Native American techniques and primitive survival. Classes include tracking, medicine, botany, wildlife, conservation, archery, wild foods and many more. You can check out the Fall 2017/Winter 2018 class schedule for a full listing and the dates on which Mark will be hosting classes at Medicine Bow.
Mark has also authored many books on the topics on which he teaches. Mountain Crossings’ favorite is the Secrets of the Forest Series. This four volume series covers nearly everything this Mark will teach you if you took all his courses, but it lacks the advantage of the hands on knowledge of learning visually and having a master help you trouble shoot as your learn. Regardless, the books are an incredible resource to get your started or help you keep your skills honed!