It is that time of year again — when I start thinking about travel to Rabbitstick. The event is held September 15 – 21, 2013 in Rexburg, ID… so a flight into Jackson Hole, WY (90 miles) or Salt Lake City, UT (240 miles) is in my near future.
If you are not familiar with the event, let me fill you in a little bit on its history and where it is today. Larry Dean Olsen started the original event under the name Rabbit Stick Rendezvous in 1978. After some time, the event was taken over by Dick and Linda Jamison and eventually discontinued.
In 1988, David Wescott went to Larry asking to revive Rabbit Stick through Wescott’s company, the Boulder Outdoor Survival School. That first year they had 48 instructors and 2 paying students. Today, Wescott’s current company, Backtracks, LLC runs Rabbitstick (now one word) with over 400 attendees, 90 of which are instructors. This will be their 26th year!
More history and info about the event and Wescott can be found in a great interview by Cody Lundin on his blog here. Wescott is a friend, and we are proud to post his outline of Master Woodsman Training on this site. One of his most endearing qualities is bringing folks together from all walks and outdoor living skill disciplines. A most recent example being the Woodsmoke Classic Camping and Bushcraft Symposium where he reached out to the bushcraft community. Nonetheless, Dave’s current passion is Classic Camping. As such, new folks now coming into the bushcraft movement only know Wescott from that capacity and his book, Camping in the Old Style. Just in case you don’t go to the Lundin interview, I wanted to share this one excerpt with you — there are very few out there that have the dirt time of David Wescott…
Cody Lundin: When you go into the wilderness what do you take out with you? Besides the modern stuff?
David Wescott: You’ve got to realize, I’m nearly 65 now, and I started guiding full time when I was 21 years old. That was sleeping on hard ground with a blanket on a good night, and eating things you’d never tell your mother about. I did that off and on full time for a living for over three decades. The first year I owned BOSS I did three 30-day courses back to back, and two 14-day courses with only a day off in between courses. I owned BOSS for 12 years. Before that, I ran courses that had been started by Larry Olsen. I did those for 4 years while I was going to school. I’d be happy to compare trail time under primitive conditions with anyone.
I did the modern thing too. I have started outdoor programs at 4 universities. I know how to hit the trail with all the essentials. But, I’ve done that too. I still like to do short trips with a backpack, but today, woods-loafing is what I pine for.
Give me a canvas wall tent with an air-tight woodstove, some cast iron cook-wear, the soft glow of an oil lamp, good food and great company, and I’ll stay out for as long as my wife will let me. With that scene in mind, let me remind you about what I said about technology – when you accept the axemaker’s gift, you give up knowledge. With all the umbilical impedimenta of the backpacker, you don’t need to know anything about the outdoors. In fact with today’s ethic, you are merely a tourist who is welcome to look, but don’t you dare touch. On the other hand, to manage a cherry-red stove under a covering of flammable plant fiber fabric, you need to know a few things. To cook a meal fit for a king over unpredictable coals in a cast iron pot, compared to pouring hot water into a foil pack of glop, a thorough working knowledge of hearth management helps.
Now some would say how do you get all that heavy stuff into the wilderness? How did camping ever become a “wilderness” activity? I can camp in my backyard and have a great time. Backpacking and it’s association with wilderness is not the only way to camp. I’ve tried them all, and the sylvan retreat of yesteryear is what I consider the best way to learn about the outdoors and about yourself, and you can be comfortable doing it. Remember, Aldo Leopold said, “woodcraft is a working knowledge of the land.” How can you beat that for an endorsement?
So back to Rabbitstick… It is one of the oldest Primitive skills gatherings in the US, and for a host, they don’t come better than Wescott. There are so many classes offered in this one week, you will have to pick and choose. A few examples are friction fire, felting, flint knapping, netting, pottery, trapping, moccasin making, fingerweaving, basketry, herbalism, plant ID, and more. Also, the event has evolved to include other self-reliance related skills such as blacksmithing, classic camping, modern survival, and even permaculture. It’s not just primitive skills anymore.
Many of the instructors are full-time in their field and/or experts in a particular discipline. For the money, gatherings such as this are hard to beat. $300 for a week at Rabbitstick will give access to 90+/- instructors, an opportunity to take over a dozen different classes, and two great meals a day — the food is excellent by the way. The last event I went to hosted by Wescott (Backtracks) was Woodsmoke, somewhat similar to Rabbitstick. Cost: A couple hundred bucks. Spending the week with Mors Kochanski (who never stopped teaching), Larry Dean Olsen, David Wescott, Steve Watts, David Holladay, Tim Smith, Doug Getgood, and making new friends doing the things I love… Priceless.
I made this video from pictures I took at Rabbitstick 2010. It is the first video I ever used editing software. Not too bad… and it will give you a better idea of what you can expect. I hope to see you there!
Early registration is $300 and can be found at Backtracks.net.