March 6, 2012

The Heartroot Nature Connection

Where I grew up in the city, there was a little acre or two of wilderness near my house. Not much by adult standards, but large enough for an 8 year-old adventuring boy. The place had “wild animals,” including rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional skunk. There was plenty of brush for hiding and ambushing intruders, animal prints for tracking, shade for hot summer days, and a few really old trees which seemed to anchor my urban forest. My small band of young-guy brothers knew every inch of that small wilderness. We knew the web of forest trails so well we could run them in the dark. We had secret hiding places, a meeting ground, and even built defensive “forts” to stand off unnamed enemies. It was a kind of wildness that truly fed my young boy spirit.

That little forest was also my backwoods escape place. It offered the comfort and soothing solitude I needed when the insanity of my alcoholic family home life was approaching more than I could bear. By high school, that wilderness had shrunk into irrelevancy as girls, cars, and school became way more important. But I have never forgotten that little patch of sacred ground. Did you have a place like that when you were a kid?

As I grew into adolescence and then on toward adulthood, there were no men around to teach me the masculine arts of hunting, camping, canoeing, and wilderness navigation, much less take me into the wild places. I have pretty much remained a "city kid." In fact, I’m still a little embarrassed around men who comfortably make their way into the wilderness and, occasionally, take me along. They now call that condition, Nature Deficit Disorder, or NDD, a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. NDD is most simply defined as the human costs of alienation from nature, and it's the counter-point to my boyhood fondness for places green and wild.

When Luc Tunkel wrote to me about his work with Heartroot Nature Connection, the memory of the wild and natural place of my youth came to get me . . .along with my fear of the big outback. Luc, it turns out, is just what NDD males need. He is someone who can gently introduce guys to the wilderness in ways that minimize fears while building a skill-based confidence and a love of things natural.

The title of Luc’s website says it all, Heartroot Nature Connection. Through his training experiences, he offers, what he terms ancestral skills, a way of learning to live in a mutually beneficial relationship with the natural ecosystem. Just some of the skills Luc can help you learn include: crafting your own bow and arrows for hunting, and the ancient arts of shelter building, friction fire making, tracking, fishing, backwoods navigation, and gathering edible and medicinal plants.

Just a few of those talents would greatly increase my confidence and comfort in going into the great outdoors. The best part of Luc's training is you get to learn these skills in his backyard, the mountains and backwoods of Montana. Now that’s one large, beautiful, green, and wild patch of sacred ground!

If you want to get a small sense of what it’s like to actually have a heartroot nature connection, read this inspirational Springtime Prayer Luc wrote last March. Reading it made me want to be him and experience nature through my pores and whole being. The prayer begins with these lines:
Let the Thaw be witnessed by untainted senses, understood without judgment or expectation. May my squishy footsteps bring me to yet unexplored expressions of Truth. Let my voice ring in resonance with birdsongs, welcoming the lengthening of days and renewed growth. (read more)
Instead of wanting to be Luc, as an NDD guy perhaps I should just pack up and go spend a week with him in Montana. Maybe I'd begin to develop my own Heartroot Nature Connection. I think I need to better understand what I have lost, or maybe never developed, as a man in relationship to the natural world.

If you had training in the great outdoors by the men around you while you were growing up, tell us about it. Add it to the comments section of this post or send me a note and I'll add it for you.

If, however, you are an NDD guy like me, imagine how the man you are today would be different if, as a boy you had men like Luc around for guidance. Men who could help you harvest all the gifts of discovery, personal and natural, waiting in the great outdoors. Then you may want to consider the young males around you today who have never left the worlds of cement, asphalt, artificial, man-made, the mall, and digital places. Can you think of a way, possibly along with some of your men friends, to give those guys the gift of a visit to a wild and green place?

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  1. I grew up in St Paul, on the shore of Como Lake, and yes, I did have a
    place in the bushes across the street from our house, between two
    streets where I played with my cars and trucks, and hung out with
    bother boys. I was out there every day. Como Park was nearby.

    I was also in Boy Scouts, and went on MANY camping trips over the years, and was in the St Paul Scouts Drum Corps and "camped out" hundreds of nights on gym floors.

    I have to say, I do not have NDD or any desire to spend time out
    somewhere communing with nature, it is just not for me, and I know
    MANY men who feel the same way!

    Let's not go overboard in trying to push our nature beliefs onto boys - all are not interested.
    I can commune with God without being out somewhere.

    Do I like being outside? Absolutely - I work outside and spend most of my days outside - nothing is more beautiful than a warm summer morning about 5am.

    I appreciate your posts! We must continue to do what we can to make opportunities of all types available for boys - music, racing, hiking, hanging out, there is no limit!!


  2. Terry Shaughnessy8:18 AM

    Once again you are spot on with your sharing another gem of wisdom for men with this reflection on nature.

    We've really lost our connection
    to the natural and animal worlds and are only moving further away from these realms in our overly frenetic lives.

    My dream group is currently reading Carl Jung's writings on nature and his profound awareness that man has over-identified with the rational, cognitive dimension and lost touch with the wild, natural side of himself which
    connects him to primitive energy, matter and reality. His suggestion
    is to engage in physical activity in nature and in simple tasks that
    help to balance out the psyche and soul in our uber technological
    world. Nature's restorative and healing qualities really do feed our souls!

    This is something "elder" men can easily offer as a life experience to young men through the mutually beneficial experience of

  3. Another really poignant post. It reminded me of my boyhood in an urban landscape, and the innate longing to connect with Nature.

    The closest I got in those days was to go exploring the limestone caves along the Maribyrnong River near the home of a schoolmate. Nowadays, of course, they have been bulldozed and the river bank is surrounded by a high wire fence – a tribute to the paranoia of modern society about trying to prevent boys from ‘being hurt’ by anything or anyone.

    Once I fled my abusive home at age 17, though, you couldn’t stop me from driving out into places like the Kinglake State Forest and walking through the bush, albeit on my own.

  4. Tim Wernette5:44 PM

    Really appreciate your including resources (books/groups) with so many of your blogs.

    You mentioned not being exposed to backpacking skills as a youth/adult. Many outdoor businesses/groups offer beginner backpacking classes/outings to help people overcome their ignorance/fears of hiking, backpacking and camping. REI offers these periodically, and Sierra Club Outings does also.

    It's fun to learn these skills with others so you don't feel so inadequate or insecure compared with others who are also learning alongside you.


  5. Anonymous11:25 PM

    This is cool!! Thanks for writing this! Luc is my brother and he's truly one of a kind and super talented in what he does. We grew up in the woods and he's become a pure expert and really honed his skills to do what he's doing...Everyone should do his classes in Montana!

  6. Adrian5:35 PM

    I just finished reading your post about Luc and Heartroot Nature Connection and wanted to send a great big and heartfelt hug! Thank you for this positive energy and support. I am Luc's business partner, and full time mentee :) and thinking back over the years and through my misdiagnosed ADD childhood I wish I could go back and re-explore myself. As an adult, with a wife, and 4 children, it's been overwhelmingly obvious at the need to reconnect
    family and community to the great world around us. As a close friend of Luc's, as well as primary student, I have a great deal of respect for him, and his large heart and desire to correct all of the misconceptions around us. This is not an easy journey, with so few of us that truly want to be reconnected to self, family, community, and nature herself, there is a HUGE gap in the much needed support system of our men. Even I, a student and long time friend of Luc, have difficulties staying on the good path without continued support of like minded 'brothers.'

    For anyone out there feeling the same, we are long overdue to gather our energies for something positive! Reach out to those around you, and even to those of us like Luc and myself that are trying desperately to live the good and healthy life and stay in contact. These friendships can develop into much much more for our communities, and without these, we tend to wander lost and confused.

    With love and peace,


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