Highlands Wilderness man teaches primitive skills
by Amy Hogue
EMC News – It isn’t everyone who can step into the woods armed with nothing more than a pocket knife and their own wits and have the skills needed to survive. Chad Clifford is one of the few true remaining wilderness men – possessing the skills and knowledge to not only make primitive weapons and natural cordage, but also start a fire, track animals and build primitive shelters.
Through Clifford’s company, Wilderness Rhythms, based out of the Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy site (and one of the seven wonders of Lanark County) Blueberry Mountain, or cliffLAND, Clifford offers that knowledge to anyone who is interested in moving closer to nature. Clifford lives on the 1,250-acre property with his parents, Jean and Howard, his wife, Tania, and their three-year-old daughter, Sienna.
Clifford believes that traditional, true bushcraft is something not often found among the typical outdoor enthusiast. For Clifford and other bushcraft teachers, these skills are learned as a result of a lifetime dedicated to amassing knowledge from a variety of sometimes unlikely sources.
While in the woods, Clifford tries to wear only natural fibres and isn’t a fan of modern wilderness equipment, following the teachings of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, who strove to protect the wilderness. Clifford believes that by bringing artificial equipment and fibres with you in the bush, “you are just bringing the factory into the woods.”
Wilderness Rhythms specializes in traditional bushcraft, nature interpretation and primitive skills, offering courses such as Primitive Bow Making, Inuit Kayak Building, Lost Proofing, Tracking, and Bushcraft and Nature Interpretation.
Primitive Bow Making is a two day course where students make their own “flat bow,” or “self bow” from a single piece of wood, often a stave taken from trees such as ironwood, elm, and white ash. During the two day course, Clifford helps students to “take away everything that isn’t the bow” leaving them with a finished product capable of using for hunting or sport archery.
Using only three tools – a draw knife, spoke shave and rasp – Clifford teaches students how to turn a piece of wood into a weapon. As an added component to the course, Clifford also demonstrates how to make wooden arrows.
Wilderness Rhythm’s Tracking course is a one day course that Clifford stresses is “not geared towards hunting.” Instead, Clifford helps students learn to separate tracks and identify species. Through the use of a tracking box, (a box filled with sand), students walk through the box and learn to distinguish the differences in gait that comes from different elements such as an added weight or a turned head.
Wilderness Rhythm’s most popular course, Bushcraft and Nature Interpretation, is a four day, intensive course teaching survival skills that covers virtually everything covered in the other courses.
“I’m not going to teach people how to set up a tent and work a Coleman stove, they come with instruction manuals in the package for that,” Clifford explained, adding that his four day course, Bushcraft and Nature Interpretation, “keeps you looking at nature, really gets you into nature” and covers everything from his other courses, including survival skills.
Students are invited to camp on cliffLAND during the duration of the Bushcraft course and washroom facilities are available. Clifford stresses that although students can camp, they do not move camp every day, explaining this detracts from the time available for instruction.
“If you are setting up and taking down camp every day, you lose that time…I want to spend the whole time floating around in the woods,” Clifford explained.
Clifford said he became interested in nature from an early age, calling his interest “a natural progression” beginning with attending camp as a child before moving on to camp counsellor and gradually gaining more knowledge and experience to lead him to where he is now.
His traditional education includes an undergraduate degree in Science and Outdoor Recreation from Lakehead University and a Masters degree from the University of Alberta, along with teachers college. His hands on experience reaches far beyond the norm, having sought out instruction from primitive skills gurus such as Tom Brown Jr. and Mors Kochanski. Clifford also spent time in the arctic, teaching “Land Skills” to Inuit Youth.
As an expert in wilderness skills, Clifford’s knowledge has been highly sought after. Clifford teaches wilderness skills at the Carp Ridge Eco-Wellness Centre in Carp, a 190-acre forest located outside of Carp, Ontario, and was also the traditional and survival skills resource person for the BBC survivor show, “Bare Necessities.”
For Clifford, the search for knowledge of bushcraft and primitive skills continues.
“I’m still learning,” Clifford said, “You meet people who teach skills, and there is always someone out there who can teach you something.”