article by Patrick Farneman, photos by David Beckstead
Between the Rivers Gathering (BtR) is a week-long workshop for learning skills that originate in the stone-age all the way up to modern homesteading. The Gathering features a multitude of instructors offering a broad-range of classes all week long in a community camping setting. Included are wilderness survival and outdoor living skills of all kinds, primitive and homespun living, basic preparedness, and skills of a practical and archeological nature.
Between the Rivers Gathering offers hands-on classes in primitive living and survival, and also focuses on the skills of self-sufficiency and sustainable living to minimize our impact on this planet we all share.
BtR occurs each year beginning on Memorial Day in May and runs the entire week, finishing up the following Saturday. It takes place on private land about 45 miles north of Spokane, WA near the town of Chewelah. The event is sponsored by Bridges to the Past, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity organization whose mission is to bring people together through ancestral, cultural and environmental experiences, and is dedicated to preserving the skills of our ancestors.
All humans have a rich cultural heritage, and if traced back far enough, all peoples lived close to the earth using simple skills at some point in time. Between the Rivers Gathering offers participants a place to learn these skills from a large group of instructors from around the US and Canada, and a few from other countries around the world. Primitive technologist and educator, Steve Watts said it best, “Primitive skills are our shared inheritance. It is the shared thread which links us to our prehistory and binds us together as human beings.”
Some ask the question, “Why learn these old skills? society has progressed beyond needing them.” It is true that one doesn’t need to know how to make a stone arrow point or make a fire by friction to live day-to-day in this modern world, and, learning to do these things does several things for us. For one, learning hands-on how our ancestors did everyday tasks gives us a connection to them that goes far beyond what an academic knowledge can give; it gives us empathy for them. It also teaches problem-solving using simple technologies, and helps us to recognize tools that may appear out of context to others. Learning ancestral living skills gives a person a confidence that is difficult to obtain otherwise. In a survival setting, many people rely on specific gear to be able to make fire, shelter, or meet their needs, but when separated from that gear they are nearly helpless. Learning methods to meet basic human needs with natural materials in different environments frees us from the necessity of gear to survive or to live. We can simply find what we need where we are, whenever we need it; that’s freedom.
At BtR, not only is a person able to learn ancestral skills from knowledgeable instructors, they are able to participate in a rich intentional community for the week that is full of laughter, music, shared meals, beautiful land to camp on, and networking with like-minded people from diverse backgrounds. There are opportunities for service to others by volunteering to help with meals, or by helping to set and maintain the camp infrastructure. Camp can be large. In 2019 there were as many as 325 weeklong participants, including nearly 90 instructors and staff!
Camp life takes on its own rhythm, with daytimes starting with breakfast and announcements, a day of teaching and learning, an early evening dinner, and then varied activities in the late evening that include home-grown acoustic music, singing, drumming, dancing, trading, games, and educational slide-shows and discussions often extending into the late night. This is not a time-period event or reenactment, so camps, gear and clothing of all types are present and welcome. There is even space given for hard-sided campers and RVs right next to the main primitive camp.
BtR is organized by Patrick Farneman, a 14 year resident of Valley, WA. He has been a lifelong student of ancestral living skills, and has spent over 30 years teaching those skills to others through workshops and gatherings and living history events. There are many other dedicated volunteers living in the Northeastern WA area who believe in the gathering and work hard each year to make it happen.
Bridges to the Past and BtR is committed to helping our local Northeastern WA community members to be able to attend, and we offer scholarship opportunities for high school age participants, and some for adults. We also organize field trips to the gathering for a couple of lucky school classes where students can learn to make friction fire, throw AtlAtl darts (similar to big arrows), make string from plant fibers, and much more.