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Exploring a Connection with Nature

Key Points

  • Primitive Pursuits is a non-profit program that teaches a wide variety of age groups wilderness skills education and survival skills.
  • The Wilderness Skills Basic I course is taught every Friday and encourages its students to deepen their connections with the natural world for a life-long relationship.
  • Justin Sutera, instructor of the course, also teaches Homeschool Programs, Summer Programs, workshops and Instructor training programs.

Primitive Pursuits

A group of six strangers were led deep into the Shindagin Hollow State Forest early Friday morning with a similar mission: to better themselves in nature and to use the planet’s most treasured resources for survival.

Instructed by Justin Sutera, these six adults were taking part in Primitive Pursuits Wilderness Skills Basics I course to learn outdoor survival skills and to stimulate a connection with the natural lands.

“[Primitive Pursuits] is a non-profit that teaches nature education and values nature connection,” Sutera said. “We have preschool, home school, after school programs and adult programs, and we’re really all about reconnecting to the natural world.”

Justin Sutera instructing his students on tree identification

The organization offers multiple immersive classes and programs for all age groups with the mission to foster life-long relationships with the natural world. It also focuses on the personal well-being of its students, and, Primitive Pursuits draws much of its work from a place of personal inspiration to create a motivating learning atmosphere.

The knives, hatchet and chopped wood Sutera brought for the group for safety instruction

The course is held every Friday over the span of eight weeks in various locations relatively close to Ithaca. On Oct. 6, the second Friday of the course, Sutera taught the group how to make a friction fire, tool safety – with knives, saws and hatchets, and the proper use of tarps and knots.

“We’re still early on in the course, so it’s a lot of hazard awareness and safety and how to provide for our needs out there,” he said.


Meet Justin Sutera

Sutera found his passion for nature and primitive living skills as a teenager when he read The Tracker by Tom Brown.

“I read that book and was just hooked,” he said. “I started learning primitive skills – hide tanning, bow making – and all of those things are really great because they force you to have an intimate connection with the landscape because the resources you’re looking for, that’s where they are available.”

He studied at The Tracker School, which was founded by Tom Brown, and graduated from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry before joining Primitive Pursuits five years ago.

Sutera reviewing knife and fire safety

Along with the Wilderness Skills Basic I course, Sutera teaches hide tanning, pack basket making, bow making, arrow making, flint knapping, and willow basketry – which are all skill intensive. He also instructs courses that focus on nature mentoring, how to become an instructor of naturalist skills and nature connection.

The Influence

One of the six students of the course, Elana Maragni, has been working with Primitive Pursuits since the spring of 2016. However, she was only working inside the office of the program.

“Even though I sort of heard about Primitive Pursuits and what they did, I didn’t have any working knowledge of it,” Maragni said. “I didn’t really need it for my job.”

Given that it was only the second day of the course, she said she already has learned a lot, including multiple safety instructions and skills she has never done before.

“I’ve learned a bit more about tree identification and what it takes to make a successful fire on the fly,” Maragni said. “It’s been something that I’ve been interested in learning, so that’s what I’m soaking up right now.”

Sutera working one-on-one with Siri

Although the course strictly focuses on specific skills and dynamics, Sutera believes there is a larger meaning behind learning primitive skills.

“For me, it’s a bit of relationship building,” Sutera said. “Relationship building with myself, relationship building with the community and with the earth and reclaiming this connection to the landscape all our ancestors would have had by living here and it is something that doesn’t get passed on in our culture.”

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