Thursday, December 29, 2005

Report from 2005 Woodcraft International Gathering

A look back at the 4th BlueSky!!!WorldWoodcraft international gathering that took place July 31st through August 13th, 2005. Preparations filled the week beforehand, getting in mountains of supplies and setting up camp at the Gordon Brown Outdoor Environmental Educational Centre in Hampshire, southern England. Since the 2002 gathering in the Czech Republic, Mick Tutt (Pelican), Gathering Convenor (and now International Liaison person) of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry (OWC), had been planning the campsite accommodations and program. (Full details are posted on this site elsewhere.) I arrived for the set-up, and was delighted to find friends from previous camps, both from the Czech Republic and the UK, already in residence.

The camp-ground housed several permanent teepees soon added to by tents large and small. Being one of the ‘elders’ I had the luxury of a real bed and private bath inside the main building. During the pre-camp we had use of the inside kitchen, but this was swiftly replaced by the camp kitchen set up outside with wood cook-stoves and griddles. One of the major activities at camp is always providing enough wood for the huge meals; outdoor life makes for large appetites and there were at least 75 of us on site. Each group took part as Clan in charge of meals for a particular day; from the eldest to the youngest there was a job for all.

After breakfast at Rally we got our orders for the day; wood cutting (from a nearby brush pile), Clan, and activities ranging from sports (I learned how to correctly hit a volleyball from the Czech girls), running games, beadwork, tie dying, finger braiding and knotting (Rosanna, a Czech girl, was very talented at this), making corn dollies, bags, mocassins and wood carving (to name but a few). Any talent anyone wanted to share was welcomed. Always popular was learning to make fire by rubbing sticks. We set up marquees to protect the arts and crafts, but were lucky with the weather after one bout of heavy rain. On two days we practiced handbell ringing. Tim Willetts even led us around the camp playing his precious bells. Some of the bigger lads helped Clive Bowen, the Gathering Craftsman, carve a totem pole to be left at the GB Centre as thanks for having us. It was completed after I left, but a photo shows a spread-winged eagle atop the pole with the Seton insignia of a shield with buffalo horns and other carvings below.

The formal opening of the camp was, as always, around the ceremonial fire, lit by one of the Czechs with a flint lighter. It is always amazing to see how fast they can get a blaze going without matches or butane! (The Czechs are real campers, as are the inimitable Westlake/Bowen families!) Everyone gathers around the Ceremonial Circle, surrounded by the regalia and symbols of all groups present, the OWC leaders wearing their impressive robes of office. I was honored once again to be the Representative of the West, to drop my ashes from a previous fire into “the same fire and always new” and say: “Behold I come with Greetings from your brethren of the West – bringing the Gift of Life, fulfilled, mature and rich in experience and wealth of wisdom, love and peace.” Czechs from the East, Forest Campers from the North, and OWC from the South completed the ceremony. This coming together is always one of the highlights of the camp and my only regret is that I am usually the lone representative of North America, the home of the first Seton Woodcrafters. I also read a letter of welcome, simultaneously translated by one of the Czech teachers, from the Academy for the Love of Learning, the new owners of Seton Castle and grounds outside Santa Fe.

During the week we learned each other’s songs and games, and exchanged crafts and stories, renewed old friendships and made new ones. One ‘tribe’ from the Czech Republic used Sioux Indian puppets to tell a legend (holding up English translation cards as they went along). Their drum played for a lively dance evening; the Czech groups favor 19th Century Sioux dress, crafts and dances, learned assiduously from careful research. During the week another bevy of Indians arrived – schoolchildren from Inner London, of Asian descent. They were welcomed into the activities of the Woodcrafters, and again, new friends were made, new dances shared, and Seton’s teachings upheld. I left a copy of Two Little Savages with Dave Twig of the GB Centre who was intrigued by Ernest Thompson Seton’s ideals and ethics.

Much effort goes into this tri-annual camp, next to be held in 2008 probably in the Czech Republic. We were sad that former Czech leader, Martin Kupka (Logan) and family were unable to attend, but Klara and Tomas and Czech Liga Lensi Moudrosti (Woodcraft League) chieftain, Ales Sedelak, worked with Mick Tutt and other OWC leaders on discussions about the future hopes and prospects of BlueSky!!!WorldWoodcraft. I for one hope it continues from strength to strength; these gatherings are not only enjoyable, but inspiring as well. My postcards would have said: “Having a wonderful time, wish you were here.”

Barbara Witemeyer
December 29, 2005


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ronvo said...

Thanks for the report on the gathering. Do you have any pictures you could share?
Blue skies!
ron vocelka
joplin, mo