The first week in May I attended the Buckeye Gathering in Sonoma County, one of many primitive skill rendezvous to be found across the western states. I arrived mid-morning on a Tuesday, a couple days after the formal beginning of the the event, not knowing what to expect and little nervous about having come alone. I wandered around the site stopping first at the arbor. This was a huge rotunda constructed of wooden uprights and thatched with grasses and vines to shade the plentiful sun.
In each of the 30 arbor bays there were instructors and students inter-meshed with projects. Nomadic baskets being woven with hand died wool, Guatemalan looms strung with bright colors, delicate beading projects on fine buckskin, bow and drill fires gently kindled into roaring life, functional baskets of all sorts being woven with wild harvested material: sedges, willows, maple bark and more, flint shards flying as axes, knives and arrows were napped, knifes being hafted, containers of pitch glue bubbling over the fire, stringed bows being shaped from Osage branches, the matching arrows fletched with feathers and a plethora of elder and clay flutes whittled, shapped and carved to perfect pitch. This cacophonous melody of skills was a tune I was ready to learn to sing.
I walked into the grove shaded by glorious trees and cool air, a good 15 degrees cooler than the arbor, washed over me. I found the animal processing already under way and easily joined up. A group lead by Tamara Wilder, a local bebuckskinned veteran of all manner of animal uses, had already killed, skinned and hung a couple of goats the day before. I assisted in butchering the animal as Tamara instructed on how to best cut and dismantle goats, sheep, deer and more.
They had collected the blood from the slaughter the day before and allowed the plasma to separate from the congealed red blood cells. I had never eaten blood before, but we cut the jelly mass and sauteed it gentle over the fire. Not bad at all. Livery in texture, but with a much more mild taste than you would think.
The kidneys and heart were also sauteed with the liver. They had cleaned the intestines and salted them in preparation for the blood sausage we made by mixing oats and rice with the cooked blood, ground lungs and some fat we rendered off the supremely fatty goat! We brought the butchered meat to the kitchens to feed the 500 attendees and proceeded to process the leg bones into awls and extracted the needle bones from just above the dew claws on the legs. We skinned out the legs and retrieved the thick pieces of hide for knife sheaths of pieces of legging. We soaked the hooves in hot water before prying them off to be used as decorative noise making pieces, parts of rattles or bells. I have two deer legs in my freezer and now I know what to do with them! I will be saving all my hooves from now on to make a rattle when I have amassed enough pieces to clank together.
Other activities and contributions include a grape vine hut that was crafted for the children’s area and thatched with wild materials. Pit ovens were dug for a fabulous wild boar roast, 102 ducks were donated and roasted fireside for an awesome mallard lunch, a kiln was dug and all the green-ware pottery made during the week was fired. The Atlatl range was filled with eager marksman testing their aim with their newly crafted arrows, darts, and spears.
All around this week of skill sharing there were hides being scrapped, stretched, fleshed, tanned, dyed, wrung and worked in all manners. I didn’t get to try my hand at tanning this year, but next time!
A raucous and spirited trade blanket filled one long night as well as many wonderful meals, nightly raffles, drum circles, fire dances, contra-dances, star gazing and general revelry.
Check out the basket I made one day with Myron (too bad I don’t have a picture of him in his buckskin daisy dukes!) out of willow and maple bark:
Oh, and I also got to do some acorn processing in the traditional Pomo (and Miwok and lots of other tribes of the area) way. Very cool. Here’s some of the stuff I made at Buckeye and some of the books I picked up. That’s the lady, Julia Parker who did the acorns with us on the far right book It Will Live Forever. I made that soap root brush when I returned home based on what we used to dust the acorn sifting baskets.