When we saw that the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) was hosting a hide tanning workshop this week, we wanted to know more about the people with the expertise to teach such a class. We called up Trevanna Frost Grenfell, one of the two teachers running the workshop, and learned about her path to teaching truly ancient wilderness skills, the work she does with The Wildwood Path and how a background in conflict resolution led her back to the woods of Maine. Another question we wanted her to answer was, who goes to hide tanning classes?

SKIN IN THE GAME: The students at the MOFGA hide training classes (she and co-teacher Sean Murphy of Murphy Family Farm just had one in October that sold out and had a waiting list) tend to be, well, they don’t tend to be anything in particular. “The last one was super diverse. There were hunters, homesteaders, farmers and some curious people who didn’t really want to do it but just wanted to watch.” Many of the students bring something they want to work on but perhaps don’t feel ready to tackle on their own. “They are hesitant to try it without a little support, so they don’t ruin them.” This class is a prerequisite for a February advanced class.

LEARNING THROUGH MISTAKES: How long has she been tanning hides? “I think I started in 2006. Sometime around then.” She was vegan at the time, but wanted to learn about honoring animals. “I felt I need to learn every part of the process, to engage in every stage.” Her own early lessons were at the Maine Primitive Skills School. She made mistakes along the way. “And I ruined, I would say, tens, if not dozens of them in the process of trying to learn. Or trying something new. Or being lazy about how I did it. I learned a lot by making mistakes.”

MAINE MOVER AND SHAKER: Grenfell grew up mostly in Skowhegan, Unity and Sanford. She says “mostly” because both of her parents were ministers with the United Methodist Church. “We moved from town to town.” They also spent time at their camp Down East, which Grenfell still owns. She lives in Unity now, close to MOFGA. Her parents have a “more diverse spirituality now.” But growing up with them exposed her “to both the beauty and sadness of life.”

CONFLICT RESOLUTION: In college, she studied biology and infectious disease, then began thinking about a career in international development. “I realized that our whole world seemed to be in constant disagreement and conflict and that we needed to address conflict. That would be the skill that would help us progress as a species.” She took a job with Mercy Corps. But then her younger brother started learning primitive skills – “I hate that word now” – and encouraged her to take some classes as well. She did, and “it was completely life changing.” She began to think that it made more sense to go back, beyond conflict, and address the root business of being a human, surviving in the world at a more elemental level. “Why don’t we start with what brings people together?”

THE WILD WAY: While she was taking nature connection workshops, she worked with a local nonprofit, doing consulting in the Boston area on local conflict resolutions. Many of her own lessons were through the University of Maine’s 4H learning camp and center at Bryant Pond, In those early days, she built a birch bark shelter deep in the Maine woods. “And lived in it for six months.” She traveled the country and spent three years in Colorado teaching at a small school called Feet on the Earth, focusing on nature connectivity. About four years ago, she decided to come back to Maine. She established The Wildwood Path, which offers workshops and a nine-month program (it meets one weekend a month) for women and trans people seeking a deeper connection with nature. “They just step into their best selves in very different ways.” (There are also occasional workshops open to all genders). Much of her teaching is in Paridae Grove in Unity, but she also roams the state and beyond with students.

HONORING A LIFE: Is there a hide she’s worked on that she considers her favorite? “I give away almost everything I make. My favorite is when I pour my heart and soul into a project, and it becomes clear that it is the perfect gift for someone.” But it’s important to her not to make the process of turning animal skins into something, whether a gift or otherwise, into an a cute little anecdote. “It is the honoring of the animal.” She said she was looking at a baby fox hide nearby while we spoke. She’d found the baby fox on a friend’s property, dead after being hit by a car. “I have the image in my mind of the heartbreak and beauty of that animal, lying there. The hide is not to be objectified, but honored.” And that honoring could very well be being used in a practical way.

TEACHER TEACHER: The more Grenfell learns, the more she wants to share. She’s currently in a graduate program in Leadershop for Sustainability, getting a master of professional studies degree through the University of Vermont. “We meet around the country every four months.” As she shares these “old time living skills” she sees them more and more as doorways into other kinds of learning. “I’m more interested in training trainers.”

THE WORLD TODAY: The recent reports on climate change in particular are daunting, but Grenfell finds much to be hopeful about through her own work. At gatherings and workshops, she sees the old ways being taught and learned. “There is so much beauty in this world that has not been forgotten. The ancestral ways. If you think about it, humans have lived well in this world for a lot longer than we have lived in this (current) toxic relationship. It is an interesting time to live, with all the change globally. I keep thinking that the rest of our lives are not going to be boring.” In the dark times, she considers it her responsibility to sow “the seeds of living well on this earth.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

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