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Cody Lundin, Primitive Guy, is ready to go. He is wearing no shoes in the parking lot of a Safeway store outside Prescott. This is a common thing for him, this not wearing shoes. He does not wear them at home, he does not wear them when he drives, he does not wear them in frenetic classroom lectures about traveling survival kits. He does not wear them now, on a warm Saturday morning in June, in the parking lot where backpacking gear for a few hikers lays in a jumble next to his Jeep.
Three people--a 22-year-old Prescott College student, two tekkies from TRW in Mesa--have signed up for a weekend course Lundin (pronounced lun-DEEN) teaches called "The Provident Primitive." They cram themselves and their gear into the Jeep. It is a 20-minute drive to the site where they will begin hiking into a canyon overlooking the upper Verde River.
According to Lundin's brochure, "The Provident Primitive" picks up a few thousand years from where another of his courses, "The Essential Abo," leaves off. This adventure includes, for example, advanced fire making and trap setting for small animals, such as pack rats.
Five years ago, in a resourceful--one might say desperate--bid at self-support, Lundin started his own business, teaching what he calls aboriginal ("abo") living skills, "stuff we need to exist that people have totally forgot." He himself had not forgotten a whole lot of it, having been through hard times ever since his early teens. He has lived on the streets, in a commune, in a VW bus. He has lived in California.
Lundin started on the road to abo-teaching by literally starting on the road. He collected road kill, using bones and feathers to make pretty stuff he could sell. He was barely getting by. Then it dawned on him that he could possibly make a living by teaching others the fundamentals of doing the same, but in a more anthropological context.
That focus separates his from more well-known outdoors courses such as the camping-skills-oriented National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander, Wyoming, or the self-realization-based endurance fests of Outward Bound.
At the same time, it puts his in the company of an increasing number of other, lesser-known wilderness courses that embrace the concept of primitive living. The most established of the bunch is the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, or BOSS, which operates out of Flagstaff and has been leading cave-based forays in southern Utah since 1979. Other primitive hopefuls head for Reevis Mountain School, in the Superstitions east of Phoenix, or to the mountains of Vermont, where the Hardt School of Wilderness and Survival has been teaching skills like shelter construction, water purification and cordage weaving since 1988.
The great outdoors calls to people in various ways, and turning into a temporary wild thing can run you more than a few clams, depending on how long you're willing to go without a hot shower.
But Lundin may be the only aboriginal skills guru who can actually speak from real-life primitive experience. The underlying sincerity he conveys is surpassed only by his unabashed moments as a wacky primitive guy. He splits his time with duty as an adjunct instructor at Yavapai College and at his alma mater, Prescott College, where some have said, to his pigtailed face, that they consider his teachings to be out there on the fringes. At Prescott College! This is the same school where, as a student, Lundin double-majored in holistic health and Jungian-depth psychology.
Now, he offers several workshops on survival kits, but that stuff is Frontier Living Lite, the watered-down version of everything he knows. If the info comes in handy someday, maybe saves a life or something, then all the better. He uses those opportunities to make a point, though: It is one thing to have a few items to tide you over until the cavalry arrives and yet another to be able to actually live out there in the wild.
He knows, because he's done it. Much of it was not fun. He comes across not as someone with an excellent seat on the primitive bandwagon but as someone who feels extremely lucky to be where he is, as if past misfortunes could return at any moment. This is, despite his general wackiness and penchant for slogans, what gives him credibility. It is the impenetrable enthusiasm you sometimes see in a person who has been given a second chance at life.
Lundin hears a lot of these wilderness types romanticize this "living off the land" crap, the lifestyle of the noble American Indian, and he'll tell you one reason elders were so respected in those cultures--because there were so darn few of them. He gets passionate about this sort of thing, as if it were a personal matter. Do you get it? Primitive living is not survival. Primitive peoples had it rough, but they didn't survive. They lived out there.
His overnight aboriginal workshops teach skills that, he says, derive from all cultures. He purposely uses no Native American symbolism, to avoid the stereotype. His workshops have hip names like "Staying Alive" and, of course, "The Ultimate Abo," the seminar that, as his flier puts it, separates the Neanderthals from the yuppies for the modern-day bargain price of $105. For the hard-core, he does a monthlong course through Prescott College that has driven the occasional primitive wanna-be to tears.