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Crafting and Fletching Our Atl Atl


Much was accomplished and enjoyed in the forest today. Students proudly showed off their straightened dart shafts to one another as they arrived. They did a great job tending to their snaky Dogwood shafts throughout the week. It is no small feat to accomplish, and their attention to detail and diligence to the craft was evident.

We gathered together in our usual way, making sure that everyone gives—and receives—a warm welcome from each other. Afterwards, we tuned in to the world with our senses, taking note of the raven calls overhead, the unseasonal call of the spring peepers, and even the shrieking of a cat fight in the forest (which a crow swooped in to investigate!). There is never a dull moment—only dull senses, which are easily remedied! 

After a fun morning game led by Bella, we made it to camp and settled in for a snack and heard a story from Kevin about when the hunters forgot to honor the animals. The result was disastrous and served as a reminder to us as we craft our hunting tools—the Atl atl.

We kindled a fire and had spacious time to experiment with the Ferro Rods (aka "Flint and Steel sets") which everyone made last semester, lighting carefully constructed piles of fluffy cattail fluff, allowing the flame to briefly climb the pile and then "catching the flame" with a thin wisp of birch bark. Once done, we all used char cloth to catch a spark and nurture a coal to be blown into flames within a perfect "bird's nest" of fluffy cedar bark.

Once the fire was going, several students mixed up a batch of bread dough to cook ash cakes—small biscuits cooked directly on the ashy coals of a campfire. As the ash cakes were cooking, some students made snakes of dough to curl around roasting sticks. The gluten-free kids roasted pepperoni. After a great lunch, we got busy on the Atl atls. The dried shafts that needed additional straightening were slowly heated over the fire and bent so that they became straight as an arrow. Once straight, they were sanded and oiled before getting fletched. We assisted them in binding turkey feather fletchings to their darts, because you really could use at least three hands to do the job. The feathers create drag on the back end of the dart, allowing it to follow behind the front end. As they were completed, they were put to the test, and flew straight and true!

Next week, we will fletch the remaining darts and practice a simple and effective way to propel the dart long distances at high speeds. Fun fact: Atl atl is an Aztec word meaning “Far, far”! This hunting technology shows up in the archeological record on all settled continents and preceded the bow and arrow. Will we be able to hunt Mammoths with this technology? You bet!

—Josh and Kevin