A year in nature

Five young women spent a year in a log hootch in the woods of the Cascade foothills, east of Ashland, an epic challenge designed to enrich self-confidence and connection with nature, as well as the heart of a just-released film called “Earth Seasoned: #Gap Year.”

The 75-minute movie, produced and directed by Molly Kreuzman of the local Coyote Trails School of Nature, shows the women cutting and stripping logs for their underground home, mixing clay and straw to mortar cracks, making fire by the friction of bow and sticks, tracking animals, meditating and — the hardest part — getting along with each other in close quarters for 365 days.

One woman is from Portland. The others are from out of state. This is the fourth year Coyote Trails has done it. It was coincidence they were all girls. It’s been co-ed.

The engaging and beautifully shot movie focuses on one girl, Tori Davis, who has been bullied in high school and diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and dyslexia, but flowers during the gritty immersion in nature as one who has moved into confident womanhood, says Kreuzman.

“It’s been an incredibly life-changing experience to live on a mountain primitively for a full year,” Tori says. “I was in special ed in school … Out here, there was fighting among us and I was afraid they were going to hurt each other.” But ironically, says Kreuzman, the one who emerged as the peace-maker was Tori.

The movie shows soundbites from Tori’s parents in Ohio, who had to take a giant step to put their young daughter in the wilds of Oregon.

“You’re isolated,” says dad Mike Davis, in the movie. “People talked about the dangers of it, but it comes down to the fact you’re isolated. It was fear of the unknown. It was such an unusual thing.”

Her mother, Jeannette Aslanian, says, “It took me four or five months to get used to it. I said ‘explain it to me. Tell me why I should be OK with this.’ Finally, I was all in.”

Speaking of the whole adventure, “caretaker graduate” Amanda Smith, their supervisor, said, “I think people crave something beyond the self and nature provides that, when you’re out there on a mountain for a year.”

Joe Kreuzman, lead instructor, partner in Coyote Trails and husband of film director Molly Kreuzman, said “it’s not a full-blown survival program. That would take many months just to learn. It’s an introduction to a lifelong connection to nature. We go back and slow down, detox and purge all distractions that we build up around ourselves and connect to the natural flow.”

The girls are not totally isolated, but drive to a swimming hole and, once a month, take a jump down to Shop’N Kart to buy the groceries they will eat. It’s always a shock for them, the huge sensory inputs, noises, the many food choices, says Molly, and they find themselves keeping their distance from other shoppers and eager to get home.

Joe, in the film, observes, “You find your own medicine up here, not what society or parents or peers want you to be. You find your own place of personal power that will steer and guide you for the rest of your life. You find your place of passion. The first three or four months is hard, then comes the hump. There’s no electronics. Your every whim is not met. You slow down. You’re digging holes, sawing wood, carrying your own water, sleeping with the earth, listening to the birds.”

Tori’s teacher back home is in the film and comments on the excessive use of meds for learning disorders, such as Tori’s — leading Joe to comment, “a 20-minute walk in nature does more than one dose of that.”

The film has been accepted into the Ashland Independent Film Festival and the Kreuzmans are seeking to show it in more festivals, public schools, National Parks, and a range of organizations in the areas of outdoors, film and child programs, she says.

“The message of the film is reconnection with nature. It can help heal us,” says Molly. “People say five women can’t live a year alone in the woods. I say why not. The thing of bullying in school, I wanted to show that time and nature can help heal that. We teach ‘sit spot’ meditation (sitting in the same spot every day). Reconnection with the self is so important, especially for kids.”

Tori was “different” in school and, says Molly, here, “I wanted to show how bonding can happen among girls. The ‘mean girls’ stereotype perpetuates the wrong notion. Young women are not really like that.”

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at [email protected].

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