Rewild, v; to return to a more wild or self-willed state; the process of undoing domestication. Synonyms: undomesticate, uncivilize.
Hello and welcome to my website. My name is Peter Michael Bauer. I have been writing about rewilding (as the reversal of human domestication) since 2006. I’m the author of the book Rewild or Die (2008), the creator of the international web forum for rewilding www.rewild.com, and the founder of the local non-profit, Rewild Portland (based in Portland, OR).
I consider myself a multi-disciplinary artist and environmental educator. I’m a fourth generation Portlander. My first merit badge in the Boy Scouts was basketry. From there I went on to receive the esteemed rank of Eagle Scout. It was during my years camping with the scouts that I began to yearn for a deeper connection to place. At the age of sixteen, inspired by Daniel Quinn’s book “Ishmael,” I dropped out of high school and ran away from home to travel across the United States and attend Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracking, Nature Observation and Wilderness Survival School in New Jersey. After that I went to Wilderness Awareness School in Washington state, where I attended several Art of Mentoring workshops led by Jon Young. Later I was heavily influenced by the works of Joseph Campbell, Derrick Jensen, Nancy Turner, Douglas Deur, M. Kat Anderson, Finisia Medrano, and Martin Prechtel. I began blogging about rewilding under the moniker “Urban Scout” in 2004. During this time, as Urban Scout (2004 – 2008) I received local press in the The Oregonian, Portland Mercury, Willamette Week, national press in ReadyMade Magazine and international press in Positive Living Magazine (UK) and Chain Reaction (AU) for my efforts to create and promote the culture of rewilding. In 2007 I created www.rewild.com, an international online forum dedicated to discussions about rewilding. In 2008 I published a collection of my blogs into a book, Rewild or Die. In 2009, after dedicating so much time to writing and managing the rewild.com site, I founded Rewild Portland. Rewild Portland is non-profit organization with the mission of creating cultural and environmental resilience through the education of earth-based arts, traditions, and technologies. I love basketry, playing the banjo, and am a fluent speaker of Chinuk Wawa (AKA Chinook Jargon), the Native trade language of the Pacific Northwest and heritage language of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. During the summer of 2012 I attended Lynx Vilden’s Stone Age immersion program. I’ve been an environmental educator for over a decade, working with local organizations like Cascadia Wild, Friends of Tryon Creek, Audubon Society, Portland Waldorf, Shining Star Waldorf, Cleveland High School, and am the executive director at Rewild Portland, a non-profit that I founded. I currently serve on the board of the Columbia Basin Basketry Guild.
I believe that civilization fundamentally destroys biodiversity and is in the process of an extended collapse. In response I have decided to dedicate my life to walking away from this culture, and to create a new culture based on ancestral hunter-gatherers. In short, I live as a “hunter-gatherer wannabe” in search of meaning and community in the time of ecological and cultural collapse. As a multi-disciplinary artist I feel I have a duty to mythologize this process to inspire others to join the rewilding renaissance. I write stuff, makes videos, take pictures, make designs, teach classes and use this blog as an educational public exhibition space.
At 16 I began to independently study the structure, history, and future of our civilization after reading Daniel Quinn’s “Ishmael.” This book inspired me to become an anthropological auto-didact. I came to the conclusion that civilization will not, can not, reach a point of sustainability, but come crashing to the ground. If I wanted to survive through this collapse, I needed to learn how to hunt and gather and live with the earth. This became more than simply an idea; it became more like a religion. I dropped out of high school and ran away from home to begin learning how to live in an indigenous way. Since the late 90’s I have learned, practiced, and instructed people in these ancient skills through various organizations. Even though I teach these skills, I will always feel vastly ignorant to what even a young child in a hunter-gatherer culture would know and sense of their own environment. I do not consider myself an “expert,” but a “catalyst” of rewilding. Meaning, my life’s work is to be a catalyst for the rewilding renaissance. Not a guru, just a match lighter. I decided to undo the process of my domestication yet remain within the largely domesticated urban environment of my hometown Portland, Oregon and the more rural and wild areas surrounding it.
As you may imagine, many physical, emotional, social, philosophical and existential difficulties arise as I attempt to rewild myself from a total city slicker born and raised to work as a wage slave in a coffee shop, into the lifestyle of an indigenous hunter-gatherer living off the land in a sustainable way. Indigenous children had the abilities to survive in the wilderness without their culture for several weeks at the age of around 9 to 12 years old. Unlike those kids, I don’t have the luxury of a million year old sustainable culture to immerse myself in for 9-12 years to prepare myself for such a rite of passage. Basically I work towards making an immersion “curriculum” for myself, imitating what I know of hunter-gatherer cultures. What I figure out, I teach to others. I do not believe a person can take a few lectures on survival or primitive living and then go do it. I believe it takes years of practice, generations of committed cultures in fact. I have created as close as I can the safety and security children in primitive cultures had while slowly, carefully and respectfully learning to survive without those comforts.
I do not intend to replicate the kid from the book Into the Wild or the guy in the documentary Grizzly Man or the TV show Survivor Man or Man vs. Wild. Cheating death, extreme situations, running away to live alone in the woods or “making it back out alive” stem from a civilized fear of nature and lack of community. I understand the elements can kill and I will not let myself freeze, starve, get eaten, die from sickness, etc. I take baby steps toward a primitive lifestyle; slowly but surely leaving civilization behind . Therefore my health and hygiene, like that of the wild animal, lie at the top of my priorities.
You might think that leaving civilization behind implies leaving the city. However, I cannot run away to the wilderness because my family and friends cannot join me out there, and I cannot live without them. Humans, I believe, have evolved over time as socially organized animals. A lone human, hell even a dozen humans in the woods doesn’t come close to our socially designed way of living. A lone bee cannot live without its hive. Humans can function, but not truly live, without their tribe. My “tribe” (for lack of a better word) lives in Portland and the surrounding area. Therefore when I say I have left civilization behind , I speak of course, about the culture or economy of civilization, not the physical space in which civilization resides (the urban jungle). Though I do spend lots of time in the country and wilderness as well.
I built this website to catalog my urban-hunter-gatherer-grower adventure. Enjoy.
For many long-time readers, I get asked this question often. In brief, I say that Urban Scout was a moniker, a muse, and I’ve moved on. This feels unsatisfactory to me, so I’ll go into more detail.
Urban Scout was fictional character created accidentally by me and a friend as a film character during the summer of 2003. He became more of an alter-ego and muse for me in late 2004 when we were wrapping up the short film/tv pilot for the character. From there it turned into a blog and persona. This blog was originally founded as “The Adventures of Urban Scout”. I wrote that Urban Scout was “part fact/part fiction, part man/part myth.” I said that I tried “to use the comedic irony and novelty of our situation as a clever disguise to cloak and spread a truly sustainable world view, for a time beyond our own.” The blog and online persona was very active from about 2006 to 2009. By 2011 I wasn’t writing much here anymore and my book tour in the spring of that year was sort of a swan song for the muse. From time to time I hear his voice in my head and it feels like I have to hold him back. It’s not really *me* but it’s something deeper that speaks through me from a far off place. The place where my soul meets the other world. That’s all I can really say about that.
Looking back now is weird. I had to get my own identity back. Learn to interpret what he says and filter it through my own head rather than just give him the reins. I’m able to take what he says and feels and translate it into something more “broadly appealing”. However, that’s not particularly my goal. My goal over the last few years has been to actively create a rewilding community in Portland, through my non-profit, Rewild Portland. Urban Scout helped me to clarify my own purpose and to understand the power of the muse. I’m too sensitive though. Urban Scout doesn’t give a darn what people think, really. But since we share the same body, or rather because I let him use my body and mind as a vehicle, I get blamed for his assholery. My heart just couldn’t take it anymore. I’m a nice person and I want people to like me. I had to shut him up because his spirit is one of “truth-speaking” and generally people don’t want to hear the truth, and even more especially when it comes from an angry sounding dude. Now that I don’t give him total creative control (so to speak), I feel much happier and I’ve made a lot more headway in creating the kind of life I want to live.
Here’s how it all started…
Long ago I ran a monthly independent film screening called Broadcast. We held the screening on the full moon of every month. For each moon, we would ask a “Sacred Question,” which people could answer by making a video to show at the following screening. Honestly, I don’t remember the question that inspired me with this particular idea. Maybe we asked, “Where will you go when you die,” or perhaps, “Who are your ancestors?” It doesn’t really matter now I suppose, but it would feel nice to remember.
Whatever the inspiring question, my idea felt simple yet powerful. I wrote a 60 second monologue about a man living in a post-collapse world, traveling back to the ruins of downtown Portland to observe the ghosts of his ancestors, who had sadly not realized they had died long ago and so continued to go to work everyday (Get the metaphor?). I would place the monologue over shots of me in a loin cloth, camouflaged with mud, and perched on buildings like Batman.
In the late summer of 2003 I asked my friend to shoot the video for me. He obliged. We ran around town shooting little bits here, little bits there. When we finished he convinced me to buy coffee wearing my loin cloth while he filmed me. He said he would capture the footage onto his laptop and give it to me later. As fate would have it, that never happened. Instead, he edited the coffee shop vignette and showed that at Broadcast. A funny 30 second short about a dude in a loin cloth, covered in mud, buying coffee like a regular shmoe. He comically titled the short Urban Scout.
Rewind a few years. During my brief time attending the Wilderness Awareness Community School I met a student who alleged to have gone barefoot for three years, wearing merely sandals during the winter. Feeling inspired to try this, I threw my shoes in the closet and set out to feel the world with my feet. Eventually I noticed I could not go in certain places; no shoes, no service. This gave me an idea. I created the trojan horse of the barefoot movement; cutting out the soles of my old shoes and stitching the top of a pair of socks into them. We used the term “Urban Scout” quite often in those days, probably originating from us city slickers who found inspiration from Tom Brown Jr.’s The Way of the Scout. We used the term to describe someone who used the skills of invisibility and wilderness awareness within an urban habitat. Since the shoes rendered my barefootedness invisible and kept the sensory data feet pick up available, I called the shoes my Urban Scout Shoes. No one ever blinked an eye at them, I never got caught.
An ironic, tongue-in-cheek title for a cartoonish character who obviously did not fit the scout code of “invisibility,” Urban Scout, the 30 second video sent the Broadcast audience into a fit of laughter, telling us to make more. So he and I wrote several more shorts for Urban Scout, but neither one of us seemed to have the time to shoot them. At a screenwriting class I took (that I later dropped out of) I pitched the idea of an Urban Scout movie to the class. The teacher looked at me and said, “This is a short, right?” At the time I thought it would make a great feature length movie, however it felt intimidating to even attempt something like that. The whole class stared at me and I responded, “…Yes.” At that moment, I knew I would write and shoot the movie that summer. I decided to string the shorts we had written into one long short with a story. I rewrote it so many times that the only short to appeared in the longer short: Urban Scout lighting cigarettes for change. An idea that had come to me years previous.
Rewind again, even earlier. At 17 years old, I had just returned from the Tracker School’s summer camp for teens. As I walked down the bus mall a woman stepped out from a shelter, “Do you have a light?” she asked. At the time I didn’t smoke. “No, sorry.” I carried on, but then I had a thought, “Well… Do you mind waiting a minute?” She looked at me funny. I smiled and opened my backpack, pulling out my Bow-drill set. As I began to drill she watched in awe. A small crowd gathering and when I blew the tinder into flames they gave me an applause, while smokers took turns lighting their cigarettes. At that moment I knew I had something. I could feel the potential but didn’t yet know where it would take me.
I spent the summer of 2004 shooting The Adventures of Urban Scout.
To gain more publicity for the release of the short, I created Friendster and Myspaceprofiles for Urban Scout. This led to necessary photo shoots and deeper character development. After shooting the film I continued to do these improvisational shoots, and I began to go out alone, without a camera. I signed Urban Scout up for a local Gong Show where the Suburban Scout and I did a mock battle on stage (which, after a few drinks ended up looking more like a real battle as I forgot to duck for one of the punches) and ended with me lighting a cigarette with a bow-drill. Much of the improvisation helped shape the character and changed some of the script too. But something else, something unexpected happened during that time.
People started calling me Urban Scout. People I didn’t know, had heard of me… I mean, had heard of Urban Scout… The character I played. Somehow they got it confused and thought that Urban Scout and I had the same body. I began to wonder this too. Especially later on, when parts of the feature length script I had started working on, began to manifest in reality…
My promotional antics culminated at the first Nuclear Winter Formal; a multimedia show I curated to serve as the premiere of The Adventures of Urban Scout short film. You’d think it would end there. But during one of my solo improve days something happened to me. As my bare feet touched the hot pavement and as my loin cloth blew in the wind I remembered something. My quest for several years prior revolved around finding out what an animist hero looked like. Somewhere along the way I gave up on that quest… or thought I had. But here I stood, seeming like quite a model for how I wished I could live myself. A man pulled over and rolled down his window. ”
“Hey man.” He said.
“Hey.” I replied.
“What’s with the loin cloth?”
“I hunt and gather. I believe Civilization will collapse real soon and I want to prepare for it.”
“Seriously? What do you eat?”
“Road kill, plants, stuff I hunt & fish.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“I live at Oaks Bottom, a wildlife refuge down the street.”
“No way!? Amazing… Can you teach me?”
Something happened here. Something I can’t explain. A trigger in my brain. It does feel amazing, I thought. Really amazing! But then my heart sank. I didn’t really live this way… But could I?
“…Uh. I don’t… I…” I tried to respond.
“How can I get a hold of you?”
“Yeah. A friend I have lets me use his computer sometimes.”
“Crazy. This is crazy. Thank you so much. I’ll look for you!”
He sped away. Don’t know if he ever found me or what. Never said anything if he did. But something in me changed and I thought about myself, “what a poseur.” I only acted. I played Urban Scout, I didn’t really live the way he does. That seems impossible… but could I? Why simply write the story of your hero, when you couldlive the story of your hero?
I decided to turn my adventures as Urban Scout into a blog and see if I could actually live like the character in the story. Then things got really weird. Urban Scout became such a part of what I have done, that the boundaries of reality and fantasy began to merge. More and more people called me Urban Scout. Or Scout. Or Urbs, Urbby. Bourbon Scout. And on and on. Parts of the script came true, a nemesis revealed themselves; Hippie Scout, similar to Urban Scout’s nemesis in the script, Suburban Scout. I began to date a girl attending PSU for Native American Studies, as Urban Scout dates an Anthropology Major in the script. Multiple stunts, street performances, photo shoots, blogs, Nuclear Winter Formals, internet friends, publicized feuds, summer camps, national and international news articles later… It was funny to see how artistic projects evolve.
Eventually I published a collection of blogs into the book “Rewild or Die”. During the book tour my car was totaled by haters. It was then that I felt that my life was being threatened by Urban Scout and I decided to switch gears and put him on ice. He is still in my head, only now I filter what he says and make it more digestible for people. I also don’t spend as much time writing or blogging, as I have invested most of my time into creating a community of rewilding in Portland so that we can support each other on the journey back to an ancestral lifeway.