By: Shane Brown

A lot of people ask where I got my knowledge and how I came to be the caretaker of Earthroots’ Big Oak Canyon. To many, I appear very unique, maybe even like a character out of a story or from the past. I’ve been called “wild”, “caveman”, and “hermit”. I’ve been stopped countless times by people who wanted to make sure I knew the benefits of going barefoot, or why I do it, or remarking at how they wish they could or that they used to, or how tough my feet must be, or, “Don’t your feet hurt?”. They ask if I’ve seen the “Alone” or “Survivor” shows or if I’ve read “Born to Run”. People ask where I get my food, where I sleep, do I ”live off the land”? People have many questions. 

I’ll usually reply with a simple answer to these questions, like “Oh, I’m just comfortable without shoes” or, “Yes I have a car and I get food at the store”. I think many people assume that I do what I do because I’m following a trend or I’m trying to live up to certain ideals. “Oh are you training and building up your callouses?” No, actually I’ve gone barefoot for the last 14 years and it’s nothing new for me. They assume I simply was taught some information and skills and I’m now passing that on. They assume that because I appear a certain way, I must be a certain way. They try to attach any label or concept that is familiar and fit me into it.  

Let me take a moment to share more from my perspective. Going without shoes is comfortable for me, and that’s why I do it. Spending most of my time outside of houses and buildings is comfortable for me. I do things out of comfort like everyone does. I also do many things because of the values that I have deep within me, which is a little different than trying to hold myself up to the ideals or principles of a popular trend. Composting my waste is an example. Ever since I was a teenager I have been deeply emotionally and spiritually connected with the non-human world. Everything I do is connected to my values derived from this. Plants, animals, water, soil – I literally feel like they are family. My life is basically about being in better relation with them, and rebuilding human culture and connection in relation to them. I compost my waste because doing otherwise is painful to me. While I have had many formal education opportunities  and teachers which I’m grateful for, my knowledge comes in a large part from this lifelong connection and learning journey – observing the world, thinking, interacting. I saw a sticker the other day that sums it up nicely. “Lifelong student – University of the Earth” (I’m also a lifelong student at YouTube University).

One thing I’m learning is to speak more about my vision, and in doing so, speak it into existence. One of my ultimate desires is bringing people into better relationship and awareness – with everything. I actually avoid using the word “nature” because it is a meaningless word, a false concept, and probably contributes to disconnection. Let me explain. From the moment we are born, we are free of any concept of separateness. We interact and play with the world, sometimes a little more than our parents can handle. Then we start to learn boundaries. If we are taken to certain places and are told that this is “nature” – there are certain things we do here, and these things are outside of our normal daily life, and we only go here sometimes, and perhaps that this area must be protected and interaction with it must be limited – this creates the concept of separation.

In reality, the same cycles and forces that operate in those places are also alive in us humans, and in the home, and the parking lot, and the city, and on a farm, and so forth. The Earth nourishes us, is our lifeblood, and provides our food. Every place needs nourishment, and is equally deserving of protection and love. So one of the goals in the work I do in the world is to help people to become more aware of these things and enlivened and inspired by them. I want to not just share information, but stir up the wisdom that we humans have in us already, and the desire to take care and give thanks. One other thing, the role I have as a “caretaker” was never an advertised “job”. I have the role and the work that I do because I choose to. I hope that everyone can have the freedom that I do and can find the role that they choose and want rather than the one that is merely a “job”. 

Many people are unaware of what the work I do at Big Oak Canyon really involves. In addition to helping programs run smoothly, preparing materials and areas for classes, and other miscellaneous things, I also help in a variety of other areas. For example, at Earthroots, one thing we teach about a lot is plants – medicinal plants, wild edible plants, plants we use for crafts, and plants in the garden. One of my visions is to help make these plants more accessible and bring them closer to people so that we can all grow in deeper connection with them.

There are many different opinions about harvesting and using plants from the “wild”. Some are concerned about safety and are not comfortable enough to identify and use plants on their own. Some advocate for not taking anything from the “wild”, and growing your own instead. At Earthroots, we follow different rules based on where we are with the class. At Big Oak Canyon, a nursery is slowly growing with many of the wild plants that we teach about, and many fruit trees and perennial plants that are edible or useful in some way. Some plants have already gone home with students, parents, and volunteers. My hope is to continue growing this nursery, and help our students, families, and community grow more of these plants at home, and spread the abundance of these native and useful plants. 

At Big Oak, I am also growing a composting operation, with the help of volunteers and community. Compost goes to make potting soil for the plants, and to enrich the soil in planting areas. The process starts with gathering materials – woodchips, food waste, manure, green waste – and combining it into a pile with a specific recipe. Each pile that I make ends up as about a cubic yard of rich compost after a few months. Students and anyone from the greater community can contribute by bringing food waste or green waste to help build the piles! At the moment I have 3 piles going. With more help, we could make enough to start giving back to the community and spreading this rich compost in gardens and yards to help grow abundant plants! 

So let’s be a “caretaker” together and help this community and this place we call home thrive!