Jeff Gottlieb: Crafts, Cordage, and Community

"Build strong communities and learn to collaborate with each other. The day of the lone wolf is over."

Jeff Gottlieb is one of the friendliest folks you will get to know at any  Earthskills Gathering. He is always ready to lend a hand, or an ear…whatever the case may need. Whether he’s telling stories, spying on birds, or twisting up some cordage, Jeff is sure to educate as well as entertain!

Jeff was a naturalist from a young age and moved into studying plants, animals and their environments in college in order to further his understanding of the Earth. From there, Jeff figured he also needed to add humans into his study of ecology, so he earned his MS in Biology. This experience, along with his endless love for crafting things, led him to Primitive Technology.

Jeff was taking classes with the late American archaeologist and flintknapper Errett Callahan in 1988 when the idea of a Society of Primitive Technology came up. In one of the early newsletters, Benjamin Pressley started a group called Tribe, in which members got together to share skills and wisdom. This is when Jeff realized that the community around earthskills was calling to him. Darry Wood, one of the founding fathers of the Rendezvous Gathering, invited him to teach at a Falling Leaves Rendezvous, and the rest is history!

One of Jeff’s main influences on this path was J. Stuart Hilbert, who taught an ecology class for kids and eventually hired Jeff as an assistant. Professor Dick Bothner was a graduate school mentor who guided Jeff through his thesis on the hellbender salamander and became like a second father to Jeff. The list goes on to include teachers of primitive technology, a Cherokee-trained herbalist and medicine man, and many more, some of who are integral parts of earthskills gatherings today.

Jeff has been teaching nature programs since 1980 and began specializing in primitive skills in 1987. His experience ranges from teaching at a Natural History Museum, to leading ecology field trips and teaching his own workshops. Firefly is the gathering closest to home for Jeff, and he’s loved these Southern Appalachian mountains for 25 years. The community he has built in this area holds him close, like these ancient hills.

When asked what the single most important thing folks can do to make the world a better place, Jeff responded with the advice to build strong communities and learn to collaborate with each other. He firmly believes that “the day of the lone wolf is over.”

The earthskills movement means the world to Jeff because it has penetrated most of his daily and professional life. He forages for food, builds wigwams, cuts his own firewood, selects wood for carving, walks outdoors for exercise, watches for birds in his yard, and uses his natural history knowledge to understand what’s happening around him. He even hand-built his home with natural materials. These skills form not only the basis of his teaching and crafting and replica business, but they also represent the cadence of his day-to-day life.

Jeff believes spending time in nature is crucial for eliminating and preventing so many of the common chronic issues that plague modern humans. Fresh air and connection with the natural world lowers stress, allows for healthier (foraged) food, prevents a sedentary life, reduces depression, enhances brain function, reduces ADHD symptoms, and so much more. Jeff has arranged his life so that he doesn’t have to escape his normal routine to immerse himself in nature. He simply lives naturally, as humans were meant to.  Join him at an earthskills gathering near you! 

WRITTEN BY

Firefly Gathering

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