With new buildings and new businesses occupying new territory throughout the area there is no doubt the metropolis of Ann Arbor is growing taller and wider, which to some this high-rise brick and mortar type of expansion spells success, but leave it up to a city dubbed “Treetown” to summon expert help from the outside to remind us of our roots.
The rugged paths of Fjällräven’s Assistant Store Manager Favian Saenz from Soho, N.Y., and Tawodi Nature School founder Kevin “Hawk” Dean from Canal Winchester, Ohio have joined to bring the Ann Arbor community a vital dose of nature through “Bushcraft Workshops” hosted by Fällräven on Mainstreet. The story of their mutual determination to share their love of nature that led them to this point is truly inspiring.
“So everything is intermingled between my personal experiences, my connection with Kevin and with Fjällräven,” Saenz said. “I started the hobby of bushcraft (wilderness survival skills) about four years ago and bushcraft is where I found Fjällräven and through Fjällräven I’m enabled do what I love to do – work in a fun environment and help people get outside.”
It was Saenz who came up with the idea to host Bushcraft Workshops at the store and reached out to Dean.
“I’ve been following Kevin for a while (on Instagram),” Saenz said. “I moved from New York City to come work and help run the store here in Ann Arbor, and after some time I realized, hey Kevin is in Ohio, it would really be great to incorporate him into our brand, and the reason being is because deep down in the roots of Fjällräven we are a trekking and hiking brand, but there’s a lot of Bushcraft incorporation into the Swedish culture. When you dig deep into the Bushcraft community a huge portion is in appreciation of the Swedish and Sámi culture, so it just makes sense.”
Dean worked for the Central Ohio Park District for years, but he wanted to utilize and share his Bushcraft skills and love of nature in a more meaningful way, and as a result he opened Tawodi Nature School last year.
“I was a park ranger for six years and I switched to the maintenance department for six years, which I enjoyed but I had to put it behind me so I could focus all my energy into the school,” he said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I grew up loving the woods, loving nature and feeling at home in nature. I always had this idea that I wanted to teach nature reconnection to people. So far it’s been well-received. Everyone’s loving it. I’m on Instagram and a lot of people are supporting what I do and that really means the world to me.”
Both Saenz and Dean share a deep, almost shamanistic, sense that rediscovering nature is a key to healing the human condition and they are creating opportunities for people to unplug, get grounded and regroup.
“I think there’s such a gap that has formed between humankind and nature,” Dean said. “So I’m working to close that gap. I want to do that through the teaching of wilderness living skills and through outdoor education because I believe those things go hand-in-hand. So reconnecting people to nature is my ultimate goal. My goal right now is to get the word out to surrounding communities. We’re also looking to go into more of an online platform for our teaching where there would be a class series that you can go to on the website, so I think that would make it a lot easier for people to learn new skills and they don’t have to travel very far, they can just do it in their own home.”
Saenz’s innovative thinking as an organizer has him working toward creating a hub for the Bushcraft community in Ann Arbor by inviting veterans and newcomers alike to the store for face to face interaction with other outdoor enthusiasts.
“I want to join the community of Bushcraft with our store and help people find a new thing and find something that helps them get fired up about going outside because it has really fired me up,” he says. “I feel like there is a disconnect. I feel like the majority of the Bushcraft community kind of buys their products online, but doesn’t really come to the store because they feel like people in the store or staff members don’t have that knowledge of Bushcraft and I want to bridge that gap and say, we know you support us, we want to support you, too. So let’s do events together. Let’s bring together the store environment and the Bushcraft community and share that with the rest of the public.”
Though Dean is travelling a few hours to come up to Ann Arbor from Ohio, he sees the value of collaborating as part his broader vision.
“I think together between my school and Fällräven our hope is to inspire people to ‘enjoy and appreciate the outdoors on nature’s terms’ and I think they worded that perfectly,” says Dean. “So together that’s our main focus with these workshops.”
The first of three workshops was held during Bloom Fest last Saturday. There are two more scheduled for the next two Saturdays (May 18 and May 25) from noon to 5 p.m. The workshops will include demonstrations, discussion and activities.
“He (Dean) had like three people successfully create an ember with a bow drill,” says Saenz. “And they were like ‘wow, I can do this!’ So we’re going to have a little bit more of that; getting a little bit more of audience interaction and more hands on. I really want this to be as hands-on as possible and create memorable experiences.”
Bushcraft Workshop with Kevin Dean of Tawodi Nature School
Saturday (May 18 and May 25) from noon to 5 p.m.
Fjällräven Ann Arbor
213 South Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104