The call of the wild

Mark Warren shares his love of the outdoors with students at Medicine Bow

The call of the wild


Photo by: Shanda Crowe

From an early age, Mark Warren loved two things—exploring the forest in his College Park neighborhood, and writing.

“There were plenty of little pockets of forest always around us, and those were the treasures for me,” he says. “Those were the places to which I was drawn.”

Warren (BS ’69) climbed trees, built shelters and enjoyed feeling that he could be living in another time. He discovered that he loved cold weather, noticing the beauty of what ice does to a forest.

When the weather was too bad to be outdoors he wrote stories and illustrated them, making booklets bound with yarn. His interest in illustration led him to UGA, where he spent two years as an art major before changing to pre-med. Drawing human models and training with the UGA track team—in pole vault—had spurred his interest in medicine. He was accepted to the Medical College of Georgia, but he gave up his spot before entering MCOG.

“I hadn’t yet found what I was going to do, but I knew it needed to be outside,” he says.

Warren started volunteering with the Georgia Conservancy, a statewide conservation group, and eventually accepted a staff position as a naturalist and environmental educator.

“That gave me a great beginning,” he says. “I spent time with the state’s premier scientists.”

He also worked with summer camps like Camp High Meadows in Roswell, where he took kids on weeklong trips into the mountains. Warren spent 12 years with the Georgia Conservancy and 17 years as wilderness director for High Meadows Camp. He designed and taught Georgia’s first statewide environmental education workshops for public schools and was named Georgia’s 1980 Conservation Educator of the Year by the National Wildlife Federation.

Along the way Warren studied Native American lore, learning the skills needed to survive in the outdoors. He spent years exploring creeks, rivers and whitewater, in 1998 becoming the U.S. national champion in the slalom/downriver combined. In 1999 Warren won the men’s division of the World Championship Longbow Tournament.

And he saved money to buy land, in 1990 purchasing 35 acres northwest of Dahlonega. That site is now Medicine Bow, Warren’s “primitive school of earthlore,” where he teaches a wide range of classes including archery, survival skills, blowgun, tracking, wild foods and medicine.

After 40 years of teaching, Warren now works with the children of some of his original campers. He finds that today’s kids have a lot competing for their attention—computers, video games, cell phones and other electronic devices.

“We’ve got so much glittery stuff that’s fascinating to look at that you’ve got to work at it harder as a nature teacher to get them to be awed by something,” he says.

One thing that usually works is making a fire using friction, spinning one piece of wood on another.

“Create a fire in front of some kids, and magic has happened. You’re bringing fire out of nothing, it seems.”

And he finds a common theme among his adult students.

“I believe that many come here because they feel something lacking in their connection with the natural world, and they feel an urgency to reconnect,” he says.

When he’s not teaching, Warren is writing. His first book was published last year. Two Winters in a Tipi is a memoir based on the two years he spent living in a tipi after his house was struck by lightning and burned down.

Warren’s current project is a series of books on how to teach survival and nature studies. But he’s not limited to nonfiction. He’s also written novels in a variety of genres—mystery, historical fiction, parodies, comedies and science fiction. He says he’s got enough rejection letters to wallpaper his house but loves the process. He plans to keep teaching and writing indefinitely.

“It’s a great life,” he says.

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