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Thomas J. Elpel

PO Box 697
Pony, MT 59747
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Thomas J. Elpel
Author, Builder, Educator, and Conservationist

About Tom: Résumé | Books | Videos | Programs & Classes | Articles | News | Blog
Back to Nature: Experiential Education | Wilderness Survival | Botany | Conservation
Sustainable Living: Green Building | Green Economics | Green Energy

      "Nothing about Elpel is ordinary. At 51, he says he held down a regular job for perhaps one year in his life. He didn't go to college. He writes books that he publishes himself through his own Pony-based publishing house called HOPS Press. His books, "Botany in a Day," "Foraging the Mountain West," and "Green Prosperity," are popular enough that he can support himself. The books have also supported his venture of buying a piece of land south of Cardwell where he teaches kids and adults survivalist skills with mountains to the east. The programs are called OWLS (Outdoor Wilderness Living School) and Green University."

-- Susan Dunlap, The Montana Standard
Montanan plans to canoe entire Missouri River

Tom Elpel.

Programs & Classes
with Thomas J. Elpel

      I love information and ideas, and I love sharing and exchanging with other people. I get excited about a new recipe for a wild plant, or a new way to identify it. I get equally excited about new ideas about construction methods and building low-cost, high-efficiency homes. I am interested in everything from Stone Age living skills to stone masonry, from self-sufficiency to global sustainability, politics, and changing the world. I love working with anyone who is enthusiastic about almost anything, and teaching is my favorite way to expand my own education. I find that everyone has something to teach, and I can learn something from a ten-year-old as easily as from a instructor with years more experience than myself.

Thomas J. Elpel teaching kids about wiki-ups.       More than anything, I believe in the exchange of information as the essential means to make the world a better place. I believe that people generally make the best choices they are aware of, and that the means to make the world a better place to expand those possible choices. I love working with kids, getting them out of the classroom and back into the real world, where they thrive and thirst for knowledge and experiences. I also love working with adults, sharing ideas and creating whole new possibilities--whether it is a better way to tan hides or a better way to improve our transportation system.

      On this page you will find basic information and links to our various classes and immersion opportunities through Outdoor Wilderness Living School LLC (OWLS) and Green University®, LLC. Please scroll down this page for additional details.

Stone Age Skills for Kids
Programs for Public Schools, Private Schools, Scout Troops, and Custom Groups
Outings with Thomas J. Elpel and Outdoor Wilderness Living School, LLC (OWLS)

      Working with kids in nature is the most rewarding work I do. Young people are hungry to connect with the real world and often deprived of the opportunity to experience it. Even here in rural Montana, kids grow up immersed in an electronic, mental world, in danger of never discovering what's outside the back door. Many of our young people have lived here all their lives, yet never hiked up to a nearby mountain lake or even camped out overnight, except on their own lawns. These kids come alive when we take them out of the classroom and back into the real world, engaged in primitive skills and nature awareness through our Ancient Living Skills Programs at OWLS.

Classroom in the Woods. DVD.       My efforts to reconnect kids with nature began when our own kids were in elementary school in Harrison, Montana. I volunteered to bring their classes out for day-long field trips every year. We went out in the woods and built shelters, started fires with flint & steel kits, gathered rose hips and herbs for tea, played stalking games, and cooked over the campfire. When my daughters entered junior high, we upped the ante and started doing overnight trips, as documented in our Classroom in the Woods DVD.

Kids enjoying a mud fight.       Today, we conduct these programs through our business, Outdoor Wilderness Living School LLC (OWLS). We offer day-long programs for elementary kids and overnight trips for junior high grades, creating an immersive, educational experience that runs through all the activities. Our junior high kids, for example, learn to start a fire by rubbing sticks together with the bow and drill. They carve their own sets, start a fire, and then use that fire to cook their food. They don't have dishes, either. They make plates out of tree bark and use twigs as chopsticks. They cook a stir-fry dinner without a metal pan by chopping up meat and veggies on a wooden trough, inwhich they cook by rolling hot rocks around with the food. We also cook bread in a stone oven. This is just a small sampling of the skills covered in the four-day/three-night outings.

Outdoor Wilderness Living School Logo.       I constantly hear reports back from the local school that the kids talk about these programs all year long, and reminisce about it for years to come. That is not a testament to the quality of our programs, so much as it is a testament to what is missing from the daily lives of nearly every child in America. Playing video games or hanging out at the mall doesn't make much of a memory. But give kids a chance to run wild in the woods--stalking wildlife, crafting from nature, having mud fights, and learning about sticks and rocks and plants and animals... that builds memories and gives the kids something to be proud of.

      For more information about our programs and how to set up a class for your public or private school, scout troop, or custom group, please go to Outdoor Wilderness Living School LLC

Adult Programs
Wilderness Survival, Sustainable Living, and Green Business Development Programs
Classes and Immersion Programs with Thomas J. Elpel and Green University®, LLC

Kris Reed demonstrating hand drill fire starting.

      I started offering basic wilderness survival skills classes for adults in 1991 through our original business, Hollowtop Outdoor Primitive School, LLC. These early classes were mostly workshops on specific skills, such as hide-tanning, basketry, or basic survival skills, such as fire-making and shelter construction. These classes were hobby classes, taking a back seat to my primary career as an author and publisher. However, working with people and sharing ideas has always been deeply satisfying, so I kept the hobby business going, slowly evolving it over the years, offering wilderness skills along with a smattering of sustainable living skills, such as stone masonry classes.

      As our work with the public schools began to blossom and take on a life of its own, we separated the adult program into its own school. In the fall of 2004, I launched Green University®, LLC for our adult-level programs. Through G.U., we continue to offer workshops on specific skills such as hide-tanning, however, the primary focus is on the Immersion Program, where individuals come and stay with us for weeks, months, or years to immerse deeply in primitive skills, sustainable living, and--if interested--green business development projects.

      I really enjoy the Immersion Program because of the deeper relationships that form through extended time together, practicing skills, working together on building projects, and recreating together. I greatly appreciate the idealism of the young people that come to stay with us, especially since I've never given up my own idealism. It is energizing to be around people who care deeply about the earth and desire to live in balance.

Intern soldering passive solar hot water heater.       In a regular workshop, there is only time for me play teacher and share my own knowledge. The Immersion Program, in contrast, allows for deeper, two-way conversations covering any and every topic in the universe. I have the opportunity to set aside the teacher role and live as equals with participants, sharing and evolving ideas together. Students immerse themselves into our world, practicing primitive skills, working together on various construction projects, helping out as instructors in our programs with the public schools, living with our family, and recreating together.

Green University Logo TM.       I often feel like I am the student in these relationships, as the people that come here typically bring great skills and experiences they have picked up in their travels. Because of this deeper relationship, I maintain contact with the majority of our past Immersion Program studens, working together on long-term projects, or hearing bits and pieces of their lives as they continue to find their path in life, building on their experiences from Green University®, LLC. For more information about our adult workshops, the Immersion Program, and the occasional free walkabout or canoe trip, please go to Green University®, LLC.

Hi Thomas,

Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.       I just wanted to say, thank you for your wonderful books! I came across Participating in Nature about 5 years ago at the library, and it was a big part of my discovery of rewilding and ancestral skills. Fast-forwarding to the present, I am now super involved with Rewild Portland, and was thrilled to make the winning bid at the annual fundraiser last Friday, for a Thomas Elpel 3 book set! I am now a very happy owner of Participating in Nature, Botany in a Day, and Roadmap to Reality. Reading through Participating in Nature again reminds me why I am doing this, and reinforces my interest even more. Thanks again so very much! And I hope to get to meet you at a gathering sometime! Thank you,


      Looking for life-changing resources? Check out these books by Thomas J. Elpel:

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.
Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, and the Blossoming of Human Spirit
to Reality
Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
Mountain West
Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
in a Day
Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids

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