Students build fires, shelters and community

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WHITINGHAM — Nick Neddo is giving good advice to budding survivalists.

"If humans have a superpower, it would be that they are adaptable," he told about 10 students at Twin Valley Middle High School. "The more adaptable you are, the more you will be able to thrive in different situations."

Neddo is the author of "The Organic Artist: Make Your Own Paint, Paper, Pigments and More from Nature." He shows his art in exhibits and teaches wilderness survival, tracking, hide tanning, drawing and nature awareness.

This year marks the second in which Neddo has come to Twin Valley Middle High School as an artist in residence. He comes from Montpelier to help teach Winter Survival, which is described in a press release as a six-week program in the school's Winter Wellness initiative intended to highlight "diverse programming around enjoying the great outdoors" and build community.

Neddo showed "everyday items" he created using found and naturally occurring materials. Items he had on display at Twin Valley included baskets, jackets, sunglasses and hats.

On Monday, students were learning how to make paints from stones before heading to a trail system behind the school where they were taught how to build fires and shelters.

"I like to make things," Neddo told kids. "It's fun right?"

In addition to using roadkill when available, he works with a butcher during hunting season to get his hands on hide from deer and other animals.

For making baskets, Neddo said willow is the closest thing to rubber. It can also be used as charcoal for drawing and structure for shelter.

"Birch trees are common here in the north and they are amazing," he said, describing them as "wonderful" weaving material.

Neddo worried the fire alarms would sound if his fire-making demonstration via a drill mechanism got any smokier in the classroom. Outside, the kids and adults gathered wood for a bigger fire.

"The most ideal tool is a positive attitude," Neddo told the Reformer. "With it, you keep access to your problem-solving skills."

Meghan Rigali, Twin Valley's art educator who created Winter Survival and previously worked as a winter wellness therapist in Vermont, said Neddo is "one of the leading artists to originate from Vermont, sharing his work and love of art and nature with our school community."

"We're psyched to have him here again," she told students.

Garrett Ryan, sixth grader, said he has always been interested in learning survival skills.

"In the outdoors, you get to do whatever you want and you get an open feeling," he said, "like you're free."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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