Wisconsin Man Explores Life Without Modern Comforts

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — Sean Sullivan did not step straight out of the 1790s into modern-day downtown Wausau, but you would be forgiven for wondering if he did.

Sullivan’s choice of fashion is distinctly frontier fur-trader style, with his homemade buck-skin fringed shirts, elk-skin pants, moccasins and dark beard reaching down to his chest.

“I don’t blend into the crowds very well,” said Sullivan, 34, of Wausau. “My style is definitely a little outdated.”


But his clothes allow him to fit into any kind of wild backcountry and are very much an outward reflection of the person Sullivan is. He’s a guy with a yearning for outdoor life and a consuming interest in how people lived before modernity set in with its blended fabrics, electricity and GPS.

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It’s not just about the clothes. He’s a practitioner of bushcraft, the kinds of skills man needed to survive in the natural world for thousands of years, from the Stone Age to American colonial times. Sullivan made and uses a knife fashioned from animal bone, for example, and makes spears and arrows of various kinds. He tans the hides he uses to make his clothes.

“This is the current step on a very long journey,” Sullivan told USA Today Network-Wisconsin . “Fur-trade history is a big interest of mine. Actually, a lot of my beginning of delving into bushcrafts, primitive skills, tanning, all of that sort of thing, rose from fur-trade history. … It’s a lot of fun. I like it.”

It all started when he was a kid, growing up in Cross Plains, west of Madison. His father was a hunter, trapper and a camper, and Sullivan and his siblings would tag along whenever they could. Later, Sullivan got interested in outdoor survival skills. He and a friend spent a week on a swath of land in Iowa, bringing enough food and water for only a day.

“We had a long and uncomfortable week,” Sullivan said. “But we learned a lot. It’s not like it is in the movies. You watch the movies, and a guy comes out of the river soaking wet and grabs a couple of sticks and makes a fire. That’s not how it works. That guy dies of hypothermia.”

As Sullivan experimented with the physical aspects of bushcraft, he was reading. He delved into books about evolutionary biology, Stone Age life and frontier history. “Journal of a Trapper,” the diary of Osborne Russell covering the mountain man’s experience living in the Rocky Mountains from 1834 to 1843, sparked Sullivan’s imagination.

“Most it is his everyday wanderings and travels, but it’s really interesting because … it gives little glimpses of details about how people who lived this way actually lived,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, Sullivan became a baker who worked for years for Panera Bread, a job that brought him to Wausau a few years ago. He’s left that position and now works for the Wausau and Marathon County park department at Sylvan Tubing Hill.

Lately, Sullivan has been focusing his efforts on an even earlier era.

“I’ve gotten more and more into the Paleolithic (time),” he said.

He’s crafted an atlatl, a stick used by the ancients to propel a spear. Sullivan uses it to spearfish for carp.


“It actually predates a bow by about 25,000 years,” he said.

Sullivan’s interest in the Stone Age naturally led him to Colossal Fossils, an interactive natural history museum in Wausau Center mall that features dinosaur skeletons and other artifacts.

Sullivan is helping the museum by creating tools and clothing of the kind once used by Stone Age people. And he’s partnering with the museum to teach some of those mostly-lost skills that kept humanity alive throughout history.

David Daniels, executive director of Colossal Fossils, said Sullivan will be at the museum from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 20. He will show the Stone Age tools he makes, and talk about what life was like thousands of years ago.

Sullivan “is as much of an artist as he is a historian,” Daniels said. “The guy is phenomenal. … He gets curious about something, and he dives in.”

Daniels compared Sullivan to the actor Daniel Day-Lewis, famous for inhabiting the roles he plays.

Except Sullivan isn’t playing a role. He’s just learning in a hands-on way what people of the past were like, and incorporating what he likes into his 2018 life.

He’s looking forward to passing it all on.

“What I’d like to teach about caveman life, is that they were people like us. They had everything we have, they just did it a little differently,” Sullivan said. “This is just a kind of hobby that’s taking over. … I haven’t fully rejected the modern world or anything like that. … I still have a laptop and a cellphone.”


Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com

Source : https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/wisconsin-man-explores-life-without-modern-comforts/

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