By Velma Southerland
Set on a wooded knoll above the Nolichucky River, the permanent camp of Ex Umbra consists of two Army tents, an outdoor kitchen complete with spices, and solar panels to power his laptop computer and flat screen TV.
He might come closer than most of us to imagining how our forefathers prepared that first Thanksgiving feast or how their lives really felt without the conveniences of the modern world.
Ex Umbra, or Umbra to his friends, calls himself a "primitive survivalist," one of perhaps a thousand or fewer people across the country who have chosen a similar lifestyle.
"The modern primitive has got to walk in both worlds if we're to teach," Umbra said. He instructs in Primitive Skills/Earthskills and Wilderness Living as well as extreme long-range and basic marksmanship — all skills that would have enhanced the lives of our Pilgrim ancestors.
Umbra's classes are hands on, generally taught in the woods and can last from four hours up to a week. He offers classes for groups of up to 30-35 people at various gatherings or on a private basis.
The Primitive Skills/Earthskills gatherings he attends are in the U.S. Virgin Islands and all up and down the East Coast — Florida to Maryland.
However, despite having been given a Latin version of a Native American name, "Out of the Shadows" for his Apache scouting skills, Umbra doesn't drum up clients by smoke signals. Like every other businessman in the world of 2015, he uses a website — WildernessMeans.com.
He uses an "empty-handed in the wilderness" perspective to teach skills necessary for survival if someone is dropped down into the wilderness without any gear. He noted that most instructors build on what to do when people have the most basic of gear. His classes begin with the premise that a person has nothing.
"If you're only trained with gear, you're in trouble," he said.
National Geographic TV Show
Umbra has been living in Greene County for more than two years in a camp located on a friend's land between Afton and Chuckey.
In the warm months, he spends a lot of time on the river, fishing and trapping from one of his two canoes.
He leaves home perhaps 15-35 times a year to instruct at various events. His schedule is "very variable," he says.
Over the years, he has become fairly well known within what he calls a small community that boasts between 250 and 300 instructors, or experts, in the skills necessary to survive in the wild.
It was Umbra's hunting skills that led to his being invited to film a guest spot on National Geographic's "Live Free or Die" series.
The show follows the lives of three individual men and one homesteading couple who have chosen to live off the land. One of the men, Thorn, of North Carolina, recommended Umbra as a guide for finding wild turkeys as he needed to replenish his supply of meat.
The episode "Out for Blood" was shot in the spring, but didn't air until Oct. 13. It is available to view in full on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9A_g5hO83vA.
Makings Of A Survivalist
Umbra was born and grew up in northern Knox County. He turned 40 this past summer.
Like all youngsters, Umbra, who was known as Tres (which he pronounces "Trace") MonCeret until about six years ago, was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He always said, "I want to be able to live off the land like an Indian — fortunately a boyish notion I never grew out of."
Because his father was a competition shooter, "I've been around it all my life."
He tried to learn his skills through the Boy Scouts for a while and taught himself out of books until he became a teenager and "could take formal classes."
About a dozen of those formal classes were from the Tom Brown Jr. Tracker School. He was never in the military.
He worked as a machinist until 2008, when he "unplugged from the rat race, dropped out of typical society and began living primitively and teaching primitive skills and marksmanship classes full time," according to his website.
He was often in Greene County for leisure outdoor activities, but it was a carpentry job for friends that led to his decision to relocate to Greene County. He said he was meeting "a lot of good people" and just decided to make his presence here permanent.
Umbra said that "a lot of the North American cultures" all taught what is called the "Sacred Order" of survival. It is really a list of priorities for any time a person or group of people "need to establish, or re-establish, a home or existence upon the landscape."
The order of priorities are:
Despite many people considering water the most important element for human survival, Umbra says it is shelter.
He teaches people "how to make shelter using their hands, brains and simply what you can take from the landscape."
A "debris hut," a simple elevated bed/shelter, made as small as possible, can keep a person alive to 15-30 degrees below zero, he said.
The shelter needs to be as small as possible as only the person's body heat will be available to stave off the elements.