Brother Earth: The story of Mick Dodge and the EarthGym at Lake Tahoe
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — “Follow your feet, the Earth will teach.”
Wise words worth pondering and the mantra of Mick Dodge, co-founder of The EarthGym. The Earthgym is a movement practice using sticks, trees, straps and stones to stretch and tone while recapturing the bond our ancestors had with the land.
Jacquie Chandler, Lake Tahoe resident, first met Mick Dodge on a beach in California in the early ‘90s. She was intrigued with how he used items from nature as exercise equipment: lifting large stones to develop strength, using sticks for stretching and balance, and rope to swing and dance from the trees.
As this outdoor exploration evolved over 10 years, the pair began formalizing it into the practice now known as The EarthGym.
While Jacquie moved to Lake Tahoe and Mick returned to his birthplace, the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, they remained actively connected and committed to exploring, developing and sharing The EarthGym practice. And those they shared it with took it further still.
Mick, a former Marine with a black belt in the martial arts, had a lifetime of building his body into sculpted muscle, but his feet hurt. After years of failing to find the right insert or footwear to ease the pain, his doctor put his feet in casts, requiring an 8-week rehab.
The first night with both feet in casts, Mick was reading a National Geographic article on the ancient practice of Chinese foot binding when he had an epiphany. He cut off the casts and stuck his white puffy feet in the wet Hoh earth and committed to training his feet as he had his body.
Although difficult at first, Mick began training his feet to go without shoes. Soon, his foot pain, back pain and heart pain disappeared while his connection to the Earth deepened. He tattooed roots on his feet, incorporated bare-footing into the EarthGym practice and became known as “The Barefoot Sensei.”
Two students in his EarthGym class, who also happened to be interns at a Seattle film production company, asked Mick if they could film his work for an assignment.
The video captured the imagination of the production company who then pitched it to national networks, and Nat Geo TV ultimately bought the rights, resulting in the birth of “The Legend of Mick Dodge.” Nat Geo filmed 36 episodes, running over three seasons, depicting Mick as a survivalist, living off the land.
True to the reality TV industry, they dramatized scenarios from Mick’s life, while ignoring most of Mick’s real story, which is, using one of his many coined words, that of a “Thrivalist” — walking to share a calling from the Old Growth forests of the Hoh to: Follow Your Feet, so the Earth Can Teach and seeking out those who had become “De-feeted.”
Last fall, Mick and his team spent a week sharing EarthGym practices with 21 junior high students at Tahoe Expedition Academy.
A short film capturing highlights of the week was the focus of a recent presentation to the community. The 8-minute video was produced by Mike Hatchett, an acclaimed videographer, who specializes in extreme sports films through his company, Standard Films.
Mike originally agreed to film only enough to create a three-minute commercial for the school, but he became so captivated and filmed the entire week, donating his time in creating a stronger video to showcase this opportunity for educators and the greater community.
Mike’s film included feedback from students who had participated in the course, demonstrating excitement, insight and understanding about what they had learned, and the knowledge that, while having fun at EarthGym, they were also building character, collaboration and stewardship.
Mick is actively training people in the area, sharing “Foot Talks” around the lake and preparing for his 1,000-mile journey back to the Hoh. Mick, Jacquie and team member Rachel Flower, Incline Village resident, are dedicated to this calling and are happy to provide information, presentations and demonstrations.
Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. See the new website: saveourplanetearth.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.