Thomas J. Elpel
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About Thomas J. Elpel
Thomas J. Elpel had the rare opportunity as a child to spend hundreds of hours with his grandmother Josie Jewett. Together they explored the hills and meadows near Virginia City, Montana, collecting herbs, looking for arrowheads and watching wildlife. Grandma Josie helped Tom to learn about native plants and their uses, igniting a passion for nature that has inspired him ever since. She also sparked his interest in survival skills.
"All I ever wanted to do as a kid was to go to Grandma's house," Tom said. "When she moved from Virginia City to Pony, I followed her. I eventually bought land just a couple blocks from her place."
Tom's first serious exposure to wilderness survival skills began at the age of 16, when he went on a 26-day, 250-mile walkabout in the desert canyons of southern Utah with Boulder Outdoor Survival School. The following year he and Grandma Josie went together to Tom Brown's Tracker School in New Jersey. From there Tom spent thousands of hours practicing and developing survival skills in his "backyard" in the Rocky Mountains.
Tom's desire to make a positive difference in the world started early, partly the result from watching too much news with Walter Chronkite as a child. By the time he entered junior high he was on a mission to change the world. Friends in high school said he would grow out of his idealism and learn to accept the world as it was, but so far that hasn't happened. (He hasn't exactly changed the world either, but he insists he is still working on it.)
Tom married his girlfriend from high school, and the couple bought a five-acre parcel in Pony, just two blocks distance from Grandma Josie's house. They moved into a tent and started building their dream home of stone and log. They both worked with troubled teens in wilderness therapy programs, so they commuted to Idaho, Utah, or Arizona for three-week trips, then came home to spend their money on building materials.
The Elpel’s built a passive solar stone and log home for approximately what most people spend on a new car. They successfully avoided the need for a mortgage, a regular job, or an expensive college education. Instead, Tom pursued his interests – learning, practicing, teaching, and writing about botany, wilderness survival, consciousness, and sustainable living. He is the author of numerous books, and the director of Outdoor Wilderness Living School (OWLS) and Green University®, LLC in Pony, Montana.
Tom’s basic philosophy is that the wilderness survival skills are useful to connect with nature, but we shouldn't run away from the problems of modern society. Instead, we need to apply the lessons and spirit of living close to nature towards the quest to solve our worldly problems.
"Experts and lay persons alike bemoan the difficulty of creating a sustainable lifestyle, but it really isn't that hard." Tom said. "We had less money and less skills than a lot of people, but we built an energy-efficient passive solar home, and we now generate our own electricity with solar panels. Sustainability isn't that difficult, you just have to stay focused on the goal."
Tom's grandmother died in 2004 at the age of 89. Her love for nature continues to inspire Tom every day. Although he is crazy busy, getting out into nature remains a high priority, and he continues to hone his wilderness survival and awareness skills.
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Books By Thomas J. Elpel
The book begins with a creation myth that parallels evolutionary concepts, where life begins as bubbles in a puddle of soup under the radiance of Father Sun and the gentle glow of Mother Moon. The evolutionary tree of life becomes a literal part of the story, buried up to its branch-tips (the "islands") in an ocean of Time that just keeps getting deeper and deeper. This is the world that Shanleya explores by canoe, learning the essential characteristics of closely related plants on each island she visits. Readers young and old can join Shanleya's Quest, learning the patterns to correctly identify more than 45,000 species of plants to their proper families. The Quest will change the way you see the world, enabling you to experience nature in a new and magical way that you probably never imagined possible.
Written by outdoor educator Thomas J. Elpel, author of Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. Wonderfully illustrated by Gloria Brown, who blended botanical accuracy with fantasy to produce artwork that both captivates and educates!