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Process: Bone Flutes with Catherine Thompson

Nov 2, 2010

by objecked

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“Fences. What do I have to say about fences?”, Catherine sings as she sits on a hillside, gently clicking what remains of a deer’s hind legs in a rhythmic pattern. “There’s not many in the north,” she continues, “perhaps around some small gardens more concerned with surviving a frost than their lack of liberty…” Just as the clickity clack of the bones begins to lull me, she realizes that she’s forgotten the next stanza.


This was my introduction to Catherine Thompson, a musician and performance artist who spends almost half of each year at Trails End Guest Ranch in the prairie land of south-central Saskatchewan, Canada. At the ranch, her duties involve natural horsemanship, cattle acclimation and hoof trimming.

The most striking thing about Catherine is how many of her daily activities are connected, and how so few people — at least in the modern civilizations that I’m familiar with — are living life so interconnectedly. The landscape informs the lifestyle she lives, the lifestyle informs the instruments she makes, the instruments inform the music she plays, and the music she plays tells the story of all these things together in harmony.


As a musician, Catherine recalls that she began studying guitar in her early teens, and later Gaelic flute. She attempted building her first violin at age 17. While she never completed that particular piece, she has been making instruments ever since. Over the last seven years she’s focused her instrument making on natural materials and primitive instrument design. In addition to making instruments, Catherine writes and performs her music with dance and theater in Toronto and at the Banff Centre, where she usually spends her off-season winter months.

In the video, Catherine plays three instruments of her own making: her flutes, an igli — a two-string bowed instrument — and a cora. The cora is a traditional African instrument with a body made of a hide-covered gourd, a neck made of wood, and tuning wraps made from leather. She has made several, two of which are available in her shop. The string is made from fishing line, which Catherine earnestly jokes is “the thread connecting it to modern civilization.”

Catherine staking a hide in the prairie via her blog

With a serene sensibility that is much like holism, Catherine can often be found smoking deer or buffalo hide near the tent that she sleeps in during the summer months. She utilizes every bone and sinew of the animals she encounters and does so with the utmost respect.


Cath7.jpgSmoking a hide over a smoldering coffee can fire

Fascinated with cultures of oral tradition, storytelling, and myth-making, Catherine’s beliefs inform every aspect of her being. She parallels the narrative arc of her life with that of a character she calls Skuld, who represents a model of mankind predating civilization. The concept behind Skuld is:

“To search for a deep and sure connection with the natural world through the motivations and perceptions of the mythical character/being Skuld; of mythic imagining and re-vision-ing. Skuld and her kind have been amongst us humans for all remembered time. In the earliest days when all spoke as one — the animals the humans the trees the earth — their presence was known. As time wove on and the humans decided that they were different and of primary importance, that all the Earth was made for them, when they forgot the language of all, Skuld and her sisters found themselves forgotten and yet still pulled along with the myths of the people to their great distress. The Skuld Project is about the search and struggle to find the state where all spoke as one, when all were as one. To resist the destruction of the wild.”

Via Catherine’s website


From what I can gather, her long term goal is to walk away from modern civilization with her horse Dakoa and attempt to survive in the dominion of the wild. Not forever, but for a time. To do this, she is learning to hunt and trap animals for food and to skin and use their hides for making leather the way people of our ancestry did. Although Catherine lives very clearly in the moment, she is always preparing for what she affectionately calls her “trip.” Such a journey takes considerable preparation and dedication to survive. As a traveler, Catherine has a long road ahead.

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Music Category | Watch More Process Videos | Handmade Portraits: Old School Tools


  • VeraVague

    VeraVague said 9 years ago


  • bylynnkrestel

    bylynnkrestel said 9 years ago

    wow - what a beautiful story! thanks for sharing!!

  • choisette

    choisette said 9 years ago

    i genuinely admire catherine's commitment to the rustic lifestyle, but i personally need access to at least one shoe store within a five mile radius of my hotel-- i mean, campsite. sorry, i'm spoiled.

  • scarletbegonia11

    scarletbegonia11 said 9 years ago

    wow! what a beautiful story!

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna said 9 years ago

    What a beautiful landscape & story...

  • Aimeshad

    Aimeshad said 9 years ago

    Wow, Catherine, thank you for sharing and spreading knowledge and great lifestyle ideas. What big, open, gorgeous country, ~ so worthy of our stewerdship, respect, and gratitude. Thank you!

  • VivaGailBeads

    VivaGailBeads said 9 years ago

    wonderful and incredible story, thank you.

  • natureaccessories

    natureaccessories said 9 years ago

    great along with the music :):)

  • heatherberry

    heatherberry said 9 years ago

    Lovely! Beautiful photography as well!

  • 6catsVintage

    6catsVintage said 9 years ago

    Catherine is definately taking a path few travel. Interesting.

  • mtraub

    mtraub said 9 years ago

    I felt completely transported while watching this.

  • LeafandInk

    LeafandInk said 9 years ago

    mmmmm...beautiful! I love how Catherine is living her dream & also the fact that choisette is brave enough to admit it isn't hers :+) Lisa LeafandInk

  • litapsilverj

    litapsilverj said 9 years ago

    Catherine - Much luck to you as you continue your journey. You are truly an inspiration!

  • Beesnetta

    Beesnetta said 9 years ago


  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy said 9 years ago


  • ourfrontyard

    ourfrontyard said 9 years ago

    Fantastic Story! The best of luck to you Catherine, you are an inspiration.

  • KettleConfections

    KettleConfections said 9 years ago

    Fascinating exploration into what it would feel like to live in another time/era!

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 9 years ago


  • ellainaboutique

    ellainaboutique said 9 years ago

    Oh, I cried a little, the music and the pictures make me so homesick. I grew up on the border of ND and Saskatchewan and I truly admire your commitment to live off the land there - no small feat at all! I wish you continued success on your journey :)

  • seacucumbermama

    seacucumbermama said 9 years ago

    Wow. Beautiful. Amazing.

  • simplyworn

    simplyworn said 9 years ago

    wow...beautiful piece

  • rozzie

    rozzie said 9 years ago

    Very special!

  • KMalinka

    KMalinka said 9 years ago


  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 9 years ago

    Amazing. Just amazing. Thank you! :)

  • DalkullanJewelry

    DalkullanJewelry said 9 years ago

    That would a wonderful adventure, living in the wild with your horse Dakoa. Hope you make your dream a reality Catherine.

  • TchotchkesByHolly

    TchotchkesByHolly said 9 years ago

    sounds like the sky and prairies. I think the drum would be the maritime. With the beat of the sea and stone.

  • odiliafu

    odiliafu said 9 years ago

    Just beautiful!

  • ikabags

    ikabags said 9 years ago

    Amazing ! Formidable ! Thanks !

  • snlcreations

    snlcreations said 9 years ago

    Truly awesome and amazing! My heart goes out to you!

  • nikhajewelry

    nikhajewelry said 9 years ago

    Cool story, and so great to see my mother in law Chris' ranch in Canada again!

  • weirdwolf Admin

    weirdwolf said 9 years ago

    Stunning music, scenery and handmade instruments. That kora playing blows me away... Lovely video!

  • RebeccaBarfoot

    RebeccaBarfoot said 9 years ago

    Thanks also for giving us a glimpse of a largely forgotten way of life- we forget who we are sometimes, and we forget how we are losing quiet in the world, and wilderness. This is a good reminder.

  • jadedgoats

    jadedgoats said 9 years ago

    This beautiful story reminds me of Derrick Jensen's book, "A Language Older Than Words," an account which creates a clear understanding that we are far more connected to the natural world and its creatures than to the mall and its rows of hollow offerings. Thanks so much, and carry on with grace, dignity, and Dakota.

  • lightbeams

    lightbeams said 9 years ago

    Wonderful story, beautifully told. The artist/musician so reverantly transforming the deer bones into beautiful instruments and allowing their spirits to soar. The storyteller/videographer perfectly capturing the magnificance of the surroundings and weaving it into the artistry and the music seamlessly. Well done!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 9 years ago

    I admire you and the path you have chosen. Your music and lifestyle is to be envied!

  • sockmonster

    sockmonster said 9 years ago

    I want to go to there........

  • AZCreativeStudio

    AZCreativeStudio said 9 years ago

    Great story!

  • lterrill9

    lterrill9 said 9 years ago

    What a wonderful story and enchanting surroundings. One of the things I love most about Etsy is all of the wonderful people that you meet in many diifferent walks of life. Best wishes!

  • nectorgirl

    nectorgirl said 9 years ago

    :::love love love::: amazing ambition and story!

  • SundayTreasures

    SundayTreasures said 9 years ago

    who just doesn't enjoy music? read your story 3 times!

  • SandBagsDesigns

    SandBagsDesigns said 9 years ago

    Thanks for this beautiful post :)

  • moccasinsandmukluks

    moccasinsandmukluks said 9 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • maggiemaevintage

    maggiemaevintage said 9 years ago

    what a beautiful spirit...much luck on your journey!

  • mudpuppy

    mudpuppy said 9 years ago

    Wow, what a fantastic way to live and reconnect with the world.

  • babybayrs

    babybayrs said 9 years ago


  • babybayrs

    babybayrs said 9 years ago


  • BeaumontStudio

    BeaumontStudio said 9 years ago

    For natural handmade, hand-dyed hides check out Another awesome source for naturally tanned hide with accents of antler bone!

  • redemptionart

    redemptionart said 9 years ago

    Wonderful interview, as a Hawaiian woman, I feel so pulled towards the things of my ancestors, especially healing and arts, which do go hand in hand. Thank you for sharing your heart!

  • Tias

    Tias said 9 years ago

    Blimey! This is what life should be like. I really admire her!

  • HandmadeHandsome

    HandmadeHandsome said 9 years ago

    fascinating, thank you

  • shanidesign

    shanidesign said 9 years ago

    Amazing story!

  • halfpintboling

    halfpintboling said 9 years ago

    Beautiful! Warms my spirit and refreshes my creative soul.

  • vaivanat

    vaivanat said 9 years ago

    low bow from me...

  • WeeBindery

    WeeBindery said 9 years ago

    Wow! An incredible story which has transported me back in time!

  • amandalouise

    amandalouise said 9 years ago

    WOW, that was beautiful. It's like some magic happens, and the soul of those animals is released into the world as music when the instruments are made.

  • AutumnLeavesJewelry

    AutumnLeavesJewelry said 9 years ago

    what a beautiful video to watch while having morning coffee, thank you!!!

  • joojoo

    joojoo said 9 years ago

    WOW!!! Amazing music! It really touched my soul...And what a gifted artist! Thanks a lot for sharing and creating such a wonderful video, I really enjoyed it first thing in the morning!!! :)

  • AmityUK Admin

    AmityUK said 9 years ago

    Wonderful, this took me to another place.

  • julessabjewelry

    julessabjewelry said 9 years ago

    I love this music and would love to be in that serene state always!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 9 years ago

    Fascinating story, loved the video her songs sound so kind of melancholic. Beautiful to see the rolling countryside.

  • akcopperraven

    akcopperraven said 9 years ago

    i love when people can transform the beauty of natures bounty into treasures for those of us that dont have access or knowledge of the how to to do so...lovely article !!

  • jammerjewelry

    jammerjewelry said 9 years ago

    Crazy Cool!

  • TheLittleRagamuffin

    TheLittleRagamuffin said 9 years ago

    Just breathtaking. There is no better feeling for me than connecting to the natural world. Thank you for this uplifting piece.

  • daniellexo

    daniellexo said 9 years ago

    So beautiful.

  • AvianInspirations

    AvianInspirations said 9 years ago

    this was lovely.

  • thenoisyplume

    thenoisyplume said 9 years ago

    I love this write up about Catherine. She's kind of a female version of Grey Owl. Isn't she? Or at least she's moving in that direction. A true naturalist. Also, thanks for a healthy representation of hunting in North America. My husband and I subsist on what we harvest from the wild, here in Idaho, and every animal we take translates into a very holy experience for us. VERY good to see my homeland making the news -- I'm from Saskatchewan and the skies really ARE that beautiful. THANKS!

  • AudreyGardenLady

    AudreyGardenLady said 9 years ago

    Gorgeous scenery and Cool article! Love the free spirited art and music!

  • trexandlamb

    trexandlamb said 9 years ago

    Wow this story really made my day! I've been facing a pretty rough patch in my life and stories like Catherine's are really uplifting as they are proof that there are other more important things in life, alternative ways to live, and being in sync with nature is still the way to go! Watching the video really made me rethink the ratrace many of us are stuck in and the materialistic life (I'm such a mallrat I admit!) we pursue, and now all I want to do is move to Canada as the nature there is amazing! =) Thanks for sharing your story Catherine you've really inspired me!

  • 2TrickPony

    2TrickPony said 9 years ago

    purely wonderment. thanks for bringing us this awesome artist's story!

  • LianaCasanovaDesigns

    LianaCasanovaDesigns said 9 years ago

    Beautifully connected to nature and the elements.

  • HempWhatNot

    HempWhatNot said 9 years ago

    Someday I hope to leave my some what lavished lifestlye to take up a more rustic day to day life.

  • ByronMorrisArt

    ByronMorrisArt said 9 years ago

    What a great idea.

  • agatsijoias

    agatsijoias said 9 years ago

    Very interesting!!

  • studiorandom

    studiorandom said 9 years ago

    Oh, this is awesome. :)

  • BijoDesigns

    BijoDesigns said 9 years ago

    Amazing. Makes me want to get lost & get inspired!!

  • PaperPicker

    PaperPicker said 9 years ago

    really enjoyed the video.

  • ImagineStudio

    ImagineStudio said 9 years ago

    I found this video exceptional...PBS Quality!!! I wound love to purchase this this possible?

  • leapinggazelle

    leapinggazelle said 9 years ago

    What an amazing story! Catherine, I love your beautifully haunting music and admire your connection and commitment to the natural world. Wonderfully told. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  • objecked Admin

    objecked said 9 years ago

    @ImagineStudio: No need to purchase, if you are using iTunes, you can download the video directly to your computer. The subscribe link is mentioned right on this page under the video, but if you wish to find only this episode you can search for Etsy in the iTunes Podcast store. If you want more options feel free to convo me.

  • CatherineThompson

    CatherineThompson said 9 years ago

    Thank you so much to you all with your wonderful comments! I am totally blown away by the response as I am with the video that Eric so beautifully made. I few have emailed me directly. I will try to get back to you as soon as I can. I am finding it difficult to keep up these days with email! all my best wishes. Catherine

  • chucklarge

    chucklarge said 9 years ago

    so impressed!

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