Wild Whatcom Blog


BEC: Exploring Clayton Beach with the Branch Hoppers

Branch Hopper Explorers gathered for their first outing of the season at the Clayton Beach parking lot. Spring had sprung Bellingham style- rain and a steady breeze, and the possibility of some serious cold and wet were before us. As the Branch Hoppers piled out of their metal cans, and congregated on the pavement, our minds turned to the gentle shapes, the sweet bird sounds, wild bitter tastes, and the invigorating feel of our surrounding Chuckanut wilds.

As we gathered, the mentors reminisced over the last outing of the Fall season. In that outing, Branch Hoppers were challenged to follow the mentors’ lead completely. Mentors had overtly guided the pace of the day and the content of the meetings- transparently making triangular leadership decisions and orchestrating the group so that we made it to the top of Galbraith Mountain with plenty of time to spare. In thisouting, however, the mentors did the exact opposite. For the opening meeting, Matt and Steve stood by their car, ate chips, and drank tea. Branch Hoppers were given the mission to perform the meeting by themselves, to hand out jobs, and to make sure they were prepared for the day.

It must be honestly said that the Branch Hoppers are a pretty fantastic and resilient group, and they respond well to real challenges. They circled up and managed to choose about half of the jobs before the circle broke. Parents, please understand that this is an amazing feat. After the breaking of the circle, they did flounder for a bit, and mentors offered a few gentle suggestions. They regrouped and scattered a few times, but ended up impressively remembering and assigning every job. At this point, the mentors stepped into the circle and joined the ring of leadership. They then offered one way to stretch the edge of group performance by telling a short story.

Explorers, do you remember the story of Matia (Matt’s spouse) hiking in the Pasayten Wilderness? Why was it important for her to know what equipment (jobs) her hiking partner had?

We finished off the meeting with a consideration of safety and a vision for the day. We then performed the most dangerous act of the entire exploration (crossing the road) and made our way into the coastal woodlands. At the first junction, the power and the challenge of circular leadership and group authority was evident. The Branch Hoppers could go one of three ways. Again, Steve and Matt stepped to the side, fascinated by the wonders of spring growth and the new birds songs. Branch Hoppers circled and scattered, trying to assess who wanted to go where, and trying to figure out how to reach consensus. An occasional suggestion floated in from Matt and Steve, but it must be said that in the end it was the Branch Hoppers group who came to a clear decision and ventured forth.

As we moved forward and admired the spring beauty, we enjoyed the smells of the cold stream, the piping calls of northern flickers, and the brilliant green and dappled whites of young indian plums. We all enjoyed a playful spirit on this outing. Hide was called on more than one occasion, as well as incoming! We snacked together, made another group decision on the next move, and found a great location for a “base camp.” Spiders Web was the plan of the day, after some water, food, and stream exploration. A few Explorers got wet here, and Steve and Matt continued our ongoing exploration of hypothermia, clothing, keeping warm, and natural consequences. The only way to really understand this is experientially, and many Branch Hoppers on this day dove in to the education… literally. We had some excellent Spiders Web games and some very good discussions afterward. After some down time, we made our way toward the beach for an open exploration and a close of the day.

Parents, you may have heard stories of the last forty minutes of our outing. Some Explorers exuberantly dove into the pooled ocean water as we enjoyed the wonders of the beach. Again, Matt and Steve, offered advice but, given our read of the time of day and other environmental factors, judged it best to let them to follow their excitement and enjoy the fruits (and the pits) of the path of self agency. What a great closing, and what a wonderful lesson nature provided. What long term empowerment, and what refinement of judgment grew from these decisions. After five minutes, Explorers exclaimed that they were not cold at all, and that it was a great idea to soak themselves. Matt and Steve gave some gentle suggestions again, but these were disregarded. Ten minutes and the shivers came. Fifteen and we circled up to talk about hypothermia with our willing, shivering exhibits. We looked at how to deal with it, and how the different stages might present. Then our Explorers willingly decided to take care of themselves, to take the appropriate steps, and to begin heat recovery.  In good time, we had apples and a closing circle of thanks.  More than one thanks was given for warmth and dry clothing. As well as a good amount for the land and a wonderful day.

Branch Hoppers, you are growing into a fine group, and we are very thankful for all of your heartfelt work. Parents, we thank you for all of your enduring support. Finally, we thank our land, which we are all a part of, for its endless education on how to live a full and vibrant life.

Don’t forget to check out pics from the outing in our photo gallery.


BEC: Traversing Connelly and Padden Creek with the Gray Wolf Pups

Arriving at Marine Park the Gray Wolf Pups quickly hurried down the beach to look out at the bay. It was apparent that the group had cultivated resiliency over the fall season. Heading straight into the gale they roamed the beach looking in the nooks and crannies in the breakwater. Circling up on the sand the group played a quick name game and revisited some Explorers Club Culture. The Mentors challenged them to remember each one of the group’s very important jobs. As they called out jobs the conversation turned towards the importance of the jobs within the group. An Explorer asked which was the most important job. This was a great time for the Mentors to talk about the importance of circular leadership within our group. We Are All Leaders and our jobs function interdependently with one another. We separate our jobs from ego and authority, filling our roles for the sake of putting forth our best intentions and actions within the group and for the land.

Turning our conversation towards the journey ahead we took a look at a map of the interurban trails that connect Marine Park to our Connelly Creek Service Site.   Learning how to orient the map to the four cardinal directions the Explorers deciphered that they would need to head east and find a safe place to navigate over the train tracks. Mentors cautioned the group that out of all the hazards on our journey road and train track crossings are the most dangerous. Our ability to focus as a group and bring forward the task at hand is critical in these moments.

After crossing the tracks safely one Explorer pointed out what he thought was the interurban trail. The group reviewed the map again and his instincts were correct. Just as we were about to head east a large murder of crows, about fifty strong, flew over our heads. Tracking the Northwestern Crows we could tell that they were alert and on edge. Matt asked the group why crows flock in large groups in the wintertime. The group came to the conclusion that the crows stick together because of predatory risks. Matt explained that crows flock and roost together to avoid predation from raptors, to share information about danger and food sources, and also to find mates. Northwestern Crows are extremely altruistic and loyal. Matt asked the Explorers which other species crow behavior reminded them of. Thinking about it for a while they came to the conclusion that we were very similar. We can learn so much from the other species when we get quiet and observe what the land is telling us.

Turning once again to the Tribal Elder the Mentors asked the group which way we were headed. One of the boys who was familiar with the area brought up the suggestion to follow the trail west towards Fairhaven Dog Park. In our outings Mentors seek to cultivate organizational skills within the Explorers. Touching on the traverse the Mentors told the boys that it had been almost an hour already and we had moved about one-eight of a mile on our two and a half mile trek. The boys decided as a group that we would go and explore west for a little bit and then really focus our hiking for the next leg of the trek. Arriving at the dog park the boys were immediately drawn to the large hill. Like clockwork some called Hide and the group went diving into the Scotch Broom bushes. After playing multiple rounds and almost losing our snacks to some hungry dogs the group was back on the trail.

Although the weather was cold and wet the signs of spring were in the air. As we walked we admired the white flowers and vibrant green leaves of the Indian Plums and pinkish flowers of the Red-Flowering Currants. With some guidance from the Mentors each of the boys sampled a leaf from a female Indian Plum. When eaten and crushed the plum leaves have a strong odor and taste of cucumbers. At this point in the Gray Wolf Pups journey with harvesting it is critical that don’t eat anything before consulting with a Mentor. It is important to be well informed when harvesting wild edibles and also to harvest them ethically. Foraging is a skill that takes time and focus to develop and can deeply connect us to the power of the place and season.

As we hiked the front scout started to hear some commotion in the distance. The group came to find that there was a race happening on the same trail we were traversing. We circled up and decided that we were going to use the race as an opportunity to increase our awareness skills; if someone called runner, everyone had to get to the right side of the trail. Little did the group know that we were going to have to call “Runner!” about every thirty seconds! In the end it was a great chance for the boys to work on group communication and keeping that same focus we used to cross the tracks.

After about a long push the group stopped and rested and snacked. As the cold and wet day started to set in the group began to feel tired and fatigued. Matt and I encouraged the boys to muster their energy. The group rallied and once again started snaking along Padden Creek as it thundered towards Bellingham Bay. Hiking along we came across a section of trees that had been devastated by the recent winter storm. Combing the wreckage the Explorers tracked a sweet smell coming from a downed Cottonwood branch. As the group crowed in someone brushed up against a branch and a plume of pollen was released from the Cottonwood’s catkins.  Investigating further the boys found sticky buds at the tips of the branch. Grabbing some buds the boys squeezed an amber resin out of the centers. Matt and I explained that the resin could be made into a powerful balm often called the Balm of Gilead. This medicine can be used as an extremely powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-fugal, anti-septic, a lesion healer, and cold remedy, among many other uses!

Mustering our strength once again we hiked the last stretch of interurban trail before the confluence with Connelly Creek and Padden Creek. Navigating across Old Fairhaven Parkway we cut through a retirement community, with permission of course, and found a deer trail that led back towards Connelly Creek. Crossing over both Connelly and Padden Creek once more we arrive at our service site. What a trek!

Sitting under the shelter at Happy Valley Park we held a closing circle and gave some thanks. The group gave thanks for the ability to challenge themselves on the journey, for the medicine and food that the landscape provides, for warmth and shelter, and for our ability to muster strength even when we don’t think we have it. We ended our day in the rain playing a few rounds of Salmon oh Salmon.

Now that the Gray Wolf Pups have gotten to know the Padden Creek Watershed they will be able to better serve it at their next outing at our Connelly Creek Service Site. The Mentors are excited to welcome in a second season with the group and want to give a big thanks to all parents and volunteer staff that work so hard to support the Explorers Club. 

For more pictures please visit our photo gallery.


BEC: Raccoon Kits follow the Salmon Home!

In preparation for their first chance to serve at the official Boys Explorers Club service Site, the Raccoon Kits had to learn the context for and history of Connelly Creek. We would have preferred to swim like salmon, but spring waters are too fast and it’s still a bit too cold outside for that kind of adventure. Plus we might still be swimming if we had tried that approach :)

Only eight Kits made it to the outing with a broken foot preventing one Explorer from joining the outing. We look forward to when the whole group comes together again. The good news, however, was that Brian served as a mentor for the day. He stepped in as a lead mentor and did a great job of encouraging and wrangling the boys as we traversed Padden and Connelly Creeks. Thanks for the great work, Brian!

Starting at the ocean, our goal was to follow Padden Creek until it split with Connelly Creek. To do so we met at Marine Park and then crossed the railroad tracks. Ask your explorer how many cars he counted in the coal train that went by as we watched. Our windy path led us to the Great Blue Heron rookery next to the water treatment facility. Atop of skinny alders sat no less than fifteen herons in various stages of courtship, mating, and nest sitting!

We bridged the hill behind the facility and had a great lunch break. Explorers counted cars of another distant train and then we gathered our belongings to find the waterways. Following the interurban trail we walked up creek and played hundreds of games of Hide. OK, maybe not that many, but we sure had many chances to camouflage ourselves in various ecosystems.

This was a long outing and the Raccoon Kits ventured forth with no complaints. At one point they pretended to be old men and used walking sticks as canes. We trekked to the entrance to Fairhaven Park and took a rest by the creek. Its soothing song made for yet another nice rest spot. Like the salmon, we valiantly fought upstream for a while and then found our eddy in which to rest before continuing our journey. We learned about a medicine tree by finding its branches on the ground. Please ask your Explorer if he remembers the color of the sap or the smell. Maybe he can tell you the story about why to avoid getting the sap on your neck!

Hike, break, group cheers, repeat. This traverse was definitely a practice in persistence and pacing. Eventually we crossed Old Fairhaven Parkway and mentors had sighs of relief. Then it was a matter of finding the best way to follow the creek. We had a chance to explore the meanings of “No Trespassing” and “Do not enter.” Explorers spoke their truths and did not want to go places where they might be breaking the rules. They are aware of doing the right thing. As such, we chose routes that helped us avoid being somewhere we weren’t supposed to be.

In a young forest thicket we followed the creek and found the confluence of Padden and Connelly creeks. We were almost home! One last challenge faced us however. We had to cross the creek in order to take a more well-worn path toward the site. One-by-one, safely, and confidentially, boys learned the dynamics of using their bodies (with packs on) to duck and climb over branches. All the while, the creek never stopped flowing!

We journeyed through the rest of the forest and made it to Happy Valley Park with 30 minutes left to relax, hold closing meeting, and explore the service site. Dave’s alter-ego, the Dragon, appeared when boys were not communicating safely, as he quickly and loudly explained that we need to use tools appropriately. Sticks are a tool that we can use to help us ford rivers, not to be projectiles at our cohort mates. Boys will learn these mottoes in the upcoming seasons, but for now, it’s important to teach them: A Tool is an Extension of the Body, and The Difference Between a Tool and a Weapon is You.

Boys recognized there is a lot of blackberry to uproot and they will be more familiar with the land when they return for service in a couple of months. With a connection to the salmon’s migration route, hopefully they will feel the sense of importance of restoring the salmon habitat to make it homier for the fish after their journey up creek!

Please check out more pictures in the photo gallery. We’ll see you all next outing at Clayton Beach parking area for an exploration on April 13th. FYI- last April 13th we cancelled an outing due to snow; let’s hope for warmer weather this year!


BEC: Grey Fox Kits explore east of Clayton Beach

Wind and Rain. Stretching Edges. Grasping the Nettle. Celebrating the Season.

These four themes seem to follow the Grey Fox Kits from outing to outing. Whether diligently working on the art of shelter building or exploring the hidden niches of fun forest hideaways, these Explorers are constantly aware of the elements. More than any group, the Grey Fox Kits are focused on the present moment; their awareness skills have grown so much and they are just starting their fourth season!

Much thanks go out to Jake Ray who stepped up as a mentor for this outing. He has joined the Grey Fox Kits and other Explorers club groups before, but he took a day off from studying for finals in order to be a mentor with us when one of our team was sick. Thank you for joining us on this outing, Jake!

After last season, boys were not soon to forget the importance of keeping their eyes out during and after wind storms. We started the day a bit hesitatingly as boys observed the wind and trees, nervous about any falling widowmakers. This reverence and respect for the natural world is invaluable. Though they may have started off the outing frightened, they came into their own as they settled into their outdoor home in Larrabee State Park.

Spring brings with it a new life that we observed in the fruiting mushrooms and sprouting Indian Plum. Even Stinging Nettles were popping up after a dormant winter. We also learned about the life inside of dead trees or snags. Though they can come crashing down and be destructive, these same trees hold the power of life. Indeed boys learned the term, “Fatwood” and are starting to recognize that decomposing stumps hold fire! Even the snags, especially the Red Alders which are most prone to falling in windy conditions, harbor tremendous amount of firewood and bow drill kit spindles and hearths.

We didn’t get into the art of fire with the Grey Fox Kits, as they have much to learn first. But they are definitely excited to learn and practice their earth skills so that they can progress to learning that art. This season, they’ll consider the art of harvest- this includes edibles that we’ll find later in the season in addition to that of wood for shelter, fire and carving. And speaking of carving, boys have already begun to express their interest in edged tools and it seems likely that they will start the Carving Journey in the fall (perhaps flirting with it in the summer).

Explorers monitored the trees and settled on a safe forest nook to eat lunch. From there they found a swampy meadow and insisted on clambering through mud slicks, nettles, salmonberry and trailing blackberry to get to a downed bigleaf maple in the middle.

We then discussed ethical harvesting as licorice fern root became a focus of many an inquisitive hand! Boys were keen to harvest this plant but only one was patient enough to open the plant identification book and make sure that it was a safe idea. Though this is an edible plant, we have to change our behaviors to make sure that we don’t harvest without knowing exactly what we’re harvesting!

A short jaunt into the forest led us to Explorer-high sword fern. Organic shelters were built, Elven palaces discovered, and inclusiveness became a theme. We played countless games of Hide and it’s clear that these Explorers are getting better and better at the art of camouflage each season!

We hiked up the hill for a final adventure and came to two huge glacial erratics on the hillside. They formed caves in which Explorers didn’t hesitate practicing the art of spelunking! Mentors cautioned boys about climbing atop the boulders, however, because they were slippery but a couple of boys slid down the rock faces.

Though the boys were unharmed, they took out mosses, lichens, and licorice ferns along the way. Part of the responsibility that comes with the Art of Harvest is learning how and when to amp down the exploration and adventure feelings. These boys are in the perfect place to begin distinguishing when and how to balance fun with responsibility.

After having paused for nearly four hours the rain began to fall again while we held closing meeting. We gave thanks and started the long downhill walk to the parking lot, grateful that the wind and rain gave us a small window of time to explore and have a rad outing.

Thank you Explorers for stretching your edges and grasping the nettle. You are definitely growing into a cohesive and caring community! Thank you parents for your support of these boys and this program. We appreciate your letting wet Explorers into your cars!

Please see the photo gallery to view more pictures from this outing. See you next time for the Connelly Creek Traverse on April 19th.


BEC: A Night Outing at North Galbraith with the Vespula Veterans

After digging gear out of our closets, reviewing some fire making techniques, and clearing up a scheduling mistake; the Mentors were ready to kick off spring season with the Vespula Veterans. Reuniting at North Galbraith Mountain Trailhead it was clear to see that it had been too long since our last outing. Circling up we took a moment to introduce a few new Explorers to the group and each share a little about our winter season. As we talked the group started to bundle up in their rain gear. I think we all knew that we were in for a rainy night. It was encouraging to hear that so many of the Vespula’s were getting out in the snow and rain over our sabbatical.

Heading into the woods the group noticed that Indian Plum and Pink Flowering Currants were starting to bloom; this is one of the first signs of spring. The group also noticed a large number of downed trees littering the lowland forest. The Explorers tracked the carnage back to the heavy snowfall we had received a few weeks earlier. The snow loading on the trees and heavily saturated soil caused massive downing. As we hiked Greg pointed out that most of the downed trees were Alders. Knowing that there was a slight wind advisory for the evening we would need to be on high alert for partially fallen trees and snags. Alders have very shallow root systems and also thrive in saturated soil, putting them at risk of toppling. Hiking along we tracked the potential hazardous locations remembering that in the dark these obstacles would be tricky to navigate.

In a grove of mature Cedars on a little higher ground the boys found a great location to build a fire. As soon as we dropped our packs the rain started to pick up and we noticed the light fading through the canopy. The Vespula’s thought back to their night outing at Arroyo where they had noticed that as night sets in the bright colors fade last. Already some of the less vibrant colors were looking grey.

Calling the group into action Greg challenged the boys to make a fire in ten minutes using only a bow drill or flint and steel method. At the end of the ten minutes the Vespulas had created a rock ring, gathered half wet and half dry firewood no bigger than the size of their wrist, had started working with a bow drill kit, and were making a cedar nest for the coal. All in all it was a good effort. To show the Explorers that it could be done Greg and I had been gathering dead Western Hemlock branches and preparing our bow drill kit while the group worked. The Mentors managed to create a humble but hardy fire in about twenty minutes.

By this time the sun had set and we sat around watching the fire as it illuminated the canopy above. Greg demonstrated to the group an old mountain man method of using a char cloth with flint stone and steel rod. The group practiced keeping the fire tidy and keeping enough oxygen flowing through it so that it would burn through the materials completely. The Mentors had also brought along seasoned Cottonwood, Maple and Cedar for the boys to experiment with.

As the last of the Maple started to burn we discussed ways to put out the fire ethically. Our newly cultivated ability to create and maintain fire comes with great responsibility. The Explorers not only have an obligation to control and put out fire they also have an obligation to leave the space where they had the fire as they found it. Gathering rainwater in an abandoned bucket we put out the fire and churned the duff, leaving minimal signs that we were ever there. Once the fire was out it was pitch black and the only sounds were the wind and the rain hitting the trees.

Circling up the Explorers hashed out a way to navigate through the darkness while staying together. Heading south through the wood the group came to a power line clearing and scrambled up the steep embankment. Once we reached the top of the embankment some of the Vespulas realized we were on the ridgeline trail. Following the ridgeline the group hiked in a maze of young Alders. In the low light reflected from Bellingham it was hard to tell the swaying Alders apart. With about an hour left in the outing the group arrived at a vista that looked overlooked Bellingham. There was a noticeable contrast between the dark forest of Galbraith Mountain and the bright city lights of Bellingham. One of the Explorers mentioned that the people in the city probably didn’t even know what the weather was like. This brought up an interesting discussion based around the isolating and disorienting structure of our city lifestyles. The cultural and physical wildernesses that these two seemingly opposite but connected landscapes share will be a question that the Vespula Veterans will continue to explore as they step into adolescence.

Hiking back down the ridgeline trail the group laughed and joked, feeling a little more at ease in the dark and unknown. Making it back down to the power lines the Mentors called for a sit spot. It is important for the Explorers to build comradery and spirit on adventures, but it is just as important that they get quiet and listen to the land. As the group spread out it was very empowering to be able to see clearly in the dark without the use of flashlights or headlamps.

Coming back in for one final circle we shared a little about our sit spot and gave some thanks. The group gave thanks for the group challenge, for fire and warmth, for food and warm drinks, for the ability to navigate without light, for wild lands, and a home to return to.

Before heading back down the trail the Mentors took a valuable moment to talk to the group about this idea of navigating in the darkness. The Vespulas are gaining autonomy and power as they journey into adolescences. This journey will sometimes lead them far from home and even at times lead them to places of darkness and the unknown. In their unknown trials the boys will need to rely on the skills, wisdom, and knowledge they have cultivated. In this time the Vespula Veterans will also find their gifts and hone their moral compasses. Setting them up for the journey and being there for them in the coming years is what we as Mentors are here to offer.

Hiking back down the group decided to use their headlamps on account of the formidable cliff bands along the way. What a pleasure it was to welcome in the spring season with a journey through the wildlands with the Vespula Veterans. Emerging from the woods one by one we greeted the parents with our cups full and our spirits high.

Please check back on Thrusday for pictures from the outing in our photo gallery