Wild Whatcom Blog


BEC: Grey Fox Kits Explore North Lake Whatcom

Cold, clear, brisk, but calm. I was so thankful it was calm as the Grey Fox Kits gathered around stubs for our final outing of the season. On our previous outing we had experienced winds that picked up and caused a tree to fall very close to us on the trails above Lake Padden. This experience shook up many of the boys and the mentors. Safety is always in the forefront of our minds as we explore but there are always risks that you cannot plan for. As we loaded Stubs to take us out to North Lake Whatcom I was happy to hear many of the boys joking about wind and expressing how excited they were that it was sunny and calm today. Stubs started on the second try and we were off along the sunny shores of The Lake.


North Lake Whatcom is an incredible place to explore. It is part of the watershed for our cities drinking water and offers great opportunities for exploration of both waterfront and the steep flanks of Mt Stuart. Our first decision was whether to Commit to a trek to the summit of Mt Stuart or to head down toward the lake. As mentors we are not only focused on sharing information regarding the natural world, but also helping these boys become strong leaders and contributing members of a group. Group decisions like this are the perfect time to use these skills. The weather was chilly and everyone wanted to move, but i was impressed by the patients most of the boys had to stand their and make a decision that everyone felt good about. After many compromises and negotiations we headed toward the lake and left Mt Stuart for future explorations.


It was cold in the forest as we headed down toward the lake. We picked up a brisk pace and swung our arms to stay warm as we followed the dark path through large stands of Cedars and Douglas Firs.  The minute the Explorers saw the sunny shores of the lake they raced toward the inviting sunlight. Within a few minutes we had all dropped our packs, taken off a few layers, and sprawled out on logs and rocks in the sunshine. Pretty quickly all of us settled into our individual projects. Some boys harvested “Fat wood” (ask your explorers to show you this stuff!) from old stumps, built shelters along the beach, worked on carving, explored the shallow water, helped me work on my bow drill kit, lounged on logs, ate lunch and laughed with each other. It was so cool to see all the boys so focused and happy with whatever project they had decided to under take. Some days you work so hard to find this kind of focus in the boys with no results and then days like this without any effort they find this kind of focus for themselves. It is so powerful to see them make these decisions and know what they need.


After almost two hours on the beach the boys all came together on the beach; chattering about what they had worked on and sharing with others in the group the things they had accomplished. I asked the group if they wanted to go up into the forest to explore, their immediate response was a unanimous No. They were incredulous why we would go to the cold dark forest when there was a warm and sunny beach to explore. satisfied with the beach we spent the rest of the outing playing awareness games on the beach.

 It was really pleasant to spend a day with these boys and follow them around for the day. The Grey Fox Kits really are a solid group and are at the point where they make most of the decisions about the day. I am so honored to be a part of their growth and see them grow as the season goes on. Thank you Explorers for all the dedication and laughter through out the season and thank you parents for bringing your boys out to these outings! Make sure to check out our photo gallery for more pictures.



BEC: Exploration at Lake Padden with the Barred Owlets

Often in life, it's when we begin to think we know what's best that we're ripe for getting taken down a notch. Such was the case during the Barred Owlets' Nov. 16 exploration outing at Lake Padden Park. And, in this instance, it was the mentors who were reminded to let go of "the plan" when nature or Explorers inspire.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. It was a cold, clear, beautiful day when we gathered at the dog run area of the park. We began with a game of Balance of Nature. Each Explorer began the game as a Barred Owl, a mouse or as grass. The owl preys on the mice, the mice eat the grass and the grass decomposes the owl when it dies. Cycle of life. So, the owls chased the mice, the mice chased the grass and the grass chased the owls. When an explorer was tagged, he became a member of the group that tagged him. After a few minutes, we called STOP and counted the owls, mice and grass. Interestingly, there was just one mouse! We talked about what happens in the wild when the population of mice (or other element of the cycle) diminishes. We then played again for a few more minutes. Amazingly, at the end of the second round, all 10 explorers were mice! Now we saw how dynamic the interplay can be.

Following the game, we held our opening meeting. It was a short meeting this day due to the fact that some of the materials for jobs were unavailable to us. Originally, we were going to skip having jobs for this outing, but the boys suggested we could do several of the jobs without the missing materials. It was great to see their interest in contributing to the well being of the group. So those jobs that were available were assigned and we headed off to check out the trail map. 

A few of the boys were excited to visit a "fort" they knew of. A look at the map revealed that said "fort" was in the opposite direction to the mentor's planned route. So we had a decision to make. The boys talked it over and decided to check out the "fort", to the consternation of "they who knew" (mentors). If you listened with all your senses, you probably would've sensed a silent "but, but…" from both mentors. Luckily, the coyote spirit took over just in time and the mentors followed the boys along the stream to a thicket of salmonberry bushes (the "fort", I think) and, to everyone's surprise, ice on the stream! 15 fun-filled minutes later, and to our relief, no immersions in the icy water, and the Barred Owlets had a true Explorer's Club experience to remember and retell at future gatherings. For their part, the mentors were reminded to stay humble and trust the boy's instincts.

Now the time was right to hike into the trees and hike we did. On the way, we played a few games of HIDE! and explored the cavity at the base of a fallen tree. Coyote den? Probably not - too big. Further along the trail, we had another decision to make; this way to a promising Spider's Web location or that way to search for an earth shelter that had been constructed by an older Explorer's Club group.The boys decided we had time to do both and to begin by looking for the shelter. 

Up and over a ridge we climbed in search mode, with our efforts quickly rewarded. The shelter was well-constructed, but incomplete. So, while some ate lunch, others piled leaves on and tossed leaves into the shelter to provide a dry, warm place to spend a night or ride out a storm.

This operation soon morphed into multiple activities: shelter building, lunch, exploration and "hanging out". Before long, it was time to engage in that time-honored Explorer's Club game - Spider's Web. In this game, the designated spider guards the food source while the rest of the Explorers, or "flies", try to capture it and return it to its home base. Stealth and camouflage are key strategies for the flies, while constant attention serves the spider well. We had interesting terrain for the game, with the earlier summited hill on one side and a gradual drop off on the other. In the middle - many fallen trees to provide cover but also present obstacles. The spider chose to stay in the middle. I can only speak for myself, but this was challenging for the flies (of which I was a proud, but ineffectual member). I tried going down the incline and around behind to no avail. I tried climbing the hill and circling around that way…caught again. I was trying to navigate down the center when the game ended. 

The sun, already low in the sky, was now dipping toward the horizon. Time for our closing meeting, which was delayed briefly as Steve demonstrated fire by friction, much to the fascination of a band of young boys eager to learn more and try it themselves. In due time.

Our closing meeting, a time to give thanks and share apples, was also a time to reflect on the group's first season together. Our thoughts ranged from our first outing at Whatcom Falls Park, where the boys first played HIDE! and Spider's Web and finished the outing swimming in Whatcom Creek, to our service outing at Connelly Creek, spent beating back Canary grass and uprooting blackberry bushes, to the heaviest rain of the season at the start of our exploration of the 100 Aker Wood, to the joy of discovering the icy stream at Lake Padden. Through it all, the boys got to know each other and the mentors, learned about Explorer's Club traditions and values, connected with the land, and contemplated all they had to be thankful for.

As with any group, it hasn't always been smooth sailing. Eight and nine year old boys overflow with physical energy that at time is poorly directed. Feeling, and sometimes bodies, are hurt. But the Barred Owlets are game to improve and surely embraced this opportunity enthusiastically. They're forming into a group with shared values, goals, experiences and memories. Steve and Brian are eager to pick up with these boys in the Spring to continue their journey of growth, maturation and connection.

For more pictures from the outing please visit the Barred Owlets photo gallery.


BEC: Rambling at Galby Lane with the Gray Wolf Pups

The Gray Wolf Pups arrived at Galby Lane to find a mentor hunched and working on something. Investigating further the group found that he was working on Fire by Friction. They watched as the mentor created a coal and blew it into flame using a nest made of Cedar Bark. This season the Gray Wolf Pups delved into the Earth Skill of shelter building and spring season they will begin carving. They are hungry for these skills and the mentors want to follow their inspirations. Learning these techniques can save the boys’ lives, but they also increase their craftsmanship, knowledge of flora and fauna, tracking, and overall appreciation for the resources that go into keeping them alive.

Heading into the woods we circled up for an opening meeting. Being transparent with the boys we told them that the next four hours was their time to create an adventure. One of the greatest aspects of our outings is that We are all leaders and collaboratively we use our time for rich exploration. After some group process the boys decided that they wanted to find and complete a half built shelter that lied somewhere off trail and finish their day with a round a Spider’s Web. The mentors could tell by the boys’ postures that we needed to move, but before we did we wanted to call attention to the reason for the boys’ chill. A strong Northeasterly front had brought our area clear blue skies and frigid artic temperatures. It is important that the Explorers begin to track the weather and understand what causes our variations. Knowing these types of weather will orient them to the place that we live and help them to be better prepared to deal with the elements. Tracking the landscape the mentors explained to the boys that before this sunny lull strong southerly fronts had blow through the area and we needed to be alert for leaning and downed trees.

Heading up the trail we quickly veered right, climbing over nurse logs and following some deer trails. Eventually we found the spot where the Roosevelt Elk Calves had built the half completed shelter. Circling up we made some time commitments for how long we would work on the shelter, keeping in mind our agreement to play a game at the end of the day. The boys got to work, harvesting some freshly downed maple twigs and bark to make a door for the shelter, while others took a trash bag and gathered leaves to complete the outside and interior. It was powerful to watch the boys work so diligently on it and in turn it kept them warm.

Finding the half built shelter was such a gift for the boys because it was almost exactly at the stage where they left their earth shelter back at Lake Padden. They were able to experience the full circle process and sat back satisfied with their work. One by one the Explorers tested out their shelter, cocooning themselves in its leaf-filled cavity. Nestling in they started to feel warmer and warmer until some of them had to evacuate, as it was so hot. Looking at our building materials staging area it was clear that we had caused some impact. The mentors explained to the group that even though we had harvested only downed materials it was important to leave the area better than we found and to camouflage it. Grabbing handfuls of debris and sticks we made it look like we were never there. We decided to leave the shelter as there were a few more groups coming to this location that would like to see the work.

Heading out from the site we encouraged the boys to use their intuition to find the trail to our west. Within a few minutes the boys had relocated the path and we were on our way to a great location for Spider’s Web. Circling up we revisited the rules and set up the course. The Explores spread out over the land and found their hiding spots. It filled the mentors’ hearts to see the Explorers stalking and immersing themselves in the landscape. Although the Big Leaf Maples leaves were an asset to us in shelter building, the crunch sound under our feet proved to be our greatest challenge as we tried to sneak past the careful eyes of the spider. Hiding behind a log, a mentor watched a boy crawl behind the remnants of fallen ancient Western Red Cedar. Camouflaging in its trunk he looked as if the was lying on a soft carpet. It is moments like these when it is plain to see this group is becoming comfortable between the duff and mud of the forest floor; soon they will call this place home.  

In the end the spider held off the hungry flies and the game ended with a draw. Circling back up we had a closing meeting under umbrella-like branches of a large Western Hemlock. The Explorers gave thanks for the fall storms which brought the materials that completed the shelter, for the fun and excitement of trying to evade the spider’s glance, for warmth and comfort, for the challenge of the cold weather, and for friendship and family. The mentors would like to thank the Gray Wolf Pups for a powerful exploration. We look forward to our last outing at Sehome Arboretum, which is also the last outing of fall season.

For more pictures from the day please visit the Gray Wolf Pup's photo gallery


BEC: Exploring Chuckanut Creek with the Branch Hoppers

Spawning salmon, fire by friction, carving, and river rambling; what powerful way for the Branch Hoppers to end their fall season. Heading out from the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead the Branch Hoppers circled up at the first junction in the trail for an opening meeting. Now that the boys are a well-seasoned group of Explorers it is important for them to begin to track the different locations we explore and realize how they are connected geographically. Working together the group tried to orient to the cardinal directions and determine where the two trails were headed. They came to the conclusion that one way led to Chucaknut Creek and Lost Lake while the other led to Clayton Beach. Each time an Explorer makes a connection like this they can begin to construct a mental map of natural landscape, like a patchwork quilt. When a boy traverses from Clayton Beach to Arroyo Park, rambles up Chuckanut Creek, and climbs to Pine and Cedar Lakes he begins to understand the many important mountainous creeks which feed the lowlands, and in turn support us all. Our aim is for the boys to develop a deep sense of place and connection through this geographical knowledge. When they understand the landscape’s watersheds and topography they begin to understand how to take care of it holistically and fully.

Heading East towards Chuckanut Creek the group marveled at the damage the last storm caused and the abundant waterfalls and streams flowing off Chuckanut Mountain. The beautiful fall colors in the foliage and mild weather left the group in high spirits as we roamed. Arriving at Chuckanut Creek we gazed over the bridge and one of the Explorers called out Salmon! The boys darted off the bridge and leaned out over the creek, trying to get close. The Chum Salmon were large and could move with speed and precision up the creek.

In our opening meeting we talked about a woman who could catch salmon with her hands, not by chasing and overpowering them, but through patience and stealth.  This must have inspired the boys because some of them were quickly up to their waists in the creek! Some of the boys balanced patiently on logs and rocks, submerging their hands in creek and waiting, while others tried to chase the salmon. Soon half the boys were in the creek like a group of hungry bears. In the end one Explorer who had waited patiently pulled a twenty-pound salmon triumphantly onto the bank. Looking at it we could see that it was starting to deteriorate. We quickly put it back in the water and it was one its way.

The mentors and EMA’s grouped up and discussed the actions of the group from an environmental impact standpoint. In the end we decided this was the perfect way for the boys to understand the power of these salmon’s journey. As a few boys chased a salmon, it with only a few flicks of its tail that it was sixty feet up the creek and had disappeared under a log. The boys bared witness to the grace, strength, and technique of this master of survival. How wonderful to see the land living and thriving right in our backyards.

As we rambled up the banks of the creek a few boys connected the power of their knives to harvest salmon. They asked if they could harvest one and the mentors told them they were not prepared nor was it appropriate. They asked why, and the mentors explained that the harvest of salmon was something that needed to be done with the right tools and intention. If we came out with the specific intention of harvesting then we would do it. This carried into a deeper conversation about what ethical harvest is with a look at the many types of harvesting we do in the forest.  Addressing the case of the salmon, we needed to take into consideration that we had no fishing license nor did we know the regulations of the creek. One Explorer mentioned that no one would ever know if we took one, and it was a powerful teaching moment to talk about the concept of integrity. We stressed to the boys that integrity is most important when no one is watching and requires engagement in a constant search for truth and honesty within oneself. In the end the boys agreed that we were capable, but not prepared.  

Wrapping up the conversation some of the soaked boys started to look cold, and we decided it would be wise to build a small fire to warm up. We crossed over a Western Hemlock that spanned the creek. Climbing up the hill we found a secluded area and made it our base camp for a skills session. Peter found a downed Cedar and harvested some of is wood. The boys worked on their own carving projects while Peter worked on a small but hardy fire.

It was nice to see the boys get quiet and relax into the solitude of the location and witness the power that fire has to bring us together. As a small flame started to rise the boys gathered around it. Slowly we fed the fire with Hemlock twigs. Warming their cold feet and hands, the boys roasted their apples slices and gave thanks for the day. The boys gave thanks for carving, creek rambling, the power of salmon, the abundant resources which are all around us, for the ability to take resources and leave them for others, and for special locations like this one. We also revisited the conversation we had earlier about integrity and ethical harvest. Emphasizing that the only way we can live as humans is by taking, and its how we take and give back to the land that makes all the difference.

Recognizing that we had made a fire and needed to deal with it responsibly we took all the water that was left in our water bottles and put the coal and ash out completely. Peter taught the group and old Apache Scout method for burying ash. Once the ash was was buried we returned the duff to the soil and covered the area with debris. Scattering our carving shavings you could barley tell that we had been there. We may have caused a little impact, but these boys are establishing a relation with the wild spaces around them and need to be free to see the effects of their actions. This is the only way they will learn how to protect it.

The mentors are thankful for an incredible season with the Branch Hoppers and look forward to our upcoming winter season. We also would like to thank Logan and Jordan for being such great EMA’s for the boys. The Branch Hoppers really gravitate towards them and they can lead and teach in so many ways that we mentors cannot and for that we are thankful.

For more pictures from the Branch Hopper’s outing please visit their photo gallery.  


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