Wild Whatcom Blog

Tuesday
Mar182014

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.

Tuesday
Mar182014

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

Monday
Mar172014

BEC: Hiking Chuckanut Mountain with the Red-Tailed Eyas 

The Red-Tailed Eyas arrived at Arroyo Park bouncing up and down with excitement. This was partially due to the fact that they had not seen each other very much over the winter season and partially because of the warm weather. A big thanks goes out to Brian Mulligan for stepping in as a Co-Mentor for the day. In the last year the Boys Explorers Club has been building a large volunteer Mentor community. Circling up I introduced Brian to the group and we talked a little about what it means to create community and how valuable it is to build social capital amongst your community members. After handing out jobs and sharing something fun that we did this winter the group was off.

Chuckanut Creek roared next to us as we hiked through the bottom of the valley. The Red-Tailed Eyas are really developing an eye for the natural world. One of the boys pointed to a Red Alder that had fallen over the creek. Investigating the hole that was made in the absence of the Alder roots one of the boys found a skeleton of a salmon embedded in the riverbank. Another Explorer asked if the group thought the salmon was fresh. Tracking that Chum and Coho Salmon usually run up Chuckanut Creek from October through December we knew that it must have been from the last salmon run. This was a great opportunity for Mentors to talk about the importance of salmon in our ecosystem. When the salmon die and decompose in streams the soil then becomes enriched with ocean minerals that are leached into the ground, creating a habitat that is able to support a richer diversity. Our question about the mystery behind this salmon carcass also led to the question of who might have eaten it. Was it a coyote or a Bald Eagle? Through our investigation we oriented to each connection that we make when we deepen our appreciation for the natural world and build a relationship with the landscape.

Looking at the forest it was plain to see that there had been turbulent changes throughout the winter storms. Downed Cedar and Alder littered the landscape. As a group we remembered back to the heavy snowfall we had received a few weeks earlier. The snow loading on the trees and the heavily saturated soil caused carnage. Starting up the steep switchbacks we came upon a piece of missing trail. An Alder had fallen, taking the section of trail down the hillside with it. Examining the Alders upturned roots it was easy to see how vital these root systems are to keeping the soil in place.

Just as we came up to our first trail junction someone shouted Hide! It turned out to be a very challenging game for the Explorers. With so many downed branches there was an abundance of great hiding spots. This was also a good time to talk with the Explorers about the importance of being aware of widow-makers and snags. Mentors explained that, “as much as we investigate on the forest floor we need to be aware of the potential hazards that lie above.” Sometimes trees and branches are weakened or only fall halfway. With this in mind we turned once again to our days exploration. As a group the boys worked together to Collaborate and Compromise on which trail they would take next. They chose to challenge themselves and take the high road. Learning how to flex with the groups needs while still listening to individual needs is a skill that is forming in the Red-Tailed Eyas. With each outing their leadership is tested and grows.

Starting back up the flanks of the Chuckanuts the group pushed themselves, mustering their energy. The Explorers were anxious to make it to a location that they had explored a few seasons prior, Cougar Rock. Cougar Rock sits on a shelf like ridge on the steep flanks of Chuckanut Mountain. This glacial erratic is not made of sandstone but of a much older rock that was carried by glaciers from the BC Coast Mountains. The Explorers climbed all over the rock; getting to practice the spotting techniques they learned last time they were here. While some of the boys climbed others stayed on the ridge shelf, carving with Brian. Providing the boys with the free time to explore and follow their inspirations is one gift we as Mentors can give them. I really see the creative side of the Explorers come out in these moments. As we were getting ready to move on one Explorer was struggling with the fear of jumping off Cougar Rock. It was wonderful to watch the boys support and encourage him in overcoming his fears.

Once we had our fill of climbing the group called for a game of Spider’s Web. The Mentors challenged the group to find a new location to play the game. This would mean hiking further than they had ever been before. They rose to the occasion and turned the hike into a trail game. Getting into our animal forms we played Cougar Stalks Deer. Halfway through the game the deer ran too far ahead leaving sound distance. This was an important time for the Mentors to talk about staying within sound distance even when were in the height of a game. This is the only way we can stay safe and be responsible for one another as a group.

Hiking further up the trail we came upon a cascading stream that flowed all the way down the valley to Chuckanut Creek. We listened to what Mentors and a few of the boys agreed to be one of the most soothing sounds, falling water. Just beyond the creek we came upon an old cabin sitting atop the ridgeline. This was the location that the Explorers had been looking for. The group scouted the land and came back to report on the best place to play. In the midst of deciding we heard multiple Barred Owl calls. Breaking our circle we crept over to the patch of trees we thought they were in. One of the Explorers spotted them and realized that there was a third. We heard a fledgling begging call and realized that it was most likely a pair and their fledgling. What a special moment to witness with the group. The Explorers decided that they should give the owls some space and this guided their decision on where to play.

After a challenging game of Spider’s Web it was time to start hiking down, but not before sharing a snack and having a closing meeting. Sitting in a circle we gave thanks for blooming Indian Plums and Nettles, for the owl fledglings and all the other signs of spring, for the chance to challenge ourselves as a group, for Cougar Rock, and for games and play. Brian and I encouraged the Explorers to continue challenging themselves in all aspects of their lives. Just as our challenge on this outing led to an animal sighting and new locations, challenges in our lives will lead us to finding our gifts and growing. The Mentors would like to thank all the parents and support staff that comes together to facilitate these wonderful outings. We look forward to our upcoming spring outings with the Red-Tailed Eyas. 

Be sure to checkout more pictures of the outing in our photo gallery.

Saturday
Mar152014

BEC: Art of Carving with the Salamander Efts

After a long day of rain the Salamander Efts met at Galby Lane to recreate their group culture and learn the first steps along the Carving Journey. With Greg out due to sickness, Matt swung over from a different outing to guide the Efts through some important considerations as the boys learned to use their edged tools.

Reminder about Explorers Club: Safety is a huge consideration in our program. If we are prepared with equipment, tools, knowledge, and compassion then we have different means to survive and thrive in outdoor settings. Indeed, we can consider the forest home once we see the abundance of food, medicine, shelter, water, and fire available in the ecosystem.

As we are learning those basics in every successive season, it is crucial that Explorers come prepared to outings with a backpack, water, extra clothing layers, food, and other items that will make their day fun. They’ll even need some space in their pack to carry group gear like our snack, toilet paper, and various resources. Boys usually make the mistake of wearing cotton clothes… hopefully they only make that error one time. Many of the Explorers were prepared but it’s important to reiterate this message to everyone. If you have any questions, please contact us!

Though we had an objective for the day, the slippery efts had other tasks in mind. The first, and most important, was to redefine the culture of the group. There were new faces to welcome and old faces to remember. As such we had a round of names and an opening meeting. Explorers kept their eagerness to carve on the backburner as we participated in these fun first steps.

We also had to go over the rules and then play a round or two of Hide. This game, as simple as it is, is really the first steps in nature connection. We use our awareness to help us quickly discover a fun and creative place in which we are to camouflage ourselves. We reawaken our innate ability to find a safe place in a given environment. If you are new to BEC, then please ask your son where he hid! If you have been involved for one or more seasons you may even ask your son to teach you how to play :)

Boys were eager to work on shelters they had built in the fall. How did they hold up through the winter? What new puddles and down trees would there be? As such we found that location and boys took to building shelters. Other groups took the responsible role of breaking down pre-existing shelters. Not for the sake of destruction but as a way to redistribute the shelter resources back into the ecosystem.

Some boys began to destroy a huge stump without awareness of the living mosses and other bryophytes growing in conjunction with the decomposition. They were asked to put things back to the way they once were, including every particle of sand. In this impossible task, the question came up: Is it ever possible to redo the impact we make? This is an important question from which we can all learn.

This may hopefully resonate for the boys in their lives as they let it settle into their hearts. As we gathered our things late in the day, boys found small sprouts; with some consideration and care they replanted these baby Bigleaf Maple shoots in those hopes that they might grow into mighty trees. Explorers have started processing the lesson about our human impact as their power takes root in a healthy way.

With a lunch break, the carving journey began. Matt told us a story about his teacher; exemplifying the motto, A Tool is an Extension of the Body. Dave then explained the basics of knife use and boys were keen to share their knowledge too. A also identified an important motto, The Difference Between a Tool and a Weapon is You. Ask your Explorer to elaborate on those mottoes if he remembers.

Boys found safe spaces to carve (we call them Blood Circles) and were handed some green Red Alder pieces to practice making a feather stick. Blade control is crucial for these boys and simple tasks of learning the blade and its resistance to the wood helps their hands’ muscle memory. Along with the emotional content of being responsible for their own safety and learning, these boys were focused and intent on their carving journey for well over 30 minutes. It was tough for mentors to ask them to stop so we could have closing meeting and a circle of thanks.

Following the motto, Attitude of Gratitude, we’d like to thank Explorers for their diligent work in a short outing. It was great for us to start this Carving journey alongside you as guides. Parents thank you for the trust as we use knives with your sons. They are gaining valuable strength and power through this skill and your support is much appreciated.

Please look at the photo gallery for more pictures from this outing. Next outing is next weekend; please see the schedule for details and come prepared to continue the carving journey and have a fun day of exploration- we are soon due for a game of Spider’s Web!

Wednesday
Mar122014

BEC: Finding Fire with the Daredevil's Club Explorers

Every culture, if we dig deep enough, has a myth about the quest for Fire. Encoded in these stories is a memory important enough that millennia of our people have passed it on so that we could all remember that there was a time when we had no fire. We must remember that there was a time when this element was a rare occurrence, and its genesis was wholly mysterious to us. In many forms, we have passed on this memory with the story of a theft of the fire and then a relay race passing from one animal to another. These big teachings from our ancestors seem to point to a couple things. First, fire was hard-won knowledge and it took such skillful observation of the natural world that it was almost like stealing a secret. Second, it takes an entire natural community to make fire.

How apparent these lessons were in the driving rain, the cold, and the night. The Daredevil’s Club assembled for their first outing of the season ready for a night adventure and a deepening of this ancient knowledge. We were in some of the most challenging conditions for starting a fire, and, once we had all gathered, it was apparent that we had some work to do before dark. There were new members to meet and bring into the fold, some reunions with seasoned Explorers, and the need to get an overview of the outing and the coming season. The Daredevil’s Club was aware of this, and they took charge right off the bat. No mentors in front, no directed leadership, just an able group spontaneously guiding itself charged down the trail until we came to a good stopping point for an opening meeting.

We stepped off to the side and just as we were about to get down to it, someone yelled Hide! As expected, everyone scattered and buried themselves in mud or moss. What a great way to get off the trail and get connected! When we gathered again, Explorers decided to circleup and get down to business. Names were exchanged and the basic culture was explained and agreed upon. We promptly then turned our minds toward the waning light, the cold rain, and the need for fire. Explorers were given a new job today: the firekeeper.  One Explorer held a matchbook with 5 matches.  We split off into three groups, and were given the challenge of gathering materials for a fire in 5 minutes. We also agreed to only gather with a good mindset and good relationship with the land.

Explorers scoured the woods in all directions, looking for what might ignite.  When we regrouped, we shared our findings. Cedar was a common ally. Some gathered cedar bark, which makes a good nest for a bow or hand drill coal. Some gathered hemlock. Some gathered wood from stumps, and some gathered giant limbs. We learned right off the bat how important plant ID is. Hemlock, it turns out, has small twigs that will ignite in the toughest conditions. Rotten wood holds water and does not burn well. Green wood or leaves don’t burn either. The outer edge of cedar bark can hold water, moss, and sometimes even has some rot.  Then we introduced the Explorers to “fat wood.” This pitch-rich remnant of a douglas fir is the key to starting fires in wet conditions. Ask your Explorer what he can remember about this wood, perhaps the smell will trigger his memory.

So, the rain came down harder and harder, and we huddled around to try our matches to the fatwood. This was a huge teaching moment. That fatwood did burn for a moment, and would have started a fire if we had good rain shelter and a good setup. But, the challenge was for Explorers to see where they are at now, and to understand the need. We learned about lighting matches in the rain, and about sheltering your kindling. In the next outings, we can revisit our experience and learn how to keep our tools dry and make an excellent fire in all conditions.

Then the night hit. The cold hit. And, for some of us, the fear hit. The beauty of these first night outings is that they are an edge-stretcher. They are not care-free and easy, but they are the outings that teach us our greatest strengths. They teach us how to find power in a challenge, how to express our fears and discomforts without attaching our entire experience to them, and how to help one another. Explorers did an amazing job here. We hiked in the rain and the dark, even played a few simple games, learned how to “see” in the dark, and made some solid decisions as a group.

The whole group seemed to hit an edge of discomfort, and then to rebound. As we approached the parking lot area, we even paused to play some games and to recognize that we had overcome challenges with grace and empowerment. Ask your Explorers about pirate’s eyes or about the challenge to sneak up on parents! In our closing meeting, we held a circle of thanks and a recognition that we did find fire. We found the most primal fire of all: the fire inside!  

Much thanks to all Explorers for your courage and resilience.  Much thanks to all families for your enduring support.  Be sure to check out pics (not many!) of the outing in our photo gallery.