Wild Whatcom Blog


BEC: The Barred Owlets discover the wonders of Clayton Beach

As you may be aware, the salmon life cycle occurs in a chain of connected environments: stream, estuary, nearshore, and ocean. Salmon fry spend from a few hours to a few years in fresh water, depending on species. When ready to leave the stream, salmon enter estuaries, where they begin to adapt to saltwater. Again, their time at this stage varies from hours to months, but it’s the changes they undergo here, called smoltification, that fascinate me. Their body shape is altered, their skin reflectance increases (more silver) and there’s an increase in their gills of the enzyme that pumps sodium out of cells. Presto/change-o, they’re now saltwater creatures. Is that amazing or what?!!!?

No less astounding is the change in humans as they transition from children to adults. This change might still be some time off for the Barred Owlets, but a focus at Explorers Club, as we attempt to complement in our “survival” setting what you do every day, is to prepare them to be caring, respectful, cooperative members of our society. A principal way we’re doing that with the Barred Owlets right now is to set an expectation of honorable, respectful, helpful behavior toward each other and the mentors. An important tool for us, as I mentioned in my last blog post, is the 5-finger “contract”.

Steve and I were very pleased to see that several of the boys remembered that we introduced the “contract” during the torrential downpour that passed for our last outing. One mentioned that his Mom talked with him about it (great!, thanks). And, we later saw evidence that the boys are “getting it” as they helped each other with rock climbing, exploring and decision-making. No doubt, there is work still to be done, but it is rewarding to see the boys gel as a group and mature as individuals.

 But enough philosophy, you say! What the heck happened out there? Well, with a watchful eye to the sky in hope of a rain-free afternoon, we crossed Chuckanut Drive and headed down the path toward Clayton Beach. Before long, 10 intrepid Barred Owlets, 1 EMA (Explorers club Mentor Apprentice) and 1 mentor scattered into the ferns at the call of HIDE! It’ll be a long time before I call HIDE! in the spot again, for when I opened my eyes I could see not a one. With considerable effort, I managed to locate a few, but it was not my finest hour, for sure.

Our opening meeting followed and was focused around the 5-finger “contract”, our water curriculum (estuaries) and a difficult decision - should we go straight down to the beach or play Spider’s Web first? Two good options. With our Tribal Elder’s capable assistance, we decided to play Spider’s Web first, but only for a limited time so we could have enough time at the beach. Outstanding work, Barred Owlets!

After our game, we threw our packs on again and headed down the trail. As we crossed the RR tracks, a few explorers who were familiar with Clayton Beach wanted to head off in different directions to explore. At the urging (insistence, really) of the mentors, however, we moved together down to the rocks along the shore where we could establish a base. The beach offers beach-combing, tide-pool examining, rock climbing, trail exploring and more. We needed to anchor their activities for everyone’s safety and sanity. Then, let the scampering begin!

The clouds generally won the battle with the sun throughout the afternoon, but couldn’t muster any rain and occasionally gave way to filtered sun as explorers attempted daunting rock climbing routes, examined tide pools and bounded up and through trees. (Note to self: Say everything you need to say to the boys BEFORE crossing the tracks. Once they see the stimulating possibilities at the beach, it’s tough to regain their attention!)

Before long. a check of the clock indicated it was time for reflection before our closing meeting, so we strung the boys out along a bluff overlooking the Salish Sea for a sit spot. The sound of the surf facilitated a quick connection to the wonders of this place as the sun struggled to assert itself for good. And as I gazed into the stiff, cool breeze coming off the water, I could almost see far enough into the future to catch a glimpse of these explorers at 21 years of age, strong and honorable men.

Our closing meeting in the now bright sun and on the beach (do you remember how hard it is to sit in the sand and not dig?) was notable because of Steve’s promise to provide a home-baked treat at our final outing in late May to compensate for the fact that he forgot our apples for this outing. Hurrah!

We know groups progress in fits and starts and we shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch, but the mentors felt like the Barred Owlets moved forward with this outing. More respect towards their peers; better attention in circle; a caring attitude when exploring. A good outing - and a great launch point for our service outing on May 2 at Connelly Creek. We’ll continue our water curriculum as we work to restore the riparian habitat along the creek that is so critical to the health of salmon in the freshwater rearing and migration to spawning stages of a salmon’s life. Check here for the schedule. Oh, and here for the photos from our outing.


The Salamander Efts Tromp Off Trail at Stimpson

As the boys gathered in the gravel lot of the Stimpson Reserve Trailhead, we all marveled at the beautiful weather shining down upon us. After our previous outing, and the weather reports calling for thunderstorms, we were all relieved to have the sunshine warming our faces and a cool breeze from time to time to keep us cool. After waiting for some explorers who never ended up showing, we decided it was time to hit the trail.

Our trek out into Stimposon Reserve was a nice transition into the woods. The sunshine gleaming through the fresh leaves of the canopy provided vibrant greens to offset the darker, damper, gloomier greens of the mosses and ferns along the forest floor. Boys marveled at the varying species of moss, how they differed, and what could be the reasons for their unique shapes and growth patterns. This focus of intricacies and minutia helped hone our awareness to tune into the finer details of things.

But soon enough we were confronted with a large log across the trail elevated about ten feet above us. Of course it was an Explorer magnet and all the boys were eager to cross the log. It was important, however, to pause and gauge the hazards and personal comfort with such a task. At first some boys were a little cautious, but quickly aligned with their center of gravity, found their focus, and were across the log in no time. The first time was a nice test run, but of course the boys had to do it again, some even three times, and one felt confident enough in his abilities to perform such a feat backwards (it helped that he spent the entire time previously walking backwards along the trail navigating on his ability to feel the levelness of the ground with his feet!).

After honing our awareness to detail, and stretching our edges, it was time for some lunch. We plopped down at Geneva Pond Viewpoint and filled our bellies while watching the wind on the water and talking about everything from YouTube videos to what type of comedy we enjoy. Some Explorers broke off and waged a war against one another using horsetails as ammunition, others just continued socializing, and one Explorer dove into the world of tracking by studying a multitude of deer tracks and determining where the deer came from, what they did, and where they went.

Eventually we all had to circle up and decide how to spend the rest of our day. It was surmised that we should pick up our horsetail mess and try and “leave no trace” before following the deer path off trail and into the depths of the forest for a nice game of Spider’s Web. The Salamander Efts have had plenty of experience with group decision making, but it still took a little longer than expected to collaborate and compromise given our small group for the outing. As these boys grow older they will begin to understand the importance of such skills as group decision making, and are already beginning to realize that if decisions are made in a timely and efficient manner it leaves that much more time on outings to play, explore, and discover the mysteries of the natural world.

Immediately after we got the group off the main trail, skirting ridges and ducking through the underbrush just as the deer do, all the Explorers stopped chatting about the internet, school, or other external and distant topics. Instead they began interacting with their environment, finding wonder in their immediate surroundings, and tracking their movements on the landscape. Shifting one’s awareness and focus to the present is an extraordinary gift that not only helps these boys get the most out of every outing, but will provide them with an ever growing mindfulness towards themselves, others, and their present situation. The mentors later marveled at the power of the natural world to grasp the often scattered attention and erratic focus of the boys and channel it into a greater awareness of themselves and their surroundings.

With their minds focused on the present and their immediate surroundings, the boys quickly found a beautiful valley in which to play Spider’s Web. Not only did they manage to find a location in a timely fashion, but once down at the bottom of the gully the boys circled up and using their freshly developed decision making skills decided on where to place the web, the food source, rule intricacies, and designated roles for the game. Both mentors were impressed at the efficiency in group decision making the second time around, and were glad to witness the growth that occurred from our last circle.

Once again we found ourselves lost in play. Explorers scampered through the sword ferns, traversed ridgelines, and disappeared into tree hollows to avoid detection by the spider. Everyone was having a blast. One Explorer even took the time to hunker down and strategize by making a map in the dirt out of sticks and sword fern leaflets designating major land features, where the food source likely was, and areas where the spider was most vulnerable to infiltration. Other boys teamed up on covert missions deep into the spider’s territory. But before anyone won, the pressures of time exerted their control over us and we had to call it quits. However, one Explorer was heard saying “No one won, but it was fun.” Perhaps we have the makings of a new BEC Motto…

As boys bubbled over with excitement and stories from their adventures during Spider’s Web, we formed our closing circle and regained our composure in order to give thanks for the wonderful outing, beautiful places we discovered, and the new stories that were formed from our adventures that day. Yet again the Salamander Efts demonstrated efficiency in circle and allowed us just enough time to eat our apple slices and hit the trail. But as we were packing up one boy hollered “BONES!” and sure enough right where our closing circle was taking place was a smattering of very old, moss covered bones from what we suspect was once a deer. Wow, what a coincidence that out of all the many acers that make up Stimpson Reserve, we just so happened to find the resting place of the very animal that guided us off trail and into the wonderland of ferns and fungus, bark and branches, mud and moss. We had just enough time to hustle back down the trail, sharing each other’s company along the way, and even saying hello to a hefty Garter Snake that was sunning itself by the shores of Geneva Pond. Yet again, another overwhelmingly successful outing full of growth and fond memories for all.

Remember to check out all the rest of the photos from our outing at the Salamander Efts Photo Gallery!


The Alevin & Grey Fox Kits Explore Clayton Beach

The Alevin and Grey Fox Kits met at the Clayton Beach parking lot for their second exploration of the season. Little did they know the mentors were planning on joining forces for the outing! After safely crossing the road the boys searched for a place to have an opening meeting. Finding a clearing under a Cedar tree, we circled up and there was clearly a divide between the two groups. The mentors explained that by chance the two groups had been scheduled for Clayton Beach on the same day and that the opportunity presented to the groups could be used for skill sharing, a large game of some kind, or wherever their inspiration led them.  

The boys handed out jobs amongst their own groups and the mentors handed the circle over to the Tribal Elders for the day, letting them know that this decision could be made in five minutes if they focused. The Tribal Elders were quick to come to the decision that the group needed to take a vote in order to come to a collaborative decision. The mentors stressed to the Tribal Elders that it was important for the group to brainstorm ideas on how we could best use our time before the group voted. Going around the circle the Tribal Elders collected suggestions, but soon the circle turned to chaos. Some boys tried to take over by talking over the Tribal Elders, other boys were anxious to get to the beach and unable to hold their focus wandered off, while others argued amongst themselves over what would be the best use of time.

After about ten minutes the mentors called the group back together. By then many of the Explorers were frustrated and decided it would be best to split the two groups and explore on their own. Once Tim had everyone seated and focused he explained that we honor and respect each other in our circles by bringing our focus and commitment towards the decision at hand, and that we are part of a community and this means we must collaborate and compromise. After 30 minutes of group process the boys came to the decision that they would stick together, go to the beach, and then at 2:45pm head back to the woods to play a round of Spider’s Web.

Although the process can seem arduous and daunting these Explorers are learning the interpersonal skills it takes to be part of a community and the mentors were quite proud of their decision and commitment to remain a community.

Sensing that they had lost some time the group quickly headed down the trail to Clayton and spread out over the beach. It was powerful having four mentors on this outing. The dynamic afforded the boys the opportunity to follow their own inspirations on the beach. Setting up a home base some of the Grey Fox Kits pulled out their knives and began to carve as they watched a group of Surf Scoters fishing for invertebrates in the Eelgrass Beds. Other Explorers ran over to the sandstone cliffs and climbed to their hearts content as Peter spotted them. When given the space and time these boys are so creative and inquisitive. The boys spread into every nook and cranny of the beach, finding quiet spots on the bluff to get lost in thought, searching the intertidal zones for Anemones and Hermit Crabs, and even finding a driftwood teeter-totter to play on.  

Shadowing a group of boys one mentor witnessed a very powerful moment. A few Explorers found a quiet place where a Willow tree hung over a small creek that fed into the sound. As they sat they commented to one another that this place was the most beautiful they had ever seen and encouraged each other to get quiet and listen to the creek as it ran into the sea. After about ten minutes of silence the mentor approached the boys and said, “pretty nice spot huh”? The Explorers commented that this place wasn’t just nice, but special. They said they felt like people had been coming to this place for many generations and that it was special because people would continue to experience its solitude for many more generations.

As mentors we rarely directly experience the fruit of our labors, but in times like these it is clear that our core routine of sit spots and immersion into the landscape are shaping and changing the Explorers relationship the natural environment. This connection is nurturing inside them the ability to slow down, deeply reflect, and be appreciative for all we have. 

Circling up a little after 2:45pm the boys had another group decision to make.  Almost unanimously the boys decided to skip heading back into the woods for a game and instead stay on the beach and continue exploring. It was powerful for the boys to make such a quick decision and realize that they had to ability to be collaborative leaders. Before breaking our circle for one last exploration the group shared a circle of thanks. The boys gave thanks for the amazing sunny weather, for the ability to explore their interests, for food and water, for special spots and abundant wildlife, and for the opportunity to explore with each other.

The Mentors would like to thank these Explorers for putting in the work and answering the challenges that being part of a circular community brings. The Grey Fox Kits and the Alevin will be working together next outing at our Boys EC Service Site. The mentors look forward to another day together full of collaboration and compromise!

For more pictures from the day please visit either the Grey Fox Kit’s or the Alevin’s photo gallery. 


BEC: Red Tailed Eyas Have Encounters with Reptiles and Amphibians

The san juan islands lay visible on the horizon to the West and the pull of the Chuckanut mountains was tangible as the Red Tailed Eyas gathered alongside the infamous stubs on Samish way. Our destination for today's outing was the far South Eastern end of the Chuckanut mountain range, the last part of this range before they flatten out into the fields of Bow and Skagit County.

 As usual the ride aboard Stubs was high energy and a nice time for the boys to get out some of their nervous energy before reaching our location. We pulled into the parking lot at the base of Blanchard mountain and made our way toward the large map display of the trail system. With the Red Tailed Eyas it can sometimes take them a while to come together as a group and make decisions but once they do there is always insightful and strong leadership that emerges. Today was no different, after a few minutes of unfocused energy the group was ready to look at the map and make some decisions on where to head and how to get there.

 We started up the road toward the Alternate Incline trail but before long we were stopped by a large gravel pit on our left. dropping our packs we began to clamor up the loose rocky hillside. Very quickly we found a Northern Alligator lizard hiding in the rocks. Carefully removing rocks from around the lizard we were able to get a good look at him. Seeing the potential to find life amongst this seemingly desolate landscape we all spread out in search of more lizards. over the next hour we found many snakes, two species of frog and two species of lizard including our first find. It was a good reminder that the wilderness is all around us and we don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere to have amazing encounters with wildlife. All the boys handled the animals very gently and I was impressed with the amount of care they took to insure they put them back exactly where they found them. We try to find a balance in Boys Explorers Club between minimizing our impact on the land but also recognizing that we are a part of the land and cannot learn from it unless we embrace this. Our time in the rocks with the animals was a perfect balance of this ethic.

 After leaving the gravel pit we headed up the rest of the road and ducked off onto the Alternate Incline trail. After a solid hike up the steep trail we reached a small flat spot to stop and eat some food. We spread out; some of us seeking the sunny spots in the forest while other sought out the shade of Cedars and Douglas Firs. After lunch we circled up to discuss what we wanted to do with the remainder of the day. After a good discussion on where the groups energy was at and how much time we had left in the day we came down to two options; either to continue up to lizard lake or head off trail in search of a spot for Spiders Web. We decided on Spiders Web and began to traverse through the sword fern and fallen logs to a ridge that lay just off trail. From this ridge a small valley flanked by sword fern and rolling topography was visible far below, the perfect location for a game.

After taking some time to explore our new surroundings we set up some boundaries for the game and began. The terrain proved to be challenging for both the spider and the flies. The boys were up to this challenge and we had a great first round of Spiders Web. After coming back together to discuss the game we decided to play another round, but to move the location of the web and food source. We explored North from our original location skirting a steep hillside. Running over logs and jumping down hills we found a Huge dead tree still towering above us. The Red Tailed Eyas milled around it investigating its rotting structure and looking for burrows or other openings at it’s base. Because of it prominence on this landscape we decided to make this the food source for our second round.

 A flat knoll next to a small creek mad the perfect location for our closing circle and giving some thanks. Though we were sad to leave this small valley tucked deep in the Chuckanuts the time had come to go. We decided to cut straight down the hillside to the road and forge the trail on the way back. We galloped, laughed, rolled and jumped our way down the steep bank arriving back at stubs just in time to get back. Thank you Red Tailed Eyas for an excellent days exploring the woods and thank you parents for being supportive of what we do and sending your boys out with us to explore. Be sure to look through our photo gallery for more pictures from our adventures.  



BEC: The Raccoon Kits conquer the Teddy Bear traverse

As part of our preparation each week, the Boys Explorers Club mentors write an outline for each outing. The process helps us connect with the boys with whom we’ll be working and consider the unique possibilities of the place into which we’re venturing.

Underlying the games, the conflicts, the cuts and scrapes we inevitably experience are the lessons the boys, and the mentors, learn on and from the land. Our club mottos express what we hope the boys will take away from their club experience. Therefore, a key element of the outline is the Guiding Mottos we select for the outing. For our Teddy Bear Cove traverse on the 29th, our mottos were the following:
* The map is not the territory,
* It’s about the journey, not the destination (we are where we are going),
* The only way out is through, and
* Expect the unexpected.

So let’s examine each of these mottos in light of Sunday’s exciting outing. My hope is that this reflection will provide insight into what we do out there, how we do it, and, most important, why we do it.

“The map is not the territory.” Maps and other tools for helping us find our way (compass, GPS, etc.) provide great reference points for us to use as part of our analysis of where we are and where we should go from that point. However, too much reliance on the tools at the expense of one’s innate awareness of the land can result in unfavorable outcomes. Example: a colleague and I were in Arizona on a business trip and relying on the rental car’s GPS to get us to our meeting. However, the software was unaware of the construction project that prevented us from getting on the freeway we needed. Without that access, we were hopelessly lost and the GPS was similarly frustrated. It was only when we turned it off and problem solved our way out of our predicament that we were able to find our way to the meeting place, albeit somewhat tardy. So, we use the tools to augment our own ability to listen to the land and navigate based on our understanding of fundamental constructs such as the position of the sun in the sky at 2:00 pm on a late March day. On this late March day, we first navigated across “uncharted” (for us) territory using our wits. Then, we checked the map to better understand where we had been. The photo gallery for the outing captures that moment pretty well.

“It’s about the journey, not the destination (we are where we are going)”  Our greatest challenge on this hike came shortly after we began bushwhacking through moss-covered logs, slippery rocks, muddy soil and - all together now - devil’s club! We were in never-developed light forest and moving along a hillside without a trail in sight. I anticipated the boys would fan out and find their own way, but we largely proceeded in a single file. That alignment told me several of the boys were feeling overmatched by the terrain. It’s at moments like this that you notice leadership emerging in an explorer who steps to the front or group cohesion happening through peer support or confidence growing as the boys adapt to the land and continue to work their way through the challenge before them. Destinations are fine. In fact, it was high fives all around when we emerged out of our bushwhacking adventure. But the action happens in the test. The Raccoon Kits passed this test and I anticipate they’ll be stronger individually and as a group as a result.

“The only way out is through”  Sometimes we face really challenging internal and external obstacles. Often the best way out of the stuck place is to not go around it, or walk away from it, but to go through it, to the other side. This requires perseverance, which is "the hard work you do when you get tired of the hard work you already did." “Most of our obstacles would melt away if instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.” O. Marden (Alright, you got me...lifted from the Wild Whatcom mottos page.) Our physical test on this hike was matched by the psychological and emotional challenge many explorers faced when we were high-stepping over natural obstacles and dodging devil’s club.

“Expect the unexpected”  Brian and Peter told them it would be tough, but who amongst us hasn’t underestimated the task upon hearing it described? Confucius is credited with saying, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” These boys now understand their capabilities a little better.

Interestingly, we never made it to Teddy Bear Cove on Saturday. We played games, overcame challenges, collaborated with our peers and wore ourselves out, but we never made it to the water. Does that mean we didn’t achieve our objectives for the day? On the contrary, this Teddy Bear Cove-less day was a smashing success!

Next up - Service at the Connelly Creek site. Check here for the Raccoon Kits' Spring schedule and here for the complete set of photos for this outing.