Wild Whatcom Blog


Raccoon Kits ponder a name change

The last time you found yourself stranded in the woods, searching for whatever you could find to help you survive the night in the cold and rain…and you found a shoelace in your pocket, I bet you didn’t think to cut it up and leave “bread crumbs” to mark your trail! Or how about using it to hang your food where a bear couldn’t get it….or, get this, as a shoelace, should one of yours fail!

Each of these ideas and several more were generated out of a survival activity we did on our Fragrance Lake outing. The Raccoon Kits were divided into three groups: each group was given a shoelace and asked how they might put it to good use in a survival situation. Other ideas: secure the frame of an earth shelter; build a snare to catch dinner; create a bow drill kit to make a fire, and more. Very resourceful!

Resourcefulness is a key characteristic when in survival mode. Keeping a cool head is one of the most difficult things to do in that situation; the Raccoon Kits showed the capacity to think on their feet. I, for one, was surprised and pleased at their responses.

The reason we  were able to put the boys into small groups for this activity was that we had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to group leaders. Wyatt is a student in Environmental Ed. at Western and joined us as a volunteer mentor as part of his course work. Jordan and Adrian are part of the Vespula Veterans, one of the oldest Boys Explorers Club groups. They were along as Explorers Club Mentor Apprentices (EMAs). Tim and I scrambled to make the best use of all that help!

Our opening circle was highlighted by an examination of a deer carcass discovered by the ever watchful mentor Tim. Each explorer was offered the chance to bring home a bone. Then on to the outing. Of course, the best way for Wyatt to learn about our program was to participate, so we immediately hooked him into games of Cougar Stalks Deer and Hide! as we hiked along the Interurban trail and onto the Fragrance Lake trail. A quick study, he was soon to be spotted diving into the ferns at the sound of “HIDE!” 

After a short climb, we located two elements that would be important for our outing. First, a good spot to practice building shelters. The land at this bend in the trail features a large “nurse-boulder”, if you will, a muddy pit that one of the shelter teams put to good use making mud packs to secure their shelter, a ditch to explore, and lots of downed branches to use in shelter frames. Second, we came across the two Raccoon Kits who, after arriving a little late, managed to get in front of us on the trail, only to be U-turned after a hiker indicated to the rest of us that she had seen a few boys and a dad looking for a group of eager explorers. (Do you get the sense there was lots of positive energy on the Fragrance Lake trail on Sunday?)

Our work revealed that these boys have learned the process of shelter building, but that the sense of urgency and focus that are required in an actual survival scenario can be in somewhat short supply when we’re practicing. This is common for young boys and may also have something to do with the size of the groups. Six explorers and an EMA can sometimes get in each other’s way and can make for duplicated and confusing task organization. In a few weeks, we’re going to continue this effort and plan to work with smaller groups. We’re also going to bring water to pour onto the completed shelters as a test of their worthiness. Should be interesting.

Our work completed, we played a quick game of Hungry, Hungry Martin, then circled up to give thanks in our closing meeting. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate to a volunteer the values we hold dear in Wild Whatcom and Boys Explorers Club than to invite him to join us in this treasured tradition. We slow down after all that energetic play and work to share apples and voice out loud something for which we are truly grateful. Just as your sons are resourceful about using a shoelace in the wilderness, they’re often thoughtful and insightful about the gifts they’ve been given. 

Before “packs on” for our hike out, we continued our discussion about a new name for our group. You might have heard me say that kits are babies. Last spring, I suggested to the group that they’re no longer one of the younger groups so they might want a new name, perhaps one that captures an experience they had as a group. They’re interested in a name that has something to do with caves because they found a cool cave at North Galbraith in the spring. I’ll present a few final options to them when we get together for our last outing of the fall, on November 14. 

Click here for more photos from our Fragrance Lake outing.


BEC: The Branch Hoppers Explore Clayton Beach

When the Branch Hoppers arrived at the Clayton Beach parking lot they were greeted by mentors who had been splitting Western Red Cedar in anticipation for a day of carving with them. Circling up the boys introduced themselves to mentor Joey Christianson who was subbing for Brian and also our EMA for the day Jordan.

Jordan explained to the boys that his group, the Vespula Veterans, had harvested the Cedar he was currently splitting on their campout at Racehorse Falls. It was powerful for our EMA to make the direct connection with his knowledge and skill for harvesting the wood, and the service and nourishment it provided the younger Explorers.

At our first exploration of the season we focused on shelter building, but the boys had shown a great interest in carving. Following their inspiration our aim for the day would be to provide time during the outing for carving if we could all agreed to focus on shelter-building on our last outing to North Lake Samish.

We discussed the high impact of shelter-building at a location like Clayton Beach, which has high human use, determining that the skill was best left for the mixed-use forest and logging lands. Coincidentally the abundance of deciduous tree debris and down limbs is often much more prevalent in these areas making harvesting of materials a breeze.

Heading down the trail the to beach the boys started what would become the Branch Hopper’s challenge for the day. They asked if they would be able to stop and have a fir cone battle on the hillside. I think most of the boys already knew the mentor’s response to this question. The Branch Hoppers yearn for competition and that is healthy. In the Boys EC we describe healthy competition as trading courage. When the Explorers offer each other their best in games they play with honor and accept challenge as a form of growth. The mentors reminded the group that fir cone battles and other unhealthy forms of competition have led their group into conflict, escalation, and misuse of personal power.

As mentors we really encourage the boys to try and take a step outside their impulse to play games where violence is a focus, even if it deemed pretend or innocent. Our long-term aim is that the Explorers recognize that if they pretend to harm one another and choose to focus behaviors that reinforce it, the long-term effects can manifest either unintentionally or impulsively in harmful ways.

The ability to discern in the moment requires a great deal of self-awareness and maturity, most of which will develop later in the Branch Hoppers adolescent years. However it is our belief as their mentors that an immersion and experience with a culture that promotes healthy competition from an early age provides a firm foundation and moral compass from which to grow.

Arriving at the beach we let the boys squirrel out before we focused in on some carving. The boys roamed the beach climbing on the sandstone and doing acrobatics on the sand dune. Clayton Beach is an endless playground for the boys and outing after outing the boys continue to be enthralled by this location. We are fortunate in Bellingham to have this gem of a park so close to home.

Calling the boys back in we handed out the freshly split blanks of Cedar and the boys put in a solid hour of work carving. It was great to watch them relax leaning against the driftwood and settling into the sand. This group has shown a depth of character around our culture of responsible tool usage and it is exemplified their ability to recognize the difference between a tool and a weapon. They are developing a sense of craftsperonship and pride in their trades and it extends to their ethical use with them.

Packing up our carving projects we headed south along the shore following a set of old pilings. The farther we traveled the more we started to smell the aroma of something dead on the beach. Sure enough we came across a mostly decomposed harbor seal. With the help of a mentor and a stick we examined the skeletal structure of the Harbor Seal and learned about the natural decomposition cycle for this marine mammal. The boys stared at the carcass perplexed as to the notion that they were witnessing both a scene life and death simultaneously.

With that inspiration it was time for a sit spot. The boys spread out on the breakwater south of the point and listened to the calls of the Yellow-Billed Loons as they foraged territorially through their claims to the Eelgrass beds. It was truly magical.

After breaking our sit spot the boys roamed the beach skipping rocks and eventually some returned to their fir cone battle. Calling the group together the mentors asked the group what they needed in order to spend the rest of the outing with a little more structure. Through an impressive facilitation from the tribal elder and a great compromise for the group we agreed to play a game a Spiders Web throughout the rocks on the beach and then have a closing meeting back at the carving spot.

After our council the energy for the rest outing followed well and the boys were engaged. It was an important less for the mentors to be reminded that we are all leaders and it is important to ask the boys what they’d rather do than try and infer.

The game of Spider’s Web proved to be quiet a challenge but the group had a blast experimenting with a whole gambit of stealth and diversion tactics. Circling up on the beach the group gave thanks and shared apples.  What a wonderful and rich outing with the Branch Hoppers full of powers and challenges. We look forward to our last outing for the fall 2015 season at North Lake Samish trailhead. There we where we will focus on building a warm and comfortable shelter not only of the earthen variety, but also within the climate of our group.

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


BEC: Gray Wolf Pups Personify Play at Padden

Arriving at Lake Padden it became immediately apparent something big was going. It just so happened that our outing coincided with the NCAA Division Two Cross-Country Championships! Although this afforded some great entertainment, it also complicated things a bit, but thanks to great parents, drop off went down without a hitch and just as the starting pistol sounded for the Women’s race, we shot off into the woods and away from all the hustle and bustle. Travelling up the horse trails we quickly found a nice area off trail for opening circle. Despite some boisterous energy, we took some time to discuss our earth skills focus of The Art of Carving, and what our next steps would be down this path. The Explorers learned about the different trees, what properties each type of wood has, and what sorts of things they are good for making. Then the challenge of carving digging sticks was given to the boys. But before we could get into practicing our skills, it was clear these guys just needed some time to romp in the woods.

Tearing off up a steep hill, the Gray Wolf Pups quickly found themselves lost in the present, enjoying one another’s company, and working together on building some earth shelters. Despite the mentor’s intentions to jump into carving, they adapted to the energy of the boys, and scampered up the hillside after them and soon began helping out with the shelter construction gathering resources and offering pointers here or there on material usage and structural design. Pausing for a moment to reassess our plan for the outing, we formed a circle, collaborated, compromised, and came to a consensus on how best to utilize the time we had to balance free play interaction with the landscape and honing carving skills by getting plenty of time to get our blades into some wood.

After a good amount free play, boys naturally gravitated back down to our packs for some lunch and water before harvesting some materials for digging sticks. Utilizing a downed cedar, we focused on the slightly curved branches, a few inches in diameter, for a stick that already had a natural shape conducive to digging and the strength and rigidity of the denser branch wood that would hold up to some abuse unlike the softer, straight grain trunk wood that is great for fashioning fire boards and spindles for a fire by friction kit. Working our knives into the wood, boys quickly found the many knots of the branch wood difficult to work with and required patience, persistence, and sound technique to work through. Despite the strong focus, and disciplined tool usage, the Gray Wolf Pups couldn’t help but continue joking, laughing, and fostering a continued companionship amongst themselves that grows outing after outing, season after season. With some strong focus and good work under their belts, we had just enough time to scurry back up the steep incline and get in a little more play time on the landscape.

As the boys transitioned back into free play the mentors took some time to chat about how the outing was going they realized that things had gotten a little too quiet for comfort. Trekking up the hillside after the boys, they were headed off by another Explorer who relayed the message that a fellow Explorer was “stuck.” This could mean many things, but in this instance, once the mentors arrived on the scene they found an Explorer rimrocked on a small cliff along the hillside. All it took was a helping hand from one of the mentors to get out of the situation and everyone was just fine, much to the relief of a particular Explorer. Taking a moment to debrief the situation, both mentors were thoroughly impressed at how the situation was handled. When we adventure in the woods there is always inherent risk, and the difference in being safe or getting hurt comes down to how that risk is managed. In this situation both Explorers involved kept an even keel, assessed the situation, made a plan of action, and when things got beyond their ability, they sought assistance from a mentor. This exemplified great risk management. It’s very easy for someone who is not involved in a dangerous situation to quickly get themselves in harm’s way by doing too much to try and help. Additionally whomever is in a sticky situation can quickly escalate the level of danger by letting their emotions get the best of them and panicking. Neither of these things happened and the risk presented in the instance was navigated with a level of skill and ability that exemplified that maturation of not only the two boys involved, but all the Gray Wolf Pups.

In addition to debriefing our risk management, we took a moment to address a game of “war” that the Gray Wolf Pups wanted to play. Although they were just using pinecone projectiles and kept things light hearted and fun, the language associated with such games required some attention. A few of the Gray Wolf Pups recalled a previous discussion during a summer camp and shared what they had learned with the group. Language and words carry many connotations, and although something like “war” is thrown around in video games, sports, and other contexts where it takes on a meaning of good-natured competition, it is important to acknowledge the full spectrum of connotations a word can hold, and not allow ourselves to become desensitized the what something such as war truly means. This acknowledgement is not always easy, or comfortable for us to do, but is necessary for us to honor and respect something as serious as war and all of those whose lives have been lost or forever changed because of it. In a society where violence in video games is the norm and desensitization to violence and its true implications in reality are becoming increasingly present, it is paramount for these boys to hold that space of honor and respect by retaining their sensitivity and awareness, be it through language or action. Luckily the Gray Wolf Pups are a tremendous group of boys who will one day grow into strong, sensitive, and compassionate men. Whether through play, practicing skills, sharing laughs, or participating in tough conversations, these boys are flourishing into a powerful group of well-rounded individuals full of promise and potential for their bright futures.


BEC: Daredevils Club Flourish in the Forests of Galbraith

With gray and gloomy weather looming over head, the Daredevils Club met up at North Galbraith Trailhead to get back out on the land after taking a back from exploration to do some service on our previous outing. The thick cloud cover above brought with it a cozy feeling to the forest perfect for our earth skills focus; shelter building. Having a somewhat rough go of it on our first attempt at shelter building this season, the mentors thought it was important for these guys to get a top notch debris hut under their belts so we hit the trail and headed for a nice ravine off trail and away from the busier bike trails.


Cruising through the forest with four Explorers and two mentors felt like a breeze compared to most outings with up to twelve boys in a group. The small group size offers a tremendous opportunity for quick movement, efficient decision making, and some extremely rewarding and sincere interactions. A comradery has taken root this season amongst these boys and with it came the need to address what the future looks like for this group going forward. Taking time to sit down and discuss what we want to do took precedent at the beginning of the outing. After chatting and checking in it became apparent that these guys needed one final season to give the group a “clean death” as one could say. The mentors made a point to acknowledge that in death there is life and new beginnings. Despite an end for the Daredevils Club in sight this fine group of Explorers can embark on the transition from childhood into adolescence with intention, focus, and a greater understanding of what they will be facing in their bright futures. With the big picture stuff taken care of, it was time to get lost in the present and get to work on a shelter.

Hiking around in search of a good location to construct a shelter we sought outcroppings of deciduous trees amongst the vast conifers. Their many leaves offer an excellent source of debris for insulation while the blustery fall winds bring down fresh limbs to be harvested for Y-Sticks, a strong Backbone, and sturdy, straight ribs. Taking advantage of one of the mentors limbing saws, the boys harvested the basic structural components from a Big-Leaf Maple section that came down in our last storm. Carrying these materials away from the hazardous deciduous stand, where the very limbs that fall to provide great building materials can also pose a big risk in windy conditions, we settled on a flat area underneath a young grove of cedar trees. The mentors helped lead the charge on harvesting materials, interlocking the Y-Sticks with the Backbone, and getting a plentiful amount of ribs alternating down the backbone to finish out the structure. Everyone took a turn sawing through branches, seeing who could do it the fastest (while using intention and safety principles of course!), and bonding over the satisfaction of a little perspiration and making piles of sawdust. With the main structure in place, and everyone clear on the level of patience and intention required for structural integrity, we were left with a rock solid construction and just waiting for some latticework of hemlock branches and a thick layer of debris. Feeling confident with the debris hut, the mentors took some time to let the Explorers finish off the shelter while they focused on practicing some skills of their own like harvesting and carving spoons and making bow drill kits from freshly harvested Red Alder.

At this moment, the outing became one of the best either mentor can remember. Explorers were honing their shelter building skills for an upcoming overnight outing in debris huts, mentors were honing their personal earth skills, and the gloomy clouds comforted us like a cozy blanket while refraining from producing precipitation. The air was crisp, refreshing, and full of laughter and joy. Boys took breaks from raking up debris to chat with mentors about everything from what recipe they used to make their lunch to our society’s relationships with weapons and warfare. We even found some time to practice throwing rabbit sticks and spear like branches at a dead log and a quick attempt at starting a fire with a freshly carved bow drill kit. What more could you ask for from an outing? Explorers and mentors alike couldn’t believe it was already time for closing circle and the hike back to the parking lot. If only the outing could go on for the rest of the day and into the evening where many more laughs, conversations, and memories could be shared around a fire before cozying up for the night in our newly constructed debris huts… Oh wait, that’s next outing! After such an incredible day, one can’t help but get excited for all that’s in store for us on our next big adventure.


BEC: Red Tailed Eyas practice naturalist skills 

On a clear but cold Fall day the Red Tailed Eyas gathered for their third outing of the season at the trailhead for Stimpson Family Nature Preserve. This is a unique location; Beaver ponds, intaced wetland ecosystems, mature second growth forests, many amphibian species, and endless opportunities for exploration.


Once in the forest we found a small clearing next to the beaver pond for an opening circle. We all circled up in our usual fashion and began to lay out some plans for the day. The Red Tailed Eyas skill or this season is the art of tracking and bird language. Since our previous two outings (a long traverse and service at Connelly Creek) had not provided us with many opportunities to practice this skill I was eager to dive in.


We agreed to spend the first half of the outing focusing on really getting a foothold on tracking and then be able to spend the second half of the outing paying and exploring on the land. With this decision made we began hiking deeper into the reserve. Almost immediately we saw to small rough skinned newts in the trail.We all crowded around and took turns looking at the two newts.


We came to a place where the main trail continued and a small deer trail took off to the right traversing the banks of the Beaver pond. Some boys wanted to take the deer trail while others wanted to stay on the main path. Stimpson Nature Reserve is a technically on trail only place, this fact gave way to a great discussion amongst the boys on land use ethics. After many good points being brought up on both sides of the issue we decided that as a group we could take this game trail and travel in a way that would leave only a little impact with the reward being greater abundance of animal sign by the pond.


Down by the pond we all gathered up again to discuss the specifics of how we would be looking for animal tracks and sign. We handed out journals and pens to all the boys and instructed them to go out on the land and find either tracks or signs of different animals. Eagerly the boys spread out along the pond’s edge in search of animal sign. Soon enough everyone had found something. Looking out along the shoreline boys could be seen studying animal dens, nests, tracks, chew marks, rubs, and a variety of other sign. After almost and hour of focused time the boys came back in and shared their findings. A few boys showed a lot of interest and even took a field guide back to an animal den to try and identify it.


After lunch we made the decision to stay in this location for the rest of the day. Some boys went off to explore further down the pond while others chose to spend their time practicing their carving skills. It felt good to have done a solid session of tracking to leave the rest of the day open to work on whatever we wanted. Those of us carving relaxed by our packs and worked on butter knives and spoons, listening to the voices of the rest of the boys from the pond.


The afternoon flew by. The boys by the pond where lost in their imagination as they played on a giant rotting stump, and the boys carving were lost in the work of shaping wood. It was one of those amazing moments in an outing where everyone was doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. With the day coming to a close we packed up to head out of the woods and back to the parking lot.


Thank you Red Tailed Eyas for a great outing and all your hard work. Parents thank you for sending your sons out to explore with us. Next time you are out on a hike with them have them point out all the animal sign they see, they are becoming excellent naturalists. Be sure to look at our photo gallery for more pictures.