Wild Whatcom Blog


The Jumping Mice and Whatcom Creek run through Whatcom Falls Park

Upon reflection, it’s clear to me that Sunday’s Jumping Mice outing was a scarcely manageable tangle of ebullient energy.

According to Wikipedia, “Common energy forms include the kinetic energy of a moving object, the radiant energy carried by light, the potential energy stored by an object's position in a force field (gravitational, electric or magnetic), elastic energy stored by stretching solid objects, chemical energy released when a fuel burns, and the thermal energy due to an object's temperature. All of the many forms of energy are convertible to other kinds of energy, and obey the law of conservation of energy which says that energy can be neither created nor be destroyed; however, it can change from one form to another.”

The Jumping Mice experienced and exhibited all manner of energy at Whatcom Falls Park on Sunday! Our rainy, overcast November took a breather, resulting in an increase in radiant energy - the sun came out! Gravitational force pulling ferocious Whatcom Creek over the falls for which the park is named thundered at all times in a persistent reminder of the power of nature’s energy - it was loud! Mentor Steve taught us that the water in the creek is colder than the Pacific Ocean water at the surface, which combined with the raging and heavy surge of the water required constant vigilance on the part of both mentors and our first time EMA (Explorers Club Apprentice) and Vespula Veteran explorer, Xavier. It was nature in all its glory and we tried to soak in as much of it as we could in a few hours.

Of course, central to our interest is the Jumping Mice explorers. How was their energy, you might ask? Well, in just under 5 hours, we:

• played a name game so Xavier (and the mentors) could get to know who was who,

• checked out the juvenile salmon and trout in the rearing ponds,

• played a game of Cougar Stalks Deer,

• had lunch in the sun,

• launched sticks into the creek and watched them tumble over the falls,

• worked through the rules for Spider’s Web for a half hour or so,

• played Spider’s Web and Hide!,

• gave thanks in our closing circle, and

• checked out the raging creek one more time from the famous stone bridge.

Along the way, we learned about how to properly harvest licorice root, the qualities of Yew trees, the job of the Tribal Elder in Explorers Club, the importance of sitting in a circle when collaborating as a group, and marveled at the power of the creek.

Whew! Plenty of energy of all forms at Whatcom Falls Park for our outing. Of course, as long as no one gets hurt, on the inside or the outside, lots of energy is exactly what we want.

By no means is it our sole focus, however. We do things because they’re fun, energetic and exciting; we do things so the boys can learn and grow; we do things that combine the two. For example, most of our explorers love the game called Spider’s Web. It’s a capture the flag type game that emphasizes strategies that are often used by creatures in the wild, most notably stealth. Boys new to the game tend to run through the forest to get to the flag (or “food source” in our parlance) which more often than not leads to detection by the spider and a free trip back to the “web”, from which they need to start over. With greater experience, the boys are more inclined to sneak through the ferns and approach their prize stealthily. So, while playing a game, they’re learning about survival in the natural world.

In fact, before we begin a game of Spider’s Web, we discuss the ground rules for the day. This often involves meeting in a circle (so everyone can participate equally) to work through particulars such as how far the Spider needs to stay from the food source (to minimize “puppy guarding”). Or, as was the case on Sunday, how far away from the web a “fly” needs to be to free captured flies by waving them off. Our discussion was led by one of our explorers, whose job for the day was Tribal Elder. He did excellent work ensuring that all points of view were considered and consensus was reached. This takes a different kind of energy - a discipline on everyone’s part to listen, consider other’s input, suggest resolutions, and the like. The Jumping Mice are new to these Explorers Club expectations and get understandably antsy after a time in circle. On Sunday they showed great promise as they hung in there, mostly, for the better part of a half hour. It was great to see.

Two games of Spider’s Web and a round or two of Hide! and we were ready to call it a day. We have one more outing (Dec. 5 - check here for the details) in the opening chapter of the story that will be the Jumping Mice group experience. I can’t wait to see where their energy takes them.

Click here for more photos from our day at Whatcom Falls Park.


BEC: Branch Hoppers - Shelter, Fire, & Play at North Lake Samish 

The Branch Hopper’s final outing of the Fall 2015 season at North Lake Samish was jammed packed with skills, adventure, and play. As we congregated the boys stared up at the steep power line grade running adjacent the trail; the North Lake Samish Trail rises steeply out of the lake basin ascending up into the foothills of the Chuckanuts.

The boys were anxious to get on the trail, but before we headed out we needed to circle up to talk about jobs and the hazards that we might face in this location. NOAA had forecasted 20 mph winds from the south and driving rain. We talked about our motto BE Prepared and how we could approach the day with a preventative mindset for warmth and safety.

Once we were oriented to the landscape and weather we talked about another hazard that we’d been facing interpersonally throughout the season, the hazard of escalation. It is important to revisit this with the Explorers again and again.

Heading up the trail we entered into the forest canopy and were pleasantly surprised to find it quite sheltered from the rain. The land within the park boundaries is beautiful. Mature stands of Douglas Fir and Cedar growingly steeply on a bed of Sandstone rock and deep moss. Hiking along we discovered cascading waterfalls and exposed ridges of Sandstone.

Our goal was to make it to the top of the first crest, gaining roughly 700 feet of elevation. About halfway up we needed to stop and peel layers. On these drizzly and chilly days it is difficult to manage an efficient layering system. An efficient system requires a careful balance in regulating perspiration within ones layers and saturation from the rain. Snacking on our lunch underneath a big Doug Fir we watched the tops the trees sway lightly in the wind.

Once we had our clothing systems in order and our bellies full, we hiked up the trail until it petered out into a maze of social trails of both the deer and human variety. Following a fair well-worn path we ascended the ridgeline and made it to the top.  Looking around the forest was now quite different as we had left the park boundary and entered into logging land.

While scouting the forest the group noticed that there was hardly any under brush and the tree stands of fir were so dense they’d shed their lower branches. The group had some inspiration to play a game of Spider’s Web, but the mentors called a circle to focus the group’s energy before we started playing games. The mentors reminded the group that on our last outing to Clayton Beach we had postponed shelter building to carve, in an agreement to try and complete one on our last outing. With shelter as our core routine for the day we turned the leadership over to the tribal elder to facilitate a decision on how we could best use our time and accomplish what we collaboratively wanted to do.

Through a great effort from the tribal elder and collaboration and compromise from the group, the boys decided to delve into shelter building for the first half of the outing, then play Spider’s Web in our current location, and to end the day with a small twig fire and a circle of thanks.

With our minds set towards shelter we left the forest and crossed the power line clearing in search of deciduous trees that would offer the best resources for shelter building.  Our front scout found a stand of Big leaf Maples growing on the fringe of the power lines and led the group off trail to reach it. One the way they encountered a large patch of Stinging Nettle. It is wonderful to watch the boys track the land. They noticed that this nettle patch had just started sprouting and was not typical of the fall season. These nettles were quite potent and left painful stings on their arms and legs. Once we had literally grasped the nettle the boys tracked the land for an ideal location for shelter.

Finding a prominence on the hillside the boys scavenged for downed wood using a pack saw to cut a backbone and Y poles. Inserting the pole into the ground the group found our prominence was actually a buried rock and we would have to move our location somewhere with more forest duff. Finding another location the boys noticed that this spot would expose them to run off from the hillside, so once the frame of the shelter was completed a few boys immediately started digging a trench on the high side for run off. Their construction was incredible. They wedged sticks horizontally across the trench walls to act as rebar and divert the flow of run off to follow down the trench with gravity. The boys worked diligently as a group on the shelter, spending an hour and a half of focused energy on the construction.

It was all going well until one Explorer accidently stepped on another’s hand and it escalated into a small physical confrontation. Pulling the Explorer(s) aside it was important to allow each boy the time to process, reflect, speak their truth, and find what it would take build community again and find conflict resolution. After a heartfelt discussion with both of them they came to three clear agreements that I think we can all take to heart: “I will believe you when you say it was an accident”, “I will treat you with respect and care”, and “I will forgive your genuine apology with grace”. It is moments like these on the land where outside elements of wind and rain fade away and we deeply connect to our mentees and the heart of the work we are doing. I can’t thank these boys enough for their efforts towards building peace and trust amongst one another.

Wanting to hold to our commitment the mentors gathered the shelter builders and had them stand back to take a gander at their work. Although we did not complete the shelter, the group is about 85% on their way towards being proficient shelter builders. This is a skill that will not only provide them a firm foundation on the land, but deep knowledge of place.

Heading over to the dense patch of forest the boys set up the course and got to playing. As they played a lone mentor gathered dead Western Hemlock branches for a small twig fire to close our outing and season. The forest was so dark that the boys began to look like shadows as they crawled and crept through the landscape.

Scraping away the duff layer a mentor took out a bow drill kit and managed to get a small but hardy fire. After calling the game to a close, the cold and wet Branch Hoppers spirits were lifted around the warmth and glow of the fire. It was a dear moment. The group huddled together as they roasted their apples and gave genuine thanks around the fire circle.

Brian and I deeply appreciate the time we get to spend with your Explorers. Our outing was a reaffirmation of why we do the work that we do and it is our strong parent community that gives us the grace and trust to be able to walk alongside of the boys as they explore, learn, grow, and experience together in the woods.

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



Support Wild Whatcom in November

Donate the Difference + Community Shopping Day - both Coops in November

Visit the Community Food Co-op (either location) during the entire month of November and round up your purchase to benefit Wild Whatcom!

On Saturday, November 21st, 2% of all Co-op purchases from both stores will go to Wild Whatcom as part of the Co-op Shopping Day. Save your Thanksgiving shopping list for the 21st!  While you're at either of the Co-ops on the 21st, stop by Wild Whatcom's activity table . We'll be there from 1-4PM with fun activities for kids and suggestions for great outdoor adventures (large and small) you can have with your whole family this fall.  Click here to read more!



Thank you for supporting Wild Whatcom!




BEC: Townsend's Chipmunks traverse Clayton Beach 

With a season of outing cancellations due to high winds the Townsend’s Chipmunks were eager to explore as they gathered in the Clayton Beach parking lot. Our Veterans Day outing turned out to fall and a perfectly sunny calm day bookended by a windy day the previous day and a windy day forecasted for the next day. Once we had everyone we gathered at the edge of Chuckanut drive to prepare to cross the road and head down into the woods below.

We headed straight down alongside the creek to find a good spot for an opening circle. Soon we reached a nice flat area that had enough room for everyone to sit comfortably. We handed out jobs and talked about how we wanted to spend our day. With the sun out and temperatures feeling warm we all decided that heading straight for the beach was the best plan. We took a minute to pull out the map and discuss different routes down to the beach and touch on some of the key concepts of a map we had been learning throughout the Fall Season.

Usually groups opt to head back out and take the main trail to the beach or follow a series of maze like deer trails through the woods that eventually lead to clayton beach; the Townsend’s Chipmunks had something else in mind.

We crossed straight over the train tracks and down a steep bank right to the coastline. To our North we could see Larrabee State Park and to our South we could see a series of headlands and large sandstone formations leading down to Clayton Beach. We all found comfortable spots along the sandstone and took some time to eat food and hydrate. The temperatures were warm and soon most of us were down to t-shirts. As we lounged about a large flock of birds flew in and began feeding in the turbulent intertidal zone. Not knowing what they were a few of us watched them for a while to observe their habits.

As we moved further down the coastline our navigation skills were challenged as we clambered up and down headlands and through narrow spots in rocks. The honeycomb weathering on the sandstone was amazing to look at and provided excellent hand and foot holds for our traverse. We did not see much sign of other people as we made our way down the coast; leaving was with many opportunities to observe wildlife. We dough firs barely hanging onto hillsides cut away by the ocean, lick madrona trees, more mystery birds, and even river otter scatt ontop of a headland.

Eventually we navigated our way down to a smooth sandy beach just North of the main entrance to Clayton beach. Here we all took our packs of to eat lunch and explore. As we explored the beach we found a little ground seep of fresh water trickling out of a sandstone cliff. Right next to the ground seep we found a whole series of River Otter tracks. The boys all came over to look. As we tracked the otter we began to get a picture of what it was doing here. It looked like it had come in at a higher tide to drink from the fresh water ground seep. Of course we couldn’t know for sure, but the mystery of seeing these tracks and all the questions that they opened up was a powerful experience.

Soon we moved down the beach in search of more adventure. We walked down to the main entrance of clayton beach and decided to spread out for a sit spot. Everyone found a place along the shore that they could relax and observe the natural world. Some of the boys took a bit of reminding that a sit spot is supposed to be a quiet activity, but soon enough everyone had settled in. With the sun still shining and warm temperatures we all had time to reflect on the day of mystery and adventure. New traverses, unknown birds, tracking River Otters, and the time spent laughing together in the sun.

Content from a good long day of exploration we packed up and headed up the trail and back to the parking lot. Thank you Townsend’s Chipmunks for your enthusiasm and curiosity to explore as well as your growth as a group over the last few seasons. Parents thank you for your support of our program. Be sure to check our Photo Gallery for more pictures from our adventure!    



BEC: Black Tailed Deer See Salmon at Arroyo Park

Heavy rainfall and high winds are characteristic of the fall season here in Bellingham, and we have certainly seen our fair share of it this autumn. Indeed, the weather can change dramatically from one hour to the next.  Of course, we welcome this much-needed moisture as we recover from an unusually dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest, however, it does bring with it some challenges.

The forecast for the day of our exploration included the possibility of high winds and heavy rainfall.  Therefore, our opening circle was centered on a discussion of what kind of hazards high winds and rains bring to the forest how to survive in this kind of weather.  We reminded ourselves to be on the look out for widow makers.  We also discovered later in the day how to find dry wood in a forest that seems completely soaked.  We decided that if it got too windy in Arroyo Park, we would head to Fairhaven Park and play games in the open field.

After our opening circle we made our way down to the foot bridge that crosses Chuckanut Creek where we met Hunter who was showing up a little later than the rest of us. We were grateful that Hunter got to join us for the rest of the exploration; it is always more fun to explore with ALL of the Black Tailed Deer!  Here we got to explore the creek for a while. We discovered how slippery some rocks and logs can be and some of us ended up getting a little more wet than we intended.  This allowed for important lessons about clothing and reiterated how cold wet, cotton fabrics can make you.  We discovered the advantages if synthetic materials that dry quickly and wool that still keeps you warm even when it is soaked!

Steve pointed out an American Dipper and we got to see how it ‘dances’ as it hops and flies from creek boulder to creek boulder.  We even got to see it take a bath! We knew that this was the season for chum salmon and we kept an eye out for these important fish for the rest of the day.

We meandered along the trail that follows Chuckanut creek upstream and played a few fun games of hide along the way.  We got to an amazing fallen old growth cedar tree that had become a bridge across the creek. As we crossed the log, the new vantage point enabled us to see into the stream more clearly (think of an eagle that searches for fish high above the water’s surface) and we got to see some chum salmon coming up the creek! As a group, we watched them make their way through the swift current to find a good place to spawn.  Watching these salmon undertake such a difficult task at the very end of their lives was quite exciting and inspiring!

We then made our way back toward N. Chuckanut trailhead to meet our parents at the cars.  Along the way we got to stop at Cougar Rock, described by one of our own Black Tailed Deer as, “a nature made playground,” and it certainly was.  We scampered up and down the large rock that we learned was put there thousands of years ago by a glacier.

Luckily, the forecasted wind never came and we were able to spend the whole day in this magical gorge.  Seeing the salmon was a great surprise and we got to spend lots of time following our natural urge to play in these woods that we are so lucky to call our backyard.