Wild Whatcom Blog

Tuesday
Nov112014

BEC: Fueling the Fire- Daredevil’s Club heats up their skills

To paraphrase a story that Tim told us:

“One man builds a big fire and stands away from it. He gathers a lot of materials and it gets really hot. The other builds a small fire and sits close by. He needs only a little bit of fuel at a time to keep it going.”

Daredevil’s Club Explorers chose the latter, deepening their connection and relationship to their growing skill. Throughout this outing, boys garnered more skills in the Fire Journey and put them immediately to use. They kept a vigil over the fire, feeding it fuel as more was needed, and safely breathing air into the waning embers. Their firekeeping skills are excellent as their attention and care kept us warm for three and a half hours.

Two boys identified Vine Maple (Acer circunatum) and got new bows for their bow drill kits. The same two guys found a larder of “fat wood” which proved vital for the fires. Many boys made excellent nests, from bark of cedar, soft and inviting enough to catch sparks and coals. We even de-seeded Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) buds and used the fluff for our nests. We practiced using the bow drill kits as well as a magnesium kit to start fire.

We considered the morals of firebuilding too. Like last outing, we recognized that fire can create and destroy. It is a tool like our knives and computers. It is our discernment that will help us to use those tools wisely. We must practice the art of discernment always, in addition to the hard skills of carving and making fires by friction. Mentors feel pretty good that boys got the point-- every moment is a chance for us to practice being responsible and caring. They have the power to create and destroy so they had better stay focused on what is right action at any given time. There are still many adults who have yet to recognize this.

These boys are not afraid of hard work or difficult decisions. In fact, did you see the hill from the parking lot? Yeah, we started the day by going straight up it… and the equally long and steep one behind it! Atop the ridge, under the power lines, we learned a subtle lesson of how to be properly dressed for ascents and rest times. If we sweat too much then our base layers get wet. We can get cold really quick if we do not bundle up after our climbs. In fact, many people suffer from mild hypothermia atop mountain peaks when cold winds and sweat combine to steal our body heat.

But as the chill began, we sauntered into the woods and found a great forest opening to spend our day as we engaged with fire and morals. Fortunately, there was an adjacent landscape on which to play a couple of rounds of Spider’s Web too :) This outing had it all: skills, leadership, relationship with the land, games, community-building, and challenge. How cool! Please see more pictures of the outing in the photo gallery.

Here’s a big thank you to Jake Strich, my brother, for making the journey to Bellingham (from South America) and surprising me to staying the weekend with us. Your participation and volunteering with the Daredevil’s Club was particularly special because I had the chance to share two years of my life with you. Thank you for being a good mentor for the Explorers and integrating so naturally into our community. Undoubtedly the boys enjoyed seeing us together and more so that you laughed and played games along with them.

As we remind the boys, it is important to have a strong beginning, a strong middle, and a strong end. The easy-going-ness of the outing felt like a perfect ending to a good season- which included games and mentoring a younger group to service at our Boys EC restoration site, and a solid foundation into the gamut of skills required making and keeping fire.

And for me personally, this outing provided a nice culmination of two and a half years of service to this program. Though the future is uncertain, there is a strong likelihood that my time as a mentor in the Boys Explorers Club is over. If that were the case, I would be happy with how this last outing went. I saw the boys dictate their experience and grow along the edges that they need to stretch in order to become whole people.

I’ve seen them grow so much in the past two years; I’m thankful to have been a part of their lives for this small sliver of time. Thank you Daredevil’s Club families for the opportunity to serve as a mentor for your boys. It is truly an honor.

The Fall Season celebration (scroll to the very bottom) will take place on December 6th from 4:30-7:30pm. It’s an optional outing and many are scared of the cold and dark but we’ll have a fire to keep our community strong and warm. Enjoy the winter!

Monday
Nov102014

BEC: Raccoon Kits Take Shelter at Galby Lane

Wow, what a wonderful day! After the blustery and bleak week we had, the weather really cleared up for the Raccoon Kits third outing of the season. The stormy weather leading up to this outing did much more than rattle windows and fill up road side ditches; the storms provided us with ample debris for shelter building. Navigating through cars and mountain bikers, the parents managed to get their boys dropped off safely and escape the crowded parking lot. After all the boys arrived it was time to get away from the chaos and gravel, hit the trail, and escape into peacefulness of the woods.

We made our way down the trail as the boys charged forward intent on exploring the beautiful forest that surrounded us. It was clear the gang was back together and all the boys almost left the mentors in the dust as the plowed ahead. Nothing a little crow call can’t fix. With a couple caws the boys looked behind them and quickly came back to the location the mentors had picked out for the opening meeting.

It was great to see everyone back in circle together. There was an infectious excitability in this group that was a clear sign these boys are growing ever more comfortable with one another. Some of the boys wanted to jump right into games, but it was important to revisit what we had already learned about shelter building. After a quick chat to set intentions for the day, each boy found a space to build their very own mini-shelter, implementing the debris hut techniques they had learned from their first outing of the season. Sufficient Y-Sticks, back bones, ribs, and debris are much easier to find when you are building a shelter sized for a mouse rather than an explorer, much quicker to build too. The boys had a blast working on their own mini-shelters, putting personal touches on, and keeping up chatty conversations with their neighbors. Despite all the socialization that was taking place, each boy showed an impressive focus and drive to build their mini-shelter considering their squirrelly energy during opening circle. Alas it was time for each boy to share their shelters with the rest of the group. We took a quick tour of the neighborhood and explorer after explorer talked about their mini-shelter, some techniques they used, and how it would be applicable to our upcoming full scale shelter building contest.

After wrapping up our last mini- shelter, one boy hollered: “HIDE!” and in a flurry of leaves and branches the boys were tucked away, camouflaged by sticks and sword ferns. A few more rounds of H-I-D-E and it was clear these boys wanted to play before getting to work on shelters. We organized some high energy games of Hungry, Hungry Martin where the boys tapped into their inner squirrel, sneaking and scurrying their way past the hungry martin to the safety of their tree. A couple of rounds later and it was finally time for our shelter building competition.

The boys were split up into two groups, briefed on the judging criteria (structure, resources, location) and set off to the races. Shelters were slow to take form as the first step, finding a good location, took some time. The boys were observant of drainages, widow makers, canopy cover, resource availability, and many other factors when deciding on their location. Soon they were scouring the landscape for Y-Sticks and backbones to begin the foundations of their earth shelters. This was much more difficult than the boys were expecting, and took some trial and error to figure out what sticks would work and what wouldn’t. But soon enough both groups had their interlocking Y-Sticks supporting a backbone and were busy breaking sticks to size for the ribs. After they got their ribs on it was time for the debris. One group picked their location next to a large mossy area and began layering the moss onto their shelter, but about a quarter of the way through they ran out of sufficient moss. The other group went straight for the leaves. Luckily they had picked a location near, but not under, a Big Leaf Maple that supplied gracious plenty debris for the earth shelter. As time ticked away, the boys picked up the pace running around scooping up as much debris as they could. But before either group could finish the clock ran out and it was time for judging.

The first group to get reviewed had an excellent location, fairly sound structure, and a little less than a foot of debris covering their shelter. This was an impressive feat given the time constraints, but still not quite a quality debris shelter. The second group’s shelter was a bit larger and thus not nearly as complete. That being said they created a decent structure and had laid down a nice bed of leaves inside to help insulate them from the ground. However, they still had a ways to go on covering their structure with debris, and could have used some more ribs on their shelter.

In the end, both groups were unable to finish with a passing grade by the judges(aka the mentors). That being said, these boys showed tremendous teamwork and perseverance given the short time frame they had to work with. They have taken the next step in the Art of Shelter and have begun honing their skills be it searching for sufficient resources, picking out a shelter location, or certain construction techniques and intricacies that can only be learned through experience. The boys learned today that it is ok to fail because in failure there is growth and opportunity: growth from the experience and opportunity to improve for the future. In the end no one won the competition, but we all won the day. We had a tremendously fun day of play and shelter building that went by far too quickly for explorers and mentors alike.

Friday
Nov072014

BEC: Building Earth Shelters with the Alevin Explorers

"It's so comfy!" What do you suppose is being described here? Fluffy mattress, soft pillow and warm blankets? No...no...no. New pair of jeans? Not quite. Beloved family room sofa? Wrong again.

Get this: the comfortable accommodation being praised is an earth shelter. Made of sticks, cedar boughs, fern fronds and leaves, it can be comfy indeed. More important, a well-constructed earth shelter could just be the difference between a decent night's sleep and a miserable 6 to 8 hours.

Shelter building is a skill the Alevin are working on this fall, and judging by the reaction quoted above, it's fair to conclude that it is going well. To give you an idea of how well, consider the following evaluation: the boys built two shelters, and to test their strength, a mentor climbed ON TOP of each - both passed!

A proper location (safe from falling objects, effective water run off, etc.), access to the right materials, and the skill and knowledge to construct shelter are needed. The materials issue was satisfied when the Explorers found not one, but two partially built shelters on Galbraith Mountain. We had found our location for the day.

A little healthy competition tends to make a task more interesting. Therefore, two teams of six Explorers went to work after some instruction from Steve. As the two groups worked it became clear that Many hands make light work. Progress was steady on one team (lots of collaboration and compromise-a Boys Explorers Club motto) and sporadic on the other (those mountain bike jumps can prove to be a powerful draw!). Five and two minute warnings that the competition was coming to a close improved the focus from both teams, and each shelter, while not 100% complete, was in the words of another Explorer "really comfy"!

During our debrief and judging of the Earth Shelters, the mentors ask the boys what their goal was for the activity. To quote yet another Explorer, "to build a strong shelter we can be proud of". Mission accomplished. Both teams were well on their way to building a weather-worthy earth shelter, something to be proud of indeed! These Explorers are learning how to be leaders, delegate tasks amongst a group, create great working relationships and commitments.  Although Mentors speculated that the competition could lead to unhealthy comparisons and a divided group in the end it was a great way to tool to get acquainted with this vital survival skill.

After all that work, the boys need some time and space to let their energy out. Again, the location provided everything we needed.  First, they repurposed old mountain bike jumps to running jumps – that’s what you get when you schedule an outing following Halloween as well as daylights savings! There is something settling about boys freely running through the woods. The boys desire roam in wild spaces is intrinsic and there are so many essential lessons and opportunities in their rambles.

We spent the rest of the outing playing the time-honored game Spider’s Web. Just as the rain began to intensify, we called the game and had our closing meeting. Thanks were given for ready shelter materials and a place to feel at home, survival, friends to explore with, Halloween, pack saws and tools, and rain and wind. The Alevin left happy, dirty, and better prepared to handle a night in the woods. 

For more pictures from the day please visit the Alevin photo gallery

Wednesday
Nov052014

BEC: The Barred Owlets Weather a Storm at the 100 Aker Wood

The Barred Owlets arrived at the 100 Aker Wood and quickly circled up under a tree. What started off as a drizzle quickly turned into a deluge and the group was forced to run across the grass field to the cover off an awning. Under the shelter we had our opening meeting. The mentors explained to the group that the 100 Aker Wood had been a stomping ground for the Boys EC since its inception six years ago. After handing out jobs, Brian and I talked to the group about the importance of Being Prepared. Having the right gear on a day like that is critical and makes the difference between having a great outing and being wet and miserable. However, having the right gear is only the first step to thriving on the cold days. Knowing how to use the gear is just as important. As mentors we did our best to remind the boys that keeping your rain jacket zipped up and having a hood over your hat keeps your head dry, both very important.

Once we were prepared and the jobs had been handed out our Front Scout stepped bravely out from under the awning and the rest of the group followed out into the storm. Heading into the 100 Aker Wood we passed by a Bald Hip Rose thicket and a huge mud pit. Earlier, our volunteer for the day, Patrick Hutchins, was talking about how much he liked mud and he got his wish! Heading up the hill and into the forest we were grateful to have partial cover under the canopy of the Douglas and Grand Firs. Soon we came a junction in the trail. The group circled up to make a decision about which way to go, but it was clear that we needed to get warm first. Partnering up we locked arms with one another and moved them back and forth as fast as we could while stomping our feet. The mentors call this activity the 30 Second Freak Out. After we got warm we played a few rounds of Hide. The Barred Owlets are getting much better at the skill of camouflage, as the seeker in the game it took me awhile to find them.

Once we had taken some self-care the group circled up again and discussed their options. After some debate the group decided to head east and then try to loop back around to the other trail. It is an edge for the Explorers to set their own personal wants and needs and compromise with the group, but they are getting better. The storm was really the one who helped facilitate this group decision. The more some Explorers dug their heels in the colder the group got. As mentors we could try and convey to the group that lack of compromise only wastes their time, but it is much more powerful when it comes from teachers with natural consequences.

Navigating through the 100 Aker Woods is a lot like following a mazing. There is a myriad of trails that snake in and out of one another. The Explorers learned to track the landmarks and to leave trail markers when they came to junctions. Finding a dense Cedar grove the mentors set up a tarp shelter and the group huddled under it while we ate our lunch. As the Explorers refueled our two Explorer Mentor Apprentices, or EMA’s, for the day Jackson Perkins and Evan McNamee told the group of their backpacking adventure in the Chuckanuts last summer. While on the backpack a rare summer storm blew in dropping the temperature and raining almost four inches in two days. The story was one of learning to survive and working together to make it through the experience. None of the Explorers had tents, only tarps like the ones we were currently under.

After the story the group was inspired and we left the shelter of our tarp to play a game called Tree Tag. In Tree Tag one person is “it: and another calls out different types of flora and fauna, and the group has to run to those in order to stay safe. The boys must have played this game for an hour straight! On days like that it is often the work of the mentors to give up what they have planned for the day and just try to stay active and warm.

While boys darted from Cedar to Sword Fern, Jackson and another mentor set up a different activity called Camouflage Gauntlet by taking pipe cleaners and hiding them just off the trail to display the different forms of camouflage. Gathering the group together we lined up single file and tried to use our best Owl Eyes to spot as many as we could. While some Explorers were waiting to go they started playing a little rough with one another. This has been an issue for the Barred Owlets. Learning to respect each others space and listening to one another is the only way the group will create a comfortable space in which the boys can learn and grow. This is an edge Brian and I have been working on with the group. Be sure to remind your Explorers of respecting each other’s space and listening to one another’s requests. We talked about as a group about the word Escalation and how to identify it, recognize it, and call it out so that situations can be defused.

Once everyone had gone through the Camouflage Gauntlet the mentors took the group back through and talked about each one; finding that camouflage could be utilized through color, shape, location, direction, and distraction. Just as we wrapped up it was time to start heading back. By then the rain had all but let up and the group rejoiced. Packing up the tarp and gathering our soggy backpacks we navigated back to Fairhaven Park using the cardinal directions as our guides. We made sure to honor the group decision to take the loop trail back to our original junction.

As we came out of the woods onto the grass field the sun burst through the clouds and we circled up under some Cedars, basking in the heat. As the steam rose off our jackets in the closing circle the boys gave some thanks and shared a snack. The boys gave thanks for the opportunity to share the day together, for food and warm drinks, for shelter, for the rain and challenge, and for the opportunity to explore and play games in the 100 Aker Wood. The mentors would like to thank the Barred Owlets for their courage in weathering this storm. It is experiences like these that will bring the group together and transfer into valuable life skills. The mentors would also like to thank the Patrick, Jackson, and Evan for being such great mentors. It was vital to have extra hands and eyes to help guide the boys through the day. 

For more photos from the day please visit the Barred Owlet’s photo gallery

Wednesday
Nov052014

BEC: Roosevelt Elk Calves Practice the Art of Shelter

The Roosevelt Elk Calves stampeded into the Parking lot at the base of Galbraith mountain on the clear but cold first day of November. This is the time of year when the transition from fall to winter seems almost complete, with the temperatures dropping and most of the leaves on the ground it is the perfect time of year to dive into the Art of Shelter building! This patch of woods is perfect for shelter building; large rolling hills located above lake padden with a mainly coniferous forest, but a healthy smattering of big leaf maples and other deciduous trees to provide ample debri.

 We entered the Forest and found a place for our opening meeting. For the day after halloween and the effects of a massive sugar intake the night before the boys were surprisingly energetic yet focused. Steve and I started to talk about shelter building and the boys were immediately excited about building a shelter. We quickly talked about what kind of things we should be looking for in a good shelter spot (dry, lots of materials, hidden from the trail.) and what kind of things we should avoid (low spots that collect water, dead or partially fallen trees.). We all bounded off through the forest in search of the perfect spot. Soon we found one; Flat, open, in a hidden spot, plenty of good sticks, and huge Big Leaf Maples that had just dropped their leaves.

 After dropping our packs we spread out through the forest; some of us gather ridge poles and supports, others gathering rib pieces, and still others collecting “Y” poles to create the entry way. for a good twenty minutes we all gathered materials. When we all finally reconvened we had assembles a good pile of rib poles, sturdy supports, and long strong ridge poles. The boys were really motivated to start building and after looking at a simple diagram steve had brought the boys started laying sticks and pounding supports into the ground. It was really amazing how quickly the main structure of this shelter came together. The motto “Many Hands Make Light Work” has never been more true.

Soon we have the structure completed and begin gathering large armloads of Big Leaf Maple Leaves, releasing the damp earthy smell held inside. We take a break and steve tells us the story of Tom Brown learning the art of shelter  building by watching the Squirrels. We Continue to work. Armloads of Leaves, growing shelter, disappearing sticks, laughter, sweaters and coats full of leaves, how much light is in the shelter? Trying out the shelter, could you spend the night in this shelter? More debri, Working in teams, Lots more debri!, How long would it take to build this shelter with just one person? How long to build a shelter for all of us? what does a squirrel's nest look like?, many many armloads of debri, how much debri do we need on the shelter?

The shelter is now looking a lot more like something you could spend the night in. about two and a half feet of debri cover most of it and we have been working for about two hours straight. We take a break and begin to talk about how we want to spend the rest of the day. There is discussion of playing some games or working more on the shelter. After a mostly self facilitated conversation the boys decide to split in half with those that want to playing spiders web and the other half to continue working on the shelters. It took a little bit of time but it was really nice to see the boys reach this decision on their own.

In closing meeting we all admire the shelter we worked on that day as the boys swap stories from spiders web and shelter building. As we are giving thanks i am really struck with how focused and respectful all the boys as they give thanks and listen to each others words. These boys are really growing and becoming a very strong group. Parents you shout try to talk your sons into showing you our secret shelter spot, it is truly an impressive shelter. And explorers next time you are out with your family on a hike maybe you can share your knowledge of shelter building and survival.

Make sure to check out our photo gallery for more pictures!

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