Wild Whatcom Blog


BEC: Red Tailed Eyas Explore the art of shelter building. 

Our first outing of the season began with a bumpy bus ride out to the far North end of Lake Whatcom. Being the watershed for our drinking water in the city as well as one of the least populated parts of the lake the foothills of Mt Stuart are an exciting place to explore. Crisp Fall weather, leaves changing, new mushrooms, clear skies, and excitement can all describe our first Fall outing with the Red Tailed Eyas.


Our earth focus for this season is the art of shelter building. A shelter is not only protection from the elements and a safe place to spend the night, but also a way to connect with the land and learn how the forest really does have everything we need. After arriving via stubs we quickly unloaded and began the search for both a good spot to build a shelter and any materials we could gather along the way. We began asking ourselves basic questions about shelter building; What do we want close to our shelter? What hazards should we watch out for in a potential shelter building site? What debri would work best for insulation? We soon decided on an open spot not visible from the main trail that had good amounts of debri and no dead trees or branches that could fall on our shelter. Explorers sawed away and found branches to use as supports, beams, and ribs. At first it was only a few explorers interested in the shelter building process, but as we lay Douglas Fir branches over the main structure more explorers joined in. We had a solid hour with most of the explorers really focused on gathering debri. During this time the shelter grew from just a pile of sticks to a structure resembling a home. We were all surprised by how sparse the debri was this time of year, the Red Alder and Bigleaf Maple leaves have not fallen yet, limiting our debri gather to last years decomposing duff. After about an hour we had a solid foot of debri on our shelter. Steve and I then shared with the explorers that a dry and warm shelter should have at least three feet of debri on it. The explorers decided to give it another fifteen minutes of hard work before calling it a day on the shelter. We were all pleased with our Shelter and took turns crawling inside to see what it would be like to sleep in.

Lunch, games, hiding, Wheres my egg?, hiding in the shelter, Hide!, Crawling on old stumps, Spiders web, laughter, dirt, exploration.


After this we marveled at how invisible our shelter was from a distance and packed up to head toward the lake for some afternoon sunshine. At the lakes edge the boys took an immediate interest in carving. They all showed excellent focus and craftsmanship while working with their knives. Inspired by some beautiful spoons and chopsticks that Steve had showed them earlier in the day they boys worked hard to perfect their own knife skills. We did have one cut finger that was an accident and had nothing to do with misuse of a knife. The boys all showed a lot of compassion and concern for their fellow explore. The experience turned out to be a great learning moment on the seriousness of using a knife and continue to practice good knife safety.


With time running short we all quickly made our way back to stubbs for our trip back into town. With no time to do a proper closing circle we shared apple slices and some thanks in the bus. The Red Tailed Eyas were such a great group to work with, they are obviously very cohesive as a group and really showed a lot of focus and good work. Their focus obviously lies more in the art of carving rather than that of shelter building so our focus may shift toward that more as the season progresses. Explorers thankyou so much for a great outing and parents thank you for trusting us to bring back your boys safe, muddy, and happy at the end of the day. Make sure to check out our photo gallery for more photos!



GEC September '14 Exploring, Serving, Connecting

September saw Girls Explorers Club exploring, serving & connecting in so many ways! 50 GEC girls participated in the International Coastal Cleanup, removing over 300 pounds of trash and recyclables from local beaches. 38 girls learned to find the noble nettle in its tall, fall form and harvest and strip it for making nettle cordage. 36 second grade girls began their first fall season with GEC, exploring beaches and serving a local greenway. One group had the opportunity to serve as storm water stewards, stenciling drainage points and learning about storm water outfalls. One group went marsh mucking in the beaver channels of a wetland! Other girls ranging in age from 7-14 explored and learned about controversial Cherry Point, a local river canyon, and alpine ecosystems. And two adolescent GEC groups bonded with Chuckanut explorations and an overnight. GEC mentors are grateful to experience transformational and inspirational learning on each and every outing. September also marked the passing of our dear friend and trail leader, Scruffy the dog. He has been mentoring girls with love and care for over 8 years. Though he may be gone in body, he'll be with us in spirit on the trail. 


BEC: Raccoon Kits Learn the Art of Shelter

Fall is here at last! The Raccoon Kits kicked off their Fall Season on a foggy Saturday afternoon at Lake Padden. As the boys were being dropped off one by one near the dog park, it was clear that these boys couldn’t wait to get the gang back together. When about half of the boys had arrived, the mentors tried to get a game of Otter Steals Fish going to pass the time until all the boys had been dropped off. Much to the mentor’s surprise, the Raccoon Kits were much more intent on standing around in a small group and catching up with one another like a group of old college buddies while trying to figure out which of their fellow group members had yet to arrive. But, before everyone could get there, one of the boys arriving took note of a green playground ball sitting nearby and had an overwhelming urge to kick it as hard as he could. Before you could blink an eye, we had a runaway soccer game on our hands. It turned out that the ball actually belonged to a mom of a boy who had done a summer camp with Explorers Club, and she was coming over to say hello before the outing began. We learned two valuable lessons in that moment: the concentric ripples of Boys Explorers Club are felt throughout our community, and eight year old boys are drawn to playground balls like moths to a porch light.  

Alas, the rest of the boys showed up and it was time for our first fall exploration. We began by trekking up into the horse trails of Lake Padden revisiting our “crow call” to get the boys to come together, and introduced a new “chickadee call” that the boys used to alert the rest of the group of walkers, joggers, bikers, and others we shared the trail with. Once we were up into the woods one of the mentors hollered out “HIDE!” and without skipping a beat the boys were bounding off looking for a nurse log to crouch behind or a nice patch of sword fern to nestle into. A few rounds of Hide later and we approached our initial opening meeting location only to have to leave right away because one of the boys discovered the log he was playing on was already the home of a hornet, wasp, or other stinging/biting insect.

We worked up off the trail to a nice level area under a beautiful cedar tree and had our first opening meeting. It took the boys a little while to remember how to listen respectfully when someone is talking to them, but soon we had our “jobs” handed out and were eager to begin learning The Art of Shelter. First off the boys were tasked with finding a natural shelter that would protect them from the elements. As the boys scampered off to tuck into tree trunks and cozy up with conifers one explorer noticed a hornet land on the ground and crawl into a little hole. Right as the explorer notified a mentor of his discovery, another explorer fixated on finding shelter stepped right on the whole and, like magic, one hornet turned into thirty. The mentors got the boys to their packs and down to the trail just in the nick of time. Luckily, the hornets must have been drowsy from the chilly morning because, except for one sting on one explorer, the rest of the group made it out unscathed.

Relocating again, and mustering up the courage to go off trail despite the possibility of encountering more hornets, the boys scaled up a steep hillside to inspect some very promising sites to start building a shelter. The first sight was an impressive downed tree caught up in the branches of a massive Big Leaf Maple, but the boys quickly took note of the hazardous widow maker above the shelter site so we continued our search. We soon found a much smaller downed tree that was situated perfectly for a debris shelter. The boys fine tuned their shelter building skills by helping one of the mentors construct a miniature debris hut. Then, it was time for the real deal.  Some boys collected sturdy sticks for the ribs of the shelter, while others scouted out more shelter building resources. After a couple hours of work, the boys had constructed the skeleton of the structure. Now it was time for the debris, and where things got really dirty. But before the boys could finish getting sufficient debris on the shelter, it was time for closing circle. The boys now have a much greater appreciation for the time and dedication it takes to not only make a sound structure, but how much debris it really takes to sufficiently insulate it as well. Before closing circle, each boy took a turn crawling into the debris hut and appreciating all the hard work they had done.

In closing circle we reviewed what we had learned about building debris huts, and discussed some of the challenges we faced building the shelter, as well as on the rest of our outing. All the boys gave thanks and appreciation for what they enjoyed during their day and even got a chance to show gratitude towards others for things the other boys did that made the day a success. With closing circle over, it was time to scamper back down the hill, sliding down a dirt embankment just for good measure, and meet a parking lot full of loving parents. We may have thought our hazardous outing was over, but while boys were reunited with their parents a couple of dogs had a disagreement and in an instant there was a snarling, snapping, whirlwind of teeth and fur. Fortunately none of the boys were in the area, but it was startling none the less to some of the boys, parents, and mentors alike. Although our outing had a few harrowing moments, there were ever more moments of playfulness, joy, teamwork and comradery; all together a most excellent outing indeed.


BEC: Gray Wolf Pups and the Art of Shelter Building at Lake Padden 

The Gray Wolf Pups arrived at Lake Padden ready for a day of excitement and adventure. Saying goodbye to the parents the mentors called the boys over and we circled up for an opening meeting. Looking around the circle it was clear that we needed to have some introductions. Joey Christianson, a new mentor to the group, would be filling in for Peter for the day. We also had Jackson, an Explorer Mentor Apprentice, join us for his first volunteer outing along with one new Explorer. It’s been exciting to watch how our culture of tiered mentoring affects the younger Explorers. The Gray Wolf Pups really connected with Jackson. It is said that when we teach we truly learn and understand; there are so many instances where the EMAs can facilitate and guide in ways the older mentors never could. Going around the circle we played a round of Name Tag and handed out the jobs.

Heading into the woods we hit our first junction in the trail. Circling up the Tribal Elder did an excellent job facilitating the group decision. The boys decided to take a vote on which way to go. The mentors made it clear that a vote ends up in compromise, not necessarily a fair decision, and that’s just what a few of the boys did. Heading up the trail towards the Secret Valley the group played a few rounds of Hide! The Explorers are getting better and better at this game and soon they will be able to hide from the other animals in the forest and observe them from up close.

Arriving at the Secret Valley the group expressed the desire to play Spider’s Web. The mentors set up the game course and we played an adapted version with two Spiders. Almost immediately the two Spiders split up and one guarded the web while the other guarded the food sources. In no time the flies were on the web and the boys got quite frustrated. Circling up we addressed the boy’s frustration, telling them that the round was challenging and not to dismay when things are challenging, but to rise to the occasion and adapt to the solution that is needed and to play with honor and integrity.

Making some clarifications of the rules on the next round we decided to have only one Spider. This round the Spider did an excellent job guarding the ridgeline and watching the web. Sending a majority of flies to web he guarded it well, catching anyone that tried to escape. As the boys waited on the web their patience grew thin and some started to try and distract and taunt the spider. With growing frustration on both sides the mentors called the game and told every one to circle up. It is amazing to witness how the power of play can bring out issues of basic morality and character. The boys were definitely at their edge, blaming and trying to talk over one another.

The mentors tried to give them some tools they could use to work out their differences. The first tool we called on was our circle. In circle there are three tools: our mouths, ears, and hearts. Giving each person a turn to speak we went around the circle sharing our point of view. Almost immediately the mentors had to stop the circle council because the boys needed to understand that there is a difference in sharing what is on your heart and blaming someone for your frustrations. The second tool we gave to the boys was the use of I statements. The mentors explained to the boys that rather than saying “you or he was doing this” to describe the problem or situation, instead describe how it was effecting yourself /others, and what the result was. Some of the Explorers struggled not being able to respond back and the mentors reiterated to the group that there is a difference between actively listening and waiting for your turn to speak. Our circle style council is a skill that builds with time and it was powerful to listen to the boy’s Stretch their Edges while trying to share without using provoking language. They are learning and growing and this is exactly where they need to be.

After a heavy and heartfelt debrief it was time to move locations and work on our skill for the season, the Art of Shelter Building. We headed up and over the ridge to a quiet location with ample shelter materials. The mentors explained to the group that the first step to shelter building is to find a site free from hazards. Scouting the land the Explorers found a spot under a big Douglas Fir, free from dead trees branches that might come down and high enough to so that water would not run through it if it poured.  We began construction of the frame, which consisted of two Y’s shape poles that form a tripod and a ridgepole a little longer than a person is rested on the tripod. It took a while to find the perfect frame and the Explorers started to loose focus. Completing the frame we started to add the ribs to the ridgepole, which would support all of the debris that we would pile onto it.  Weaving a latticework of Hemlock bows and dead cedar branches into the ribs we piled on debris until it was a foot and a half thick.

The more completed the structure got the more Explorers joined in to help. It was refreshing to see the group working together in harmony after our trials in Spider’s Web. All in all we got about half way through the process and it was time for a closing meeting. The Explorers got some great vision and experience for the next time we work on this skill, and they realized the power and challenge of this life saving skill. Joining in a circle close to our shelter we held a circle of thanks. The boys gave thanks for the beautiful weather, the chance to run and play in the forest, for the land providing all that we need, for friendship, for Douglas Fir and Hemlock, and shelter in its many forms. We ended the circle with a story about two boys who experienced many trials and challenges while trying to sleep in their Earth Shelter. In the end the boys learned how to sleep comfortably in the woods without anything except what the land provided by listening to their mentor Stalking Wolf’s advice and watching the squirrels build their nests for the winter.

Looking at the time we realized that we only had five minutes to get back to the parents! We decided to take a short cut and ended up climbing down a steep ravine.  Going one at a time we carefully navigated the hillside. A few of the boys were not paying attention and they tumbled a little way down. Luckily they were alright and learned a great lesson that Slow is Fast and Fast is Slow. Looking back at the hillside the mentors noticed we had created some impact. We carefully covered our path so that we would not create social trails. It was a great time to mention to the boys that Shelter Building also has lots of impact because many resources are needed. When we take it’s important to have an awareness of what we our doing. A harvester needs to know in his heart that the resource will be honored and that it is being put to its greatest potential. The Art of Shelter Building should be guided by a beautiful blend of logic, intuition, reverence, awareness, appreciation, and thanks. The mentors would like to offer some thanks to all the Gray Pups for engaging in the spirit of play and healthy competition and for a terrific outing in the glorious sun.

For more pictures from the day please visit the Gray Wolf Pups photo gallery.


BEC: Salamander Efts Explore the Old Growth at Mile Marker 44

What a beautiful day to kick off the Fall Season for the Salamander Efts. The clear, sunny sky held promise for our first outing of the season. Boys trickled in one-by-one and before we knew it Stubbs, our Wild Whatcom bus, was loaded and ready to roll. We chugged along to the IGA on Mt. Baker Highway to pick up the remaining explorers before continuing on to Mile Marker 44 and the wonders of the old growth forest.

Finally, after a lengthy drive, we made it to the pull out and unloaded. The beautiful old growth forest was a relief for the mentors and some of the boys after a noisy bus ride. Just a few yards down the trail and we were all in awe of a massive old growth Douglas Fir that took both the mentors and eight of the boys holding hands to wrap all the way around its trunk. We were truly now in the presence of giants.

After checking out some more of the old growth, we found a nice place for opening circle. The Salamander Efts were reunited once again, but this time there was a new face that we had the pleasure of welcoming to the group. Not only did a new face bring new thoughts and inspirations to the group, but this also gave the boys a chance to reflect upon the culture we’ve built over the seasons as we shared it with our new Salamander Eft group member. The old growth was calling to the boys so we quickly wrapped up our meeting and got out exploring the pristine ecosystem.


Some of the boys ventured down a trail and found a massive downed tree that was ripe for shelter building. A couple of other boys explored back in another direction and found a wonderland of mushrooms of all sizes from as big as a bullfrog to as tiny as a tadpole carpeting the forest floor. The boys also spent some time during this exploration period to build a couple miniature shelters with one of the mentors to show the other boys a few new ways to construct different types of shelters beyond the tried and true debris huts we learned to build in previous seasons.

While some of us were working on mini shelters, the rest of the group was hard at work constructing a full scale shelter that incorporated the downed old growth tree. There was so much potential with this shelter site that some of the boys had differing opinions on what kind of shelter to build and who should get to make the decision. There were some difficult moments as some of the boys felt they had more of a right to do what they want because it was “their” shelter site because they “found it first.”


While these boys were working out their differences, it left them hyper-focused inwardly and on their immediate situation. Little did they know that the other group of boys was sneaking up on their flank with one of the other mentors. The sneak took the boys in a long looping path around the southern flank of the squabbling shelter builders. It was rather easy to track where they were because they could hear the other boys chattering away. Along the sneak, they encountered numerous fungi of differing shapes, colors, and textures. They navigated through dense Devils Club, over (and even under) giant old growth nurse logs, and snuck in close just to the east of the rest of the group. It was truly an epic sneak, but before we could get any closer our time for exploration and free play came to an end.

Back near where we had our opening circle, one of the mentors shared the mini shelter creations with the rest of the group where we discussed the pros and cons of the different types of shelters and discovered how quick, easy, and resource efficient it is to practice your shelter building skills by building mini shelters. Not only can you build them anywhere there are some sticks, dirt, and other natural materials, but it gives the boys an opportunity to practice all their fantastic shelter building ideas on a smaller scale before they attempt them on a full scale shelter. Towards the end of our discussion a pair of small black and white woodpeckers with red heads decided to join us. We stopped and watched for a short time before gathering for our closing circle.

At closing circle we reflected upon the day, and finally had an opportunity to discuss the issues and negative impacts on others that can arise when individuals are overly possessive. The boys re-visited the concepts of escalation and were given a few insights into conflict resolution by the mentors. However, as we were trying to give thanks to wrap up the day, some of the boys weren’t giving the proper respect to others which was especially troubling to one of the mentors. Although we were already running late, it was important for the boys to understand the significance and meaning of reflection and gratitude for the beautiful day, magnificent location, and strong brotherhood we had on this outing. Being a bit late was well worth it as we found the significance behind thankfulness and reflection before scurrying to the bus, loading up with smiles on our faces, and heading back to meet the parents. What a day, full of peaks and valleys, but also such growth, graciousness, and good times shared by all.