Wild Whatcom Blog

Thursday
May212015

Off trail on Galbraith Mountain

Honor reveals itself in the margins.

We played two full games of Spider’s Web in a secluded area of Galbraith Mountain on Saturday. For those of you not familiar with the game, a few rules:
* The course has a “food source” (bandana) at one end and a “web” (tree or bush marked with, wait for it, a bandana) at the other,
* There is a Spider and the rest of the boys and mentors are Flies,
* The flies attempt to secure the food source and return it to the web (I know - doesn’t make sense - but it works) without being spied and called out by the spider,
* The spider wins by sending all flies to the web at the same time and before the food source is brought to it,

Preparation for the game involves reviewing the rules. Sometimes we adjust them. For instance, there might be two spiders. We usually decide on “no-go zones” for the spider to prevent “puppy-guarding” the food source or web. In this case, the restriction was set at 10 feet.

For the flies, the game is often about stealth. A good course will have sufficient foliage (sword ferns work great) for cover. Speed is often penalized as the spider’s eye is drawn to the movement and the fly sent to the web. Kinda like real life in nature, no?

Strategy is more the name of the game for the spider. Do I roam or stay hidden to surprise flies? Guard the food source or focus on keeping the flies on the web once they’ve been called out?

Our second game ended in conflict. The flies accused the spider of hanging around too close to the web, which prevented the flies from returning the food source without being called out. The spider replied that he went no closer than the invisible 10’ “bubble” stipulated when we started playing. Cue the margin!

Misunderstandings happen often in life. Communication between people is subject to interpretation. That’s why we have courts, and mediators, and contracts, and, unfortunately, bad feelings. At Explorer’s Club, we believe behaving with honor is a critical characteristic of an virtuous man, so we use these situations to work with your boys on constructive ways to handle conflict. In this case, with the help of our two Explorers Club Apprentices (EMAs), 5 minutes of conversation yielded a further clarification of the 10’ rule. Specifically, that limit applies when the spider is moving through the area. If he chooses to station himself to spy flies, the limit is “like, 30 feet”. Once that was worked out, hard feelings dissolved and we moved on. The Raccoon Kits handled themselves with honor in this particular margin. Take a moment to recognize that with your explorer.

The Raccoon Kits did more than resolve conflict on Saturday. They stress-tested several mountain bike jumps by running them!; they explored a very cool cave discovered by a few flies as they were sneaking through the underbrush in pursuit of the food source; they paused to commune with nature by sitting alone and silent for 10 minutes in an Explorer’s Club tradition called the sit spot.

Note: The boys did themselves proud with the way they focused their attention and energy during our opening, closing and conflict resolution meetings. We also work through decisions at trail junctions and other points when a decision is required. They have improved in this area noticeably since the fall.

Finally, they considered that after several seasons of EC outings, the name Raccoon Kits (raccoon babies) might not fit any more. We began a conversation about a new name for the group. The name doesn’t need to involve raccoons, although that would make sense. Ideally, it will come from an experience the group had on an outing. (Example; the Daredevils Club got their name after a rough encounter with Devil’s Club.) It needs to be appropriate and to pertain to the land and the exploration thereof. A few interesting ideas were put forth on Saturday; the mentors asked the boys to think on it some more. That’s something else you can ask your explorer about. We’ll revisit in the fall.

Check here for the complete set of photos.

That wraps up the Raccoon Kits' schedule for the spring. Thank you for sharing your explorer with us this wonderful season of rebirth. I appreciate the energy and humor your boys bring to Explorers Club.

Watch for information on registration for the fall. And consider a summer camp, if your explorer isn't already registered. The long, slow, warm summer days provide an excellent environment for nature connection!

Wednesday
May202015

BEC: Red Tailed Eyas Traverse Chuckanut Creek to Mud Bay 

Planning can only take you so far, In the end it is the land that dictates what direction our day will take and it is our job to listen and follow this inspiration. So it was on the Red Tailed Eyas outing at Arroyo park. Steve and I had planned a day with the intention of giving the boys time to work on creating their bow drill kits. This plan quickly evaporated as we bushwhacked down toward Chuckanut creek. We passed under the large hand shaped leaves of Devil's Club, avoiding their spiny stalks before we broke out onto  a sunny sandbar along the creek. Here the boys dropped their packs and began hopping along the edge of the creek.

Exploring a downstream we discovered where the creek passed through a giant tunnel under chuckanut drive. feeling the call to explore the unknown and the warmth of the sun many of us were excited to explore further down the creek even if it meant getting our feet wet for the day. This led us to our first group decision; walk down the creek and commit to wet feet? Or stay in the upland forest with dry feet? Unlike a decision of whether or not to play a game of spiders web where you can sit out if you don’t want to play this decision held a much higher level of commitment. We formed a circle on the sandbar at the mouth of the tunnel and tried to come to a consensus about what to do. The boys had strong opinions on both sides of the issues; some feeling strongly about exploring downstream, others opposed to having wet feet. The boys were slow in settling down to a point they could really listen to each other and come to a coherent decision. As mentors steve and I held the space for the Red Tailed Eyas to make this decision. Making a decision as a group is challenging, it takes focus and the ability to listen to others. The Red Tailed Eyas had a hard with this and took some guiding from steve and I along the way.

The group came to the decision to go down the creek and explore it as far as we could, committing to wet feet and a sense of adventure. We set off through the tunnel, Explorers laughing with excitement as we waded through the cool water. Emerging from the tunnel onto a beautiful stretch of creek with dappled sunlight overhung by salmon berry and devil's club we were all happy we had gone this way. It is a really amazing perspective to be right in the creek looking up at the banks as we walked by. We found small fish, explored huge clay banks, navigated waste deep sections and marveled that we had found a spot that not one of us had ever explored. For those that had not wanted to get their feet wet initially it was good to see them confront their edge and embrace the wet feet and the mobility we had as a group once we committed to this.

As we moved down the creek we began to realize that we must be getting close to the ocean. Sure enough a couple more bends in the river and we broke out onto the sunny shore of mud bay. The tide was out and as far as we could see a great expanse of mud lay in front of us. The Red Tailed Eyas dropped their packs and made their way out onto the mud flats. Before long we had all lost any attempt to stay clean, crawling, wading, getting stuck, rinsing off, crawling again, walking on all fours, any way to move through the mud. It was a great experience to all be in the same mindset of just wanting to play in the mud and explore the tidal flats.

As our time drew toward an end an Explorer cut his leg on some barnacles so we began moving back to shore to clean the wounds and get packed up to go. Despite the fact that these wounds were only superficial cuts to the first layer of skin and presented no risk if we cleaned and dressed them properly it is important in these moments to act as a group. Part of acting as a group is asking yourself “what can i be doing for the group right now?” Part of asking yourself this question is forgoing some of your personal needs in order to help the group. The Red Tailed Eyas struggled with this as Steve cleaned out Barnacle cuts and I tried to gather everyone on the beach. The boys had little awareness for what the group needed and how they could enable that. This was a valuable learning moment for the group and i believe it served as a good lesson for all the boys whether they realized it or not.

Dirty, tired, but immensely happy we finished our day with a closing meeting in the tall grass of Woodstock farm. The day was really powerful; full of exploration, new places, pure happiness, stretching our edges, and coming together as a group. The challenges of the day presented themselves as group work and thinking about “We” not only “Me”. I am excited for many of these boys to backpack with Wild Whatcom this summer to further hone their group abilities. It was a wonderful day and could not have been a higher not to end a great season on! Parents thank you for all your support throughout the season and Red Tailed Eyas thank you for your enthusiasm and joy throughout the season. Be sure to check out our photo gallery for more photos.  

 

 

Thursday
May142015

Connelly Creek service site transforming: Gray Wolf Pups & Townsend's Chipmunks 

We shoulda taken photos (Check that - we did. Track the history of our service at this site by clicking on the “tag links” below: Connelly Creek). I wasn’t there, but I’m told that when the Boys Explorers first set eyes on the Connelly Creek service site a few years ago, the scene was dominated by Himalayan blackberry bushes and tall Reed canarygrass. Both are invasive, non-native plants that detract from the health of the creek. And, of course, the blackberry brambles hurt! Hidden in all that growth was an equally unpleasant discovery - trash. Apparently, the area had been used as a dump by people with nails, car parts, rusting wire, plastic, concrete and more to spare. The thing is, as an explorers club motto puts it, all things are connected.

Himalayan blackberry was introduced from Eurasia. It often spreads over the top of other plants and crushes or smothers them. It can root at branch tips and spread from roots (suckers). Birds can spread the berries over long distances. It is a Class C weed in Washington State, which means it is already widespread. And, as the scratches on arms and legs will attest, it has a strong defense against well-meaning service workers.

Reed canarygrass forms dense, highly productive single species stands that pose a major threat to many wetland ecosystems. The species grows so vigorously that it is able to inhibit and eliminate competing species. According to the state department of Ecology, the species poses a significant threat to the state’s wetlands.

Salmon, of course, need the ecological balance that these aggressive species will eliminate if not combatted. As I said, it’s all connected.

So, once each fall and spring, each explorers club (EC) group spends an outing working at the site to replace blackberries and canarygrass with native species. With guidance from Bellingham Parks and tools on loan from the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA), the boys devote their time and energies to clipping and uprooting blackberries and then stomping down canarygrass and covering it with bark mulch to deprive it of the sun on which it thrives. They’ve also planted trees and bushes to shade the area, providing a more permanent solution to the “problem” sun. In this way, the explorers, parks and NSEA are connecting and protecting, another EC motto.

I’ve been through two seasons of service outings now, and can personally attest to scores of bags of brambles and roots (and dozens of scrapes!). I’ve witnessed multiple groups of explorers cutting (which turned out to be the wrong strategy - encourages growth) and stomping down (better approach) canarygrass, and moving dozens of yards of bark mulch in buckets large and small to cover the grass. And I’ve supervised the removal of rusted nails, plastic who-knows-whats, and much more trash. (We shoulda inventoried.) The work was done willingly, even eagerly, as a rule. Despite the occasional bark battle, the irresistible tree waiting to be climbed, and the allure of the creek, the explorers keep at it, demonstrating again the EC motto - many hands make light work.

So now there are young alders reaching for the sky and native shrubs such as ninebark restoring ecological balance to the area. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Read it aloud - it sounds even better that way...restoring ecological balance. Nice. If you’re interested, check here for information on native, non-invasive plants for your garden. Along the way, we liberated some trees that were being swallowed up and a fence that was hidden in the blackberries. Here’s a panoramic view (pardon my poor photography skills) of the site today.



Saturday’s was our last service outing of the spring. We’ll be back at it in the fall, again with the collaboration of the Bellingham Parks and NSEA. Your final EC motto for the day - Everyone helps. Your boys are learning the importance of caring for the land. As they return twice a year, they’re excited by the progress they’ve made and can see the change they can affect. Sure, the creek is better off, but no more so that all of us who have the privilege of putting the blackberries and cararygrass in their rightful place.

Gray Wolf Pup families, click here for the gallery of photos from Saturday’s service outing. Townsend's Chipmunk folks, click here.

The Gray Wolf Pups return to exploring on Sunday, June 7 with a traverse. Click here for further information on that outing.

The Townsend's Chipmunks are also back at it on Sunday, June 7 with a traverse (different place!). Look here for the outing description.  

Thursday
May072015

Serving Connelly Creek with the Salamander Efts and Barred Owlets

The headline might read “Connelly Creek Restoration Work Continues Apace”. Because it does, in part thanks to the efforts of the Salamander Efts and Barred Owlets on Saturday. Reed Canarygrass was “walked down” (it turns out the grass cutting we did in the fall was misdirected effort that actually encouraged growth!): bark mulch was shoveled, hauled and spread over the flattened Canarygrass: Himalayan blackberry was clipped and hauled off. The Connelly Creek restoration site (see Happy Valley Park on the map) is better off for the strong effort put forth by these two Explorers Club groups. Service is an integral part of the Wild Whatcom mission. This work is a good thing and would make a nice story in the local newspaper.

At Wild Whatcom, we expect and strive for more, however. And for this outing, the deeper story is more nuanced. So let’s look past the headline by reviewing my admittedly arbitrary benchmarks for a service outing.

Focus/hard work - Once I’ve seen three 60 - 80 pound boys struggling under the weight of a trash can full of bark mulch, I can’t easily question effort. However, pull the camera back during the outing and the boy sitting in a tree comes into the picture, as do the boys battling each other with bark chips as projectiles. Much work was done but the effort was inconsistent across the members of the Salamander Efts and Barred Owlets and rippled unevenly across the afternoon.

Teamwork - I bring you back to the three boys carrying the loaded trash can. Two boys couldn’t carry that can, nor could the three of them get it to where it was needed without active communication. Likewise, a sole explorer couldn’t have dismantled a roughly 10 by 10 foot section of blackberry on his own. The mentors saw many examples of excellent teamwork throughout the afternoon. We were especially proud to observe the older Salamander Efts modeling good work habits for the Barred Owlets.

Initiative - There’s a small ditch that bisects the work site about 3/4 of the way back. Thanks to explorers’ efforts over the past several years, most of the blackberries have receded to beyond the ditch. At one point a few hours into the outing, I jumped (ok, stepped) across the ditch to check on the blackberry work, only to find 3-4 explorers slicing through thorn-thrusting vines with the intensity of a family of beavers in spring. Rather than cut across the front of the infestation, they were tunneling from two directions and working back through the segregated area to clear a small room size area in a single effort. Nice work! I’m sure the two boys sitting along the creek, Huck Finn style and out of sight, would agree that the blackberry ravaging boys were making a real difference.

Task completion - Those who were part of the initial effort to restore Wild Whatcom’s Connelly Creek service site to ecological balance tell me the area was all but covered with invasive plants, such as Himalayan blackberry, and human trash (broken bottles, discarded beverage cans, car parts, piles of nails, and the like) when they first arrived. Well over half has been cleared and native trees and shrubs planted. Even since I joined the effort in the fall, the improvement is dramatic. Saturday’s work pushed this effort forward. It is gratifying to see the progress: these explorers are to be congratulated.

Integrity/Honor/Respect - More could have been done on this day, however, with greater focus and discipline. There was too much squirreling out; too often did I turn to see bark being hurled at another; too often were individuals content to allow others to carry the load. I, for one, was disappointed.

Of course, what is life if not a succession of trials offering lessons and the chance to do better next time? The boys are young. This is the time for them to learn the satisfaction that comes from performing well and honorably. We’ll be back at this soon with more opportunities to help carry the heavy trash can and cut the irascible berry bushes.

And, no doubt, I’m right in there with the boys. I can think of several times during the outing where a guiding word from me might have encouraged an explorer to lend a hand rather than squirrel out or start a bark battle. Fortunately, I get to put my lessons to work soon as well. Life is forgiving in that it offers second, third and, sometimes, fourth chances. Now there’s something for which we all can be grateful!

The Salamander Efts get back to it on Saturday, May 30, with an exploration of Blanchard mountain's alternate incline trails. Click here for the schedule.

The Barred Owlets pick up their water curriculum on Saturday, May 30 as well, when we traverse from Marine Park in Fairhaven to the Connelly Creek location. You'll find that schedule here.

Finally, check out the photos from our service work here (Salamander Efts) and here (Barred Owlets). See you out there.

Tuesday
May052015

Serving Connelly Creek with the Alevin and Grey Fox Kits 

The Alevin Explorers arrived at Connelly Creek and quickly ran down the embankment, as they were anxious to see how the site has transformed over winter. Calling the group in the Explorers mustered their strength the carried the tools over to the site. They were excited to continue the tradition of camouflaging themselves from the next group, the Grey Fox Kits, who were soon to arrive. The mentors decided instead to use the time to work on our fire by friction and carving skills while chatting with the group about our upcoming summer backpacking trips.

Before the blog post continues, we’d like to remind everyone about the WE: Wilderness Experiences available this summer to the Alevin Explorers. Grey Fox Kits we look forward to backpacking with you in the summer of 2016. These trips are an investment in a lifetime of leadership and skills; their rewards extend far beyond the three to eight days they take place. Many of our Explorers have found them to be life changing, with benefits and tools for living that are carried and applied for many years to come. Please contact us if you have any questions, thanks!

The Grey Fox Kits arrived and the Alevin retired their skill session and both groups circled in the field. The mentors encouraged Explorers to think back to their last outing to Clayton Beach. The outing held powerful lessons about group decision-making, collaborating and compromising, and inclusion. Today would be yet another opportunity to work together while and serving the land. These boys have been working on this site for over two and a half years; they have developed skill and efficiency in their work as well as intimate knowledge of this sites needs.

Instead of painstakingly going over how to us the tools the mentors simply asked the group to be responsible with them. It is wonderful to have cultivated this level of trust within these two groups. They have continued to show their commitment and integrity with safe tools usage. Their eagerness shows they’re hungry for more responsibility, greater skills, and bigger explorations - the mentor’s bow to that.

Breaking our circle played a few rounds of Deer oh Deer Come and Run through my Forest.  This energetic tag game brought the two groups together and that same energy transferred to our work. Running over to the site the boys quickly lined up. Our project for the day was to walk down the Reed-Canary Grass, spread a giant pile of mulch over the area, and finish up with some blackberry trimming. Forming a long line we stomped down the Reed-Canary Grass. It was a fun way to warm up and release some energy. Turning our efforts to the mulch pile the boys took on one of three jobs: a mulch spreader, carrier, or filler. The group worked cohesively and as an onlooker you wouldn’t have been able to tell one group from the other. Slowly Dave started to develop a fun competitive aspect where the mulch fillers were trying to keep the buckets filled and the carriers were trying to dump them before they could be filled. This led to an inspiration for a game. Dividing into three teams by birth month, the boys took their positions. Their goal was to fill three 32-gallon cans and move them across the service site where the rakers would make three 4 by 3 foot squares. Their teams would be judged on who could get through three cans the fastest, how they worked as a team carrying the buckets, and how neat their squares were. When the game started the boys burst into action. It was amazing, what fun!  The boys really dug deep giving it their all. In the end every team won in a different category.

Spreading the last of our mulch the Alevin Explorers said goodbye the Grey Fox Kits and broke off for a closing meeting. The Grey fox Kits worked on diligently making a big dent in the Blackberry thicket towards the back of the site. Focused and determined the boys cut, trimmed and bagged the Blackberries and hauled them across the site.  

What fine work these Explorers are doing, they should be proud of their accomplishments here at Connelly Creek. The care they show for the saplings and shrubs they planted last fall and their fellow Explorers is outstanding. In their closing circles the Explorers gave thanks for the opportunity to work with each other, for skills and games, for the ability to give back, for the sense of accomplishment and progress they feel, and for the beautiful sunshine and warmth on our spring service outing.

Parents, please take a moment to track the history of our service at this site by clicking on the “tag links” below: Connelly Creek. You’ll see how the place has changed over time due to thousands of Explorer hours poured into the Happy Valley Park. You’ll also see how your sons have changed over time too. Thank you for the opportunity to be your nature-connection mentors. We truly value these experiences and look forward to each outing with you Explorers and your families!

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