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BEC: Exploring Chuckanut Creek with the Roosevelt Elk Calves

The Mentors would like to thank the Roosevelt Elk Calves parents for their flexibility and patience with our scheduling mishap on Sunday. Due to a misread of our internal calendar the Mentors went to the wrong location resulting in our late arrival to the outing. One of the many skills we try to convey to the Explorers and practice within our own lives is recognizing when we have made a mistake, owning it, and figuring out how address or amend the issue. Again, we send our apologies.

After that slight hiccup the Mentors arrived at Arroyo Park to greet the Roosevelt Elk Calves and their families. Anxious to get exploring the group quickly walked down the trail and found a wonderful spot by Chuckanut Creek to hold an opening meeting. The group introduced themselves to a new Mentor named Adnan.  Adnan is currently interning with the Explores Club and hopes to gain more insight and experience in the way the Explorers serve and connect with the land. We are grateful to have him in our program and are excited for him to share some of the Explorers Club culture with the youth in his community in Northern Pakistan. Being that it was Adnan’s first exploration the boys shared the importance of the Explorer’s culture of jobs within the group and the potential safety hazards that we would need to watch out for. The boys did a great job and are really stepping into their leadership.

Mentors took a moment to talk to the group about their commitment to Stick Culture and using tools with intention. We also reminded the group that the Mentors are assessing the group’s actions and commitment to this culture. Within a few seasons the group will be ready to carve and it is now in the groups hands to show that they are ready for the responsibility. 

As the group snacked we set our intention for the day. Feeling the call in response to the Explorers request, the Mentors decided to give up much of the Art of Water curriculum we had planned and instead explore the land scouting for the perfect place to play Spider’s Web.

In our overscheduled high stress culture it is vital that the Explorers and Mentors get out and engage in play. Games offer us a way to test our skills, challenge ourselves, work together, and build our confidence. When Explorers play games with honor and integrity they slowly learn to meet all challenges in their lives with this same mindset. As Mentors we know that this idea of play not only helps us connect with others and ourselves, it also allows us to engage in an ongoing relationship with the land. When an Explorer crouches under the cover of a Sword Fern waiting for their opportunity to move the land becomes their teacher; offering them learning opportunities that come naturally through their curiosity and out of necessity.    

Following Chuckanut Creek the Explorers thought they would teach Adnan a little more about our culture by calling Hide! As the group went diving into the bushes it was clear that the joke was on the finder. A number of downed trees and branches littered the forest floor and provided the perfect camouflage. After the game we challenged the Explorers to think back to the cause of all these downed trees. The group remembered back to the winter storm that brought all the snow to the lowlands. Learning to read the land cultivates our connection to the seasons and helps us make sense of the landscape.

As we hiked further the Salmonberries and Stink Currant got higher and higher until it felt as though we were in a maze. Suddenly we were stopped dead in our tracks by the riverbank, which looked like the end of the trail to the Roosevelt Elk Calves. Scouting along the group noticed a very unique rise in the land and a prominent shelf on the opposite side of the bank. The group agreed that it would be a great place to play Spider’s Web so they searched for a way to cross the creek. Before going across Greg demonstrated the safe way to traverse a river with a backpack on. Greg explained that by unbuckling the chest and waist belt we give ourselves the ability to free ourselves from the pack incase we fall in. This skill will become useful in a few years when we are fording a river with heavy packs on. Finding a downed log the Explorers one by one shimmied across with some careful spotting from Adnan and Greg.

The group played and splashed on the far side of the creek, admiring the large bank of rivers rocks until the Mentors called them together to scout the potential game area. Anxious to play the group started to break the circle and explore. Quickly Greg called the group back together as they were not aware of a major hazard that was abundant in the area. Walking over to a dense thicket the group was introduced to a plant called Devil’s Club.

Oplopanax horridus or Devil’s Club is a tall shrub that often grows at the bottom of river valleys across the Northwest. This shrub is a powerful source of medicine, which can be used for common coughs and colds, stomach ulcers, tuberculosis and even hypoglycemia. It can be steeped into teas, mashed into salves, chewed, and steamed. Although this plant is medicine it also has an effective way of guarding its precious gift. Devil’s Club’s giant woody stems and coarse leaves are covered top to bottom in brittle spines. These spines lodge themselves into the skin, breaking off into micro fragments and are irritants worse than Stinging Nettles, eventually causing an infection if left in the skin for too long.

The group set up the game using the prominent shelf as the Spider’s lair, giving him a ridgeline advantage. With the creek rushing below us the Explorers climbed the steep lower flank of Chuckanut Mountain, crawling through the maze of Sword Fern and Devil’s Club. While we were playing one of the Mentors came across a Red-tailed Hawk Skull. The group took a moment to marvel at its unique bone structure.

Using the protection of the hillside the flies managed to capture the food source twice from the Spider. Calling the group back together we had a great conversation about camouflage strategies and the importance of treading lightly on the land. Learning from our outing at Clayton Trailhead it’s important that we travel off trail and it’s also important that we take care of the land and tread lightly when we do.

Gathering our packs the group circled up on the river rocks to have a closing meeting. We shared some apples and gave thanks for the day. The boys gave thanks for the sunny weather, the ability to find a secluded place to play Spider’s Web, for getting to know the hazards of the land, for the creek and fresh water, and for a great bunch of friends to explore with. A big thanks goes out to the Explorers for stepping into leadership and growth this season. The Roosevelt Elk Calves are becoming a cohesive group and the Mentors look forward to extended exploration with them in our summer camps! 

Please visit our photo gallery for more pictures from the day.




BEC: Finale Backpack with the Firestalkers at Lily and Lizard Lakes

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

-T.S. Eliot

Centuries ago in feudal Japan there was a state that was ruled by a lord who always seemed to be declaring war. In order to keep the wars going, the lord regularly sent troops through villages and selected able-bodied men as conscripts for the next series of battles. While the lord needed troops, he was also aware that his entire state depended on the work of villagers to keep everything going. So, instead of pulling men into the Army immediately, selected villagers were served notice one year in advance and directed to prepare all of their personal and public business for their absence and potential death.

One day, a man who could owned a very small and simple shop was served such a notice. Once the notice was received, he knew there was nothing he could do but obey the orders and prepare for his entrance into the Army in one year.

He began the long process of going through all his personal relationships, his material possessions, his unfinished business, his duty toward his family, his finances, his obligations to his community, and any other duty he had to do before his departure. Day by day, he still worked in his shop and bit by bit he prepared every little thing. His family grieved, he slowly passed on ownership of the shop, he made sure that all of his loved ones were taken care of, and he did his best to mend any outstanding trespasses he'd committed on others. These things took time, and though he had one year, and though he was relatively organized and steadfast in his preparations, the days passed, then the weeks, then the months.

Throughout all this time he was fixated on these preparations and had little time to spend physically preparing for his coming service in the army. It was only when he was about to fall asleep at night that he would have time to think about what it meant to him personally to go to battle and, most likely, to die there. Each night as he lay in bed and his wife passed into sleep, he would begin thinking about his impending death. And each night he would put his mind, heart, and soul into imagining the full experience of one possible death. Night by night, he imagined dying in a different way.

Many months past this way. It was only at the beginning of the 12th month that the man had finally prepared all of his relationships and all of his business for his departure. When this was accomplished, his mind turned toward physically preparing for battle. It became very clear to him that he had never lifted a sword in his life and that it made good sense to at least become familiar with it before being forced to use it.

This man was fortunate, because just outside of the village on the edge of the mountain side lived a great sword master. This sword master had a school and was known throughout Japan as being one of the best. The villager knew that the sword master would rarely take a simple villager like himself, but the master was known to have a kind heart and, if the man explained his situation, he thought he might have a chance to at least learn some basic techniques.

He went up to the school and after some persistence was granted an interview with the master. He explained his situation clearly and respectfully to the master and asked for any assistance the man might grant him. The master considered for some time and, out of the kindness in his heart, agreed to show the villager some basic techniques that would help him in his coming battles.

He told the villager to come back the next day.

The next day the villager arrived and the sword master was waiting for him. The master handed the villager a sword, showed them the proper stance, and showed him the first and most basic technique. Once the master had demonstrated, the villager was told to try. The villager took the stance and performed the technique with utter mastery.

The master was taken aback. He looked very suspiciously at the villager. “Who taught you this technique?” He asked.

“No one. I've never used the sword before in my life,” answered the villager.

The master could see that the man was telling the truth and, though very unlikely, he considered it possible that the man had an astounding natural gift. So, he accepted this and decided to show the man a much more advanced technique. The master took a stance, whorled and whipped his sword, and landed a blow with perfect accuracy at a selected point in space. He stepped aside and asked the villager to do the same. The villager took the same stance and performed the exact same technique with just as much mastery.

Now the master’s suspicions deepened. “You have clearly used the sword before. Who are you? You've been sent by another school to learn the techniques, haven't you? Tell me the truth.”

The villager was astonished. With every honest bone in his body he told the sword master that he had never picked up a sword before in his life. He explained that he owned a small shop in town, had a family, and had many obligations. There was no time for him to ever learn the sword, and no one but the master in his area to teach him.

Though it made no sense, the sword master could not deny the man's honesty. He knew the man’s shop and recognized him as the owner. The master became quite confused. He sheathed is his sword and bid the man to sit down and explain to him everything he had been doing for the past year. The man quite calmly began explaining all of his preparations. He told everything with as much detail as he could. The master listened and nodded. The man described all of his preparation work with his relationships and his community, and then he described his practice of envisioning a death every night. He described all the events up until a few days ago when all his business was taken care of. He then said that at night he lay down in, bed closed his eyes, and waited for vision of his next death. But no vision came. He realized in that moment that he could conceive of no other way to die. He said that once that happened he felt a great calm come over him and he had since slept each night and lived each day in deep peace.

At this point, the master nodded and raised his hand to signify that the villager could stop telling his story. The master smiled as he looked at the man.

“Your training is complete,” the master said. “You are no longer afraid of death. There is nothing more I can teach you.”

This story came out around a campfire that was lit by a bow drill made by materials from the land and fueled by wood gathered by the Firesalkers. That night, Lily Lake was awash with the songs of frogs, the air was cool, the tarps all set, the water bottles filled, good food in our bellies. Earlier in the day, we had ascended from sea level on a trail that, two years ago, took about eleven hours to hike. This time we had arrived in the very early afternoon with time to set up camp, go exploring, and come back for dinner. This time, the Firestalkers knew what needed to happen and did most of it without any instruction. The weather was good to us. We didn’t break anything:) We played games, we took on some physical challenge, we explored the amazing cave system by Lizard Lake, we learned some more wild edibles, and we made decisions as a group quite efficiently.

The Firestalkers (mentors included) have changed and grown so much over the years. This group has always been the leading edge of Explorers Club, and they deserve to feel pride as they consider themselves to be one of the people who created this entire program. It would be impossible to measure all the time and effort, let alone all the heart and courage and learning that went into this group of wonderful people. We all grew, and we all made something unique, vital, and good. Parents, mentors, community members, and many more people worked together in this creation. The land created us. The plants, animals, sea, lakes, rivers, creeks, snow, rock, fungus, mud, wind, and sleet shaped us the way a rock face is shaped slowly over millennia. This group was molded by the land. Is it possible to list all that we learned? Is it possible to list all of relationships we’ve grown? Is it possible to conceive of how many beings were born and died over the years of our work together?

One thing that the land teaches strongly is that, in order for there to be birth there must be death. In order for a cup to be filled, it must first be empty. Each individual in the Firestalkers has grown and is growing so much, and sometimes big changes in life are a form of death- death that makes way for a birth. Grace has the opportunity to manifest when we greet these transitions, attend to them fully, and welcome the changes that occur afterward. Just like the villager, we must all face these little deaths (and some big ones), and we all have the opportunity to then live our lives.

That night turned out to be the last night for the Firestalkers. The group is going its separate ways. There are not enough people for the Pasayten Wilderness trip, so this was, indeed, the finale. One thing that Explorers Club and Four Shields has taught us is the importance of finishing strong, with our whole hearts. That night and the next day, Firestalkers were encouraged to share what the group has meant to them. We took care of business, ate, explored, and even played a big game before the final meeting. Two of our group were missing: Kyler and Marcus, and those two will be encouraged to share their thoughts with others at the Solstice Meeting. Our hope is that they both know that they were missed and that their parting words are important. The big finish came with drawing a line in the sand and having each person pass over it to mark the end of the Firestalkers… and to step into new beginnings. Though our group has passed, we are now members of a larger community. We are still connected. Each person knows that he can call on any mentor and he will find support.

Once we had stepped over, we hiked to Oyster Dome to admire the view: this time as equal members of a greater community. We had fun, bantered, stumbled a couple times, and explored here and there on the way down.

Let it be known that these emerging adults are among the finest people this Explorer has ever known. Let it be known that the parents are among the finest people this Explorer has known. This Explorer has grown alongside them all, and they feel like family.

Thank you so much, wonderful family, for creating me, each BEC mentor, each other, the program, and the land that gives us life.

Now, take a moment, if you will to look back:

Here is a link to our old Shutterfly Site with pics and a few old outing reports.

Here is a link to our current Photo Gallery.

Here is a link to the outing reports we have on file for the Firestalkers.

Enjoy the memories, but love the present moment.





BEC: The Grey Fox Kits Serve Connelly Creek with the Alevin

Last Saturday the Grey Fox Kits met to serve at the Connelly Creek Site. As they arrived they immediately gravitated towards the creek. Circling up it was clear which Explorers had already been in the water! With soggy boots and high spirits the Explorers introduced themselves to a new Mentor. Adnan, a climbing guide from the mountainous northern region of Pakistan, has traveled to Whatcom County to study sustainability at Whatcom Community College. Adnan is currently interning with the Explores Club and hopes to gain more insight and experience in the way the Explorers serve and connect with the land. We are grateful to have him in our program and are excited for him to share some of the Explorers Club mentoring culture with the youth in his community.

The boys also welcomed a few returning Mentors, Drew Butler and Soren Brotherton. Soren, the Grey Fox Kits steadfast EMA since the first season in 2012, has been a guiding force and a supreme example of what it means to be a caring male in the world. His dedication through mentorship has resulted in a transformative experience for both the boys and himself. The Mentors would like to honor his deepened service ethic as he journeys through the trials and opportunities of arriving adulthood.

Once the group had greeted each other we oriented ourselves to the land by reflecting back on our navigation of Connelly and Padden Creek. With that in mind the Explorers broke the circle, eager to start their service work. However before they could start the Mentors had one piece of critical information to share with the group. The Alevin Explorers had taken a sit spot with the goal of being close to the trail that led to the site, but camouflaged so that the Kits would walk right past them. The Grey Fox Kits looked around nervously, now aware they were being stalked!

The Mentors challenged the boys to individually find the hidden members. Fox Walking along the Alevin proved difficult to spot. Once we arrived at the site we gave a Crow Call and they came pouring out of the bushes, hardly three feet from the trail!

Grabbing our lunches we gathered in a large circle and introduced ourselves. While the group snacked the Mentors gave a talk about tool safety and usage. Our tools are borrowed from the City of Bellingham as well as the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, so it is very important that we treat them with care so that we can keep using them for seasons to come. This subject of tool usage is especially pertinent for the Grey Fox Kits because they will be learning The Art of Carving next fall. It is critical that they recognize that the difference between a tool and a weapon is the user. The Mentors stressed the importance of meeting the service work with our best intentions for the sake of honoring themselves and the land.

Packing up lunch we hauled over the tools and got to work shoveling a giant pile of mulch the Bellingham Parks Department had left us. It was impressive to watch the boys work as one unified crew. The boys spent a few solid hours mulching over freshly tilled clay and soil, digging Himalayan Blackberry roots, cutting back blackberry canes and hauling them out to the trail, and cutting back the persistent Reed Canary grass. I would like to commend and thank both groups for their strong work digging roots and raking swaths of blackberry canes. This is truly a daunting and arduous task that takes perseverance and patience.

Our aim as Mentors is for the Explorers to gain a deep sense of connectedness and ownership through their transformation of this land, and to realize their power to serve and provide for communities. Our hope is that their long-term investment will instill a life long ethic for commitment and service to their communities. Not out of servitude or duty, but of a realization that we are intrinsically tied to our human, plant, and animal communities, and to serve them is to thrive. Service takes us outside of ourselves while both keeping us humble and providing a wellspring of sustaining gratification.

Calling the group back in the Grey Fox Kits said goodbye to the Alevin and thanked them for their leadership and guidance. Sitting together in the grass the group snacked and rested. A few boys investigated a Cherry Tree next to the grass field and found Tent Caterpillars incased in silk at the end of its limbs. The boys started to hit the silk tents with sticks, trying to knock them off the tree. Recognizing the need to bring the group together the Mentors called a circle below the tree. Drew asked the boys why they were killing the caterpillars. The boys told Drew that they were bad for the trees and needed to be removed. Drew then asked the group if they thought this was right. The group answered that just like killing blackberries to help the land, killing the caterpillars helped the tree so it was right. Asking them to take a good look at the tree, the Mentors asked the group if a few caterpillars were really going to kill the tree. The boys answered no, to which Drew replied that if the tree was not going to die then why did we need to kill them? The group was a little quiet. Drew then explained to them that life does not always have clear-cut answers and it is our intention and discernment that steers us towards just decisions.

After this important conversation the group needed some light-hearted play. Setting up a circle of backpacks and hanging a bandana from a Cherry limb the group played Crows Steal a Jay’s Egg, which the Explorers would be happy to tell you more about. 

Circling up for a closing meeting tired, sweaty, and content the group brought the conversation back to our service day and the transformation that we saw in the land over the course of our spring service outings. The Explorers used intention, focus, and power with the assistance of tools to harmonize with the land, restoring balance.

Sharing apples the Explorers gave thanks for a great day of service, for the ability to use tools, for the service partners who provided them, for all the animals moving through Connelly Creek, and for a chance to get to work with the Alevin and volunteers. The Mentors would like to thank all the parents for your support of the Explorers as they mature and grow. We would also like to give a big thanks to Bellingham Parks and Recreation and Nooksack Salmon Enhancement for their guidance and support of our project. We couldn’t do it without all the support!

Please visit the Grey Fox Kits photo gallery for more pictures from the outing.


BEC: Alevin Serving Connelly Creek with the Grey Fox Kits

With the warmth of spring in the air, Matt and Greg eagerly awaited the arrival of the boys.  The lure of the creek entertained the explorers who climbed and leapt across its banks waiting for the remainder of their group.  Once all the Alevin had arrived it was time to have brief opening meeting to discuss the important tasks of the day.  The largest order of the day was that the Alevin would be stepping into a mentoring role for the first time.  They would be leading the service day by example.  For some explorers it was their third time working at this service site, so they would be able to draw upon their experience of doing service in thier new leadership role.  The Alevin have also been through the Art of Carving training and the Gray Fox Kits have not, so the Alevin would be able to model the way to use the tools respectfully and carefully for the job at hand.  The second important topic was to prepare a camouflage gauntlet for the younger boys, but instead of hiding pipe cleaners in the land the Alevin would hide themselves!

Matt and Greg walked the boys along the trail taking the opportunity to go deeper into the Art of Camouflage.  We looked at how the trails and tracks left in the grass would give away our hiding spots to the careful observer.  We looked at dark places and light places and tried to learn how to obscure our outlines.  After a brief tour of the zone where we would hide, the Alevin and their mentors disappeared into the shrubs and grass and waited silently.  They waited and soon the arriving Grey Fox Kits could be heard playing in the creek and eventually gathering for their own opening meeting.  Eventually our waiting was over and the slow crunching of feet on gravel could be heard, sometimes only inches away!  The sound of the crow call signaled the end and explorers and mentors alike were comparing notes about who hid where and if they were seen.  The Alevin all added a little more experiance to their deepening knowledge of the Art of Camouflage.

The Alevin and Grey Fox Kits gathered in a huge circle and it was finally time to begin our service.  The boys ate their lunches and listened as Steve and Drew gave a brief introduction to the service tools and their usage.  Our tools are borrowed from the City of Bellingham as well as the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, so it was very important that we treat these tools with care, so that we can keep using them to restore this patch of Connelly Creek. 

The momentum to get to work was huge and the list of tasks for the day included: mulching down the reed canary grass, digging Himalayan Blackberry roots, cutting back blackberry canes and hauling them out to the trail, and cutting back the persistent Reed Canary grass.  With the perspective time the Alevin could clearly see how three seasons of work has begun to transform a small and forsaken corner of the park into a willow and alder thicket.  Our hope is that over the years explorers club will eventually come back to this spot and say, “Look at this land.  Once it was covered in trash and blackberries, and filled with shrubs and small trees!”

The comfortable rhythm of working outside and among friends quickly passed the time and it was time to hold our closing meeting.  Thanks were given for the Land, for service, for hiding and for Explorers Club.  With muddy shoes and boots we returned to the eagerly awaiting parents and siblings to share the stories of our day.

Thank you parents and family for your support.  We couldn’t do this important work without you!  Explorers thank you for stepping into a leadership role and stretching a new edge!  Check out the photo gallery here

We’ll see you for our grand finale outing on June 8th for a fantastic hike up to Pine and Cedar Lakes.  This will be our strong finish to a great season!