Wild Whatcom Blog


BEC: The Vespula Veterans Explore Ruth Creek Valley & Mt. Baker Wilderness

The Vespula Veterans arrived at Samish Woods Montessori with some mixed feelings about the gear they packed. The Mentors let the Explorers know a little secret, “No one is quite sure what to pack for spring weather in the North Cascades; a good practice is to pack for any type of weather.” Being Prepared for the journey is a skill that is up to the boys now. As we venture out ever further into the wilderness the boys are slowly starting to understand that they’re responsible for each other as a group and they need to take ownership in their preparation.

As Stubbs motored out Highway 542 the boys laughed and joked, excited to be in each other’s company. After an hour we turned off the Highway and onto Hannagen Pass Road. Winding down the gravel road we held our breath that it would be snow free until we reached Hannegan Trailhead, and with a little luck it was! Climbing out of Stubbs the group immediately gravitated towards a snow bank that covered half the parking lot. As Greg set down his pack a snowball whizzed over his head. Hearing the groups call the Mentors decided that is was best to just get the snowball fight out of the way.

After about ten minutes the Mentors called the group together and we gathered around a map of the area. Greg asked the group to find their exact location on the map. They did a pretty good job and with a little help were able to orient the map and get an idea of the terrain they were going to be heading into. Hannegan Pass is an area that is notorious for avalanches so it’s important that we have an idea of the landscape before heading out on the trail. This pre-trip planning at the wilderness trailhead junction will hopefully be the first of many for the Vespula Veterans. As Mentors we relish the opportunity to take these boys on extended backpacking trip.

Hiking down to Ruth Creek the Explorers marveled at the deep blues and greens of the freshly melted snow flowing over slabs of granite. The Mentors told the group to be careful, in the frontcountry falling into a creek does not have much consequence but in the backcountry it could mean life or death. Sitting on the river rocks the boys gazed up at Nooksack Ridge. What a dynamic area! The sun glistened off its snowfields as the runoff cascaded down the crumbling talus and scree fields. Remnants from large avalanches littered its lower flanks. At the ridges prominence stood Mt. Sefrit’s shrouded in cornices, crags and arêtes.

The Mentors explained that dynamic valleys like Ruth Creek demand our focus and awareness. Careful risk assessment and decisions-making skills are vital for safe exploration. Although the dangers are real we come to these places to gain inspiration and humility. We are reminded that we are not in control but merely subject to the landscape. The more interdependently we interact with the land the more we thrive.

Turing our focus East we signed into the Forest Service trail log and headed out. Hiking along the trail we passed through stands of ancient Hemlock, Fir, and Cedar. After about a quarter mile the group came upon some scat. Examining it the group concluded that it was Black Bear and relatively fresh. Greg, with some great tracking, found a bear trail running horizontal to ours and wondered if that’s where the bear was heading because we found no signs of tracks.

Continuing on we hiked alongside Ruth Creek for about a mile, admiring the abundant Trillium growing on the valley floor. We reached a large snowfield that covered the trail. Climbing up and across it the group looked at the carnage created by avalanches. Sub Alpine Fir and Alaskan Yellow Cedar debris littered the snow. It was an excellent opportunity for the boys to explore the inter-cambium layers of the ancient trees. They admired the crimson red color on the Cedars outer bark and its yellow heartwoods pungent smell of raw potatoes.

After some difficulty route finding on the other side of the field the group decided to turn upwards to explore the steep creek drainage on the valley walls below Granite Mountain. Kicking steps into the snow the boys climbed up until they reached a gully. Climbing alongside it the group caught the sweet smell of sage and marveled at the Wild Strawberries and vibrant Indian Paintbrush flowers. Resting at a knoll the group laid back and took in the view. This was a great opportunity for the group to take some self-care by glopping on sunscreen and dipping our bandanas in the cold gully water as we basked in the sun.

Looking at the clock it was time to start heading back, however this time we would not follow the trail. When we were ready the group navigated back by traversing the valley walls downwards towards the creek. As a team we bushwhacked through dense thickets of Sitka Alder and old growth log piles, eventually finding our way through large swaths of of ancient Hemlock rich with Oval Leaf Blueberries and Coyote scat.

Hiking back along the last leg of the trail the group was thankful for their experience and for the easy travel on the trail. Stopping before the trailhead the group held a closing meeting in the solitude of the wilderness. With only the sounds of wind and river the group gave thanks for the day. Giving gratitude for wilderness, companionship, fresh water, tenacious animals, mountains, and for adventure. The Mentors felt it an appropriate to share with the boys that just last weekend the Firestalker’s had graduated, making them the elders in the Explorers. This transition comes with a great deal of responsibility and opportunity. They now set the standards for the younger boys and will be stepping into Explorer Mentor Apprenticeships in the fall. They are not only responsible for the Mentoring of their peers but increasingly responsible for their own decisions. The wilderness mirrors the challenges that lie ahead. As the Vespula Veterans gain more independence they will not always have their parents and Mentors present to help them make decisions. In these times they will need to rely on their instincts, integrity, morals, critical thinking skills and peers to help them navigate the challenges and opportunities of adolescence and their newly discovered cultural wilderness. As Mentors we hope to continue making deep connections with them and offer our guidance as they mature into caring and whole males in their communities. We are also thrilled to spend four days with the Vespula’s in the Chuckanuts this summer!

A big thanks goes out to all the parents of the Vespula Veterans. We could not do it without your trust and support! We are grateful to have you and your families as part of our community. Don’t forget we will have a summer solstice gathering at Hovander Park on June 14th. You can find more details at the bottom of the Vespula Veteran’s spring page.

For more photos from the outing please visit the Vespula Veteran’s photo gallery


Red Tailed Eyas Learn Fire Basics at Galbraith Mountain

“And that is how coyote took fire from the Firekeepers and why we can find it in the trees,” Dave said as he ended the story. Parents, you can ask your Explorers how the rest of it went.

We'd like to thank Jordan for joining us as a volunteer for the day. Your presence was a nice guiding force for the boys.

The goal for the Red Tailed Eyas’ last outing of the spring season was to learn how to create and protect fire and to prepare the materials to harness it. So we avoided the gauntlet of dog poop and mountain bikers and found a protected nook on a ridge near the main trail. We dropped packs and Steve showed us the whole fire process. Whereas Explorers saw Steve light his first fire in November at Lake Whatcom, this time they paid more attention to the multiple steps.

But we can’t have fire without the right wood. And we can’t have the right wood unless we identify and harvest the best wood and have the tools to process it into a useful form. Fortunately, Mentors brought some milled alder and a saw. Explorers learned how to “baton” wood into good sizes. Please ask your Explorer if he had the chance to practice this skill.

While half of the group tried carving spindles out of red alder (rather difficult to do) the other half fell in love with a herd of tent caterpillars. Explorers in the Caterpillar Patrol collected a bunch of their wriggly friends and created living spaces for them. At one point boys sent them down the creek on leaves and other natural rafts.

Some boys needed a break from carving so they took to the forest of stinging nettle to make cordage. We harvested a couple of nettle stalks (and got zapped a couple of times!) and then boys began the process of making their own rope. The Caterpillar Patrol had finished their work with the tent caterpillars and had begun to set up the props for Spider’s Web. All boys wrapped up their projects and we gathered on the ridge to determine the boundaries of the game.

Suddenly we heard a snap, crash, and tumbling. We looked west to see a branch coming down the side of a huge Cottonwood Tree. Stunned and quiet, the group was nervous about going anywhere. Finally we decided that it might be a cool opportunity to check out the damage.

We were extra cautious as we approached the area and our awareness skills, especially our deer ears, became alert and ready for use. We spend years practicing awareness in our games and activities and when it was time to utilize the skill, the Red Tailed Eyas met the challenge. Well done, guys!

A huge old arm of a cottonwood branch had indeed come down. Wow. We saw how big and heavy it was and decided to change the boundaries of the game.  On the way back to the ridge, we found lots of cottonwood seed and some boys wisely picked up the cotton to keep for future “nesting” material in their fire kits. We also came across a dead and partially-eaten bird that we decided was probably a sapsucker or small woodpecker. Using our naturalist knowledge and some practical application, we determined who the killer might have been. Ask your Explorer if he remembers.

Spider’s Web was a great chance for everyone because the spider was very quick and the flies followed the rules. Sam, the spider, nearly won the game on a couple of occasions but the flies managed to escape and move the flag, impeding his victory. The game was drawing to a close when we heard, “Ewww, gross. Wow. Hey guys, you gotta see this!”

Explorers rushed down the hill to find Dave hovered over a dead and decomposing raccoon. Some boys were immediately repulsed and climbed back to their backpacks. Others took to wanting to study the carcass and eventually the top half of the skull came loose. We admired this animal and started the forensics process that we completed with the bird. We asked questions like: How did this animal die; what are possible predators; when might this have happened; and so on.

Of course we were late and we fit in a rapid circle of thanks as we held closing meeting. We hiked out having started the basics of fire and a great, early-summer day of exploring under our belts.

Thank you for a great season Red Tailed Eyas. It is always fun to be with you guys because you work so well as a group. Your leadership, following, and group process skills are incredible to watch. Thank you parents for supporting these boys and the program. We look forward to seeing you all at the Summer Solstice Gathering on June 14th from 5-7pm at Tenant Lake/ Hovander Park, at summer camps, and around town this summer.

Please see more pictures from this outing on the photo gallery. Have a great summer -- See you in the fall!


Daredevil’s Club Begins an Amphibious Transformation

“Whoa, what is that?” asked one Explorer. Another replied, “Dude, that thing is freaky-looking.”

It was amazing what some curiosity, a beautiful day, and a couple of dip nets can combine to create during the recent Daredevil’s Club outing, the finale for the spring season. We made it only 100 feet into Stimpson Reserve when we finally found a nice place to hold opening meeting and eat lunch.

Thank you Finnegan for stepping in as a mentor on this outing. It is no small task! And thank you Jordan for volunteering your day getting to know the program and the boys. You guys brought a fun and light energy to the group that was new and refreshing.

The DDC have had a roller-coaster season: a dark, rainy night on their first gathering; lots of deliberating and group process at Sehome Arboretum; a mixed showing of work and mentoring during the service outing. Finally, it was time to slow down, listen to others, and just explore. So that, we did!

First order of business was to discuss the rule on the sign we saw which states, “Stay on the trail.” Explorers knew they had to consider this because a lot of our work and exploration happens away from the trails. We discussed the importance of following rules and as developmentally appropriate (because it stemmed from the boys!) when it might be appropriate to break rules.

Boys thought they should just break rules when they want but mentors guided them towards the responsibility that comes with breaking rules. We referred to the Civil Rights Movement in this country during which young people performed sit-ins at lunch counters demanding equal service. Many of you parents are familiar with this “history” and the Daredevil’s Club is too.

We said that breaking rules to stand up for what is right can actually lead to hot coffee in the face and getting hit. Breaking a rule comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. Explorers didn’t say much but they sponged up the discussion from the best I can tell. It might make for a good dialogue between you and your boys as the summer progresses and they undoubtedly look to stretch their boundaries of responsibility.

With the seriousness aside it was time to explore in earnest. Dave brought out dip nets and containers and boys took to the first pond. We caught a bunch of samples and recognized many more without catching them. These include: an unidentified amphibian egg mass; a caddis fly; mayfly larvae, nymph and exoskeleton; frog tadpoles; different sizes of red-legged frogs (Rana aurora), and other “long, slimy, wriggling bugs.”

Walking deeper into the forest, Finn introduced us to Rattlesnake-Plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia) and to a native orchid in the area. Jordan pointed out Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) that was just breaking the surface. And then we dug for salamanders and sure enough Finn unearthed a Western Red-Backed Salamander (Plethodon vehiculum). Its name is deceiving because it has yellow-backing around these parts :)

Boys were ready for Spider’s Web to close out the day. Some Explorers were interested in walking onwards towards the other lake, so this presented us with an opportunity to sit in circle and come to an agreement about what to do. This has been an edge for the Daredevil’s Club all season. So, we engaged with this once again… and with some coaching from the Mentors, the group made a decision in only 10 minutes. Remember boys, sitting in a council circle with these tools will help you tremendously: an open heart, two carefully listening ears, and your patient voice. Well done!

We played a long round of Spider’s Web and practiced moving at the pace of the forest.  Then a great closing circle to wrap up the day and the season over some apples.

This was a great season Daredevil’s Club! Just as the egg hatches into a tadpole and then grows into a frog, you are also transforming into new forms. You have the playfulness of youth and you are also now taking on the questioning and boundary-pushing of young adolescence.  This transition is important and we recognize this growth in you. We look forward to exploring with you during summer camps, excursions, and in the fall season as well!

Thank you for Exploring so fully this season. And Parents, thank you for your support of these boys and this program. We appreciate the relationships with you, your boys, and your families.

Please join the Mentors and all the other explorers for a final gathering at Hovander Park to celebrate the beginning of summer. 

Please see more pictures in the photo gallery here. Enjoy the Sun!!! 


BEC: The Art of Harvest with the Gray Wolf Pups

The day began with coyote up to his usual tricks!  The mentors arrived anticipating the usual crowd of mountain biking enthusiasts at the South Lake Padden parking area, but were stunned to see a huge crowd of folks out for a fund raising ride for Bellingham’s local mountain bike club, WIMPS.  The heroes of the moment were without a doubt the explorers and their families who gracefully navigated the impossible parking lot to join us.

Boys Explorers Club founder Drew Butler joined us for our outing and it was great to have his botanical knowledge along for the day since our focus was on the Art of Harvest.  The boys and mentors conducted a comfortable opening meeting where we distributed the jobs for the day.  The mentors also shared the philosophy of the Art of Harvest with the boys.  We discussed how as explorers we use the idea of “never take more than 10%”.  We use this rule to make sure that we don’t take too much from a single plant or cluster of plants.  This ensures that the plant will provide food for the creatures who live in that forest, and provide the plant an opportunity to reproduce by not taking everything! We also shared how we leave the best so that the future plants might hold similar berries, which is always hard when you are staring at the perfect thimble berry.

Our harvesting in Explorers Club for much of the year has little to do with food plants.  We use plants for making fire, for constructing bow drill kits and, for carving projects.  In the summer we blessed with a bounty of delicious berries, but at south lake Padden they were all a few weeks away from being ripe.  The Boys and Mentors spent time looking at plants that had other uses than just food.  We looked at the Vanilla Leaf and Drew made a point to have all the boys smell it.  As begins to dry Vanilla lead emits a sweet vanilla like fragrance giving its other common name, "Sweet After Death."  This plant, hung in bunches, will help to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay.  We also looked again at how to find Douglas Fir stumps that contain “fatwood” and we tested an extremely wet piece from deep in a muddy rotting stump and it lit with a single match!

With our heads full of new information about plants and how to take responsibly from the land the boys headed off the trail and into a tangled patch of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees.  It was the perfect place to have some more food and water and play a couple of rounds of spiders web!  The boys were eager to show off their sneaking skill and after a long battle with Greg as the Spider they finally defeated him using their strength in teamwork.

With scratches and scrapes we gathered in a final circle to share stories from our game of spider’s web and give thanks.  The boys shared gratitude for the forest for providing a wonderful place to explore and play.  Without a moment to spare we bounded up over logs and around stumps and back to the trail to the parking area. 

Explorers, this blog entry marks the end of the Spring season for the Gray Wolf Pups.  You have been eager and willing to learn about the culture of Explorers Club and time and time again you have shown the mentors that you are a strong group!  The journey continues in the Fall where we will continue learning important skills for traveling in the land.  It has been an honor for the Mentors to serve you this Spring and we look forward to seeing you in the summer either in camps, around town or in the forest!  Thank you explorers so much or a wonderful season! 

Parents, thank you for your support and flexibility.  We know that your son’s lives are busy and we are grateful for the chance to work with them!  Please join the Mentors and all the other explorers for a final gathering at Hovander Park to celebrate the beginning of summer. 

Drew and Greg got carried away looking at plants and playing Spider’s Web and kept forgetting to take out the camera, so there are some photos in the gallery but not very many!  Do check them out here.

If your family needs a good field guide for western plants we would whole heartedly recommend Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Jim Pojar and Andy Mackinnon.  It is indispensible and contains a wealth of ethnobotanical knowledge!


BEC: Spring Tides and Spider’s Web with Salamander Efts

The Salamander Efts arrived at Clayton Beach trailhead ready to explore off-trail on Chuckanut Mountain. Circling up the Mentors shared the news that we would not be heading up towards the Chuckanuts, but instead we would be hiking down to the beach. The reason for the change was at 12:35pm there would be one of the lowest tides of the year and intertidal exploration would be at it finest. Mentors further explained that often we make a plan for the day but are always ready to give it up based on what the moment and environment offers.

Before we headed out we introduced two new Mentors to the group. Jake Ray is a part time Mentor and Peter Sundberg is a Volunteer Mentor, and both would both be joining us on our exploration. With Dave and Matt off in the Chuckanuts backpacking with another group and Greg at the grand opening of his wife Rebecca’s practice, Birthroot Midwives and Birth Center, it was the perfect opportunity for the boys to meet the new Mentors. As Mentors we firmly believe that exposing the boys to many Mentors within our community helps convey that there are many ways to be a healthy and caring male in the world.

We gave the floor to the Explorers and they handed out and explained our culture of jobs and safety to the new Mentors. With that we headed out, anxious to get down to the beach. After crossing the treacherous obstacle of Chuckanut Drive we found ourselves hiking down an old railroad grade. Looking at the landscape the Mentors called the group together for a game. In the game of Cougar Stalks Deer the Cougars stalk the Deer as it moves down the trail, but whenever the Deer’s eyes catch the Cougars moving he can send them back to the end of the line. Using the landscape the Cougars found a parallel trail on a ridge above the railroad grade. While the Cougars on the main trail distracted the Deer the Cougars on the ridge ran ahead and waited for their moment to ambush. In the end the Deer perished to the clever Cougars, what fun!

Arriving at the beach the group let out a cheer and we dropped their packs. Walking the mud flats the Explorers marveled at the exposed Eelgrass meadows and Clam beds. The Mentors took a moment to mention that it was important that we watch our step because many of the intertidal organisms are hidden just below the mud and grass. It was apparent to see how abundant and complex the intertidal ecosystem is in the Salish Sea.

As we roamed I could hear Explorers calling from all over “Check this out!” and “Whoa, over here!” Using all our senses we investigated and found that the diverse invertebrates littering the beach all had unique coping strategies and adaptations for staying cool and wet while the tide was out. Getting down close to the mud and sand we observed that some organisms hid while other closed themselves inside their shells. One of the most exciting finds of the day was the rare Hooded Nudibranch gliding gracefully through the Eelgrass meadow.

Once we had had our fill we lounged and ate on the Chuckanut Sandstone basking in the sun. As Mentors we covet the down time in outings because it is a wonderful chance for us to connect one on one with the boys and see what is going on in their lives. Cultivating a personal relationship with each boy gives Mentors the ability to track their growth over time and allows us to help them work though their challenges and find their powers and gifts.

After lunch some boys spotted each other as they climbed on boulders and others felt inclined to teach Peter the important Explorers Club game of Hide! Peter did quite well for his first round by lying behind a blind of Honeysuckle and Snowberries, but the keen eye of the seeker eventually spotted him. After a few more rounds the Mentors called the group together and we circled up on the sand. During lunch a few of the Explorers had expressed interest in playing a game called Spider’s Web and others wanted to stay at the beach. Conflicts of interest arise naturally during outings and they are an excellent opportunity for Mentors to hand their facilitation power over to the boys so that they have ownership in the process and outcomes. Our Tribal Elder for the day has the job of facilitating the groups’ decision-making process during the outings. The Tribal Elder guided them through the process: deciding what questions needed to be asked, brainstorming ideas, evaluating the solutions, making a decision and checking in, and finally compromising with those who still disagree. Wow! The Salamander Efts are quickly becoming confident and versed with this vital life skill for working together amongst community members.

Coming to a compromise the group decided to spend a few more minutes at the beach and then to head out. Before crossing the tracks we listened for trains and sure enough we heard one off in the distance. Moving well out of the way the group watched the train thunder by. The Mentors take road and track crossings very seriously and for good reason. Mentors reminded the group that this navigation skill is also very transferable for crossing obstacles on our backcountry trips this coming summer.

Hiking back the group dropped into a lush valley full of second growth Cedar and head high Sword Fern. Circling up a few of the Explorers explained Spider’s Web to those who had never played before and boys got to setting up the course. This Spider’s Web location is one of the Mentors favorites because of the creek that intersects through the center of the valley making it challenging. Jake was chosen to be the Spider and through his keen awareness and vantage point was able to hold the flies back from the food source for quite a long time. In the end through teamwork the flies came out victorious by capturing the food source.

Calling the group back in we debriefed the game and shared our camouflage and stealth strategies. When we had finished Jake called the group to do a sit spot. Spreading out over the land the Explorers got quiet and lied back in the sun and moss as they listened to the land. After about fifteen minutes the group came back in and shared what we had observed while passing around apples.

We had just enough time for a closing meeting and a round of thanks. The boys gave thanks for the tides and Clayton Beach, for the chance to explore with friends, for the sound of rushing water and smell of healthy forests, for the chance to carve and climb, and for Spider’s Web. The Boys EC Mentoring Team would like to thank all the parents for their support this season and to the Salamander Efts for stepping into deepened leadership within their own group and amongst the younger Explorers on their service day.

Don’t forget we will have a summer solstice gathering at Hovander Park on June 14th. You can find more details at the bottom on the Salamander Eft’s spring page. Also, if you haven’t already check out the summer camp and excursion offerings for the Salamander Efts.  

For more pictures from the outing please visit the photo gallery!


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