Wild Whatcom Blog

Wednesday
Mar252015

BEC: Gray Wolf Pups Learn The Art of Carving at Clayton Beach

Kicking off the Spring 2015 Boys Explorers Club Season, the Gray Wolf Pups reunited for an exciting exploration of Clayton Beach. We gathered in the parking lot before cautiously crossing Chuckanut Drive and escaping off into the safety of the forest. The boys were eager to hit the trail and almost left the mentors in the dust! Nothing a little crow call couldn’t fix. Without missing a beat the boys gathered up and found a nice opening off trail to set up our opening circle.

In our first opening circle of the season we handed out the usual jobs that help us explore; front scout, back scout, tribal elder, medicine man, earth keeper, Totally Terrific Toilet Paper Person (aka TTTPP), Knowledge Keeper, and a few others.  We also got a chance to check out the brand new knives that SOG Knives donated to us! The mentors took a moment to give some thanks for the generous donation from SOG Knives & Tools. Last week SOG donated a set of thirteen high quality fixed-blade carving knives to the EC. On behalf of the Explorers Club the mentoring team would like to thank Chris Cashbaugh and Nando Zucchi at SOG’s marketing team, and the rest of the staff at SOG Knives for reaching out to Lisa Meucci and making this donation a reality.  Thank you for supporting our Explorers. Our cups truly overflow with gratitude! But before we could use the knives, it was clear that the Gray Wolf Pups had way too much pent up energy so it was time for some games.

We played a few rounds of Poison Dart Frog and Head Honcho sharpening our observational awareness before hitting the trail and heading down to the beach to catch the low tide. Quickly making our way down through the forest we soon encountered our second big hazard of the day: the train tracks. Once we were all together and ready to cross the boys made sure to be completely quiet for a few seconds (a rarity in Explores Club) and listen for a train. With the coast clear we crossed and were scampering around on the sandstone rock faces in no time.

At the beach the boys finally had space to let their energy out. Whether it was climbing on the sandstone, stealthily scurrying along the ridgeline, or poking around at the shells and sand dollars, the beach always has something for each boy to get lost in. We spent a good amount of time lost in free play, mixed in a few rounds of Otter Steals Fish, checked out a cool driftwood fort, and culminated with an epic session of pinecone tag that had mentor and explorer alike ducking and diving cones like they were in the Matrix. Finally we had gotten the wiggles out and were ready to trek back up into the woods and begin our journey with The Art of Carving.

About halfway up the trail we revisited a wonderful downed Western Red Cedar that had a perfect chunk of seasoned wood protruding for us to harvest and use for carving. As one of the mentors sawed away the boys gathered up and discussed the importance of tracking your energy while maintaining a calm yet focused demeanor for carving. These boys had already proven their ability to safely use sticks as tools and how to respect blood circles, but knives are so powerful that it takes a deeper, stronger focus than they have ever used in Explorers Club before. Next we covered some of the more basic safety logistics of working with knives; how to properly unsheathe/sheath a knife, how to check your blood circle and maintain awareness of others’, how to hold your knife and carve in a safe and controlled fashion away from your body, what posture and positioning you need to ensure personal safety and safety for others. The Gray Wolf Pups showed a tremendous focus and ability to comprehend the guidelines showing they were ready. Time to get our blades into the wood.

For over an hour the boys sat and carved away chatting amongst one another. Despite the occasional outburst of laughter or flurry of activity, the boys all maintained quality knife safety practices and reaffirmed their readiness for The Art of Carving. The mentors took time to travel around from boy to boy and offer helpful tips and pointers in regards to the greater intricacies of handling a knife and carving. Both were impressed at the explorer’s readiness to learn and eagerness to improve their skills. But alas, some of the boys managed to develop a waning interest in carving and quickly organized a session of Hungry, Hungry Martin. Not all of the boys wanted to play and some remained deeply focused on their carving projects, impressive mental fortitude for boys of their age after nearly an hour and a half of focused carving.

With our blades sheathed and tucked away for the day, carving projects in hand, it was time for our closing circle. The Gray Wolf Pups were reminded by the mentors of the importance of closing circle, and the level of respect and attention they must give to one another as they share their gratitude for the day. Not only is it important to reflect upon our outings and recall what stood out as particularly fun or exciting, but it is also important to express gratitude for those good times in addition to all that allowed for those good times to be had. Gratitude was given to the forest and the beach, the wood from the downed cedar that we carved, the knives that were donated by SOG Knives, the wonderful companions we shared the outing with, and even the apple slices that we were munching on during closing circle. What a wonderful way to kick off the Spring season and exciting journey through the Art of Carving for the Gray Wolf Pups.

Make sure to check out all the other photos that didn't make it in the blog in the Gray Wolf Pups photo gallery!

Wednesday
Mar252015

BEC: Roosevelt Elk Calves navigate Whatcom Falls Park

 Under drizzly skies Tim and I found shelter under the immense branches of a spruce tree in whatcom falls park. We didn’t have to wait long for the excited explorers to show up. It is always such a pleasure to see the boys excited no matter the weather, and their excitement is contagious enough to make me forget the weather as well. Happily we waited in the rain talking and sharing stories from our Winter season. Soon we had all the Explorers and headed into the woods.

 Without fail the huge stone bridge that crosses Whatcom creek stops every group that goes over it. We hung our heads over watching the mesmerizing splash of water hitting rocks. We spied several birds flitting along the fringe of water and air. We made our way toward the slope that ran down toward the creek. Before making our way out onto the rocks that skirted the creek we stopped the boys to have a quick conversation about the hazards of going close to the creek on a wet day such as this. The boys raised eachothers awareness to the fact that the rocks were slippery from the rain and that we should not get too close to the edge or move too quickly while on the rocks. Sometimes all it takes in these moments is to slow the boys down enough to make good risk management decisions based on their own observations.

 We scrambled up a steep hillside and moved off trail and into the thick undergrowth where the Roosevelt Elk Calves are most at home. At the top of this hill the boys were immediately drawn to the giant root ball of an upturned Douglas Fir. The tree had left a deep depression in the grown with the roots reaching a good ten feet above this hole. Quickly the Roosevelt Elk Calves began laying sticks on the roots to create a fort. Though not quite a fully insulated and waterproof earth shelter like we had made in our fall season it was cool to see the boys using the same basic skills we had learned with shelter building to turn this root ball into a fort.

The boys continued to work on the fort; laying bark shingles over it, creating doors and other features, and using their creativity to turn this upturned root into a very cool fort. Afternoon like this where the whole group is collaborating on one project and using their creativity and imagination are truly magical to witness.

 

The Fort construction reached it’s peak so the group shifted gears. The Earth skills focus for our season is Navigation and particularly navigating without the aid of maps or compasses. This skill is an empowering one and can allow us to travel deeper into the woods we love to explore. The boys gathered as Tim and I began to explain Songlines (an old navigation technique) to the boys. We split into two groups intending to each make up our own songline then share ours with the other group in hopes of retracing eachothers steps.

After about twenty minutes we met back up ready to take navigate each others songlines. It was a great activity full of laughter and fun. Some of the Songlines the boys made up were very poetic with rimes and clever word choice to describe the landscape. Parents, next time you are out hiking with your Explorers ask them to teach you how to do a songline you will be both impressed by their navigation skills as well as their ability to rhyme and creatively explain their environment.

After the Songlines we gathered to have our closing circle and share our thanks and apples. The Roosevelt Elk Calves did a great job collaborating and making group decisions it has been really great to see this group grow together even in the course of just a few seasons. As always thank you explorers for your continual energy and curiosity and thank you parents for your support every season. Make sure to check out our photo gallery for more pictures!

 

Wednesday
Mar252015

BEC: The Branch Hopper's Carve and Explore at Clayton Beach

The Branch Hoppers arrived at the Clayton Beach parking lot excited to reunite and reconnect. Once they had all arrived we circled up and passed out jobs.  The mentors explained to them that in the spring our Earth’s alignment with the sun and moon brings extremely low tides, and that today at 1:00pm would be the lowest for the day. But before we headed down to the beach we needed to go over a few things and make a few introductions. Bryce and Julian Lutz, who were joining from the Grey Fox Kits, introduced themselves and Sam Mallet made the group aware of his needs in trying to navigate the outing on a mending broken ankle. The mentors then took a moment to give some thanks for a generous donation the Explorers Club had received from SOG Knives & Tools. Last week SOG donated a set of thirteen high quality fixed-blade carving knives to the EC. On behalf of the Explorers Club the mentoring team would like to thank Chris Cashbaugh and Nando Zucchi at Sog’s marketing team, and the rest of the staff at SOG Knives for reaching out to Lisa Meucci and making this donation a reality. Thank you for supporting our Explorers, our cups truly overflow with gratitude. 

After making a plan for how we would help Sam, the group crossed Chuckanut Drive and descended down into the lush coastal forest. The boys quickly ran over to a trail that led to an epic location where we had previously played games of Spider’s Web. After some trail assessment the group determined that it was not an ideal trail for Sam and instead decided to head down towards the beach. We hadn’t made it more than five minutes before some boys ran off the trail to climb on a steep hillside. Their play quickly manifested into a pinecone battle, which is quite typical of this time of year due to the abundance of Douglas fir cones. After letting the group decompress for a while, the mentors called the group together to try and focus their energy with a game. Circling up we played a few rounds of Head Honcho and Poison Dart Frog. After we had had our fill the mentors handed the circle over to our Tribal Elder for the day, in order for him to help facilitate a discussion on how we could use our time wisely on this outing.

Calling the group together the Tribal Elder tried his best to hold the circle and facilitate the discussion, but the boys continued to squirrel out. After ten minutes the mentors reigned in the group and again the Tribal Elder began. Within five minutes the group was in agreement that they would head to the beach to explore and carve.

As mentors we continuously track our mentees personal growth over time, asking ourselves where is the power in their challenge and the challenge in their power. For the Branch Hoppers their challenges lies in the ability to hold their focus in the process of group decision-making. On outings their personal frustrations and challenges often stem from lack of cohesion and engagement with their own interpersonal communication and desire to explore their own interests. Their power in this challenge will come with practicing this process and skillfulness in reading group dynamics. The Branch Hoppers are well on their way towards learning how to work and make decisions as a community.

Heading down the trail to Clayton Beach signs of spring were all around: flowing creeks bursting with recent rain fall, nettle and fiddlehead shoots breaking their way through the soil, Salmonberry and Big Leaf Maple flowers blossoms, and the beautiful and varied shades of green throughout the landscape. With some team work the group arrived at the beach and spread out over the land.

The low tides allowed for exploration into the rocky near shore intertidal zone and sand dollar beds. About half the group sat down on a smooth patch of Chuckanut Sandstone and got to carving some of the seasoned Cedar driftwood they had gathered while the rest of the group continued to explore and climb. The mentors our still holding to the intention set back in fall that the group all carve spoons and butter knives for this summers camp. Explorers, this is going to take some work, but don’t forget to work on some of these utensil projects at home. Parents, these Explorers showed a great deal on of care and consideration while using their knives. They respected their blood circles, sheathed their knives while walking, and practiced proper form and technique. The Branch Hoppers are taking the group’s commitment to use their knives as tools vs. weapons to heart. If you have any questions about our knife culture, safety, and technique when working with your Explorer(s) at home please feel free to contact a mentor or visit our EC Knife Use: Safety, Skills & Selection page.

Putting our knives away the group circled up to play a few round of Otter Steals a Fish. In order to play this game one needs a sandy beach and a lot of agility. The boys showed great honor while playing and accepted their defeats with dignity and really got into the spirit of healthy competition. We laughed and played together as the sun came out and reflected off the clouds, lighting up the water as though we were looking at a tropical reef. Ending our game we spread out over the beach for a sit spot. Silently we watched the sun’s light pierce through the clouds as three Bald Eagles carefully watched a group of Buffleheads fish for invertebrates in the Eelgrass Beds, it was spectacular.

Circling up for a closing meeting the group reflected on just how magical this location is. Passing around apples the boys gave thanks for the opportunity to carve and roam the beach. Branch Hoppers thank you for a strong start to our spring season and for answering the call to work with help fellows Explorers.

For more pictures from our outing please visit the Branch Hopper’s photo gallery

Tuesday
Mar242015

BEC: The Vespula Veterans Explore Pt. Whitehorn

A beautiful sunny sky greeted the Vespula Veterans.  They were eager to reconnect after a long winter’s separation.  Our community welcomed a new member, Xavier who brings new energy, perspective and knowledge to our group.  Once all had arrived we piled into Stubbs and headed north to Pt. Whitehorn--The decibel level increasing with each mile!

When Stubs rumbled to a stop in the parking area the boys dropped their packs and scattered into the vast prairie that boarders the park and the BP refinery complex.  They ran and splashed through the tall grass and sedge embodying joy.  A simple crow call and some arm waving by mentors Steve and Greg brought them into begin our season’s first opening meeting.  We distributed jobs and though the excitement was high to get on our way, the Vespula’s briefly explained the culture of jobs and shared responsibility to our newest group member.  Once our kit had been dispersed we set off towards the beach.


The boardwalk takes a circuitous route through a wooded area before it descends a bluff to the beach.  The forest here is subtly different that many of the places we explore.  The primary trees are Sitka Spruce, Red Alder, Paper Birch and Bitter Cherry.  The understory is thick with huge Red Elderberry, and Salmonberry thickets.  The edge of the forest is marked by Pacific Madrone reaching out over the edge of the bluff hanging into space.  Portions of peeled bark litter the steep path to the beach.  The cobbles moderate our pace, as does the tide height.  Next to a huge beach log we drop our gear and eat some lunch.

The opportunities to explore the intertidal area are still rich despite not having a very low tide.   The boys examine crabs, anemones; discover Gunnel fish, and snails.  The Afternoon’s sun and the slight breeze make for a perfect spring day (despite it still actually being winter)!  Rocks are removed and replaced carefully, the Vespula have cultivated a deep respect for life during their journey. 

Steve and Greg called the boys in for a brief story before inviting everyone to have sit spot beside the Pacific Ocean.  Sun warmed cobbles and rocks made for cozy places to sit and observe the lapping waves and wheeling gulls.  Upon returning from the Sit spot, Steve and Greg introduced the first component of the season’s skill focus: the Art of Backpacking, but since most of the skills are completely transferable to other methods of wilderness travel we will probably be referring to it as the Art of Wilderness travel.  Our focus this day was on the safer operation of the MSR Wisperlight stove, which we will be using at each outing this season.  The most important part is to set up a kitchen zone to eliminate the hazard of spilled pots and burned feet.  Then we learned the names of all the parts of the stove and how to set it up in order to light it.  Once the long flames of the priming cup had diminished we opened the fuel valve and heard the familiar whispering of the stove.  We set a large pot of water on it to brew a pot of tea.

While the water was heating up the boys were able to do several things.  Some practiced their fire by friction skills, and others were building with logs down the beach.  Eventually the tea was brewed and offered to the explorers.  After a few more fire by friction attempts we finally called the remaining boys in for our closing meeting.  During our meeting we discussed the four shields model again (we discussed it at our winter gathering as it related to wilderness travel).  The Vespula Veterans decided that this outing was dominated by the south.  There was lots of free exploration and a playful energy to the day (Ask your sons to elaborate on what they remember about what each direction embodies in a wilderness trip).  We gave our thanks for the ocean, beaches, birds, sunshine, rocks and fellow explorers on the beach enjoying our tradition of passing apple slices as each person offers their thanks before the group. 

As we packed up our gear, someone called HIDE! and unfortunately one of the boys ended up hiding in some very wet clay.  His rubber boot was buried and stuck up to the top and nearly submerged.  Fortunately some persistent tugging and it was free.  We ambled back up the bluff trail and through the forest and piled back on Stubbs.  Spirits high, but all somewhat tired from the sun and wind on our faces. 

Thank you all for a wonderful start to the season!

Tuesday
Mar242015

BEC: The Alevin Explore North Lake Samish Trail

The Alevin met at North Lake Samish Trailhead geared up to weather a storm, the forecast called for high wind and rain. The mentors watched the wind in the early morning and had their doubts about our ability to explore anywhere but near the lakes edge. The Alevin however were not alarmed, over their years in the BEC they’ve learned how to be prepared and act preventatively. Circling up the boys handed out jobs and worked on orienting to the landmarks around in order to determine the four cardinal directions. The group was excited to explore this new location and their excitement only increased as the wind slowly died down and the rain subsided to a drizzle.

Gathering our strength we hiked for a half an hour straight up the power line clearing, climbing from what we determined topographically to be about 600ft in elevation. As we climbed up the group called attention to all the signs of spring alongside the clearing; the smell of fresh rain, the sounds of Robin songs and flowing creeks, the nettle and fiddlehead shoots, Salmonberry and Current flowers blossoms, and the beautiful and varied shades of green bringing life back to the landscape. At the top of the clearing the group looked a little overheated and paused to rest in the wonderful breeze. Peeling off layers the mentors stressed to the group the importance of regulating the moisture that builds both inside and outside of our rain layers in the Pacific Northwest’s humid climate. Many of the Alevin Explorers will be backpacking this summer and experience with the intricacies of staying warm and dry in sustained inclement weather is powerful knowledge. Taking the time to let your inlayers vent can be the difference between being cold or warm.

We ate lunch looking out over the vista at Alger Alp and Skagit Valley, what a view! After we were fueled, the boys circled up and the tribal elder helped to facilitate a great decision on how to best use our time and where to navigate next. To our west lied mixed logging land that climbed towards Pine and Cedar lake and to our east a another view point that required a challenging route of snaking trails. The group opted to head west and find a location to play Spider’s Web. Leaving the power line clearing we pushed our way through a crowded grove of Douglas Fir until the forest opened up. The boys looked at each other, confused, trying to decipher what kind of landscape they had just entered. The mysterious patch of forest had a thick canopy but its trees had dead limbs underneath. It was full of scorched trunks, massive stumps and hardly any ground cover or shrubs.

The group quickly decided that this would be a great location for Spider’s Web. The mentors would like to commend the Alevin for their sportsmanship and ability to play with honor. The course proved to be quite difficult and without underbrush to hide behind the boys were continuously caught by the spider. Giving it their best effort they used the challenge as an opportunity to grow. This group would not have had the same reaction two years ago. Throughout the outing it was clearly communicated to the mentors that these boys are willing to step into the leadership needed to meet the challenges of wilderness trips as well as the challenges of working in a community. The Alevin are able to: self regulate, hold each other accountable, focus their energy, think preventively, care for each other’s safety both physically and emotionally, and meet their challenges with acceptance and patience.

After our game the group circled up to delve into our Earth skill for the season, the Art of Backpacking. The mentors focused the day’s lesson on getting to know our MSR Wisperlight backpacking stoves. Together we learned to safely set-up a backcountry kitchen, cook efficiently, and how to conserve fuel. After going through each stove component the group learned how to pressurize the fuel tank and get the stove running with the correct temperature.

Throwing on a pot of tea water the group worked on carving projects while our peppermint tea brewed. As we sipped tea we cleaned up our project and about half the group decided to play another round of Spider’s Web while the rest continued to carve. Within a few minutes the Spider had all the flies on his web and our energy scattered, so the mentors called the group together for a sit spot.

Spreading out over the land the boys got quiet. As we sat the gentle breeze blew through the trees as it traveled across the mountains, created a rising and falling whirl as it passed through. It’s moments like these that remind us just how truly magical our home is. It’s the land where the sea and mountains meet, where wild spaces are just outside of our backyards, where adventure is at our fingertips, and the power of the wildland’s resilience and mass are apparent.

Calling the group back in the boys looked more settled. Sharing our sit spot stories the group really seemed to be fascinated with the mystery and history of this patch of woods. They brought up excellent tracking questions: how did fire that scorched the trees start? How long ago trees had been patch been logged? What wildlife lives in a mixed use for such as this one? What type of trees did the stand primarily consist of? How many hours it would take to traverse to Pine and Cedar? For the Explorers it is this type of questioning that opens their eyes, that takes them outside of themselves, that help them reflect and slow down, and begins to build in them that overall appreciation for everything in this life. Their engagement and fascination in the natural history of the local environment demonstrates their deep relationship and connection with the land.

We shared a powerful circle of thanks before heading back down the power line clearing. Needless to say the Alevin will be revisiting this location next fall season! The mentors would like to thank Logan for volunteering and continuing his journey this spring season in the Art of Mentoring as an Explorers Mentor Apprentice. Debriefing on our day with Logan we shared our excitement for the Alevin Explorer’s awaiting adventures. This group demonstrates the responsibility and leadership needed to begin to navigate both the physical and cultural wilderness that awaits them!

For more pictures from the outing please visit the Alevin’s photo gallery