Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Gray Wolves: Fire and the wonder of wander; 4/14/18

The Gray Wolves are on the cusp of really engaging opportunities with the Boys Explorers Club. A few boys have begun, for instance, to learn to mentor younger boys through Wild Whatcom’s Explorers Mentors Apprentice (EMA) program. Summer backpack trips have and will provide the setting for them to put the wilderness travel skills we’ve been working on to use. And now, FIRE! 

We began our outing last Saturday with the tantalizing prospect of starting a fire without the aid of matches, lighters or other “modern” fire making tools. 

Next, along our short hike to the Larrabee State Park picnic area (chosen so as not to cause too much impact by making fires in open park areas), we searched for natural materials, primarily Western Hemlock branches, which are more likely to stay dry in our very wet spring weather, Truth be known, mentor Glen harvested more than the rest of us combined. Glen also provided “fat wood” to help ignite our bundle of jute cord, hemlock twigs and more.

Now for the true test. Using a ferrocerium rod, the Gray Wolves tried, and almost succeeded, to start their fire, without match or lighter, in a steady drizzle. They got a flame but couldn’t manage to convert it into a sustained blaze. Fair to say the Gray Wolves have a greater appreciation of the convenient tools we have now as well as a sense of how to manage without them. Check out the photo of the spark coming off the rod.

After that hard work, it was time for relaxation and celebration. So we used our lighter-ignited fire to cook “Pigs in a blanket”. Much laughing and high-spirited hi jinx followed.

We then hiked down to the beach for a good long stretch of timeless wandering. Saturday was special for the skills work, but also for the chance for your Explorers to, in the words of the good folks at Wilderness Awareness School, “Wander through the landscape without time, destination, agenda, or future purpose; be present in the moment; and go off-trail wherever curiosity leads. Unstructured time, wander, walk-about — during this timeless, unstructured play anything is possible and self-guided experience leads to wonder, curiosity and learning. There is nothing to accomplish, nowhere to go. By just being present in the moment, curiosity gently leads us wherever we go.”

There’s more work to be done around fire, but we made good progress on this outing. The culmination of our work and play this year will happen on our last outing this year. During our extended time at beautiful Racehorse Falls, we’ll get to combine shelter-building, cooking, fire-making and more. That all happens on Saturday, May 12, from 9:00 am ’til 4:00 pm. 

In the meantime, enjoy more photos from Saturday’s outing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Townsend's Chipmunks and Gray Wolves Team Up for Life & Death in the Forest!

It was a dark and rainy day, but that didn't stop two groups of Explorers from having a blast at Lookout Mountain!  The Townsend's Chipmunks and the Gray Wolves teamed up this past weekend for a big game of Life & Death in the Forest, a game which tested the Explorers' minds and bodies to the limit while also teaching them a bit about the natural balance of ecosystems.

Given the challenging weather conditions, it was no surprise that the boys were a bit subdued on arrival at the trailhead.  While temperatures weren't especially low, the volume of rainfall was obviously going to stretch the edges of comfort that day.  Luckily, everyone had come prepared with insulating and waterproof layers!  And, as an  added bonus, the mentors had time before the Explorers arrived to set up a couple of tarp shelters at base camp.

Dude, are you going to wear a rain jacket?

Thank goodness for tarps!

After getting settled in, the team circled up to learn about the game.  Life & Death in the Forest is probably the most complicated game we play in Explorers Club.  The course is set up ahead of time with bandannas marking the boundaries and, throughout the playing area, there are cards that show food sources and water sources.  Each player is assigned a role as an herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore and given specific instructions on what resources they need to survive.  Before time runs out, herbivores need to find five different food sources and four different water sources without losing all seven of their "lives" (lives are tracked by rubber bands worn around the wrist).  An herbivore loses a "life" when tagged by a hungry omnivore or carnivore.  Omnivores are a bit more complicated.  They need to find three food sources, four water, and also catch three herbivores.  Carnivores need to catch seven herbivores or omnivores for food and find four water sources.  Sounds simple, right?  Try explaining that to a big group of teenagers...

The discussion started like this...

...and ended more like this as the rain really got going.

Ultimately, the lesson we try to impart to the Explorers in this game is the importance of balance.  If the boys choose to allow too many carnivores, they quickly realize that there aren't enough prey animals to support the population.  Likewise, too many omnivores can lead to the same problem.  With this group, the Explorers' group discussions reached this conclusion pretty quickly and the game was better for it.  We saw a very high level of engagement in the game and it was a lot of fun listening in on some of the strategic planning.

High-speed pursuit

Where's Waldo?

If your Explorer was a bit worn out at the end of the day, he earned it!  The mentoring team was proud of the focus the boys showed in learning a tough game, the effort they put into playing, and the strong sense that these groups have learned to "Play with Honor", as we often say.

The long road home

Great Job Townsend's Chipmunks and Gray Wolves!

Check out our other pictures here!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Gray Wolves Learn Coal Blowing at Larrabee State Park

Arriving at Larrabee State Park on a beautifully sunny Sunday, the Gray Wolves were thanking their lucky stars to have an outing on one of the nicest days of winter thus far. Not only did they show up with an eager enthusiasm, but we also got to welcome a new group member and have an Explorer join us from another group. After getting to know each other a bit better during our opening circle and sharing our highlights from winter break, we jumped right into things.

Right off the bat the Gray Wolves were focused and ready to learn. Luckily we had an extensive topic to talk about: carving and coal-blowing spoons. Unluckily, the mentors were not anticipating such a promptness and eagerness to learn this skill and had to take a little bit of time to prep the materials while the Gray Wolves entertained themselves by starting up a game of “Where’s My Egg?” and searching for the best walking sticks. Not only were the mentors impressed at the focus the Gray Wolves brought from the get go, but their ability to adapt and make the most of things was also quite incredible. 

Settling in at the beach and picking out our carving stations

With materials prepped, a quick crow call got the group to gather up. Tim took some time to review the basics of carving, and talk a bit about what we will learn as we advance our carving skills. Today we got the opportunity to try out our first advanced carving task by taking a block of wood and carving it into a spoon. It sure does sound simple on paper, but once you begin working with the wood, getting to know the flow of the grain, identifying the knots that will take some extra attention, and just being able to visualize a spoon within the wood, there is suddenly a greater appreciation for something as simple as the humble spoon. 

Of course there is always time to play at the beach too

Talking as a group we decided to take our carving projects to the beach to maximize our time in the sunshine. Not only was it nice to get down by the water, but the rocks we usually climb around on served a new purpose as premium waterfront carving station. Hanging out at the beach alone could have made for a fantastic outing, but we had a lot left to do so after some lunch we rallied together and trekked back up to the fire pit to get our fire going. Tim took the opportunity of lighting the fire to introduce the Gray Wolves’ next skills focus; The Art of Fire. The first lesson will be using a kindling bundle of Western-Hemlock branches and a single match to start a fire. With plenty of sunshine and pre-prepped materials this task was a breeze, but on future outings when we aren’t so lucky things might get a bit more challenging.

Gotta get a fire going to make any coals!

After getting a fire going and demonstrating the importance of preparation, intentionality, and anticipation to properly process and organize your fuel it was time to transition to coal-blowing. With our initial “spoons” taking shape due to some expansive carving time, we were ready to transition to making the concavity. Being careful with our coals and remembering to be aware of those around us, the mentors extracted coals from the fire for the Gray Wolves. Placing the red hot ember on the wood and using a stick to press down on the coal, the Gray Wolves each began blowing steadily on the coal to increase the heat and transfer the heat into the spoon. After a few seconds the wood of the spoon began to heat up and become an ember in itself. After exhausting their coals, each Gray Wolf took some time to scrape out the charcoal on the concavity of the spoon and before they knew it their spoon was taking shape. This process must then be repeated until your concavity is sufficiently shaped to the coal-blower’s specifications.


As our outing was drawing to a close a younger Explorers Club group, the Black-Tailed Deer, showed up for their outing. There were definitely some familiar faces as this is the same group the Gray Wolves helped teach shelter building at Stewart Mountain a couple months prior. Today, however, the Black-Tailed Deer were beginning their journey in the Art of Carving. Interested in our spoons and the process of coal-blowing, we made a big circle around the fire and the Gray Wolves shared a bit about their projects and offered up some bits of advice that they thought would help the Black-Tailed Deer as they begin to learn the Art of Carving themselves. With just enough time for a closing circle to share some gratitude to end our day the Gray Wolves were whisked away by parents to head home smelling of campfire and with a new carving project in their packs.

Make sure to check out the rest of the photos from our outing here!

Talking with the Black-Tailed Deer about carving

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gray Wolves keep dry, make tea at Lookout Mtn. 11/12/17

This year for the Gray Wolves is marked by a strong skills focus. We’ve been working on wilderness travel (erecting shelters, finding and purifying water…) and the spring will see us working on building fires. It’s fun to see the boys pick up these skills. Just as important, however, is to observe their burgeoning self-reliance. 
At Lookout Mountain on Sunday, the mentors laid out the objectives during opening circle — set up tarp shelter/s and make tea. We then selected a Leader of the Day and tasked him with organizing the group to accomplish those goals. The group figured they needed to find a workable location first and, after consulting the trailhead map, decided to search along a creek so they’d have access to water for the tea (nice).
After a short hike, they found a spot creekside, but were unsure whether it satisfied their other needs such as sufficient space and a way to string up tarps. They circled up and decided to send scouting parties to check out a few locations and report back. After some spirited discussion and not a little compromise (motto) about the better site, we headed off to the selected location and began stringing tarp shelters. Their knot skills need some work, but after a bit they got two shelters erected. (We were fortunate in that the rain held off.)

As the second shelter was being constructed, mentor Glen coached a few Gray Wolves in the use of backcountry stoves and they started heating the water, which had been filtered from the creek and carried (> 5 minute walk) to the site.

The boys, and men, had tea with their lunch and we were ready for some games. Ironically, this is where their focus broke down. Spider’s Web lasted about 10 minutes and was simply abandoned; King of the Hill, with two teams of two, lasted longer and was marked by repeated exclamations of joy (and a broken pair of eyeglasses and a torn pair of rain pants).

With focus lost, we experienced a few minutes of loitering. Then one of the Explorers suggested a Sit Spot, with which mentors Glen and Brian eagerly agreed (wish I had thought of that).

A closing circle of thanks and a few games of Hide on the short hike out and we were finished. The mentors stretched the boys' edges (motto) with a few simple tasks and left it to their collective capabilities to make it happen. It went exceedingly well, from that perspective. Their skills still need work, but they rose to the challenge. It was gratifying to see.

We next meet at Larrabee State Park on Sunday, January 14, 10:00AM-3:00PM. Check out the rest of the photos from Lookout Mountain here.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Gray Wolves Lead Black-Tailed Deer in Shelter Building on Stewart Mountain

The Gray Wolves were set up for a unique outing as they arrived at Stewart Mountain. Unbeknownst to them, they were slotted to be working with a younger group, the Black Tailed Deer, and help them learn how to build debris shelters. We gathered together to play a game with both groups to get to know one another before hitting the trail.

Playing a big game of "All My Neighbors"
It felt like a massive amount of people to have out on the trail with both groups walking together and this set us up for an epic game of HIDE with both groups tucking away behind sword ferns and rotten logs. A bit further along the trail we found an area that had a bunch of downed trees from the trail work that had been going on this summer. With an abundance of downed materials available we decided this would be the perfect place to practice The Art of Shelter.

Getting started on our debris huts
Splitting up into two groups (each group made up of half Gray Wolves and half Black-Tailed Deer), we decided on locations to build our shelters and our shelter building “competition” was underway. Both groups were using the basic “debris hut” structure utilizing two “Y-Sticks” and a “Backbone” for an elongated tri-pod, then layered on “Ribs” to round out the frame. Next came the debris in which you need anywhere from 2-3 feet worth to stay properly insulated and waterproof. 

Adding more ribs

Starting to add debris

Finishing up the debris layer

After each group put their finishing touches on the shelter we took turns sharing our creations with the other group. We even had a “water test” where one member of each group bravely sat inside the shelter while a water bottle was poured over the top to test how weatherproof the shelter really was. Finally we said goodbye to the Black-Tailed Deer and were off on our own adventures for the rest of the day.

Testing shelter 1

Testing shelter 2
With not very much time left we decided to try and fit in a game of Spider’s Web. Although not everyone was interested in the game, we found plenty of other things to keep us occupied. While one mentor and half the group played the game, the other mentor hung out with the rest of the group who were all working on different tasks of interest. One Gray Wolf was interested in making an Atl-Atl (a primitive spear thrower) and a few others were practicing how to start a fire with naturally occurring materials and a ferrocerium, or ferro rod.

Playing Spiders Web

Learning to use the Ferro Rod

All in all we had a fun blend of getting to take on a leadership roles with the younger group as well as sit back and enjoy some free time in the forest without any additional responsibilities. It is always nice to see two groups work together, however, what really made the mentors happy was seeing how the Gray Wolves managed themselves when they had freedom to choose whatever they wanted. Playing Spider’s Web, carving Atl-Atls, and practicing fire starting skills demonstrated that these Gray Wolves truly earned their name and are no longer Pups. Today they were leaders, groupmates, friends, proactive in pursuing skills development, and had no problem making decisions as a group. It’s great to see all our hard work paying off and we are excited to see what new steps forward the Gray Wolves will take on their next outing.

Check out the rest of our photos from the outing here!