Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pine Martins explore Samish Park

I am constantly amazed by all of the incredible areas we have for exploring our natural world.  It seems that every week I am fortunate enough to explore a new area.  February 11 with the Pine Martins was one of those days.  I was lucky enough to join them on an adventure to Samish Park.  I had never been there before and it was so fun to explore with them. 

opening circle

We met in the parking lot of Samish Park and found a nice grassy area to have our opening circle.  We passed out jobs and talked about some of our favorite animals and discussed their “nature superpowers.”  After a brief discussion we headed out, and immediately started hiking up and up. 

Samish Park is 26 acres of forested land tucked in the Chuckanuts on the North end of Lake Samish.   The hiking is steep, and there are a number of streams running down the hillside. The Pine Martins were witness to some pretty cool waterfalls and got to work out some strong hiking muscles.  The Explorers did great.  

Great place for a snack

About half way up we took a nice break on a huge rock jutting out from the hillside.  The Pine Martins collaborated and compromised on whether they wanted to continue on the trail or take a more direct route to the top, up the right-of-way.  They decided as a group to hike the trail for a couple more switchbacks then to finish the hike by taking the pipeline clearing. 

Strong hikers!

When we reached the top of our hike we set up a nice basecamp and went about exploring the area and setting up some firm boundaries for the explorers.  Some of the boys found a great area for spider’s web, and we had a really fun and challenging game with the entire group.  

The food source!

After our game of spider’s web, we circled up for some lunch and introduced tracking to the Pine Martins.  As a group we talked through some basics and why it is a skill we teach.  We then broke up into two groups and played a really fun tracking game.  The first group waited at base camp for 15 minutes, while the second group hiked out towards the parking lot.  After the allotted time the first group then tracked the second group to their hiding place.  We then switched roles.  The Pine Martins met this tracking game with tons of enthusiasm and humor.  We all realized just how difficult tracking is.  Especially when there are lots of old tracks in the area.  

Which way did they go?

The outing was ended with a very respectful closing circle.  Thanks Pine Martins for a great day exploring. To view more photos from this outing click here.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Pine Martens Finish the Art of Navigation with Collaboration and Celebration

Following the Pine Martens off-trail near Pine and Cedar Lakes
One of the most powerful aspects of our Explorers Club program is the amount of voice and choice that Explorers have in terms of determining where we go and how we spend our time on outings. Our Art of Navigation curriculum, the earth skill that the Pine Martens have been working on this fall/winter, is typically introduced early on in an Explorers Club group's tenure as it introduces tools that will allow groups to effectively use their voice to choose.

The technical skills of navigation (cardinal directions, awareness, orientation, recognizing landmarks, etc.) are not always easy to learn, but are somewhat straightforward. As Explorers Club groups practice the Art of Navigation, they are also honing their circular leadership and decision making skills. The deeper skill of collaborating, compromising and coming to a consensus about a decision (where to go, what to do) as a group is harder to teach and therefore best learned through practice. We intentionally spend a whole season working on and practicing the technical and interpersonal skills that are required for decision making because these skills will now be used in virtually every one of their outings going forward. Of course, Explorers will always continue to hone and refine these skills; learning the fundamentals of these skills early on makes this possible.

For their first outing of 2018, the Pine Martens met at the Pine and Cedar Lakes trailhead. As we gathered under a typically drizzly winter sky that morning, the Pine Martens wanted to know,  "Will we hike all the way up to the lakes or spend our time exploring other parts of this lush forest?" The answer was, as you likely guessed, "the Pine Martens must decide!"

At our opening circle, we welcomed a new member to our group; Chris! Chris brings a wealth of varied experience working with children in the outdoors in addition to his own outside adventures. The Pine Martens gave him a warm welcome and, upon discovering that he had never played Spiders Web before (how is that even possible?!) excitedly anticipated teaching him how to play today!
Hi Chris!

The Pine Martens were then handed a map and told that, for their last outing of the Art of Navigation earth skill, they were in charge of where to go and what to do. This time, there was no "x" on the map that they needed to attempt to find. They could place their own "x" or choose to meander and see what they run into. Of course, any decision that they made would need to be a consensus, but the mentors committed to following their passion for the day. 

At the conclusion of our opening circle, the Pine Martens decided to get moving along the trail for a few minutes to get some blood pumping and see what was out there. After a break for a snack, they would get together, revisit the map, and choose how to spend the remainder of the day.

This is far enough, lets take a break and get some food in us!

Today, the Pine Martens truly wandered. They followed their curiosities and held solid decision making circles that ensured that all voices were heard and that consensus was reached before acting. We discovered some fungi that we had never seen before, led each other on treasure hunts, found an awesome off-trail area, and, of course, taught Chris how to play Spiders Web. See the pictures below for some snapshots of our day.

A rare bright yellow color in our typically green and brown woods

How many species of fungi can you find in this picture?

Making decisions; a circle is the first and most important tool
These Pine Martens utilized S.T.O.P. to decide how to best cross this log

This looks like a great spot for Spiders Web!

At our closing circle, we felt our cups overflow as we shared gratitude in a practice of thanksgiving. We also looked ahead toward our next earth skill focus, the Art of Tracking, which we will begin on our next outing together!

The Pine Martens prepare to share some gratitude

Please see the rest of the photos from our day together here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Pine Martens Complete Navigation Challenge #2 as They Traverse the Padden Gorge Trail

The Pine Martens didn’t know it until we all met last Saturday, but they were the first group to ever do the Padden Gorge Traverse in BEC history! We would be accessing a different area of the park than we normally did when we met at Lake Padden; what would we find over on the west side of the park? Our earth skill for this season is the Art of Navigation and this new area would provide us a great place to learn about and practice our navigation skills.
Lots of English ivy on this Western Red Cedar

Before we could even get to our opening circle, the Pine Martens spotted a nemesis of forests around the Pacific Northwest - English ivy! We decided that we should spend a few minutes doing what we could to help free a big cedar tree from a huge English ivy plant that wrapped its trunk and reached into its canopy. We have seen the damage that invasive plants had caused at our Connelly Creek Service Site and we decided to try to put a stop to this English ivy before it spread all over this forest. The mentors used the saw and the explorers used their hands as we worked together to help this big cedar tree find some room to grow again.
Conor uses a saw to cut one of the massive English ivy vines wrapping the trunk of this Western Red Cedar

Feeling good about the work that we had just done with the English ivy and the cedar tree, we sat down for our opening circle. The mentors helped us remind ourselves about what our earth skill was for the season and what we did on our last outing. We remembered that on our last outing, at Lookout Mountain, we had completed a navigation challenge.

Today our challenge was similar, but with a twist. This was not a traditional ‘out and back’ outing, but rather a traverse. We reminded the Pine Martens that, since it was a traverse, we would not be retracing our footsteps. This meant that taking care of our gear and making sure that we kept all of our stuff organized in our packs was important. Another difference between our last navigation challenge and this one was that there was no real x on the map. We knew that we would need to be at the dog park for pick up at 3:00pm, but other than that we got to decide how we wanted to spend our day and where to go! With that, the mentors passed out the maps, stepped back, and followed the Pine Martens through the woods.
This is the same map that we handed to the Pine Martens

The Pine Martens ended up meandering up the gorge to Lake Padden, exploring some interesting man made hydrological structures and then finding some cool off trail zones. Eventually, after lots of time hiking and decision making as a group, we decided that we wanted to sit down, eat lunch and get some much needed hydration.
Our first decision making circle of the day
Hiking among moss covered cedar, maple and alder in Padden Gorge

What could this be? Is there really a troll that lives in here?

Is it somehow connected to this?

Endless opportunities to observe fungi

Unfortunately, a salamander crossed this path at the same time a bike came through. We helped the injured amphibian to the side of the trail but understood that it would not likely survive it's injuries. 
Finally, a spot for lunch!

We cannot avoid climbing on such a cool, moss covered root wad. Nor would we want to, as long as it is safe to do so!

After satisfying our food and water needs, we decided to organize a game of Spiders Web! We enjoyed the challenge that this relatively open forest floor provided for the flies as we played a couple of fun rounds together.
We utilized a muddy pit rather than a tree for our web for this game

Before our closing circle, the mentors told us that we still had one more activity to do together. This activity is called a sound map. A sound map is just what it sounds like; a map of everything that you hear in the forest! Once we each found our own special place to sit and listen, about five minutes of silence passed before the birds began making noise. We strained our ears to hear as many different calls as we could and attempt to place them on our maps in relation to ourselves and the other birds that we heard. As we all gathered after this exercise, we shared how many/what kinds of birds/sounds we had heard. The Pine Martens expressed a desire to do this activity in spring or summer time when (they theorized) the birds would be even louder and more obvious with their calls.

Our closing circle held a bit more weight than it usually does. Today, Conor announced to the group that he will no longer be their Mentor at Wild Whatcom. Conor explained to the boys that another opportunity (working as a Montessori teacher in Spokane) had presented itself to him, and that he needed to take that opportunity. There was an initial wave of surprise and sadness that came over the group, that was followed by laughs and a couple of tears as we honored Conor’s time with us during our Attitude of Gratitude in our closing Circle of Thanks. The Pine Martens showed us their growing emotional intelligence as they shared their gratitude for Conor and the time we have spent together.
The Pine Martens receive one last native plant lesson from Conor as we make our way back to the parking lot.

The Pine Martens are better for having had Conor as their mentor. His playful, curious spirit will live on in this group was we continue to explore together for the rest of this year and for many more to come!

To see the rest of the photos from our day together, click here!

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Pine Martens Navigate and Discover Fungus at Lookout Mountain

Look at all those smiles!

Last weekend when we met at Lookout Mountain, the Pine Martens were handed a group challenge! This season, the Pine Martens are learning the Art of Navigation and Lookout Mountain is a great spot for practicing our navigation skills.

For their navigation challenge, the Pine Martens were tasked with leading themselves through the network of trails to a high viewpoint about two miles away from the parking lot. The only tools that they were given were a few maps of the area. The mentors knew that the Pine Martens would need to utilize their collaboration and compromise skills to come to consensus about which way to go when the trail forked. In this sense, this challenge included an introduction to navigation while at the same time requiring strong group leadership and circular decision making.
Which way to go?

Lets consult the map

As it turns out the Pine Martens are becoming quite efficient decision makers. Today, the Leader of the Day did a good job of making sure all voices in the group were heard as he shepherded the group toward consensus on multiple occasions. The mentors enjoyed observing these circles from a few yards away and watching the Pine Martens put their skills (that we learned only last year!) into action.

Of course, it's about the journey, not the destination, and explorers live this motto on every outing. We enjoyed taking breaks to check out cool, out of the way creeks and large, interesting faces of exposed rock. Additionally, we discovered TONS of different kinds of fungi during our hike. Some of us noted that it seems that mushrooms pop up a lot in the fall and we hypothesized reasons for this as a group. We ended up agreeing that the main reason was that fall provided plenty of dead and down material for fungi to eat during a time that had the right temperatures and enough rain to make the forest damp so that mushrooms can thrive.




But wait...

...there's more!

Perched under some devils club


Hidden cliffs

Upon, reaching our overlook, we took some time to celebrate our accomplishment and nourish our bodies with the rest of the food from our lunches. After taking some water, we headed back down the trail, looking for a good spot to hold our closing circle. Unfortunately, during our descent, one of the boys accidentally rolled their ankle. The mentors wrapped it up and we made our way out of the woods together. The mentors tried to illustrate for us the link between our rapid descent on the trail and this injury. Hopefully, more than just the one of us who got hurt heard this message.  
Celebrating at the top

More fungi! 

We eventually found a proper spot for closing circle. Because we were running short on time, the mentors tasked us with shrinking our gratitude into one word during our Attitude of Gratitude circle. It sounded almost poetic as we went around the circle sharing one word of thanks each.

To see the rest of the pictures from our day, click here!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Pine Martens Reconnect and Discover at Clayton Beach

Pine Martens (Martes americana) have an extremely high metabolic rate. They are known for their fierce hunting instincts, a trait that allows them to eat enough calories to keep up their fast paced lifestyle. As the boys gathered for the first time of their 2017/18 season, they certainly embodied the excited and curious demeanor of their animal counterparts. After finally checking everyone in, we were able to sit down for our opening circle.

Warm, sunny weather on our first day together!

There was so much anticipation for a day of exploring that our opening circle took us a bit longer than usual. The mentors expected this; after a long summer apart, it can be hard to remember some of the culture that we had created together last season. After using some breathing to calm our bodies and minds, we were able to agree on a general plan for the day. After one last stop at the restroom, we took to the trail and headed into the trees and towards the beach.
One interesting section of the stream

“The Ravine”, as it has been come to be known by Explorers throughout Explorers Club, is a small arroyo that seems to be about as close as you can get to a ‘perfect’ spot for exploring. There is a small creek containing frogs and salamanders, steep hills covered in tall sword ferns and huckleberry, prominent rocks that afford good views (excellent vantage points for the Spider during a game of Spiders Web!), and even some fossils in the eroding stone at the head of the creek! We enjoyed time to reconnect with each other by exploring and getting lost in all of the natural wonders that this place holds.
Any salamanders in here?

We found one!

After we had satiated some of our curiosity for the natural history mysteries all around us, the group decided to set up a game of Spiders Web. This is certainly an Explorer favorite and we all enjoyed getting to play this game. One of the mentors was elected to be our spider and provided a challenging game for the flies. While playing this game, we got to revisit our motto Play with honor.

Upon finishing our game of Spiders Web, we felt that it was time to have a snack and circle up to decide how best to spend the rest of our day. We all agreed that before our day ended, we wanted to get to the beach where we would be exposed to the warm sun and have a chance to investigate some interesting tide pools. So, we packed up our packs and descended through the forest toward the sandy beaches and impressive sandstone cliffs that give this stretch of coastline much of its character.
Getting ready to leave the ravine

Descending on steep trails to the beach

Some highlights from the beach include: finding a dead seal, discovering that thousands anemones can live in small cracks in the rock and watching red rock crabs scurry through some shallow, clear water. Of course, we had lots of fun climbing along the sandstone rocks that line this coastline and have been shaped into Dr. Seuss-esque formations by many years of wind and rain.
Checking out a dead harbor seal

The mystery below

Such an interesting place to explore!

At our closing circle, we had the opportunity to share our gratitude with each other for the first time since last spring. This practice of our motto Attitude of Gratitude helps us to remember that Our Cup Overflows while also continuing to build a strong sense of community. Many of us expressed specific gratitude for being able to spend a day together after a long summer apart. We made the short but steep hike back to the parking lot and met our rides. During the mentor debrief (after all of the boys had left), we shared our excitement for the coming year and for having the privilege to see how these boys will continue grow and learn together in their own, unique way.

Be sure to check out the rest of our photos from the day here!