Wednesday, November 18, 2015

BEC: Branch Hoppers - Shelter, Fire, & Play at North Lake Samish 1

The Branch Hopper’s final outing of the Fall 2015 season at North Lake Samish was jammed packed with skills, adventure, and play. As we congregated the boys stared up at the steep power line grade running adjacent the trail; the North Lake Samish Trail rises steeply out of the lake basin ascending up into the foothills of the Chuckanuts.
The boys were anxious to get on the trail, but before we headed out we needed to circle up to talk about jobs and the hazards that we might face in this location. NOAA had forecasted 20 mph winds from the south and driving rain. We talked about our motto BE Prepared and how we could approach the day with a preventative mindset for warmth and safety.
Once we were oriented to the landscape and weather we talked about another hazard that we’d been facing interpersonally throughout the season, the hazard of escalation. It is important to revisit this with the Explorers again and again.
Heading up the trail we entered into the forest canopy and were pleasantly surprised to find it quite sheltered from the rain. The land within the park boundaries is beautiful. Mature stands of Douglas Fir and Cedar growingly steeply on a bed of Sandstone rock and deep moss. Hiking along we discovered cascading waterfalls and exposed ridges of Sandstone.
Our goal was to make it to the top of the first crest, gaining roughly 700 feet of elevation. About halfway up we needed to stop and peel layers. On these drizzly and chilly days it is difficult to manage an efficient layering system. An efficient system requires a careful balance in regulating perspiration within ones layers and saturation from the rain. Snacking on our lunch underneath a big Doug Fir we watched the tops the trees sway lightly in the wind.
Once we had our clothing systems in order and our bellies full, we hiked up the trail until it petered out into a maze of social trails of both the deer and human variety. Following a fair well-worn path we ascended the ridge line and made it to the top.  Looking around the forest was now quite different as we had left the park boundary and entered into logging land.
While scouting the forest the group noticed that there was hardly any under brush and the tree stands of fir were so dense they’d shed their lower branches. The group had some inspiration to play a game of Spider’s Web, but the mentors called a circle to focus the group’s energy before we started playing games. The mentors reminded the group that on our last outing to Clayton Beach we had postponed shelter building to carve, in an agreement to try and complete one on our last outing. With shelter as our core routine for the day we turned the leadership over to the tribal elder to facilitate a decision on how we could best use our time and accomplish what we collaboratively wanted to do.
Through a great effort from the tribal elder and collaboration and compromise from the group, the boys decided to delve into shelter building for the first half of the outing, then play Spider’s Web in our current location, and to end the day with a small twig fire and a circle of thanks.
With our minds set towards shelter we left the forest and crossed the power line clearing in search of deciduous trees that would offer the best resources for shelter building.  Our front scout found a stand of Big leaf Maples growing on the fringe of the power lines and led the group off trail to reach it. One the way they encountered a large patch of Stinging Nettle. It is wonderful to watch the boys track the land. They noticed that this nettle patch had just started sprouting and was not typical of the fall season. These nettles were quite potent and left painful stings on their arms and legs. Once we had literally grasped the nettle the boys tracked the land for an ideal location for shelter.
Finding a prominence on the hillside the boys scavenged for downed wood using a pack saw to cut a backbone and Y poles. Inserting the pole into the ground the group found our prominence was actually a buried rock and we would have to move our location somewhere with more forest duff. Finding another location the boys noticed that this spot would expose them to run off from the hillside, so once the frame of the shelter was completed a few boys immediately started digging a trench on the high side for run off. Their construction was incredible. They wedged sticks horizontally across the trench walls to act as rebar and divert the flow of run off to follow down the trench with gravity. The boys worked diligently as a group on the shelter, spending an hour and a half of focused energy on the construction.
It was all going well until one Explorer accidentally stepped on another’s hand and it escalated into a small physical confrontation. Pulling the Explorer(s) aside it was important to allow each boy the time to process, reflect, speak their truth, and find what it would take build community again and find conflict resolution. After a heartfelt discussion with both of them they came to three clear agreements that I think we can all take to heart: “I will believe you when you say it was an accident”, “I will treat you with respect and care”, and “I will forgive your genuine apology with grace”. It is moments like these on the land where outside elements of wind and rain fade away and we deeply connect to our mentees and the heart of the work we are doing. I can’t thank these boys enough for their efforts towards building peace and trust amongst one another.
Wanting to hold to our commitment the mentors gathered the shelter builders and had them stand back to take a gander at their work. Although we did not complete the shelter, the group is about 85% on their way towards being proficient shelter builders. This is a skill that will not only provide them a firm foundation on the land, but deep knowledge of place.
Heading over to the dense patch of forest the boys set up the course and got to playing. As they played a lone mentor gathered dead Western Hemlock branches for a small twig fire to close our outing and season. The forest was so dark that the boys began to look like shadows as they crawled and crept through the landscape.
Scraping away the duff layer a mentor took out a bow drill kit and managed to get a small but hardy fire. After calling the game to a close, the cold and wet Branch Hoppers spirits were lifted around the warmth and glow of the fire. It was a dear moment. The group huddled together as they roasted their apples and gave genuine thanks around the fire circle.
Brian and I deeply appreciate the time we get to spend with your Explorers. Our outing was a reaffirmation of why we do the work that we do and it is our strong parent community that gives us the grace and trust to be able to walk alongside of the boys as they explore, learn, grow, and experience together in the woods.