Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Branch Hoppers Find Fire and Nettles at North Lake Samish

Pulling up to North Lake Samish Trailhead the Branch Hoppers greeted each other in their typical fashion of throwing Fir cones at one another. Feeling a little deja vu the mentors thought back to an exploration we had on March 21st, 2015 that ended in much the same way this outing was beginning. Giving a crow call the mentors circled the group up for an opening meeting.
The mentors wanted to get to a few important items on everyone’s mind while going over our plan for the day. Given that our skill for the season was the Art of Water, the Branch Hoppers were tasked with finding a source of water to harvest from (other than North Lake Samish) and purifying it over a fire made by them. The mentors also wanted the boys to go and check out the shelter they had built last season to see how it had faired over the winter storms.
Before we left the boys asked to play a game of Spider’s Web in maze of overcrowded Douglas Fir that they had discovered last fall, so the mentors threw that into our agenda. Hiking up the drainage North of the lake, we passed by a beautiful flowering shrub. Pointing it out to the group the mentors asked if anyone knew the plant. Some of the boys guessed Salmonberry, but it turned out to be a Red-Flowering Currant. This Currant’s beautiful pink flowers provide early spring nectar for Hummingbirds and gives us a sign that spring has arrived! Numerous birds including grouse, quail, robins, finches, towhees, woodpeckers, and small mammals consume the berries.
Switchback after switchback the boys peeled off layers and grasped the nettle as they pushed up the incline. Many of them grabbed walking sticks from the piles of Big Leaf Maple branches that had come down in the previous storms. Hiking towards the back with a few Explorers the mentors encouraged the boys by letting them know this was just some early training for our backpacks this summer! If you haven’t already, please check out Baker River Ramble and Anderson & Watson Lakes, Wilderness Exploration offerings for this summer.
Arriving at the Spider’s Web location the group plopped down on the forest floor and ate a hearty lunch. Revisiting our tasks for the day the boys decided to make our location a home base for skills and games. After going around the circle and asking each boy what they wanted to do, the Tribal Elder came to the conclusion that half the group wanted to carve and try to make a fire, while the rest wanted to play Spider’s Web. Those that wanted to work on skills offered to harvest some Nettle, build a fire, and get some water boiling. Normally on outings we try keep the group focused on the same task, but the mentors felt okay about the decision and wanted to follow the boys interests.
The game group set up the course and the skills group got to work on establishing their fire circle. Finding an open spot they cleared the forest duff down to mineral soil and sent a team out to gather dried and downed Western Hemlock branches. While they gathered a few boys started to make small shavings of a piece of Fatwood. Fatwood in our region comes from the resin-impregnated heartwood of Douglas Fir. Fatwood is filled with Terpene and pitch that can be harvested from the taproot or stump left over firs from logging. This resource is prized for use as kindling in starting fires.
Once the boys had a good-sized pile they laid it atop a nest of Jute cordage. Using a flint and steel they spent a solid fifteen minutes striking the rod and trying to catch a spark. Eventually the tinder bundle burst into flames and the boys quickly stoked the fire with small Hemlock twigs. Sitting around the fire the boys carved some Cedar and enjoyed a well-earned fire.
Meanwhile one mentor harvested a downed piece of Vine Maple while a few boys worked to harvest from a patch of Nettles in hopes of some tea. Bringing our harvest back to the group the mentor carved a notch at the end of the Maple bow and drove the other end to the ground. The boys collected a little water from each Explorer’s bottle and filled the stove pot, added the Nettles and hung it above the fire. The boys relaxed back into the comfort of the woods as they reveled in their accomplishment.
It was about this time that the group who had been playing Spider’s Web rejoined the rest of the boys around the fire. After debriefing with the other mentor it seemed that the boys had experienced some challenge with the location that they had chosen to play. After their first game had come to a close the group decided to switch locations because of the Spider had an advantage in the forest with little ground cover. Even after the location change the boys experienced frustration with the level of challenge for the flies even though they had made clear agreements. It was important for them to recognize that challenge can be healthy and each time they were caught in the game presented a new opportunity for strategy.
Feeling the need for the boys to decompress, a mentor sent the group out on a Sit Spot. Although we experienced some disruption during the Sit Spot it proved to be just the medicine the group needed to reset back to their baseline. Calling the boys back in we gathered back around the fire.
While on sit spot our Nettle tea had come to a boil and the fire had died down to just hot coals. The mentors explained that a good fire burns through a majority of its coals. Grabbing a pair of chopsticks the mentors showed the group how to use technique called coal blowing to make the rounded scoop on the end of the spoons they were working on. The boys were fascinated by the technique and practiced grabbing a hot coal out of the embers and setting it on the end of their spoon blank. Making sure to breath in with their head turned away from the coal, the boys applied pressure to the coal with a stick while simultaneously blowing a gentle stream of air against the coal. It was a struggle for them, but they showed great patience and care in the way they approached the skill. We will definitely revisit this skill again with the group.
To close our day we shared a delicious snack Danielle, wife of mentor Steve Keller, had prepared for his birthday. We then went around our circle sharing some gratitude. Breaking our circle the mentors tasked the TTTPP to use his trowel to dig an arrow shape trench in the mineral soil around the fire. The boys then used the rest of their water and some harvested from the creek to flood the trench, pushing the last of the hot coals in and fully submerging them in water. The boys then mixed in the soil to make a mud paste level with the ground and returned the duff layer over the fire circle. We gathered sticks and twigs and threw them randomly over the duff layer leaving little trace of our skills workshop.

For more photos from the outing please take a look at the Branch Hopper’s photo album.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Branch Hoppers First Exploration at the Rock Trail

The Branch Hopper’s very first exploration of the Rock Trail began with a muddy and bumpy ride up Cleator Road to the Cyprus Gate Overlook. Circling up at the trailhead Brian assured the group that there was a spectacular view of the islands and the Olympics from our vantage. However, it was hard to see anything with the thick bank of clouds engulfing everything around us.
Starting down the trail the boys found a great spot for our opening meeting. We had two new participants in the group so there was a need to introduce them to our BEC culture and outing sequence.
The mentors handed the jobs bag over to the group and the boys introduced the newbies to our jobs system and important safety concerns. It’s refreshing as a mentor to be able to hand these tasks off to the group. Not only are the boys able to explain the job functions, they now understand them as they relate to their interdependence as a cohort and the deep curriculum they foster. The mentors then took a moment to explain our skill for the season, The Art of Water. Our goal for the day to was explore the Rock Trail and navigate down to Lost Lake to harvest some water for tea.
As we hiked the morning air was cool and crisp. The marine layer shrouded the forest with a blanket of mist and the occasional sun break made the moisture on the leaves and spider’s webs glimmer in the light. Reaching the first staircase the group marveled at the steepness of the wooden steps as we descended down next to a sheer wall of Sandstone that was over forty feet high.
The engineering of the Rock Trail was truly a feat, the WTA should be proud of their work. Passing through the seemingly endless sandstone cliffs and folds we couldn’t help but immerse ourselves in the topography. The trail snaked back and forth and at one point paralleled the base of a cliff. A few of the Explorers who had been to the Rock Trail previously pointed to small erosion pocket in the wall. Looking closer we found the pocket opened up into a six by six foot cave!
The group spent about an hour climbing on the rocks and carving some small split pieces of a downed Cedar tree. As we sat the sky would go dark and heavy clouds would roll over, then sun would push back and the forest would flood with light. The mentors assessed that the boys could have stayed in this location all day but pushed the group to venture farther and remember the intention we set at the start of the day.
Following the trail we passed by a large patch of Nettles. Taking a moment a few of the boys sacrificed their hands to harvest the group enough Stinging Nettle leaves for our tea. The mentors encouraged the Explorers to notice all the signs of spring popping up in the forest: the Pink flowers of Salmonberries, the smell of Cottonwood Buds in the air, the bright green leaves of Skunk Cabbage pushing up through the wetland, and almost every shrub in the forest with new leaflets. This mentor is of the opinion that it’s the most wonderful time to be outside and the perfect medicine after the long and dark winter.
After almost a mile we came to the Lost Lake junction. Arriving at the North end of the Lake we had to pass through a maze of logs over a wetland. A few of our crew, including both mentors, ended up slipping and getting quite muddy. However, this is not unusual for the Branch Hoppers. Before we got to the lake we had an interpersonal conflict come up within the group. The conflict arose over the group not staying together and ended up in an argument and physical escalation.
Sending the rest of the group ahead a mentor worked with the two boys in order to resolve the conflict. It was not so much what happened that was important in the mentor’s eyes; it was how the boys were able to work through their conflict. Just to provide the reader with a little background, our mentors have been working with this cohort for over four years; and for the first time we noticed the boy’s ability to use the developmentally complex tools mentors have modeled for solving interpersonal conflict. Together the boys were able to: identity and recognize their internal struggle or conflict, name it and communicate it to the other person in a genuine and caring way, listen to the other’s struggle, and identify what it would take to mend or fix the issue. Wow! As a mentor this is the fruit of our labor and brings us great joy.
Passing through a maze of young Doug Fir and Salal the group navigated to the Eastern outpour of the lake. Following the drainage the group found a thirty-foot waterfall that was really flowing. The Explorers decided that this would be our turn-around point for the outing and spent awhile in free exploration around the lake.
Together we found a fast flowing and clean section of the outpour and filled our stove pot full. Sitting in a circle we went over how to set-up and light our MSR backpacking stove and shared some nettle-mint tea, apples, and gratitude.

Looking at our watch for the first time all day we realized we had an hour to get back; we would need to hike with some intention! Trudging up the hill we shed layers and worked up quite a sweat, stopping only once to drink water. Half-way up the trail Brian commented on the boy’s ability to muster their strength and how it showed they were ready for backpacking. Parents, if your Branch Hopper is ready to stretch their edge on a three-day backpack this summer, we highly encourage you to sign them up for our Baker River Ramble or Anderson & Watson Lake backpacks. Click here for a link to WE: Wilderness Exploration offerings for the summer of 2016.
Our mentors are thankful for such a wonderful outing, for new outing locations, for continued mentor/mentee relationships, and for the Branch Hoppers strong start to our Boys EC Spring 2016 season.

For more pictures from the outing please take a look at the Branch Hopper’s photo album from the day.