Saturday, January 7, 2017

Branch Hoppers Explore and Create at Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve

The Branch Hoppers were visibly excited as we headed out to Point Whitehorn to have an opportunity to explore along the coast. Pulling up at the marine reserve we piled out of the bus and circled up. The mentors let the group know that we had observed a trend over our last few outings that if we left the plan up to the group we would generally squirrel out instead of actively engaging in something productive. Our aim for the day was to explore to the beach at high tide, possibly do some carving, and have a nice long sit spot to listen to the migratory shore birds that frequented the area in the winter months.
Turning the meeting over to the group they decided to get out of the steady 15 mph wind and head into the forest to find a sheltered place. Nestling under a predominately Sitka Spruce forest the boys looked around and observed that the ecology was slightly different than we were used to in the lowlands around the Chuckanuts.
The boys did an excellent job of holding their focus and making a plan. We would first head to the beach and spend some down time following our interests, then try and build some sort of driftwood structure while some of the group carved, leaving enough time to hike the mile long preserve to the end of the point for a sit spot and a closing meeting.
Traveling a quarter mile through a dense coastal wetland of Salmonberries, Rose, and Salal the group arrived at an overlook. Although the weather forecast called for heavy rain we were in the perfect micro climate for mild weather. The light cast amazing shadows over the northern Salish Sea and we could see the Canadian Gulf Islands shrouded in shades of gray. What the mentors did not anticipate was the wind blowing due West, creating four to five-foot wind generated swell that crashed on the beach’s high tide line.
The Explorers were immediately captivated and spread out on the cobbled beach playing games of chance as the waves crashed at their feet. It was clear to the mentors that at this moment the land was speaking to the group and the boys were deeply present with it. Following inspiration they gathered beach logs and began to create a giant wind block. The immense power of the wave energy
brought in all sorts of wonders from the intertidal zone onto the cobbles: Decorator and Dungeness crab shells, massive clumps of Bull Kelp and Turkish Towel seaweed, bones from shorebirds and Sculpins, and straight grained Cedar perfect for splitting and carving.
Gathering flat smooth stones one Explorer made a perfect circular fire ring and began to split Cedar for kindling. The mentors brought the group together and asked if anyone noticed the sign at the beginning of the trail. One boy responded “yes” and informed the group that there were no fires allowed at the preserve. The group did a great job of holding to that rule even though they knew they could have a sustainable fire and cover it up without anyone knowing.
Following the Explorers’ inspiration one of the mentors cut a length of Bull Kelp and remembered a story he had read about the Makah Nation sewing together the mouth of a Humpback Whale after the hunt with Bull Kelp so it wouldn’t sink as they paddled it back in. Enlisting a few boys to help, the
mentor lashed three straight poles together at the top with a Bull Kelp and raised a teepee like structure. The Explorers searched the beach for plank like shapes of driftwood and lashed them to one side of a teepee, creating Salish style back rest.
With some wild success at their first creation the group strategized together and wondered if we could make a giant teepee like structure. The boys asked the mentor how many times he had built a teepee. The mentor replied “never”. It was a great learning moment for the group that sometimes trial by fire and experimentation are the best methods for learning a given skill. We tried three times to raise the teepee and found that straight ridgepoles of medium weight gave us the best structure. The teepee must have been 12 feet tall when it came together!
The boys sprang into action wrapping at least one hundred lengths of Bull Kelp horizontally around the ridgepoles. Then something miraculous happened! The group figured out that they could split shingles out of Cedar and weave them throughout the kelp to create a cedar shake style siding. The group worked for an hour with each Explorer entirely focused on the task. Three-fourths of the way through they finished with their creation; the mentors looked at the clock and realized if we wanted to head to the point we would need to leave immediately. This was a tough leadership decision for the mentors. We wanted the group to connect deeply with the place through a sit spot, but we also recognized that they were already connecting with the location through their Earth skills.
Making a triangular decision to head down to the beach the boys seemed frustrated and confused. As they packed up the mentors called the group back together and revisited the decision, recognizing that even we make errors in judgement occasionally. The group unanimously decided to stay and work on the shelter with the mentor’s caveat that we need to hold to a sit spot at the end of the outing.
Through some focused effort and perseverance the group completed their shelter and reveled in their accomplishment. Calling the group back in we packed up and spread out on the beach for a sit spot. As the boys settled in a sun beam broke through the cloud ceiling and illuminated the thriving Eelgrass beds, revealing their aquamarine blues and emerald greens. Common Mergansers, Surf Scoters, Grebes, Loons, and Buffleheads foraged through the beds and rode the wind swell with grace and ease.
The Explorers were present and calm in that moment and did not want to leave, but leave we must. Circling up one last time the group reflected on the season and shared their highlights. We passed around apples after sanitizing our hands and transitioned into the sacred portion of the meeting. The mentors reminded the boys that life is a dance between the sacred and the profane. That a balance of both are important and that our circle of thanks was sacred moment. Reverence for this practice has become deeply engrained in the BH’s culture over our last five years together.
The Branch Hoppers’ thanks gravitated towards heartfelt connection with their peers, the power of the land to inspire, and the sense of craftspersonship that comes with hand work completed in the natural environment. What a pleasure it is to explore and grow with the Branch Hoppers. If there is such a thing as hitting the mark on outings, I would say this was one.

Parents thank you for your support and dedication to the program and for raising your boys with the ideals of love, truth, health, and connection. It is an honor to walk alongside them as they step into Middle School. For more photos from the outing please visit the Branch Hoppers’ photo album and if you have not already checkout the second half of the BH’s 2016-17 schedule posted on their group’s page.