Earthwork Wilderness Survival Training School | 413-340-1161

Winter Living and Ice Safety

Are you ready for New England weather?

When cold temperatures are sustained, bodies of water freeze. This creates a new environment for both humans and wildlife to adapt to. Travel is made easier, though precarious, on ice-covered lakes. Games are created, and the ice becomes a playground for ice-hockey and ice-skating. People still need to eat, and fish is still readily available, as long as you can create a hole in the ice for ice-fishing. Be safe–the ice can be unpredictable if you don’t know how to read it. So safety first: check out our blog for research and videos (the best I have seen).

(These videos may not be suitable for very young children…parents may want to view videos first.)

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

F&M Great Swamp FallAs we walk into the forest, we see all the different types trees, and we know, somehow, that they all have a purpose in life, just like we do. We notice many have lost their leaves this time of year, and the forest looks completely different—kind of empty because you can see so far, and it is very open. However, that is just the surface; let’s look closer.

The conifers take center stage with their deep green and contrast to the snow; while they do shed their needles, they are primarily green all year, which is why they are called “evergreens.”

Using touch—reach out and feel the needles

hemlock branchWhen we reach out and feel the needles, and when we rubbed them in our hands and smell, there is that amazing pine scent reminiscent of a Christmas tree—that strong aroma that can remind us of the holidays.

Visual things to watch for

As we look even closer, we notice really short needles (less than an inch) that are flat and on the underside, there are distinct white lines like racing stripes; this is an excellent identification characteristic. It also has the tiniest little stem you can barely see. In botanical terms, when you look it up in your field guide, this is called a “petiole.”

Feel the texture of the bark

These trees have really smooth bark when very young, and as they get older, it becomes stiff and deeply furrowed (creating indented grooves). Look at many different trees—young and old—and compare the feeling of the bark, and how the young ones are really tender and the older ones are like a rock.

hemlock 2Natural history viewing our past

In the 1800s, Eastern hemlock (Tsuga Canadenses) was used heavily; these trees would be anywhere from 250 to 800 years old. They were harvested in great numbers and were sought after for a special quality they possess: great amounts of tannic acid—up to 12%—used for tanning hides and preserving leather; the outer bark was used and soaked. Some of the hides were kept in vats (barrels of soaking tannins) for up to six months in order for them to turn the dark tea color and create a preserve and coloring for the produced leather. Hemlock tanneries were all over the Northeast, and they shipped the hides from here all over the world.

What I have personally seen, and you can too!

hemlock 1In the picture, you can see the needles and the bark. You can see underneath the very outer light brown bark, there is a dark purple color; this is a great characteristic for being able to identify Eastern hemlock.

What use are these trees now? They are a tremendous resource for wildlife: the needles create shade to give animals and birds cover. So they are used for nesting, denning and protection from the elements.

I often find many deer and moose in these areas…tracks, signs and tons of “browse” (feeding sign). This is where deer “yard up” (all stay in same area communally); this helps create safety in numbers and helps avoid being surprised by coyotes. It also makes it easier for them to move, because they pack down the snow to conserve their energy during these hard winter months.

I’ve also found coyotes’ beds, which look like circles; the heat from the coyote’s body melts out the impression of its nose where he/she is melting snow with the breath.

Outdoor challenge and scavenger hunt you can do with your children

See if you can find the interior bark that is purple. Hint: When you look around at the base of the tree, you can see the flakey bark chips; look under there.

Tracks and sign: if you look on the very tops of the branches, close to the trunk, you will often see squirrel territorial teeth marking sign, or going up a mature tree, you can see the claw marks and sometime bite marks of our black bears climbing since they use Eastern hemlock as babysitter trees (mama sends her cubs up them in times of danger or when she is away for long periods).

And at the bottom of the hemlocks, underneath the dense needles protecting from the wind and elements, you can find deer, fox, moose and bear beds. Let’s not forget the calling cards of raccoon and porcupine too—scat!

If you find little holes and black powder on the ground and through the roots, it’s possible you have found Truffles (fungus).

Can you find the little Hemlock cones that look like little tiny pine cones—about ½ inch. Can you find the racing stripes on the underside of the needles?

Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids While Creating ADVENTURES in the Winter Wilderness!

tracking familyThe winter is such a fun time—sledding, skiing, building snow forts and taking wanders in the woods.

The winter wilderness holds so much mystery. From that first moment that each unique snowflake drifts down from the sky, there is a certain awakening that happens…an inspiration that we have as we are curious of what’s happening outside of our walls. There is a pull—as one of my mentors, Joseph Campbell, would say: “A call to Adventure!” As we venture out of our comfort and embark on that calling, we leave the house—whether it is to go for a walk or even more daring, heading for the trails in wild nature.

As a family moving through the land, we hear the snow crunching under our feet and we see our own tracks, and we cannot help but think of the wild animals leaving clues of where they have been traveling, hunting, playing and sleeping and ultimately, surviving. So, as we continue on our way, we notice that first break in the pure white glistening expanse of snow and excitedly approach our first set of animal tracks.

As we get closer and see the trail left behind, we wonder what it is. There is a primal spark growing in us, and this connects us to our ancestors who lived close to the earth. This is like being a detective and we have our first clue.

mentoring tracking snowWhen the children of the indigenous cultures in the far north (like the Sami people who live their lives by the Caribou and take care of the herd) see a set of tracks, the Elders would not tell them what they saw. They would mentor them by helping to foster a relationship with the animals by asking questions and getting them in their senses. “What do you see?” the Elder might ask. The child might say, “Animal tracks.” The Elder would then kneel down and look closer and say, “Hmm.” The child would then copy and also kneel down. Then the Elder would say, “How many toes do you see?” The child might answer, “Four.” The Elder continues, “Are there any claws visible in these tracks?” Child would then reply, “Oh yeah, right there!” (pointing) Elder, “Can you point which direction it is heading?” Child points and says “That way!” Elder, “What direction is that?” Child, “North…?” (questioning)

This is an example of a similar dialogue I often have with my students. This is so they put the “quest” back into “question” and build upon the knowledge they have, not only as trackers but in their lives.

Let’s look closer at this. The Elder does not GIVE answers; they are earned. There is a place for children to have their own unique self expression and for them to think outside of themselves, which creates deeper knowledge. The Elder then may explain the depth of what they saw. “This wolf is traveling alone early this morning, and you see here, where the tracks are slightly melted out, it stood here to gather information, and then headed north in a faster gait of a trot. There is a herd of Caribou that was crossing the open plains up there about a quarter of a mile north.”

The Elder knows the land intimately; his/her survival depends on it in the home of the wilderness. He is bestowing the wisdom to this child so that he, when he grows up, can contribute to the health and well-being of the land, the herd and his family. This also creates self confidence and understanding of how life is around him and their deep nature connection.

So, as we go back to our wilderness adventure, we want to ask important questions to create an “experience.” Experiential education is one of the highest forms of engagement…of learning—not rote memorization of what we think someone might want to hear, but actually reaching down and picking up the snow, looking at the tracks and allowing our imagination to dance with our physical reality.

The best way to do this is to build your own skills to start learning together and be able to take someone from the edge of his/her knowledge further. This is the ultimate goal of a mentor through self empowerment and self awareness; we ALL grow in our experiences and what we can contribute in our lives.

See you on the trail,
Frank and Arianna Grindrod

Winter survival focus of talk |

Winter survival focus of talk

Published: Thursday, February 03, 2011, 10:30 AM Updated: Wednesday, February 09, 2011, 9:32 AM

By Kathryn Roy

While they occurred more than two years ago, the ice storms of 2008 reverberate in the minds of Western Massachusetts residents whose lives were turned upside down due to the extreme weather.

Residents in the hilltowns and other areas across the Pioneer Valley were left without power for days.

The incident reminded Frank Grindrod of Williamsburg-based Earthwork Programs of the importance of knowing winter emergency skills, both inside and outside the home.

Earthwork offers emergency preparation talks, emergency survival and self-sufficiency workshops all over the region.

Grindrod, Earthwork’s founder and director, said the ice storms taught that being prepared for any weather-related emergency is essential if you live in New England.

If a weather forecast indicates a big winter storm is approaching, that’s the time to start preparing. Homeowners who have wells should gather bottled water for sanitation and cooking, in the event that their wells are inoperable due to a loss of power.

“We go through the house and talk about how to utilize your home if you don’t have power,” Grindrod said of his classes. “Some people have a generator, but a lot of people don’t realize your heater may not work on a generator, or you have to plug it into whatever unit you’re using.”

While most people have cordless phones these days, Grindrod said it’s important to have a corded phone as well.

“When the power goes out, those cordless phones stop working,” Grindrod pointed out. “Even though you still may have a line to your house, you want to get an emergency land line phone so you still have use of your phone in the event of a power outage.”

Grindrod recommends that in the event of a power outage or other emergency, residents need to become aware of their surroundings and to be able to accurately assess the situation.

“With that land line, you can call the electric company to report the outage and get an estimate on when it will be turned back on,” he said. “You may have someone down the road from you who doesn’t have power, even if you haven’t lost yours or if yours has been restored.”

Grindrod said with the 2008 ice storms, there were elderly and disabled people who weren’t able to take care of themselves and needed help, but no one knew of their situation.

“Some of them died; some of them used the stove in their house like a camp stove and got carbon monoxide poisoning,” he said.

Grindrod also recommends being prepared for emergencies when traveling. Cars should be stocked with water, non-perishable snacks, blankets, decent gloves, a flashlight and flares.

“If your car goes off the side of the road, one thing you have to think about is, ‘Do I stay in my car or do I leave my car?'” he said. “If a plow is coming through, you might have to leave your car if you’re in a place where you might get hit.”

Those who stay in their car should only run the engine as the car is cooling off. They should also get out and clear any snow out of, and around, the exhaust pipe.

“If you’re going to run your car, you want to make sure you crack your windows and always have blankets,” Grindrod said.

When traveling in wintry weather, or going out in the woods to hike or hunt, it’s a good idea to give friends or family an estimated time of arrival and a phone number.

“If you have a situation where someone is lost, the quicker you’re able to alert search and rescue or EMS, the quicker they’re going to be found,” he said.

In his classes, Grindrod talks about how to be prepared to survive three days in the wilderness. At home, the preparedness is different.

“Our focus is about having some basic skills to be confident and to be comfortable; it’s about knowing what to do and being able to take care of your kids at the same time,” he said. “You could try to play games with your kids, to see if you can do without power for three hours or so at home.”

To learn more about Grindrod’s talks and workshops, visit or call (413) 522-0338.

Earthwork Programs will also travel throughout the Pioneer Valley to offer workshops for larger groups.

via Winter survival focus of talk |

How To: A Primer On Winter Emergency Skills

“Barbara Thomke, a contributing editors for, attended one of our seminars and wrote this story. We are sharing it here with their permission. To see photos of that seminar go here.”

By Barbara Thomke

– February 6, 2011

After I spent the morning of Saturday, January 8th exploring the new world of Nordic Skating at the Lake Morey Skate-A-Thon, I was intrigued by an afternoon class offered in the Winter Skills Day series at the Hulbert Outdoor Center in Fairlee, Vermont called Emergency Survival and Self-Sufficiency Skills. I didn’t go to prepare myself for overnight treks in the winter wilderness, sleeping in hand crafted snow huts at 10 degrees! But I do sometimes venture into the backcountry for day-long treks on skis, so I thought it might be useful to expand my knowledge on this topic beyond what I gleaned from my Girl Scout days of yesteryore. What I learned: how to stay warm if I got lost, or what the best emergency items are best to carry along in a pack might just save me from trouble . . .

Carrying a pack of emergency supplies and checking your equipment function may be the two most important actions you can take prior to an outing. (Barbara Thomke photo)

Frank Grindrod, our instructor, a kind and gentle man, set the scene for his class of seven by showing us a video of a woman who cross-country skied alone with her dog in unknown territory, got lost, then broke through ice and fell in a river and shivered with the pooch until they were found hours later. Scary! But by the time our class was over we had a new awareness of how to take care of ourselves at home or in the woods, and had learned about the most important thing of all – being prepared. From the dozens of tips we learned, here are the top ones that I personally took with me from our class:

Outdoors – Always take with you a small kit of essentials, no matter how near or far you plan to roam, Here’s what Frank recommended:

* A signal mirror, large plastic bag as a rain protector or container for water, a magnesium striker for starting a fire and a space blanket. Why? Hypothermia (low body temperature) is the #1 winter killer.

* A tin cup to heat water in or to melt snow into water

* Extra clothing such as gloves, scarf, socks, goggles, upper body layer

* Duct tape – the universal fix-it

* A pocket knife

From 12″ of toilet paper we learned to make a wick. Using a cat food can, the cordage, and cooking oil, a small heat and light source can be created. It burned for a half hour! (Barbara Thomke photo)

At home – Frank recommended stocking up a couple of days before a storm is forecast:

* Flashlight and/or headlamps plus extra batteries. Matches and candles – the ones that burn for 9 hours that you can purchase at a camping outfitter. To increase the light effect through reflection, place a mirror behind or underneath these light sources.

* Canned and dry foods, especially lentils. Soak overnight and allow to sprout for increased protein punch and green food. Soak rice and beans overnight for quicker cooking. Store in food-grade plastic containers along with powdered milk and honey.

* A small stove and fuel.

* A crank-operated radio and a crank lantern could be called essential gear.

* Store water in food-safe plastic containers, cooking pots, and your washing machine. Because your water source may not be treated when the electricity goes out, purify water by bringing it to a ‘dancing boil’.

* Create a ‘warm room’ by draping plastic over doors and openings to trap the heat of a woodstove or other heat source – though be sure it is ventilated.

In the car – carry these items:

* A wool army/navy blanket which can be used to sleep in, as a coat, to keep an injured person warm. Wool continues to keep a body warm even if wet.

* A metal cup, duct tape and Yaktrax for traction on your feet if you walk for help.

* Water in a metal container (could be heated), or in plastic. Fill only 3/4 full to allow space for freezing.

* A bunch of asphalt shingles to provide tire traction if your car is stuck in the snow or on ice.

Visit Frank’s website for lots more good advice on this topic of how to be prepared to deal with hypothermia and other winter emergencies as well as a listing of programs and classes he offers.

Personal Testimonial:

Two weeks after I took this course my husband and I were on a vigorous backcountry skiing tour near our home in northern Vermont. We were only 15 minutes into the initial uphill part when the snap attachment on the kicker climbing skin of Bob’s right ski broke apart. Then the whole skin peeled off the base of his ski and lay in the snow behind him. Luckily we were able to secure the skin again with the duct tape I now carried in my pack!

“Thank you, Frank!”, I thought many times as we continued the rest of our nine mile trek without a further glitch.

P.S. I carry the duct tape wound around a pencil. The pencil can be handy to write with or punch a hole, and it makes it easy to unwind the tape. Plus, you can carry a reasonable amount without the bulk of a duct tape roll.

Editor Note: Most old hands at backcountry skiing carry duct tape in their pack emergency kit as Barbara suggests, but also wrap 25 feet of it around a ski pole just below the grip. You never know it’s there until you need it . . .

via How To: A Primer On Winter Emergency Skills |

Amherst Bulletin | Weekend hiking accident shows rescue challenges

We’ve been doing Emergency Preparedness Talks as well as hands-on Emergency Survival and Self-Sufficiency Skills Workshops for several years now. This story is a great example of why it’s important to prepare! Frank recently held the hands-on Workshop in Vermont, and here’s a quote from one of the attendees: “The biggest thing I brought away from the class was the importance of having a complete car survival/readiness kit.”
Weekend hiking accident shows rescue challenges

By Scott Merzbach

Staff Writer

Published on January 14, 2011

A weekend rescue of a woman who broke her ankle while walking with her family on the Robert Frost Trail in the Notch area highlights the importance of being prepared, emergency responders say.

Carrying a cell phone and maps, dressing for the weather and letting friends and family know about the hiking itinerary are some of the ways to make a rescue more successful should something bad happen, Fire Chief Tim Nelson said.

“Those are all simple things that will go a long way to effect a good outcome,” he said.

The call to emergency dispatch about the injured woman came Saturday at 3 p.m. when her husband, who was accompanying her and their two children, walked about a mile to get to the Notch Visitors Center parking lot. There, he borrowed a cell phone and made the call.

While the man identified the location where his wife had fallen, based on markers along the trail, he left the parking area to return to her. This made the rescue more challenging, Nelson said, because firefighters were uncertain what equipment should be brought in, the medical supplies the victim might need and how long it would take to reach her.

“We’ll find you eventually, but we need to find you as quick as possible,” Nelson said.

When firefighters finally reached the woman, who had apparently slipped on ice and snow, they placed a splint on her foot and bundled her up. Then they loaded her onto an all-terrain vehicle and used chain saws to clear obstructions from the path. Eventually they abandoned use of the all-terrain vehicle, carrying the woman a distance before placing her in a pickup truck and finally getting her to the waiting ambulance. Firefighters cleared the scene around 6:30 p.m.

The woman was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton for treatment, Nelson said.

Nelson said even though the woman and her family were experienced hikers, they should have planned better.

“These folks were familiar with the trails, but they didn’t have a map, they didn’t have a cell phone,” Nelson said. “If you’re going out on these trails this time of year, you need a way to get hold of us.”

Nelson praised the six permanent firefighters and the members of the student and call forces who responded.

He singled out Steve Chandler, a firefighter and paramedic, for excelling in the first time he has been acting officer on the scene of a response.

via Amherst Bulletin | Weekend hiking accident shows rescue challenges.

Winter Shelter Building (Quinzee)

This is an article we wrote in the past but is so pertinent right now!

Maya and the Great Outdoors
A Daddy-and-Daughter’s Quest for Adventure, Knowledge and Fun in NATURE.

Winter is a magical time full of wonder! Animal tracks abound; coyotes and owls call, interrupting a profound silence; and the moon glistens off the snow. This is a time of slowing down and going deep into ourselves.

“I am Maya Grindrod and I’m nine years old. When my dad and I were out snowshoeing one day I asked, how do the animals live out here when it’s so cold? How did people live out here with all this snow? What if they got lost, what would they do?”

“Well Maya, remember those little tunnels we saw in the snow?” I asked.

“Yeah, I saw some earlier and the entrance was surrounded by ice.” replied Maya.

“That’s right! You have a keen eye; ice was only around the entrance not the tunnels itself. When we get back from our hike, let’s that’s look it up.”

We discovered that snow is one of the best insulators and that the ice at the entrance was formed from the body heat and breath of the animal inside the den.

There are regions in North America where the snow pack is not deep enough to consider igloos, a more permanent shelter, and so the natives of the region developed a snow shelter that could be thrown up quickly as a temporary shelter. While on tracking and hunting expeditions, instead of bringing heavy gear like tents and lots of hides in order to make shelter, they created quinzees from snow which they could just leave when they were done with it. An experienced person can make quinzee in less than an hour or two.

So one day after getting some fresh powdered snow of about half a foot, Maya and I (her dad) went into the forest to build a quinzee. It was still snowing, and Maya agreed that building a quinzee would be more fun than shoveling the deck. Below are the steps we did to create our quinzee. We also video-taped our experience, which includes many important tips, more information that would not fit here. Visit to view the video.

Step 1: With any shelter, it’s important to have the materials you need, so one of the most important steps is what, Maya? “Location, location, location.” We brought shovels and found in a shady spot. A sunny spot can work too, but the snow shelter will melt quicker. If we didn’t have shovels we could have used our snowshoes. When we found a location, we had to look for hazards, such as broken trees limbs and dead trees that could fall where we would be building.

Step 2: We created the size of our shelter by standing in the center of the area and drawing a circle with a walking stick.

Step 3: We threw up snow into a pile about a foot high and then packed it, and kept throwing and packing until we reached the height and dome shape we wanted. (We also ended up throwing snow at each other during the process; a fun way to keep your child shoveling.)

Step 4: We turned our quinzee into an animal. “This is the porcupine phase,” stated Maya. “It’s a local mammal covered in quills. We covered our snow dome in sticks.” Find straight pencil diameter sticks between 12 to 18 inches long and place them all over the shelter about one to two feet apart.

Step 5: Take a break and have some hot chocolate. It’s not an actual step but you do need to wait for about 30 minutes or more (depending on the snow conditions) for the snow to settle, a process called “sintering” where ice crystals begin to bond to each other. If you wait too long, ice will form and the quinzee will be more difficult to carve out.

Step 6: Next we carved out the inside of our quinzee! “So what are all the sticks for Daddy,” asked Maya referring to step 4. “Well Maya, as we are removing snow from the inside, how do we know how to judge the thickness of the walls of the quinzee?” Maya carves and hits the tip of stick. “Oh, I see the tip of the stick. and another one.” “As you’re moving snow and see the tip of a stick, don’t dig in any further; this guarantees that your walls will be as thick as the length of your sticks.”

Important tools for carving – you can use your gloves, a pot and even a grain scoop. The best thing to use is a compact shovel with a short handle. When Maya was inside she was using her whole body; her feet, her hands, and even her head. She was covered in snow!

Caution: When carving out a quinzee, keep in mind that this is a snow dome not a tunnel. Make sure to carve out the sides and top evenly. You don’t want a heavy top that might collapse in on you. And it’s always a good idea to have a buddy to pull you out if you need it.

Step 7: When we finished carving, we stepped back and admired our hard work. “Wow, we did it!” exclaimed Maya. “Can we bring a candle and a sleeping bag out here?” Maya and I went back to the house and came back out when the moon was up. We walked quietly through the woods to our quinzee. Maya got down on all fours and scrambled in. “Okay, give me the sleeping bag and the candle.” Maya made a little nest and we lit the candle, laying in the darkness. “Did you hear that? Daddy, that was an owl,” whispered Maya loudly.
My heart brimmed with pride and joy. Here we were having some quality daddy-daughter time; hanging out together in a quinzee we built and listening to the sounds around us. Life can be this good!

Frank Grindrod is founder and owner of Earthwork Programs, a local business since 1999. Earthwork Programs is dedicated to teaching people earth skills such as nature awareness, tracking, wilderness living skills, survival, and earth philosophy. Earthwork Programs is also recognized as a Nurtured Heart™ School. His daughter Maya is an adventurous nine year old who is the creator and star of the series, “Maya and the Great Outdoors”. Visit Frank and Maya and Earthwork Programs at Immersed in Nature, we reconnect you with the earth.

Page 1 of 212