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The Secret to Seeing Wildlife with Bird Language

The New Bird Watching

A Heartfelt Thanks to the Birds

As the birds fly overhead, flit from branch to branch or perch on our feeders, do we actually notice them?

Do we see the interactions between different birds, notice their reactions or lack thereof to our presence?  Do we know the difference between when they are happy and content in song or their startled into alarm?  Our ears may be aware of the sounds coming from the birds that fill the air, but sometimes in our natural rhythm of our own busyness and our being “human doings” rather than human beings, we might not appreciate this amazing gift of the rich language that is articulated around us all the time. Here is a friendly reminder of the neighbors with whom we share our homes and the possibility of deepening our relationship with them.

A historic cultural perspective

In many native cultures and hunter gather societies from around the world there are many stories (oral traditions) and practices that instilled many values and help connect people to the earth, their families and also to oneself. One of the teachings I learned from a Mohawk man named Jake Swamp, subchief of the wolf clan, is a custom called the Thanksgiving address. This is one version of this amazing custom which truly emulates the sacredness and appreciation of the birds.

“We bring our minds together and send our greetings and thanksgiving to the birds at the beginning of time the birds were given a very specific duty to perform in order to help lift the troubled minds from the human family and many times during the day our minds are often lifted by the sounds of the bird nations songs. With one mind we send out a thanksgiving to all the birds of the world”

Lessons from my Dad and storytelling

Looking back to when I was a child I began to learn about birds because my father told me my aunt used to have birds eat right out of her hand and I was inspired by this. So I began to try my own methods, and this is when the birds became my teachers of the lessons of patience, awareness and perseverance. When I wasn’t at the feeder, I also began to tune into the birds to their songs as well as their behavior and could tell what birds were around just by hearing them (this is called birding by ear).

I started to adopt this philosophy of Thanksgiving when I wake up in the morning to greet the day whether it is just a few minutes or preferably longer. Another one of my mentors, Jon Young from the Wilderness Awareness School, said that he learned in childhood from one of his Elders from Poland to “never disturb a singing Bird because it is in its thanksgiving“.  Since I learned that and something that is called “Bird language” I have a whole new appreciation for the birds, it has opened up so many doors of possibilities.  Now instead of only seeing the white tail of the deer as it bounds away  from me or wondering where all of the animals are, I’ve instead had some amazingly intimate experiences. Let me share one with you. I was fox walking and using wide-angle vision (techniques of movement and Awareness that we share in our programs), being conscious of the bird language and fully present in the moment and noticing everything was in its natural rhythm. I was able to walk up to a deer without creating any alarms from the birds or the deer. I froze in place statue still. The deer was walking slowly and started to investigate the other visitor, a porcupine that was also a few feet from me.  This transported me to the many times before I had been tracking these amazing beings. I had seen their tracks and now seeing them move in their natural rhythm right in front of me was a “gift”. I paused and gave thanks. I don’t tell you this to impress you, but to have you realize that this can be more of what you can experience yourself.  I learned that this is mostly from visiting one place over and over that is the key by adopting a place on the land. I was in plain sight in a pair of jeans and fleece top no special camouflage or anything. The porcupine almost walked right up to me.  Then the deer passed by me and started sniffing the porcupine.  I felt as if I was in the middle of a special show “Wild America”! As I look back at these “gifts” I cannot help but feel thankful.

Practice with your friend and family and have fun with it.

I am going to share with you the five voices of the birds which Jon has shared with me. If you are just starting out or have been birding for years the information on this subject can seem quite overwhelming, but I will do my best to give a simple introduction to five major types of bird language so that you can begin to unlock your understanding of what the birds can tell you.

So what is this thing — Bird language? Well, first know that there are no hard and fast rules and what I’m about to share are tendencies and not absolutes. Being aware of these tendencies may be fruitful and will get you on your way to learning this rich language…”

Of the five voices, four are baseline voices and one is the voice of “ALARM”. Baseline is the natural rhythm of the Forest which is the way the animals and the birds and all the creatures live. This reflects their life of survival. One of the most important ways of life is conservation of energy. This is not just a good idea, this is a necessity.

The song: this is the one we are most familiar with. Scientists say that this is how birds set up their territory. This may be true, but also think of this scene: the birds awake at first light and there is a dawn chorus as they sing  they turn to face the warmth of the sun greeting the day, maybe they are simply giving thanks for another day to be alive? Maybe we could greet each day with a song of thanks and praise? This could be a powerful lesson from the birds.

Think of the song as baseline behavior/no alarm. You will notice when the ground birds such as the robin and the song sparrow are singing and when the tree top birds (the warblers) are singing.

You will notice when the cat moves through the yard and alarms the robin and the song sparrow, interrupting their song, but the grosbeak (in the tree top) is still singing. The ground birds are the ones most interested in the potential danger, the grosbeak comfortably out of immediate reach.

The companion call: The best way to explain this is to think of a pair of male and female cardinals. They’re communicating back-and-forth not with a song but a “chip”. This is a short sound, very high pitched and some people may call this a call note. This call will go back-and forth “male chip, female chip, male chip, female chip”. The call has a rhythm with the same time and distance between the birds. This is baseline again; there are no predators. However if one of the cardinals is making too much noise and does not return the call there will be nervous series of rapid calls “chip/chip/chip/chip” (this is challenging to describe in words but if you listen for it you will know it). The call is then returned to baseline if there’s no danger.

Aggression: Two males encounter each other over territorial dispute. They will chase each other around vocalizing. This display makes a lot of noise and when first starting out you may mistake it for being an alarm. There may be a tremendous amount of body language associated with this–birds flying into each other, chasing each other, etc., but if you look around you will notice the other birds are feeding in baseline. As you develop a discerning ear you will be able to tell when you hear a loud raucous of birds that there is no predator nothing is endangering them, it is clearly baseline with aggression.

Begging calls: this sound is what happens throughout the spring and early summer and you can tell when you start to hear these calls because it sounds like constant begging (feed me, feed me, feed me), in this moment it is still a baseline call for young birds. However you may hear an adolescent bird constantly calling for food while other birds have stopped feeding and singing and everything is silent. This silence is a sign of another alarm–possibly a Sharp-shinned hawk coming through to feed its own adolescents on their main stay of songbirds.

These are the four baseline voices. Learn them and remember that the more you practice the more you will expand your awareness of and appreciation for the birds.

Alarm: The voice of alarm is when a danger or predator is at large on the landscape and there is intense body language and intense vocalization which is enough to call other species of birds to alarm. It is mostly a multi-species response to danger.

Daily practice when you walk to your mailbox, your car and into the fields and forest

Now that you have some tools for understanding Bird language remember them as you walk out to your mailbox or to your car or into the forest. Be aware of the birds and the messages they have for you. What is the robin’s reaction to you? Hopefully you will notice it next time. The robin, in essence, is holding up a mirror for you to see your level of awareness and empathy reflected back at you. It’s letting you know how well you are learning their language. Are you going to be accepted by them and learn to see through the eyes of the birds?

I’m glad that I can share just the taste of this art with you. So get out there with your new awareness of Bird language! If this has inspired you and you want to learn more, hopefully you

will connect with us here at Earthwork Programs, Wilderness Awareness School and other schools that are sharing and passing on these skills.

All good medicine,

Frank Grindrod

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. Visit Frank and Earthwork Programs at www.earthworkprograms.com. Immersed in Nature, We Reconnect You with the Earth.

How Are We Connected?

by Arianna and Frank Grindrod

John Muir observed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Let us take a moment to shift out of the Nature-Culture dichotomy paradigm and recognize that humans are part of Nature and that as a very young specie we have much to learn from our co-habitants.

Life is interwoven, interconnected, interdependent. We humans need what the land has to offer, just as other species do. In a very real sense, we all need one another. Humans would not exist without plants and other animals. We need them for food, resources, companionship.

In exploring our interdependencies, let’s see how many connections we can see in the web of life right here in our beautiful home of Western Massachusetts.

Take a look in the mirror. There is you. You are one, whole being. But wait, there are several systems within you, as within all multi-celled beings, that help to keep you alive and functioning. One example is the digestive system. In the intestines are bacteria. Intestinal bacteria are helpful to the elimination process. Yes breaking down the waste for pooping is important. This is a “nested system”; a whole within a whole, as a bacterium is a whole being in and of itself. Review another nested system, your family; several whole beings existing together and relying on one another for their wellbeing. Consider, why do your parents cook for you? What is their motivation? Parents, think about this? Why do you care? Why do you feed your children? Caring is innate trait in many mammals. A baby cries, a pup yips, a kitten mews and there a “switch” in the adult’s brain that turns on in a need to provide, to nurture, to nourish. Extend this nested system into the community realm. You may not always LOVE your neighbors, however, there are times when you may rely on them. Relationships are about discovering ways to live in a habitat together; helping one another to get through tough times and celebrating one another in triumphant moments. Extend outwards into the environment and observe your wild neighbors…no, not the humans down the street throwing a party, the other animals; raccoon, beaver, dragonfly, ant, hawk, sparrow, minnow, trout, toad, salamander, turtle, snake. Take a moment to think about how you are part of the habitat you inhabit. What connections in your life do you notice between your family, your friends, your school environment, the foods you eat, the water you drink, the wild neighbors you see and affect? At each level, from the body to the family to the community to the environment, there are a plethora of interactions and though each system is whole in and of itself, it is also interdependent with other systems.

As educators and parents we can encourage our youth to not only notice and observe these connections but also to celebrate them. As children feel their connectedness to life around them, they are empowered to more actively participate in living in agreement with the environment in which they live. When does a child feel empathy? What was that first moment, when you remember your heart reaching out? Was it a neighbor who just dropped his ice cream on the pavement; a pet whimpering for attention; a wriggling worm you held in the garden; a dead raccoon you saw on the side of the road; a deer and fawn who stumbled upon you in the woods before racing off the path?

There are several engaging ways to access this concept of interdependence with children. The following are a few fun activities to explore with your child or students.

Ravens & Wolves, Crows & Coyotes: Crows and ravens recognize coyotes and wolves as “carcass openers” (yes, like a can opener) and will actually caw in these predators to a prey or a dead animal. The canines recognize the corvids cawing and will pursue to the food and consume it. The corvids know that eventually they will have their turn at the carcass and get a meal too. Wolf researchers observed the behavior and thought it curious as to why two very different species, a bird and a mammal, would take advantage of each other’s skills and work together. But the observations do not end there. These corvids and canines will also play tag with one another; chasing each other back and forth. Really, play tag with a known predator with sharp teeth? Yes! So here is the game. Team up in pairs. Decide who will be the crow (or raven) and who will be the coyote (or wolf). As this game can be played between a parent and child or a classroom of students, it is very easy to adapt. To start, the crows run down the field and pretend they have found some delicious dead deer. Crows will then caw to the coyotes and coyotes, run down to the crows, pretend to eat their fill of the deer and then the crow will tag a coyote. The coyote will then chase that crow and tag them and then the crow will turn around and chase and tag the coyote and so on. When partners are pooped out, the crows can then eat their fill. The parent or teacher can then discuss the dynamics between these two incredible wild neighbors.

The Special Biology of Lichen: Crows and coyotes are interdependent; at the same time they don’t need each other. They can hunt and forage on their own. Lichen on the other hand are mutualistic; they do need each other. Lichens are composite, symbiotic organisms made up from members of as many as three kingdoms. And they live their lives so close, in such a cooperative form, that scientists needed a name to describe them, hence, lichen. The dominant partner is a fungus. Fungi are incapable of making their own food. They usually provide for themselves as parasites or decomposers. Lichenologist Trevor Goward, describes the relationship thus; “Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture”. Fungi are the farmers, and algae or cyanobacteria (formally called blue-green algae) are the livestock.

Lichen are easy to examine in any season. They can be seen with naked eye and though hand lens are helpful for focusing in on these small beings, they are not necessary. They grow in the leftover spots of the natural world that are too harsh or limited for most other organisms. They are pioneers on rock, sand, cleared soil , dead wood, animal bones, rusty metal, and living bark. Able to shut down metabolically during periods of unfavorable conditions, they can survive extremes of heat, cold, and drought. There are four basic lichen types that can be found in New England. Take your child or children out into the woods and examine these fantastic examples of interdependence.

o Crustose lichens form crusts that are so tightly attached to the rocks, trees, sidewalks, or soils they grow on that they can’t be removed without damaging the substrate.

o Foliose lichens are somewhat leaf-like, composed of lobes. They are relatively loosely attached to their substrates, usually by means of rhizines. Their lobes have upper and lower sides and usually grow more-or-less parallel to the substrate.

o Fruticose lichens are the most three-dimensional. They’re usually round in cross section and most are branched. They can be like little shrubs growing upward, or they can hang down in long strands.

o Squamulose lichens have scale-like lobes called squamules that are usually small and overlapping. Lichens in the genus Cladonia have squamulose bases and often have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia.

Lichens are indicators of healthy air quality because they get their nutrients right from the air. So here is another example of interdependence – if lichens are indicators of healthy air and we see them, we know the air quality is probably pretty healthy. On the other hand, if we are not seeing many healthy lichen, than we know that it is time to make some changes in the way we impact the air quality around us. Cause, we breathe that air too, so it is our best interests to change our impact – good for us and for the lichen. So we are likin’ those lichen.

The Nested Systems Search: Find a bird’s nest or hold up a photo of one. Any one will do. What is this? Yes, a bird’s nest. What is it used for? Yes for holding eggs and chicks. You can see the boundaries and yet, this little nest is only one part of the birds’ home. The nest is nestled into a bigger system. What is this nest part of; where did the bird’s parents find these materials? The forest. So the nest is nestled in the forest. What is the forest nestled into? You can name the town you are in; the watershed, the state, the bio-region, and continue to extend outward until you include the whole Earth system. Now briefly let’s go backwards from the nest. It holds a bird and the bird itself is not only one entity, it is also made up of many living cells. There are other minute beings, such as bacteria, also living on and in the bird. Systems living within systems. And each level interacts and is interdependent with other systems. Challenge your students to explore woods and look for examples of interdependence and nested systems. Ask them to share their findings about how systems fit together.

Song “We’re All a Family Under One Sky”: A sweet way to end your experience for the day is to sing about what you found. Have participants interject various species. Repeat song several times.
“We all a family under one sky, a family under one sky!
We’re chickadees! We’re maple trees! We’re gray squirrels and lichen too!”

Think about what you eat, where you live, how you get around. All these things come from the Earth. Human culture is not separated from Nature; we are part of it. We exist because of it. And – we are all a family under one sky, a family living within this incredible system – Earth!

How to Be a Mentor for a Child’s Immersion in Nature

Just Add Kids and Nature

leave shelterThe first thing you want to keep in mind is that you want to create a safe learning environment for your child or students to interact with their surroundings. It is important that children have ample opportunities to be stimulated by direct experience. This is a special place that you visit over and over for continuity, so you develop a relationship with that place.

leave shelter young girl

Examples include sitting near your backyard birdfeeder, a place on a hill with a good lookout so you can see animals moving if you’re still and quiet, bury them in leaf piles, stick forts and sculptures to allow the imagination to express itself, a stream to explore. Maybe bring to a beaver pond to see nature’s engineers. Immerse your children in Nature. Spend a few hours (or all day!) outside on a hike, in playful exploration.

group of kids in leaves

Explore the 5 Senses

Once you’re out there in the fields and woods, allow yourself and your children to take in all the sights and sounds and smells. Pause. Take a deep slow breath. What do you smell on the wind? What does the wind feel like on your face? What do you hear? What do you see?

goose tracks

Surrounded by the birds and insects or the trees or the leaves or the snow or whatever the elements of Nature provide, there is sure to be a bounty of ways that children can reach out and engage with the great outdoors.

Ask your children to share what they are seeing. What does the landscape look like? Do they know whether they are near a wetland? How do they know? Can they feel they are going uphill? Would they like to roll down it?

It is really important to have them to full engage their senses as they explore. Touch, smell, look, listen, taste. All those different senses are the doorway to connection.

The Gift of the Present

Be in the present moment, allowing them and yourself to be completely in the “here and now.” Let those pesky thoughts of “what are we doing for dinner?” or “I need to make time for homework” or “when are they having a play date with so-and-so?” – whatever the brain clutter is—pass. By creating a space to experience Nature in the present moment; you are gifting yourself and your children. You are opening up a moment to just be a “human being” rather than “human doing.” This is incredibly healing as well as healthy to teach our children how to be in the world.

Ask Questions

making a fire on snowA mentor does not need to have all the answers. In fact, you actually don’t even need to have any of the answers. Some of most powerful experiences people have are stimulated by questions. For example, when they hear a bird, stop, listen, look. Ask, “Do you hear that sound? Where is it coming from?” Pause. Allow your child the time to listen and look around. Then add, “Can you point to that sound?” This engages your child in an adventure, in a quest of being able to find that sound. “Can you copy the sound?” Take turns attempting to mimic the sound; this opens up a space for deep listening. The same thing that can be done for animal tracks. “What is that? Is it bigger or smaller than your hand? Where did it come from?” Get down on the ground close to the tracks. “Can you tell which way the tracks are going? Can you see how many digits are in the track?” This also opens the door for using resources. Take a picture. When you get back, you can look through resources to find out who made those tracks.

Your Intention, Their Passion

Discover what your children are jazzed about. What excites them? Listen to their stories and listen for clues so that you can better facilitate experiences to further their learning in their areas of interest.

exploration

Consider, what is your intention? What do you hope for them to get out of this experience when you take them into the woods? Begin with the end in mind. Your goal as a mentor is for your children to find their own place of discovery. Create that for them. Help them feel connected. Help them to understand that they are connected to something that is beyond words and beyond them. Provide an outlet for them to feel a sense of peacefulness in nature and sense of belonging.

As you discover your children’s passions, it is time to look down the road at what other experiences you can put in front of them to engage in. Each activity helps them to work the edge of their knowledge to bring them deeper into engagement.

Work Your Edge

Create your own learning environment to continue your studies in your areas of interest. Explore the woods on your own. Have access to a library of resources. Have something to share. For example, the other day, I was walking within six feet of a moose. I was so silent; the moose walked right up to me and didn’t even know I was there. Now I can ask the kids, “Can you tell how far six feet is? Do you know how big a moose is? Do you know where you might find a moose?”

Remember, it is your own inspiring stories that inspire your children to share theirs. Now listen.

Until next time, enjoy your journey into the outdoors

You’re LOST…Now What? (Part 1)

A Beautiful Hike in the Foothills of the Berkshires…

Nature ConnectionIt’s a beautiful spring day, and the sun is going in and out of the clouds. It’s cold at night and warm during the day…just right for the maple sugaring season. It’s been a cold winter, and I look forward to being able to get into the outdoors, and now is my chance.

I decide to go into the foothills of the Berkshires to go for a hike. I think I’ll take with me some basic essentials: a day pack, water bottle, bag of gorp, lunch, a way to make fire and light, heavy duty trash bag and a small first aid kit.

I tell my wife that I’m going for a day hike. I tell her I’m going to park the car at the trailhead…just in case. I always plan ahead like that.

When I get to the trailhead, I notice that the temperature has really changed; it’s a lot warmer, possibly mid-40’s. I’m wearing hiking boots, quick-dry pants, a fleece and the wind/rain jacket.

Pine TreeAs I enter the forest, the tall trees, like pines, oaks, birches and beech, are all around me. I feel a sense of peace wash over me. As I walk on the trail, I start to let go the details in my head and about the things I need to take care of—at home or for work, like returning emails, making phone calls; it all seems to get further and further away from my mind as I keep walking deeper into the forest.

I walk for a few hours or so, and I begin realize my body is starting to heat up now. I need to take off a layer; it’s really important not to sweat. This is a really good principle to follow in the outdoors—the no-sweat principle. As I walk I pass several streams, and I see the spring wildflowers, hear songs of the birds as they fly overhead, it is quite serene.

I journey on for a good part of the day stopping for a light snack and then a hearty lunch, drinking water periodically. Continuing on, as I head deeper into the woods, I hear the call of the red tail hawk above (“keer!” pause “keer!”); we all know this sound (the movies have played it over and over…it is often heard, especially when a wilderness scene is shown on the screen). I love that sound.

I thought I would be able to tell where the trail is, but as I get deeper into the wilderness, the trail is marked less and less. I take a few steps closer to one of the blazes. Normally it has a white painted marking between 4 to 6 feet high. When I look really close, I notice that part of it has painted over brown.

lost 2So I’m able to tell for about a half an hour but then all of a sudden, I can’t seem to find the trail. I look around and it all seems to look the same. It doesn’t look like there’s been any maintenance out here for quite some time.

I try to retrace my steps; backtracking is something that I’ve read about where you try to follow the path that you came in on. But it is really difficult to see. I try to remember the key parts of tracking: notice a crease in the leaves from the weight of the foot, the area that was dug up by the heel or possibly the drag marks of my hiking stick or the tired footfalls. None of these things worked.

There’s a moment when you have to decide to cut off any other possibility, and take action and allow yourself that recognition that you’re lost!

Once you decide you’re lost, it becomes easier psychologically; you know you need to do something…some kind of lost protocol…but as you decide that you’re not lost, you keep telling yourself “oh it’s gotta be right up here.” “I know the trail is just up ahead.” “No, I’m not lost, just a little disoriented.” It’s thoughts like these that have you get farther away from the last place where you knew where you were…thoughts like these can keep you getting deeper and deeper lost in the woods.

stop

When lost, this is an important acronym to memorize: S. T. O. P.

Stop: This means do just that. Don’t go any further. This has been an emergency protocol and has been very effective. It’s used by the Scouts, outdoor organizations and guide services, search and rescue and many others. When you stop, you also need to calm down; you may want to sit down and take a few breaths and get centered. This is important. Not only are you not going any further, you are also creating what’s called a “scent pool.” This is the term for when particles of scent flakes are falling off your body, onto the ground and the trees around you. It is a concentrated area where, if search and rescue are using dogs for searching, this will be really helpful for the dogs to locate you. This is also why you hug a tree when lost.

Think: A lot of things can be going through your mind at this time. You’ve accepted the fact that you are lost. This is very important step. You need to prioritize your thoughts. Think of your basic needs: shelter, water, fire, signal, food and first aid for the first 72 hours. You may have to spend the night.

A wilderness guide used a good analogy–the first hour or so, the search area can be represented by the size of a business card on a map, and a few hours later, it is the size of open newspaper!

Observe: Use your senses. Do you smell the smoke of a fire; listen for the sound of a roaring river; see the direction of where the sun is traveling across the sky; notice where you are; look for catching features on the landscape, i.e. rivers, streams, trail junctions, dominant boulders or trees, a ridge that you can get a bigger view to see a field or lake in the distance, or a road, a fire tower.

Plan: It is important to create a plan for yourself and know your plan and take ACTION.

This could be marking your area with bright clothing, create a visual signal that creates a contrast to the environment (red coat, orange poncho, etc.). You want to come up with some “what if’s” scenarios, such as “if I hear a vehicle, helicopter or people yelling, what do I do?”

Do you have a way to make noise or a bright light if it is dark and they are searching at night? Sometimes it is easier for the rescuers to see fresh disturbance of tracks at night with lights at a low angle (tracking tip).

It is now late afternoon, and as I make my decision and it begins to slowly sink in that I am here for the night…perhaps longer…I begin to take action. Although it is warm now, I remember the nights have been cold. Before I launch into creating an insulative layer up off the ground and sheltering me from the elements, my first action is making some noise. I get a good solid stick and look for a dead tree that is close by for a better resonance when I hit it. A solid live tree sound will not carry. I also have a skill of whistling with an acorn, and that is extremely loud. I know there is no one searching for me at this moment, however I may find another hiker or a farm house or logger in the area.

threeThe universal sign for emergency is 3! Three loud whistles, gun shots, car horns or banging a piece of metal if trapped underground in a mine or in a building in an earthquake. Always remember 3.

TO BE CONTINUED…I’m Lost! Hike Turns into Wilderness Survival Experience

I’m Lost! Hike Turns to Wilderness Survival Experience (Part 2)

stop We last left off where I was lost and signaling for help and integrating my S.T.O.P plan of action. (S=Stop; T=Think; O=Observe; P=Plan)

sun compassSo after working on signaling with sound, I decide to make a sun compass. Time is important right now so I only take 3 minutes to put this together. I get a straight branch and place it in the ground and mark the tip of it where the shadow ends with another shorter stick. The next part of the sun compass is time. As the shadow moves every 15 minutes, I mark it again. This allows me to form an accurate read on the sun’s trajectory and gives me an east/west line while getting other things done.

Off in the distance I hear the call of a woodpecker; I have an intuitive hit that this is important somehow but not sure at the moment. Birds are excellent allies because they know their place and are specialists and depending on the type of bird will indicate habitat.

A New Paradigm in Being LOST
There’s a lot of “charge” in the word “lost”; so much focus on the psychological fear of being lost. Things arise in the mind, like “I’m not going to have enough water, warmth or food.” This is a fear of the unknown. Let’s shift our paradigm about being “lost”.

Indigenous people all over the world lived (and live) so close to the earth that they did not call what they did on a daily basis survival. They did not consider where they lived “wilderness”; something separate from their lives. Historical research in ethnobotany as well as speaking to the native peoples directly, has taught us that it wasn’t about being lost, it was about “being”; it was not about surviving, it’s about “living.”

We can learn from this recognition of a close relationship to the land. In this paradigm, you are part of the forest. If you are at home in the woods, you are never truly lost. Knowing your place, the plants and wildlife as part of your community is what will nurture a healthy at-home mindset where ever you are.

Thinking of the forest as “home” starts by knowing your plants and their uses. What parts of them are edible, medicinal, and in what season? What edible plants have poisonous look-alikes and what are clues to proper identification? What trees are good for firewood, for tinder? As you get to know your plant neighbors, they become your allies in better understanding the habitat you are in.

Building a Shelter and Knowing Ecology
Pine TreeAs I scan the land and see what it has to teach me, I notice an area where there are a lot of small pines, and interspersed are large pines, 80 to 100 feet high. Why is this important? Because pines decompose slower, and they accumulate a huge layer of the debris that forms a thick mat. This is exactly what I’m looking for to create that insulative layer in the form of a sleeping bag. Clustered together they create a natural shelter from wind and rain while allowing sun exposure because the branches die off near the bottom. All of these decisions play a role in location; that’s why it is requires skill to be able to read the land.

I will not camp directly under the great pines where the bark is peeling and are probably infested with ants. That was what “that little bird told me.” The woodpecker’s activity tells me the tree is rotten inside and could become a potential blowdown hazard. I don’t want a tree falling on me. Also, lightning can strike the same place more than once so I am scanning for lightning scars.

Location! Location! Location!
Earlier, my sun compass lets me know how much light I have left to work with and this is crucial since I need to set my priorities. I choose my site and start building. It is very important to be able to read the land topography. A great shelter in a poor location equals a bad shelter; as the saying goes “Location. Location. Location.”

There are clues on the land to know where water pools even though the site looks inviting. By learning what plants grow in moist or wet soil, you learn that even when there is no water present, the plants tell you of a tendency towards moist soil conditions, hence, do not build your shelter in that spot. For example, when you see moss on the ground you know the soil will be damp. So I need to continue searching for a drier area.

leave shelterleave shelter young girlNatural-Shelter-fix 

Building My Shelter

I start with two leg-sized diameter logs, a little longer than my height laying down. Make them parallel like train tracks, which creates a container for all the small sticks I quickly throw into the middle, making a raised bed. This is vital for staying warm because you need to create a layer of dead air space between you and the ground as insulation. The reason is that the Earth is bigger than you are and the heat from your body will transfer to the Earth; this is called conduction. This is how you get cold from laying on the ground even if you are out of the wind. My bed is made out of a jumble of sticks and a thick layer of needles and leaves. This is really “comfy”; I’m not kidding!

Telling Time by the Sun
Marking the shadow on the sun compass again, I measure with my hand how much light I have left. With this method, each finger width represents 15 minutes; a full hand is an hour. I follow the path of the sun with my hand, and I realize I have 3 hours of light.

Since I used the S.T.O.P rule and stopped early enough in the day, I have plenty of time and light to take care of all of my basic needs, and even wander from my anchor point.

The Importance in Developing Skills and Training
I have slept out before when practicing making shelters and sleeping in them throughout the year to hone my skills. I have slept in home-made shelters under clear skies, rain, snow and freezing temperatures. My record lowest temperature is 15° below freezing in February with no fire while wearing jeans, fleece top, rain coat and hiking boots. This was to simulate for me a lost-hiker scenario. After teaching many classes on wilderness living skills and survival, I have the confidence and skills and freedom to be at home in the woods and not afraid of being lost. My hands-on knowledge enables me to share my personal experience so others can have confidence when they are learning and gain that sense of freedom.

Home Away from Home
Frank-FireIt is an amazing sensation being deep in the forest surrounded by the night with a glowing campfire for warmth and companionship. Everything is done! I have created my home away from home – a bed and shelter that keeps me warm enough even without a fire; my plastic bag to catch rain, dew, and drinking water; my sun compass for navigation, a safe fire location and firewood comprised of tree species that throw lots of heat, light and will burn long and steady over time.

Enjoying the experience of the setting sun, the sound of the owls in the trees, and crackle of a bright, warm fire, there is a real peace that washes over me. This is a gift to experience and learn from. I am camping; thriving, not just surviving.

It took me getting lost to truly find the gift of the present moment.

mentor winter ask questions earthwork programs

Winter Survival Program (during School Vacation) day 1 (Tue)

Register early & prepay for all 4 days & receive sliding-scale discount option @ $264-$280/child for 4 days.

If not available for the 4 days, your child can attend @ $72/day prepaid (2-day minimum)

 

Ages 8 and older (limit 8)

Experience the WILD in winter in our beautiful forest and fields! While spending lots of time outdoors, we will

  • track animals and find the special places of the fox, deer, bobcat and others…we will get a glimpse of their secret winter life.
  • build winter shelters: a quinzee, a lean to, a zarsky…various methods to stay warm and dry.
  • test our fire-making skills in the snow…we will help each other learn the best techniques with and without matches, then bask in the warmth of our accomplishments in our wilderness home.

We will enjoy hanging out around the fire, staying warm in shelters that we make, eating lunch and sharing cool stories and other natural mysteries.

Bonus: we will also learn about ice safety and hypothermia and how to stay safe outdoors in the winter. We will pick up strategies of staying warm by playing games and other activities.

All of this for $264-$280, sliding scale, for 4 days! If not available for the 4-day Program, 2-day minimum at $72/day, sliding scale.

REGISTER ONLINE

Winter Survival Program (during School Vacation) day 2 (Wed)

Register early & prepay for all 4 days & receive sliding-scale discount option @ $264-$280/child for 4 days.

If not available for the 4 days, your child can attend @ $72/day prepaid (2-day minimum)

 

Ages 8 and older (limit 8)

Experience the WILD in winter in our beautiful forest and fields! While spending lots of time outdoors, we will

  • track animals and find the special places of the fox, deer, bobcat and others…we will get a glimpse of their secret winter life.
  • build winter shelters: a quinzee, a lean to, a zarsky…various methods to stay warm and dry.
  • test our fire-making skills in the snow…we will help each other learn the best techniques with and without matches, then bask in the warmth of our accomplishments in our wilderness home.

We will enjoy hanging out around the fire, staying warm in shelters that we make, eating lunch and sharing cool stories and other natural mysteries.

Bonus: we will also learn about ice safety and hypothermia and how to stay safe outdoors in the winter. We will pick up strategies of staying warm by playing games and other activities.

All of this for $264-$280, sliding scale, for 4 days! If not available for the 4-day Program, 2-day minimum at $72/day, sliding scale.

REGISTER ONLINE

Winter Survival Program (during School Vacation) day 3 (Thu)

Register early & prepay for all 4 days & receive sliding-scale discount option @ $264-$280/child for 4 days.

If not available for the 4 days, your child can attend @ $72/day prepaid (2-day minimum)

 

Ages 8 and older (limit 8)

Experience the WILD in winter in our beautiful forest and fields! While spending lots of time outdoors, we will

  • track animals and find the special places of the fox, deer, bobcat and others…we will get a glimpse of their secret winter life.
  • build winter shelters: a quinzee, a lean to, a zarsky…various methods to stay warm and dry.
  • test our fire-making skills in the snow…we will help each other learn the best techniques with and without matches, then bask in the warmth of our accomplishments in our wilderness home.

We will enjoy hanging out around the fire, staying warm in shelters that we make, eating lunch and sharing cool stories and other natural mysteries.

Bonus: we will also learn about ice safety and hypothermia and how to stay safe outdoors in the winter. We will pick up strategies of staying warm by playing games and other activities.

All of this for $264-$280, sliding scale, for 4 days! If not available for the 4-day Program, 2-day minimum at $72/day, sliding scale.

REGISTER ONLINE

Winter Survival Program (during School Vacation) day 4 (Fri)

Register early & prepay for all 4 days & receive sliding-scale discount option @ $264-$280/child for 4 days.

If not available for the 4 days, your child can attend @ $72/day prepaid (2-day minimum)

 

Ages 8 and older (limit 8)

Experience the WILD in winter in our beautiful forest and fields! While spending lots of time outdoors, we will

  • track animals and find the special places of the fox, deer, bobcat and others…we will get a glimpse of their secret winter life.
  • build winter shelters: a quinzee, a lean to, a zarsky…various methods to stay warm and dry.
  • test our fire-making skills in the snow…we will help each other learn the best techniques with and without matches, then bask in the warmth of our accomplishments in our wilderness home.

We will enjoy hanging out around the fire, staying warm in shelters that we make, eating lunch and sharing cool stories and other natural mysteries.

Bonus: we will also learn about ice safety and hypothermia and how to stay safe outdoors in the winter. We will pick up strategies of staying warm by playing games and other activities.

All of this for $264-$280, sliding scale, for 4 days! If not available for the 4-day Program, 2-day minimum at $72/day, sliding scale.

REGISTER ONLINE

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