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Not Just Your Everyday Campfire

tending the fireSo everybody has spent time around a campfire, right? Maybe you roasted marshmallows, shared stories, cooked yummy food and enjoyed the mesmerizing flame.

Perhaps, if we were moths, we would be drawn to it the same way they are.

Take a walk back in time and imagine our ancestors sitting around the campfire. This fire wasn’t just there, filling up the space; it was constantly being in use…in a variety of ways, such as heating up rocks for a sweat lodge ceremony, making pottery and firing the earthen ware clay pot vessels, fire hardening tools, and purifying plants and making them softer and more edible.

During my last trip to Alaska, I had an opportunity to talk in great detail about the symbolism and the detail in the carvings that were created within our ancestors’ own personal bowls. These were not just a means to an end; their artistry was an example of their love, respect and reverence for the creator—very much tied to their spirituality. These bowls were carved or shaped from the coals of fire.

How to Make Your Own Coal-burned Bowl

1-photo 2 (1)In these photographs, we show you the process:

1. Need a fire—not just any fire will do; the fire needs to have embers that will last a long time. This is done using hardwood coals, i.e., maple, birch, beech, etc.

kids cutting wood for bowls2. Need a good strong seasoned price of wood—size is up to you; 5” or 6″ round is a great beginning…pine, cedar, cherry, etc.

3. Need a way to extract coals to place on your bowl blank shows the different details that we do when we teach coal burning.

coal burned spoon4. Need a tool to keep ember in place—this could be something that will not catch fire. A green branch to hold ember to bowl blank until depression forms.

coal burned bowl5. Carefully hold bowl and secure green branch to coals and blow in ember so it begins to burn depression. (Warning: if you get a flame, blow out carefully, or it can crack your bowl.)

6. Replace coals and repeat—when the coal goes out, you simply scrape out the char with stone or a stick and get another ember from the fire and repeat.

Enjoy experimenting with these wilderness skills and add a whole new level to having a campfire.

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.


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

Nature’s Gifts


The holiday times are upon us. You could go out and buy all kinds of decorations for your Christmas tree or your windows, or cards for friends and family. But let’s look at another perspective…how about creating your own decorations using materials from the natural world?

Our ancestors constantly used different fibers of different plants for textiles, making baskets, creating mats out of cattail, art and sculptures too.  Living in a time where people buy everything, there seems to be a disconnect to the natural world.

How did this picture frame actually get here?

Well, first you need the natural materials—who knows if they were harvested in a respectful manner and that other trees were thinned to create habitat for small herbaceous plants and animals and insect growth too? Then it needs to be shipped to a factory where it is to be manufactured; then once it’s manufactured, it gets packaged. Then after the packaging happens, it gets put on a truck…then there’s all the resources used to ship it whether by plane, train or tractor-trailer vehicle from overseas. Notice how many things are from China. These are all a tremendous amount of resources to use when you can easily learn how to make things on your own from nature.

The alternative…
First begin with intent; then decide what your goal is—what would you like to create and for whom (i.e., your mother or father or perhaps grandparents or friends)?  When you figure out for whom, then create something for them; imagine what they would like. You can make a necklace with homemade beads that you can carve. You can make a wreath using our abundant Eastern Hemlocks. You can make bracelets. You can make a little basket. You can even make a spinning top with an acorn, and dolls or action figures from cattail and sedge. You can make cards too. There are so many options.

What do you think about when you want to create?

Think about where you are most likely to find an abundant source of material; it could be a wetland, deep forest, in a field close by. Then research and learn how the native people or pioneers or current crafts people process these resources.

When you create something with your own hands and your heart and intent behind it, it has so much more value than perhaps buying something that doesn’t have a personal connection. There is so much happening in the wilderness during this time even though the leaves are dropped and it looks bare.  There are so many gifts out there that nature offers. You can also go out with friends and enjoy the “process” which helps to build relationships with each other as well as with your surroundings.

The other option is going to the store and waiting in lines to buy things, spending your money and your time in an area that’s very loud and not as intimate.

So life is about “choice.” May you give yourself the gift of creating your own gifts this season.

Gifts of Winter

Gifts of Winter

By Frank Grindrod

Winter is here, and there is so much to celebrate and so much to learn! The word “winter” conjures up many thoughts, feelings and powerful images. Some people think of winter as cold and dark–a good time to get close to the wood stove or crank up the thermostat; while others see the first snowflakes and think, “I am going to the mountains to ski, snowboard and snowshoe.” You may hear an excited shout “no school!” and “I am going out to build a snowman or snow fort!”  Of course, there is always, “I’m going sledding!”

Animals in Winter

As a tracker, there is a long-awaited unveiling to seeing the many trails of animals and bird species. A blank canvas is placed on the earth, the snow is a medium, and the animals are the artists creating a masterpiece about the story of their lives.

When going for a walk in winter, it is like attending an amazing theatrical performance. There is action, drama, adventure, suspense, mystery and love.

As we witness these works of art, like tracks criss-crossing across a field or the wing prints of an owl swooping down in silent flight for a vole (small mouse-like creature), we get a glimpse of the playful courtship chases and successful hunts. We can also observe the hardships that face our wild neighbors, such as the deer being heavy enough that their hooves break through the ice whereas the coyotes are light enough to travel on top of the ice-crusted snow. Many animals, who are well camouflaged in other seasons, stand out in winter–their black, red, dark brown fur contrasting the white landscape. But there are masters of camouflage in all seasons; the ones that seem invisible. These critters are the ones that molt and actually change color. They turn white! Who am I talking about? Any guesses? I will give you a hint. One is in the weasel family, and the other is a lagomorph? A what? A lagomorph is a fancy way of saying rabbit or hare; it’s Latin. You were right if you guessed snowshoe hare, Ermine (short-tailed weasel), and long tail weasel.

Winter Living and Ice Safety

There have been several weeks this winter where the temperatures have dropped below freezing; an Arctic blast moving through the region. 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.)

The Sami people of the Arctic follow the reindeer herds. They are nomadic hunter gatherers, continuing the ancient ways, heating their homes with fire. First there was the campfire, but a campfire is far too inefficient when temperatures range between 40° to 50° below zero. In these conditions you would go through a lot of wood! So these traditional people adopted a small portable wood stove that transformed their winter lifestyle. Today, the Sami still live traditionally, working, playing, creating amazing crafts of beauty, making their own clothes and shoes, harvesting their food, and raising their families; traveling across the snows with their portable fires. The Sami are many miles from any kind of town, so when a journalist who was studying their way of life asked the elders “what happens when someone gets sick?”, there was a long pause before someone stated “we don’t get sick.”

Night Sky Navigation

In the Northeast alone there are so many celebrations of winter, especially the Winter Solstice. This is a very powerful event because this is the longest night (or shortest day) of the year. The next day, the light returns and the days begin to grow longer again. Winter is a great time to learn about the night sky. As winter begins you may look to the sky for some constellations you know such as the Big Dipper (Canis Major). However, upon gazing skyward, you realize you cannot find it so easily. This is because the Big Dipper or the Great Bear, as it is otherwise known, is not as prominent in the winter sky early in the evening. Looking for the North Star to help guide your way? Are you thinking it is the biggest and brightest? The North Star, otherwise known as Polaris, is not big or bright. This is a common myth. Some people have gotten lost, because in the far reaches of their mind, they remember something about star navigation, so they follow the brightest star, which is actually Sirius. However, as all stars move across the heavens, except the North Star (which is stationary), following the brightest will not lead you north. In the winter night sky look to the constellation Orion, the Great Hunter; he is your guide this time of year.

So you are outside on this beautiful, clear night. As you gaze at the stars there is a part of you that would like to stay outside all night, breathing in the crisp air. Brrr! However, if you are not prepared for winter camping, it can be a challenge. Learning how to camp in the wintertime is very empowering and rewarding. Imagine you have all your layers on and just finished cooking by a warm fire. You enjoy sipping your hot tea or cacao outside, surrounded by forest. You look up and see the stars and the Milky Way. Wow! There are no ringing phones, no TV or computer screens, or even the humming of a furnace or refrigerator. The snow creates a blanket of silence. You watch the moon begin to rise and see millions of sparkles glistening, reflecting off the snow. It is all magical! Everywhere the moon’s luminescence touches the snow…it is glowing. A whole new sense of quiet and peace washes over you, and you are cleansed with a form of renewal that only being in nature can bring. We are all searching to slow down, rest and recharge. Experiences like these can be life changing; creating many years of memories and a strong connection with all things.

Embrace the gift of winter!