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Daily Hampshire Gazette: Youngsters learn outdoors skills in the Conway wilderness

We’re so excited to share this article that was recently in the Daily Hampshire Gazette!

We offer thanks to Carol and Greta for coming out and capturing the magic of what we do (which we do in ALL our Programs–Summer Camps, Homeschool, Weekends of Workshops)!

 

 

Youngsters learn outdoors skills in the Conway wilderness

CONWAY — On a recent Thursday evening, 13-year-old Emmet Eichacker slept in the woods under an A-frame shelter he constructed from branches and twigs, just large enough for one person.

Sleeping on the ground outside might not sound comfortable, but Eichacker was well-rested the next day. In fact, he said, “I overslept.”

Eichacker is a leader in training with “At Home in the Woods,” a youth day camp from Earthwork Programs. As part of that training, he spent one night in the wooded area where the camp is held on Route 116 in Conway. Earthwork offers wilderness skills training for children, adults and families. It also puts on expeditions to places like Alaska and workshops on everything from animal tracking to medicinal plants.

On a recent Friday afternoon at the youth program, the campers’ “home” was in a small clearing inside a wooded section of the camp. There, kids climbed trees, carved wood, crept through the woods and wore dirt and clay as camouflage.

Tree branches served as makeshift hooks for water bottles and backpacks to dangle from. Nearby, there was a small circular shelter made from sticks in addition to Eichacker’s triangular one.

“This is like a little home away from home,” said Frank Grindrod, the director and founder of Earthwork Programs.

The weeklong youth camp, offered most weeks in the summer, teaches outdoors skills, including how to carve with a knife, build a fire, make utensils and identify wild edible plants.

In Grindrod’s outstretched hand, he held a branch with red berries on it. “This right here is a chokecherry,” he said, popping one in his mouth. The bitter berries were gathered from the forest.

“Fox walking” is a favorite skill for many campers. “It’s a stealthy way to move through the woods,” explained Serena Rooke, camp director. One walks slowly and feels the ground before putting their foot down, Rooke said, “so you’re not stepping on a stick and cracking it.”

Creeping through the forest like this, “Their brain chemistry and body changes,” Grindrod said, “Then they don’t want to be on their phone.”

Reconnecting with nature at Earthwork is a central goal. “It’s only recently that we’ve been disconnected,” he said.

“With all the anxiety and depression and things that kids are dealing with,” Grindrod said, “it totally affects them … They just become more connected with themselves.”

Building shelters like Eichacker’s is another skill campers learn, though they do not stay overnight. It’s Eichacker’s fourth year involved in programs at Earthwork, including camps and home school programs during the school year. He keeps coming back for a reason. “I get to be outside and learn skills you don’t usually get to normally learn,” he said.

Eichacker’s lives in Warren, about an hour from Conway. Joyce Eichacker, his mother, thinks the camp has taught him useful outdoors skills, and also everyday ones.

“He has learned the gift of patience. Everything about bushcraft requires a little bit of patience,” she said. “To light a fire with a bow drill,” she said, referencing a wood tool that uses friction to start a fire, “It’s not easy.”

For Grindrod too, the camp’s goals go beyond outdoors skills.

“EarthWork is really about mentoring people through the challenges in life … in a way that basically develops self-reliance and self-worth and respect for the environment and themselves,” he said.

Not a ‘normal camp’

Nearly 20 years ago, Grindrod started Earthwork Programs. “I thought I could add value to people’s lives. And I could help the earth,” he recalled.

His interest in nature started early in life. Growing up, Grindrod’s father would tell him a story about his late aunt, who would hand-feed birds. “That’s impossible. They’d be afraid of her,” he recalled thinking. “Then I was like, ‘OK, well what if it is true?’”

Around age 9, he started to test it and spend more time outside. Eventually, the birds did eat from his hand. “Then I had a fever for just finding every possible way to connect with nature,” he said.

He worked at a wilderness camp for five years, starting as an intern and working his way to assistant director. He also trained with Tom Brown, a well-known naturalist and tracker. Then, Grindrod decided to start his own camp, Earthwork.

Now, he’s publishing a book about how to start a wilderness camp with Storey Publishing, a company in North Adams, that is slated for release in the fall.

In addition to its summer youth camp, which costs between $350 and $410 for the week, Earthwork offers a Friday outdoors program for homeschoolers and themed weekends of programming for families. Adults can take workshops like “The Art of Fire” and “The Skill of the Knife.” The organization also takes people on outdoors trips. Grindrod recently got back from leading an expedition in Alaska, for example, where he taught leadership training.

At the “home” in the woods earlier this summer, a group of young people sat with their knives carving wooden spoons while their instructors stood by watching. Liam Wallace, an 11-year-old leader in training, explained that coals from the fire are used to burn the wood and then it’s carved with a knife. He made a wooden spoon at Earthwork and has used it at home for soup, he said

Wallace has been coming to the camp for several years. “You get to do things you wouldn’t at a normal camp,” he said.

Jude Dan, 7, also worked diligently on his spoon with a knife. He said he’s itching to go on a backpacking trip and his newfound carving skills would come in handy.

Nearby, first-time camper Quinn Bonham, 7, sat carving his spoon.

Did he like the outdoors before? “Barely,” Bonham said. Even at the end of the week, he said, “I don’t like camping, I like staying in hotels.”

As Grindrod sees it, the adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” applies to outdoor education. “One of the things about being a mentor is that you salt the oats through storytelling and inspiring experiences and sensory involvement and developing awareness to where all the sudden, they want to drink — they want to learn about this plant … they want to learn more about the story of this particular animal.”

That seemed to be working. Sitting on the ground focused on their carvings, their hands sooty and faces dirty with camouflage, the campers looked happy.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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.

Nature’s Gifts

Greetings!

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.
Blessings,
Frank

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