June 9, 2009

Wilderness Certification Program Graduation!

The 2008-2009 Wilderness Certification Program students graduated on Saturday, June 6th!

Congratulations to the recent graduates!

presenting certificates

students and staff speaking at graduation

student projects on display at graduation

June 5, 2009

We need more Baby Birds! (AWCP Survival Trip)

Our last field trip together was the AWCP's final exam: 5 day wilderness survival. We forged across a rushing stream to an island somewhere on the snaking Skykomish River. Day one was spent finding a campsite, building the best debris tipi we have ever seen, and making the fire. We found ourselves on the north side of the island, at the edge of the mixed forest. Dixie went to work building the bow and drill fire kit from the aged cedar that Jase had found on our hike. The three of us guys built the shelter. We lashed the ridge poles together with a zipper I had found hanging on a salmonberry bush. Our main source of debris for the insulative wall was an exotic invasive bush called Japanese Knotweed. We put about 800 pounds of this stuff on our shelter to create a 2 foot thick wall all the way around it. The gaps we filled in with sword ferns. Dixie was tirelessly working on a coal when she decided it was time to rest and asked me to bust one out. I got one and we placed it in a giant "bindle tunder" of shredded cottonwood bark; then the gal blew it into flame. We had fire by 4 pm.

Jason Cameron brought back something that made our lives extremely easy for the rest of the trip. He harvested a cooking pan about 3 inches deep by 14 inches wide. We went and gathered some stinging nettle and salmonberry chutes for our first dinner. Little did we know that we would be eating nettles and chutes for every single meal the next 4 days. On day 2 we got out of the shelter which needed more patchwork and made some fir needle tea (I call it Emergen-fir). The vitamin C rich beverage was not only soothing but medicinal to our food deprived stomachs. Jase raided a Towhee nest and got one egg for each of us to put in our nettle stew, but the eggs were already fertilized. We began the day by eating featherless baby birds. To much surprise, it was a very tasty morsel.

The rest of the week was spent gathering water and firewood, foraging for our next meals, hunting (unsuccessfully), and resting. The closest I got to a good hunt was hitting a flying merganser in the wing, knocking her off course a bit but not dropping her in the water. I threw so many stones and sticks at birds that week my shoulder is still aching. Our diet was mostly vegetarian, and every meal was a stew. We ate nettles, salmonberry chutes and flowers, thimbleberry flowers, trailing blackberry flowers, fireweed, oxeye daisy, coltsfoot, plantain, dandelion, sheep sorrel, oyster mushrooms, oregon grape chutes and more. The meat we dined upon consisted of garter snake, alligator lizard, gnat, worm, and snail... so many snails! They began to taste good after about 4 of them. The common mantra, however, thanks to Dixie (the predator) became "we need more baby birds," accompanied by a fizzing drool from each of our mouths.

There were many things we learned about wild animals, hunter- gatherer cultures, and most importantly, ourselves on this survival trip. I feel like more of a man for doing it and still have my stone knife that helped so tremendously throughout the week. Dixie brought back our fire kit and each one of us brought back a great story and many lessons. We were forced to apply the things we had learned over the last three seasons and we did it well, without getting sick or starving. What a way to end the school year!

Elk Trailing Seaweed Teachings

The week before our final trip was one of my favorites this year at the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program. On Wednesday we went to Three Forks natural area in North Bend to practice our trailing skills. We started the day finding a wild cucumber plant which we later learned is poisonous... darn. We traversed through one meadow and at its edge picked up a fresh elk trail. The heavy rains the day before were a tremendous help in differentiating fresh from old sign. We jumped on the trail at around 10 am, followed it across a small wooded stream into another meadow, where we found lays in the ever-growing reed canary grass. We lost the trail after the beds so we skirted the edge of the meadow until we picked up the tracks again entering the muddy maple/cottonwood forest. Each of us took turns taking the lead and stayed on it for 3 more hours, skipping lunch. We began to see large amounts of hair stuck to snowberry branches and as Dixie led us around a corner the butt ends of the spooked Rocky Mountain Elk left our field of view as they trodded off loudly through the woods. We did it! Found em' baby. I'm ready for a cougar now... well, maybe.

Thursday Karen Sherwood of Earthwalk Northwest came out and taught us about the botanical gifts the sea has to offer us. We learned that Nori, an edible seaweed, actually grows all along the west coast. We were all under the impression that it only grew in the Asain pacific parts of the world. We also learned that nearly every seaweed found in the tidal waters is edible, except for one kelp species named acid kelp. This is distinguished from others by its flattened laminae (leaf like blades) which are segmented and bleach out acidic liquids onto things they touch. Other edibles we learned about were Rockweeds, Sea Lettuces, and Kelps. She also taught us about which tidal zones each one inhabits.

On Friday we were put on the teaching stage at OWLE, a seasonal children's class offered by Hawkeye at his school, Quiet Heart. We used all of the tools he had given us throughout the year to teach lessons of animal movements, awareness, and camoflauge. By the end of the day the 13 kids we taught were covered in clay, mud, charcoal, Pine needles and grasses. It was a very fun experience and we learned that keeping control over a group of young people can require much more energy than expected. All in all it was a good learning and teaching experience.

Rainy nights, Scouts all right

It has been a while since I have been able to write about the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program. But at the beginning of May we went to the Okanogan to learn the ways of the scout. Scouts were very important members of native communities and were relied upon to gather information, find camp sites and hunting/fishing grounds, or to find enemy tribes in the area. We were taught numerous ways that scouts move through the landscape to remain invisible. We also learned about natural camoflauge, booby traps, and reconasaince. We learned that the rain makes it much easier to move silently, not only pitter pattering the trees, but moistening and softening the ground so leaves don't crunch under your feet... or knees... or stomach for that matter.

I will not go into detail because the scout community is a tight one, and under scouts honor we agreed to keep the deeper lessons within our tribe. I will say, however, that at Scout Camp you recognize the difference between comfort and need; and, for you brave souls who choose to participate, your boundaries and limits will be tested...

June 1, 2009

Photos from May!

Students learning natural camouflage at the Scout Skills Intensive

Rubber boa found at the Scout Skills Intensive!

Wilderness Certification Program students visited the Bullock's Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island, as part of completing their Permaculture Design Certificate coursework

Grouse that visited Alderleaf

Wilderness Certification Program students successfully followed elk tracks all the way to the animals!

Certification Program students teaching kids about natural camouflage

OWLE students in camouflage

Cougar tracks found during the Wilderness Certification Program survival trip

Wilderness Certification Program students returning from their end of the year Survival Experience!