March 25, 2009

Outdoor Leadership and Survival Traps & Snares

Our last week before Spring break at the Wilderness Certification Program was kicked off with a visit from Hawkeye. He taught us how to regain control over a group of young people who do not want to cooperate. He emphasized that discipline is a last resort that should only be carried out if a trend of disrespectful behavior is observed. Some of the ways a good outdoor youth instructor stays in charge of a group are setting limits from day one, expecting the best from the students (and telling them that repeatedly), letting them learn through natural consequences, and, one that works on almost every kid... incentive. Once control is lost however, and it happens, there are a couple methods of regaining your leadership. Sometimes a time out at the peace tree is necessary, other times the silent treatment works, and a good lecture might not teach kids anything, but it will embarass and humble them a bit. Raising your voice was only recommended in a safety situation. We tell the kids at the OWLE program that we might yell their name really loud, but it is not personal, just a way to make sure the danger is eliminated.

Thursday we learned about primitive traps and hunting techniques. We learned about running snares, figure four deadfalls, and rabbit sticks. We each made our own deadfall and tested them on Dino, Jason's stuffed purple dinosaur. He was squashed many times by our deadly cedar logs. We went up to the Aplodontia metropolis on the east end of campus and set our traps, non-lethally. We put sand down underneath them to see any sign of Aplodontia running under them. Jase and I checked our snare and traps... and the figure fours were tripped! The snare, we believe came undone. The last part of the day was spent practicing throwing sticks at aluminum cans and stuffed octopi. A rabbit stick is the simplest primitive hunting weapon other than a rock, and it is a close range instrument. At 30 feet, it was tough to hit a non-moving stuffed animal, but with practice, I bet one could nail a rabbit or squirrel from 45 feet.

On Friday we had the podium at OWLE in Woodinville. We taught the group of 13 kids about natural cordage of the northwest native peoples. We showed them Dogbane, Stinging nettle, cattail, and cedar root cords. Then we taught them how to strip plants of their fibers and reverse wrap, double reverse wrap, and braiding methods of twisting cord. By the end of the day, each kid had tied up a feeder cone and wrapped a cedar smudge bundle with cattail leaf cord. We even made our own little paiute deadfall, which we tripped with a ziploc bag full of water and splashed a couple kids. The last part of the day was spent playing awareness games like "You're only safe if..." and a cougar stalking deer game. It was a great way to become a child again right before break.

Olympic Peninsula Adventure

Wilderness Certification Program: A few weeks back, our caravan made the long journey over land and water to the Olympic Peninsula. Our first day was spent at the Makah museum, studying the uncovered artifacts of Ozette, a large village where the Makah people lived hundreds of years ago. We learned about the life and times of these people of the sea. The men would make canoes over twenty feet long and go out in 8 man whaling fleets. The cord used for the harpoon was about 1 inch thick wrapped cedar bark, strong enough to hold a 50 foot humpback. Tied to this monster rope were seal skins full of air, to prevent the whale from diving too deep. Once the tired gigantor was brought canoe side, a sacred lance was used to impale the beast's brain. Then one man jumped into the ocean and sewed the whale's mouth shut to stop it from gathering water and sinking (wouldn't want that job on a rainy day). On the way back to the village with their catch, sharks would often wander behind the canoe. If so, a giant stone was dropped over the edge and the shark disappeared into the dark water below.

These people had a fruitful forest on one side of their settlement and a fruitful ocean on the other. It is amazing to see how intelligent and brave these people were. They built houses from cedar planks and ate salmon, deer, bear, seal, and whales, as well as greens and fruits of the forest.

On Thursday, we trekked 3 miles to the beach through an old growth spruce forest. The creeks and streams had a reddish tinge to their water, and the spruce trees were 7 feet wide and over 100 feet tall. Right before we left the forest, a huge bald eagle flew through the trees less than 50 feet from our heads. We noticed that at the coast, spring was a few weeks ahead of our campus. Nettles were shooting up to shin height, and pussies were plumping on coastal willows. We even funneled a healthy doe between Jason K. and me and watched it make perfect trotting tracks on the sand. A half dozen bald eagles feeding on something brought us to an island which had a dead whale on it. We picked up rib bones 4 feet long and 6 inches wide! After harvesting some nettles, seeing ancient petroglyphs, and finding handhold rocks for bow drills, we hiked back to the campground, started a friction fire, and played bird monopoly.

Friday was a fun day, for me especially, because we headed to the Ellwah River to look for fisher tracks. We knew it was like finding a needle in a haystack... there were only 40 fishers released over thousands of acres in the Olympic National Forest. Also, Fishers are notorious for hunting the treetops, outrunning even squirrels through the tall evergreen canopy. Luckily at the last spot we looked we found a left front track of a fisher in some dry dirt under a bridge. Whenever I see a new track it feels better than Christmas. A gift from the animals for me to learn from.

March 21, 2009

Alderleaf's very own pygmy owl !

Today, at the Alderleaf Property I found a wonderful surprise...

A series of bird alarms drew my attention towards the barn. When I investigated the disturbance, I found a tiny little bird of prey sitting in the bare branches of the large cherry tree. I excitedly grabbed my camera and binoculars, and alerted the two people I could locate on campus - Steve and Zack, both residents of the property - to come check it out.

Not only did we get to see this bird in the cherry tree, but we followed it as it traveled all the way across the farms open space and flew to the edge of the forest. To our surprise, the little owl flew right at us at one point and actually landed fairly low in a young red alder tree allowing us to approach within 15-20 feet of the tree.

It was a northern pygmy owl (Glaucidium californicum)!

These amazing bird-eating predators are our smallest owl species in the PNW, and cause quite a stir among the local bird species when they are spotted. Believe it or not, these owls hunt during the day time. At these fluffy little birds are only about 6.5" long. Small enough to sit on your index finger!

This is just one of the many amazing animals that makes its home at Alderleaf and the surrounding forests.

March 10, 2009

Olympic Peninsula Field Trip Photos

Here's a few photos from the Wilderness Certification Program's field trip to the Olympic Peninsula:

jumping tidepools

black-tailed deer on the beach

bald eagle track

tree island on the coast

purple rock crab

ancient petroglyphs

students near Ozette, Washington's Olympic Coast

March 3, 2009

Empowering Youth, Natural Building, Pruning & Composting

Last week the AWCP hosted Hawkeye yet again. We began the day by starting a flint and steel fire at the outdoor classroom in the lite morning rain. Because our roof was taken down by intense snowstorms in December, we were exposed to the elements. The theme of the day was "empowering youth with knowledge." We talked about how young kids, when taught survival and woodsman skills, obtain not only power but courage and self-esteem as well. We "took on child form" while Hawkeye taught us how to make char-cloth. If I were a ten year old kid learning this I would feel a lot more confident and powerful, two good traits to have. The downside of teaching the youth wilderness skills is that, as they grow up, and learn more about our recent history, they may want to leave it all behind and head out into the bush... pull an Alexander Supertramp. That is where the responsibility lesson comes in. We need to teach our youth that it is their responsibility to be safe and sound with their potentially harmful tools: fire, knives, and knowledge.

We had a double dose of permaculture on Thursday and Friday. Adam Rawson came up from northern California, where he lives on a remote piece of land off the grid. We covered quite a bit in the classroom, but also got our hands in the dirt. Shelter was a large topic of day one. We talked about alternative, sustainable, organic methods of building. Some of the most common alternative buildings around today are straw bale houses (which work great in semi-dry climates... and if there is no big bad wolf after you!), cob structures, log cabins, and underground homes. The biggest challenge to alternative building, we learned, is roofing. One of our current projects is building an outdoor classroom with cedar shake roofing. This has been done by the old homesteaders back in the good ole days, and some shake roofs have outlasted their builders!

We also talked about composting and pruning. Composting is a way to recycle food waste back into the soil. We learned about components of compost (mainly nitrogen and carbon) and which materials contain these essential elements. Some different methods of composting include the layered pile, the hangar method, compost tea, and one of my favorites, hugelkultur (using rotting wood to build up a berm of soil and compost). At Earthwise homestead, Albert Postema has created a large hugelkultur berm which was steaming... in Washington. Talk about a microclimate! We also pruned our fruit trees in the northwest corner of the property as well as transplanted a raspberry bush and a gooseberry bush. All in all, a wonderful week of class.