September 20, 2012

Shelter and Fire

The first few weeks of the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program have passed.  Students got to learn, practice and challenge themselves with a variety of important skills.  They got to sample fall wild edibles in the ethnobotany class, learned how to identify tracks in the wildlife tracking class and spent a week in the Oregon dunes practicing tracking and trailing skills.

They also learned how to take care of the essentials of survival, which includes shelter building and making fire from friction.

Here students Coley, Ethan and Riley add dry, fluffy debris to the inside of the shelter for bedding.  Other students worked on the outside, adding sticks as "ribs" and then covering the shelter in several feet of debris for insulation.

As the shelter went up, it was important to check it from the inside out to make sure no spots were missed and no holes left to let in the cold air or the rain.  Here Riley crawls in to have a look and let the others know where to put the materials for the greatest effect.

Here student, Austin, carves a new spindle for his bow-and-drill friction fire kit.  A spot of autumn sun shines on him as he works.

Alderleaf instructor Michelle teaches student Joanna how to make a bowline knot, to help secure the cord onto the bow.  It is key to have it properly attached, so that the spindle can spin quickly and consistently.

Austin puts all the parts of his kit together, gets into the proper form and spins the spindle until it makes a coal. Other students around him continue to work on their first bow-and-drill kits.

It takes some serious carving, sweat and patience to get your first friction fire.  Fire is one of the most important survival tools, it can purify our water, cook our food, and get us dry and warm after being soaked by the winter rains.  Fire is at the center of so many tasks in the wilderness, and through it we reconnect with all of our ancestors, who all once depended so much on fire to keep them alive, warm and fed.

Watch for more to come soon from Alderleaf!

Welcome AWCP Class of 2012-2013!

Another school year is now underway and the nine month Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program (AWCP) is off to an fresh start.  This year Alderleaf has two cohorts of Certification Program students.

We are pleased to welcome all the wonderful new students of cohort 1...

 And cohort 2!


We are excited to get to know all of these enthusiastic, focused and passionate new students.  It will be an amazing journey helping them learn more about the natural world around them and their relationship to it.  The energy they bring to the class is palpable and there is no doubt this will be an amazing and unique school year.

More updates to come soon!

September 14, 2012


During the end of the August, instructor Filip Tkaczyk and Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program (AWCP) graduate Alexandra Vita and one of this year's AWCP students, Elan Rueven, participated in a local BioBlitz event.

The BioBlitz is an intensive scientific event in which experienced naturalists spend one or more days surveying for as many species as possible on a particular area of land.  This Bioblitz event took place on the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe's land at Hansen Creek.

The skills of wildlife tracking are a vital tool in surveying for what species can be found at a location, and which areas they tend to use frequently.  Determining what species are present can have great impact on how a parcel of land is conserved and managed into the future.  BioBlitz events also help reveal the diversity that is present at a site, and can help better to observe how changes in that landscape over time can effect the species found there.

There were many interesting finds during the survey, and even some surprises.

Here is one of the most common finds along the creek: the scat of a muskrat (Ondatra zibithicus).

The wetland areas were home to a variety of amphibian species, and many were seen even though it was late summer.  Here is a juvenile Northwestern salamander (Ambystoma gracile) which was found surprisingly in a parched area, that was once a wide pond.
Another surprise were these claw marks on an alder tree left behind by a black bear (Ursus americanus) that had climbed the tree in spring to feed on the catkins.

It was amazing day of discovery and science in action!  We look forward to more opportunities to participate in local BioBlitz events in the future.  Thank you to the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe for inviting us!

Cob Oven Building

Many hands made light work during the second weekend in August, when we constructed an awesome outdoor cob oven next to the main classroom space.  Here are some photos to showing the process from start, to near completion.

This is the tamping of the soil and establishing a foundation.

Once the foundation was established, a wire mesh skeletal frame was erected, and then filled over half full of stones.
Next, a layer of straw is add, with cob on top.  Inverted wine bottles are inserted into this layer.
On top of the bottle went another layer of cob, to seal them in.
Then, fire brick were put in forming a layer on top of the cob.  Onto the bricks was formed a gently sloping cone of moist sand.
The sand was then cover with moist newspaper, and cob was then layered on top of this mound.  Also, 4 bricks were especially cut to form the opening of the oven.
Cob is a hands-on method for building lasting and sustainable structures.  Thank you to all the hands that help build this lovely oven: Vita, Jeremy, Steve, Jason, Ted, Kerry, Haley, Jay and Kaia.  Also, a very special thanks to Eli Adadow for sharing his rich natural building knowledge and making this project possible!