Monday, January 22, 2018

Pacific Chorus Frogs Navigate Together and Discover Frogs at Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail

The Pacific Chorus Frogs met at the Pine and Cedar Lakes Trailhead for their final Art of Navigation outing. As such, we spent some time before holding our opening circle to place ourselves on a map. We discovered that Pine and Cedar Lakes actually feed into Chuckanut Creek, the same stream that we remembered exploring during an outing earlier this fall!

At our opening circle, we welcomed a new member to our group; Chris! Chris brings a wealth of experience working with kids in the outdoors in addition to his own adventures in nature. The Pacific Chorus Frogs gave him a warm welcome and, upon discovering that he had never played Spiders Web before (how is that even possible?!) excitedly anticipated teaching him how to play today!
Taking a break to explore some interesting sandstone

We always spend some of our time in opening circle identifying and anticipating specific hazards that we may encounter during our time together. As a group, the Pacific Chorus Frogs are becoming more aware of what kinds of hazards exist in the lush forests around Bellingham. They quickly identified widow makers, nettles, steep terrain and running/deep water as hazards that we could potentially encounter. In order to mitigate these risks, they agreed to speak up should they see anything that they feel is unsafe and to take the time necessary to S.T.O.P.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan, Proceed) when deciding how best to move forward when faced with these hazards.

After this discussion, the boys were handed a foldable map and told that, today, there is not "red x" as their had been on our last few navigation outings. They were empowered to work together to decide where we would go as a group. Of course, before doing anything, we would need consensus first!

The PCFs chose to head up the trail a ways in order to get our blood pumping and find a good place to eat some lunch. We stopped a few times along the way to Hide! and eventually found a spot to take a break.

While we ate, the PCFs noticed a ridge that led down to a pond. After finding four salamanders on our last outing, it is safe to say that these boys have serious amphibian fever (how fitting is that!). This pond looked extra froggy, but between us was a hill that we would have to safely navigate as a group first, so, we had to S.T.O.P.P.

To Stop, we held a circle and made sure that we were focused and that all of our voices could be heard. Next, we had to Think. What are we thinking about doing, and what do we think about? Next, we Observed. We observed that there was a hill between us and that pond that would require us to work together and move intentionally to safely descend.  Then we made a plan. We decided to first scout the area calmly for the best possible route and then move slowly, in single file, to descend to the waters edge. Having formed a plan that was acceptable to the mentors and to all group members, we moved onto the final "P", Proceed.

After we broke our circle and as we looked for the best route down, one of us slipped and rolled a few times down the hill. We were grateful that he did not end up going too fast and that he eventually came to a stop a short distance below us. He was surprised, but unhurt, and as a group we carefully made our way down to meet him using a different route. After the mentors checked him out to make sure that he was o.k., we took some time to explore the area and even found a few frogs.
Finding frogs and fungi down at the pond

Upon returning from our romp at the pond, the mentors called a circle to debrief the fall that one of us had taken while searching for a safe route down. The boys were focused and took the conversation seriously as the mentors explained, even though this situation left everyone safe and unhurt, a different situation could have ended differently. The woods present us with risk and it is important that we be aware at all times. The boys identified that their passionate desire to explore the pond translated into energetic bodies and movement. They agreed that this energy seemed to be what caused the fall in the first place. They all agreed that, no matter how fun exploring may be, it is vital to remain aware and intentional when moving in the woods. They articulated this thought well in their own words and even connected this concept back to specific times on outings earlier in the season where a lack of careful attention had caused them to slip, fall and tumble. While we never wish to have accidents in the woods, these experiences are powerful reminders to the boys to maintain their awareness no matter what we are doing or where we are exploring.

For the remainder of our time, the PCFs decided to head up the trail some more and find a good place to teach Chris how to play Spiders Web! Once we found a good area, we did a thorough assessment of the patch of woods that we were in and established boundaries that would keep us safe from any hazards that we identified. It was encouraging to witness the PCFs work as a group to make sure that we could be as safe as possible while exploring together.

We took some time here to have a sit spot. The mentors saw this as a time that would give us an opportunity to reflect on our day so far and to distill and integrate some of the lessons that we had learned. It was great to see the boys grab their journals and dash off to find a special spot of their own in which to simply sit, sense and reflect if they so chose.

Chris provided an excellent challenge for the flies as he made his first attempt at being the spider. In the end, neither the flies nor the spider "won," but none of us really cared! We all agreed that the game was challenging and exciting and for this, we were grateful. After closing circle and on our way back down the trail, the PCFs enjoyed sharing their personal stories of sneaking and stalking during that game with us mentors and with each other.
Placing the food source; will we be able to reach it all the way up there?

This was a powerful outing for the Pacific Chorus Frogs. They learned an important lesson in awareness and intentionality, introduced a new mentor to the group, came to consensus and played a super fun game of Spiders Web! In closing circle, we shared gratitude for trees, frogs, new friends and our health, among many others. The PCFs were excited to hear that, since we have finished the Art of Navigation, their Earth Skill for their spring season is... the Art of Tracking!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Pacific Chorus Frogs Complete Navigation Challenge #2 and Build Shelters

In Explorer’s Club, participants are typically given more autonomy and voice than they are used to. Empowering the group to make decisions about where to go and what to do allows the mentors to see what the boys are passionate about and interested in. As mentors, we often find that what we had in mind for the day is not what the boys are interested in so we change our plan on the fly to meet the interest of the group. We call this flexibility our 50/50 principle; plan for a whole outing, and be comfortable with completely changing 50% (sometimes 100%!) of it.
Moving through the western red cedar and western hemlock trees in the Padden Gorge

In order to give an Explorers Club group their own voice, they must first learn how to speak as a unit. The boys know that in order to make a decision about our outing, they must have a consensus before the decision is official. We utilize a collaborate and compromise circle as a tool to help the group make decisions. Making a decision as a group is an important skill to learn early on in Explorers Club because as the groups get older and more mature, the mentors give them more voice and choice during outings.

To reach a consensus, we select a Leader of the Day to make sure that every group member's’ voice is heard and to shepherd the group through the decision making process. During their first year in BEC, the mentors modeled the role of Leader of the Day. Now, in their second year, the mentors have intentionally stepped back from playing the role of Leader of the Day and are allowing the boys to practice their circular decision making skills. Last outing, on Lookout Mountain, they had their first navigation challenge where they had to make many decisions about where to go as a group.  
Collaborating and Compromising at Lake Padden Park. Which way should we go?

On our outing at Lake Padden, the boys were handed their second navigation challenge of the year. As they made their way through the network of trails at Lake Padden, It was great to see the progress that they had made in making group decisions, even since just the beginning our our last outing together! The Pacific Chorus Frogs are still learning for sure, but they are becoming more comfortable with the process and are even starting to use it organically without prompting by the mentors!

We started our outing with a bit of vocabulary practice. What does the word traverse mean? We discovered that it meant that we would be travelling to a new area and would not be returning to our starting point. The boys were quick to recognize that, since we would not be retracing our steps at any point, they would have to be extra attentive to keeping their gear with them and not leaving anything behind as we moved through the woods.

As we made our way up through the Padden Gorge we theorized as to what all of the old concrete structures were in and around the creek. Some of us guessed that maybe they were homes for trolls! Others guessed that they were to control the flow of the creek; even more thought that they controlled the depth of the lake! We will have to come back in a few years as a group and see what we think then.
Troll home?

Padden Creek

It felt good to hike, but our legs were tired and we needed some food and water. We took a break on a fairly exposed hill where the rain and wind started to make us cold. We quickly decided to find a better spot to rest so we went deeper into the woods in search of a calm spot.

We eventually found a patch of forest that was protected from the wind. Even though it was raining, we stayed warm and (somewhat) dry because we were all prepared with full suits of raingear!
Getting a snack, out of the wind!

At this point, our outing became a perfect example of the 50/50 principle in action! The boys were especially excited about building shelters today and the physical labor helped to keep us warm. So, the mentors met and decided that following their energy for shelter building was far more powerful than trying to make the boys continue to navigate around Lake Padden Park.

For the next three hours, we worked together to build two different styles of shelters. The conversation was rich as we discussed the pros and cons of various shelter designs and shared new ideas about what materials to use to build them and how to use them.
Starting with a bed of spring Douglas fir boughs

Y-stick, ridge pole and ribs

The other shelter blended in well with the landscape!

Starting to add our insulating and waterproofing layer.

We fit!

Eventually, our time together was starting to come to a close so we had to stop the shelters where they were and head toward our closing circle. First, however, we had a bit of “show and tell” as the two crews shared the powers and challenges of their respective shelters. The Pacific Chorus Frogs are going to have a head start when it comes time for them to learn the Art of Shelter Building during a later season.
Discussing how this shelter was built and what we would do differently if we were to do it again. The Pacific Chorus Frogs are becoming skilled "debriefers"

Our closing circle held a bit more weight than it usually does. Today, Conor announced to the group that he will no longer be their Mentor at Wild Whatcom. Conor explained to the boys that another opportunity (working as a Montessori teacher in Spokane) had presented itself to him, and that he needed to take that opportunity. There was an initial wave of surprise and sadness that came over the group, that was followed by laughs and appreciation as we honored Conor’s time with us during our Attitude of Gratitude practice in our closing circle. The Pacific Chorus Frogs showed us their growing emotional intelligence as they shared their gratitude for Conor and the time we have spent together.

The Pacific Chorus Frogs are better for having had Conor as their mentor. His playful, curious spirit will live on in this group was we continue to explore together for the rest of this year and for many more to come!

To see the rest of the photos from our day, click here!

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Pacific Chorus Frogs Navigate at Lookout Mountain

Into the woods for our opening circle

The Pacific Chorus Frogs gathered for their second outing of the fall season at Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve. This place is a special spot for Explorer’s Club. It sits on the outskirts of the dense area of Bellingham development and as such provides a good opportunity to observe tracks and sign of some of the more typically elusive animals (ex: cougar, bobcat, bear). Additionally, it's relatively untracked forests are home to some rare plants (yew trees) and lots of fungi.
Some of the fungi that we saw today

Today, the Pacific Chorus Frogs were tasked with a challenge. Their earth skill for this season is the Art of Navigation and as such their challenge was navigation oriented. For their challenge, they were tasked with leading us through the trails at Lookout Mountain to a small waterfall about one mile away from the parking lot. The only tools that they were given were copies of maps of the area. The mentors knew that the Pacific Chorus Frogs would need to utilize their collaboration and compromise skills to come to consensus about which way to go when the trail forked. In this sense, this challenge included an introduction to navigation while at the same time requiring strong group leadership and circular decision making. During this whole challenge, the mentors would not step into their circles; they had to make decisions about where to go and come to consensus around those decisions on their own.
Hmm, which way to go?

It took a while for the boys to get into a comfortable decision making rhythm. The first couple of circles were difficult as their selected Leader of the Day struggled to find a way to quiet the group down so that they could actually listen to each other. Eventually, a couple of other boys stepped up and helped the Leader of the Day fulfill his leadership duties and the decisions became easier and easier to make.
Are we there yet?

At the conclusion of our challenge, when we had reached the red “x” on the maps that we were handed, we got the see the motto The Map is Not the Territory (another way to think of this: you can’t eat the menu, it is just a representation of the food) in real life. On the map, it was indicated that a waterfall would be here for us to wonder at and play around. What we found was a small creek - hardly a booming waterfall. It was so different than what the map made it out to be that even the mentors wondered for a bit if we actually were in the right spot! As it turns out, we were certainly there. While the boys were originally disappointed by the lack of a waterfall, that disappointment quickly faded as we found the area to be rich with discoveries: small animal dens, deep creek pools and plenty of sticks and big logs to make a bridge with.
Big, old growth nurse logs

Navigating steep creek banks

Vine maple, thimbleberry, salmon berry and ocean spray

Exploring down stream at the creek

More fungi!

Today, the mentors had to remind the Pacific Chorus Frogs to stay safe more than they should have to. All of the Pacific Chorus Frogs know that they are the first ones who are responsible for their safety; indeed, the actions they choose to take directly increase or decrease their level of safety. Despite this, sometimes our excited energy and rowdy behavior can make us forget this fact. So, we had to revisit our S.T.O.P. model of personal safety check ins a few times today. Because safety is fundamental to what we do in Explorers Club, we had to bring the group together a couple of times today to specifically call out unsafe behavior and a lack of awareness among many members of our group. This is not unexpected for groups in only their second year, and the mentors were thankful that no one was hurt and for the opportunity to talk about responsibility and safety with the Pacific Chorus Frogs today.

To see the rest of the pictures from our day, click here!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pacific Chorus Frogs Identify Plants at N. Galbraith Mountain

Our second outing of the spring season brought us together at N. Galbraith Mountain Trailhead. Galbraith is a special forest as it is managed for recreational use (including an extensive network of mountain biking trails) as well as logging, so when we explore here we get to see parts of the forest that are in many different stages of succession. Moving between healthy patches of forest as well as clear cuts throughout our day lets us see first hand the dramatic change that happens when we log forests, as well as providing a good starting point for conversations surrounding sustainable harvest.
Exploring new places

Before we hit the trail, we had to gather in the parking lot at N. Galbraith Trailhead. We had two explorers joining us from another young group as well as an Explorers Mentors Apprentice (EMA). EMAs are explorers from our oldest groups that elect to come out with a younger group on an exploration and share their experience and knowledge.

We started our day as we always do with an opening circle. In this circle we formed a loose plan for our day (one that could be adapted should other opportunities arise!) and passed out our jobs. Passing out jobs is a way for us to share the physical weight of all of the things that we need to bring with us (field guides, toilet paper, apples, bandanas, etc.) on an Explorers Club outing. In this way, we all individually get a chance to be a part of and help our Pacific Chorus Frog community.

We were happy to be able to enjoy some spring sunshine during our exploration today. As much as we appreciate and love exploring in the rain, it was nice to feel the suns energy warm our faces. The dirt jumps provided us with a great track for running, jumping and holding races.
Exploring trails

As we moved from the dirt jumps, in one moment we were standing next to towering cedar trees and sword ferns; in the next we were standing on a gravel road surrounded by bare earth and burn piles of mangled limbs over 20 feet high. Some of us formed theories about where the animals that used to live in this area have since moved to.
Dirt jump fun!

We made our way through the clear cut to a patch of relativley healthy woods. We observed and explored big nurse logs, a babbling stream, cedar trees and big leaf maples covered in moss.
Spring brings lots of water, and fresh skunk cabbage!

Our earth skill for this season is the Art of Harvest. A fundamental part of harvest is plant identification. To practice our plant identification, we played a game called Nature Concentration. In this challenge, the mentors revealed to us parts of a few different species of native plants. Then, we worked in small teams to go out into the forest and retrieve samples of those native plants we had been shown. Today we got to know western redcedar, western hemlock, licorice fern, and huckleberry.
Hmmmm, what do we still need to find?

Harvesting licorice root

We finished off our day with a big game of spider's web. Our EMA for the day was chosen to be the spider and boy was he a good one! We found that we had to sneak slower and lower in order to evade the sharp, watchful eyes of the spider. We welcomed the opportunity for growth that playing with older, more experienced explorers provides us.
We found this trillium while we were sneaking around during Spider's Web!

As the sun started to break out from behind the clouds we made our way back to the trailhead where we found our families waiting to scoop us up after our adventure at N. Galbraith.

To see the rest of the photos from our day, click here!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Pacific Chorus Frogs Spend the Afternoon at Whatcom Falls Park

Lowland snow is a special treat here in the Pacific Northwest. It is fun to play in, great for tracking animals, and just plain beautiful to behold. However, it does create some logistical challenges and because of these we got to have an evening outing after a half day of school; what a busy day! We are grateful for the flexibility of our group and felt lucky to all be able to still get to explore together.

Checking out the falls

Today was our first outing of the spring season and we came ready to move after a day inside at school. Lucky for us, Whatcom Falls Park is a great place for us to do some free exploration and release our excited energy. We also had the opportunity to practice our group decision making skills, see some nocturnal animals and look for crayfish in the creek.
Exploring the woods in Whatcom Falls Park

We are one of the youngest groups in BEC, and as such we are still familiarizing ourselves with the culture. A big part of that culture is making decisions as a group regarding what to do and where to go during our outings. For many of us this is the first time that we have been given this kind of agency. Coming to a consensus is a very difficult task for any group of individuals, adults or kids, and the mentors appreciated our effort and commitment to coming up with a decision that satisfied ALL of the members of our Sculpin community.
We found this beautiful nurse log with cedar roots running its full length

Some of us even practiced building a debris hut

Are there any crayfish down there?

The final seconds of daylight slipped away from us as we walked back to the parking lot to meet our rides. As a final send off from the forest to us, a bat appeared above our heads as just as we were crossing the bridge! We were lucky to be able to watch it feeding on flying insects for a couple of minutes before we had to leave the park. We were glad to have had an afternoon that included some community development as well as some interesting nature surprises!

Be sure to check out the rest of the pictures from our outing here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Pacific Chorus Frogs See Salmon at Chuckanut Creek

The Pacific Chorus Frogs met for an exploration together for the second time in as many weekends.  This was due to a rescheduling because of wind earlier in the season but we appreciated getting to spend another day together only a week after our second exploration.  This would be the final outing of the fall season for the Pacific Chorus Frogs and we certainly ended on a high note.  

One of the most amazing migrations on the planet ends right in our own backyards here in the Northwest as salmon come back from feeding in the ocean to spawn in the same streams in which they were born.  On this day we got to see chum salmon return to Chuckanut creek and spawn in the gravelly sections of this healthy northwest stream!
Looking at salmon eggs

We met in the parking lot and had our opening circle nearby before we headed up the trail. After passing out jobs and taking quick survey of who had been to this amazing park before (almost all of us had) we began our journey down to the creek with the excitement of potentially seeing big salmon muscle their way up Chuckanut Creek at the front of our minds.  
Opening Circle and handing out jobs

As amazing as salmon are, our curious young minds were suddenly filled with questions and excitement about all kinds of things that we noticed on the trail on our way down to the creek.  We came across some licorice fern that some of us thought we knew how to harvest.  The mentors noticed that we did not, in fact, know how to responsibly and carefully harvest licorice root.  So, as a group, we decided that until we knew how to harvest this resource responsibly (Art of Harvest comes in a couple seasons for the Pacific Chorus Frogs!) we would leave this job to the mentors so as not the damage the ferns.  We all still got to try some licorice root and some of us thought it was delicious and sweet while others found it to be bitter and made faces associated with this taste!  We played a few games of Hide! and played in some streams that cut all the way to the sandstone center of the Chuckanuts.
Using all four limbs to scramble up this hillside

Mountain Streams

Our initial enthusiasm for seeing salmon was reignited as we caught our first glimpse of some male salmon splashing and fighting over the right to fertilize a female's eggs.  Our awe and respect only increased as we began to get the full picture of what a salmon's life looks like.  One of us even remarked that he felt, "honored" to witness the final act (spawning) of a truly harrowing life journey that these salmon take.  After learning about all of the predators and survival risks encountered at every stage in their lives, we became more amazed that so many had even made it back to the same stream where they themselves were born!

We decided to have some lunch on the bank of the creek so that we could still watch the salmon while we ate.  Next, we would journey further up the creek, cross it using a massive downed tree, and then head up the steep hill to find a spot for Spiders Web.
The big tree bridge over Chuckanut Creek

We eventually did make our way over the creek and up the hill to a great spot for our final Spiders Web game of the season.  We even found some earth shelters left behind (could it have been other BEC groups?).  Our spot for this game was large, and had a mostly continuous coverage of sword ferns, salal, and Oregon grape on the forest floor. As flies, we found that our little bodies fit well under the sword ferns and we were able to burrow underneath them with relative ease on our quest for the food source.
Good hiding spots!
Who left this here?

We ended our game and had a final, season ending closing circle.  Here we all shared something that we were grateful for, as we always do in our closing circles, as well as something that we wanted to learn in our coming seasons together as Pacific Chorus Frogs.  Collectively, we were interested in building shelters, carving, and making fire.  One of us even wanted to be able to stalk an elk! The good news for our group is that in Explorers Club, we will get to learn and practice all of these skills in future seasons! 
Closing circle

It has been amazing to see these boys have the opportunity to explore and know each other more deeply this season. We are picking up the BEC culture quickly and because of this we have been able to have some powerful outings with plenty of fun and free play interspersed throughout.  We are excited for our winter and spring outings and are looking forward to deepening our forest connection while continuing to grow together as the Pacific Chorus Frogs.

Be sure to check out the rest of the photos from our outing here!

The Pacific Chrous Frogs Find Fungi at Lake Padden

Lake Padden is one of the most well known and oft frequented parks in BEC, and for good reason.  While the park certainly has a great network of trails for dog walking, hiking and jogging, it also provides us with some amazing areas of woodland that provide plenty of opportunities for discovery and play.  For their third outing together, the Pacific Chorus Frogs headed into the woods at Lake Padden hoping to uncover some of the natural magic that they hold.
Lake Padden Trails

The day started gray as many days in the Pacific Northwest do.  After gathering at the dog park, we headed into the field for a few games of Fire in the Forest.  We find that getting our blood pumping and running off some excited energy, we can more easily shift into an 'explorer's mindset' where we are intentional, in the moment and curious.
Remembering how to play Fire in the Forest

It felt good to head up the trail where the concrete and chain link of the parking lot were replaced with sword ferns and big cedar trees.  We noted that there seemed to be a lot of fungus present on this day, and learned that fall is a popular time for mushrooms to emerge because how wet our region is this time of year.  Fungus discovery became a theme of the day as we found many interesting types that were totally new to us.
Big mushroom!

It didn't take long for our curiosity to get the better of us as we decided to leave the trail and head deeper into the forest.  Our first spot that we decided to explore was a swampy area criss-crossed with huge downed trees.  There was so much to look at and climb on here that we all dropped our packs and fanned out throughout the spot with some of us climbing among the logs, building forts, discovering more fungus or testing the depth of the mud!
Mud, of course

More fungus!

Scampering amongst big Cedars

Our bodies began to let us know that we were hungry so some of us sat down and had a snack before we packed up and decided to look for a new spot that would be better for a game of Spiders Web!
Getting some nourishment

Only a short distance away we found a great spot for Spiders Web.  We decided that we should take a few minutes to explore the area so that we would have a better idea of how to move through the landscape when playing Spiders Web.
We cant help but climb

While exploring one of us discovered a frog swimming in a small pool of water under some low vine maple!  We all heard the news, bounded over and huddled close, hoping to all catch a glimpse or maybe even get to touch our amphibious friend.  Within a minute of finding the frog, we sadly noted that we had broken one of its hind legs.  Because frogs need their hind legs to move, it is likely that this frog would have been unable to move to eat or find shelter and it probably died because of its injury.  So we gathered to discuss what had happened to the frog and how its injury could have been avoided.  We found that none of us had intentionally hurt the frog, which is great, but that alone was not enough.  We decided that in the future, we needed to intentionally not hurt the frog.  This may seem like a subtle difference, but we agreed that in the future, instead of shooting our hands toward the frog, or attempting to grab the animal from another person, we would act with the intention of not hurting or unduly stressing the frog.  While it is regrettable that this frog was injured, it did provide us with this opportunity to learn and grow our relationship with the forest more deeply, and for this we were grateful.
Our friend the frog

After breaking our circle we grabbed some bandanas and set up a game of Spiders Web! We had lots of fun practicing our Art of Camouflage skills as the flies snuck under sword ferns and hid behind big Douglas firs and the spider tried to spot them.  We added our own twist to the game by taking turns being the spider, which was great because everyone who wanted to try it out had a chance to.  It was a long game of spiders web that finally ended with the flies successfully retrieving their food source and bringing it all the way back to the web!
Flies planning their escape!

As it often happens when playing games, we realized that we were short on time so we had our closing circle, quickly packed up our bags and headed to the parking lot where we found our parents waiting for us.

This is our first season as a group and it is particularly exciting to see how each week we get to meet and come to know more of the plants, animals and fungi that make up our forest communities.  Today we were grateful to have an opportunity to see clearly that our actions, wether in the woods or not, have real consequences and that when we act, we must act with intention.

Check out the rest of the pictures from the day here!