Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Jumping Mice build shelter and community on the Fragrance Lake trail; 5/5/18

As we met in the Lost Lake parking lot for the Jumping Mice's latest outing, an exciting discovery in a nearby salal patch got everyone's blood pumping: garter snakes! Lots of them! The boys immediately tapped into their hunter's instincts and immersed themselves in stalking and catching every snake they could see. 

To the untrained eye, the scene may have looked chaotic and disruptive: boys trampling plants and disturbing wildlife. But in Wild Whatcom, we see something else: focused engagement of body and mind, hands-on learning, kids motivated and inspired by the natural world. In other words, nature connection! Before we had even started our outing, the Jumping Mice showed us their ability to Be Here Now, and gave us mentors wonderful teachable moments about respecting and doing no harm to wildlife.

After putting the snakes back where we found them, we gathered for opening circle, introduced two joiners from other Explorers groups, and discussed our plan for the day. A ways up the trail we circled up to make a decision about how to proceed, and within moments were besieged by tons of gnats. Annoyed and distracted, the boys had strong opinions on which they didn't want to compromise: thus, they struggled to come to a consensus. Brian and I let them struggle, trusting the process to teach and trusting the boys to learn, but offered a few tidbits of guidance that helped them come to a decision.

Our next and final destination at the lookout point was, thankfully, bug-free. As we broke for lunch and some carving time, our motto Widen The Circle was in full display as your Explorers shared tools, materials, inspiration, stories, and time together.

After lunch we tasked the boys with building an earth shelter that would support a mentor’s weight. Some took to the task while others were distracted, and the shelter remained skeletal due to the lack of focus. So it goes! 

While the boys took down the shelter, Brian set up his camp stove in order to introduce next year’s skill focuses: art of water and wilderness travel. They were inspired and excited to learn more, and we are inspired and excited to go on that journey with them. A quick game of Spider’s Web and a heartfelt circle of thanks closed out our day with teamwork and respectful listening, a welcome glimpse of the Jumping Mice’s growing maturity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

JM carve and explore Clayton Beach 4/15/18

I know I’m not telling you anything when I say that raising a child is a two-steps forward, one-step backward process (on a good day!). From our perspective at Wild Whatcom, the Jumping Mice are making great progress toward self-reliance, resilience and independence in the outdoors. Of late, we see it especially in their respect, focus and discipline as they learn to use knives safely. They once again performed admirably as they started their projects on Sunday. Ask your Explorer about the product on which he’s working. Two significant steps forward.

As you would expect, as they demonstrate that they’re able to handle more, the mentors relax the constraints we place on other activities. For example, on this outing, we gave them more freedom to try that difficult rock face on the beach. And this is where we ran up against their edge on our outing. In the balance between perceived and actual risk, mentor Ellen and I saw several instances where Explorers failed to employ our STOP (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan) process for assessing the prudence of an action. One step backward. 

The great news — the arithmetic results in growth (net one step forward). The Jumping Mice are behaving better during our opening and closing circles as well as when we pause to make a decision as a group. In fact, our consensus decision making was also quite good on Sunday.

We first explored the creek just across Chuckanut Drive from the Lost Lake trailhead. With the “wiggles” calmed, the Explorers got to choose their projects — chopsticks, a digging stick or a butter knife — and proceeded to whittle away for better than a half hour. If you’re so inclined, check out your Explorer’s incomplete work and ask “how do you know it (chopsticks, digging stick, knife) is in there”. I told them a story about a young boy who watched a sculptor create a statue of a person out of a block of granite. When it was complete, the boy asked how he knew it was in there. We’re teaching them to envision the end result before starting.

On to Clayton Beach where their improved decision making created an agenda of three short bursts of free exploration followed by a game and our closing meeting. 

A note before I sign off. During our closing meeting, we heard the sound of breaking glass come from a rock above us and were quickly showered with broken glass. Fortunately, we all escaped physical harm, although adults and kids alike were a bit shaken. We found the perpetrators who claimed to have dropped the bottle accidentally. I suspect it was thrown without intent to harm us and without STOPping to consider the possible consequences.

The Jumping Mice have a busy spring. We meet again on May 5 for an exploration of the Fragrance Lake trail and work on shelter building. The boys are welcome to pack their knives. They might want to work on their projects during breaks.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Jumping Mice "carve" through Lookout Mountain 2/25/18

Excellent work!

The Jumping Mice outdid themselves at Lookout Mountain on Sunday. We started a new skill (check here for a look at our Skills Progression) for the group — carving. As with any skill or any venture worth pursuing in life, learning to carve is about more than just knife against wood. There’s the attempt to create something of value, of course: in our case the boys worked on tent pegs, chopsticks and butter knives. Before we can expect a usable finished product, however, many personal characteristics come into play.

Mentor Brian began on Sunday by telling a story about a young boy who watched a sculptor etch the statue of a man from a block of granite. The process took months, during which the boy said little. When the figure was complete, the sculptor asked the boy for his impressions. He responded, “How did you know that was in there?”

The first thing we encouraged your Explorers to do was envision what was in their cedar blank. Did the size, shape or grain of the wood hint as to what was inside? Did the Explorer have a hankering for a certain product? Start with an end in mind to increase your odds of success.

Other important traits that we didn’t explicitly mention (for fear of putting them all to sleep!) include the ability to focus intently, to follow instructions, to overcome frustration and persist through failure, to exercise self-control and more.

And, critically, as expressed in the Boys Explorers Club motto - Safety first! Here's our introduction to the skill of carving (background and video) for more information. The boys learned the importance of balance and of another Boys Explorers Club motto, Slow if Fast; Fast is Slow to producing a quality outcome and to avoiding injury.

Bottom line — the Jumping Mice did very well. This is a group that has had trouble focusing in circle; Glen and I saw none of that impatience during our guided, closely monitored carving session. Rather, the boys, some of whom were somewhat cold and wet, zeroed in on this task and made noticeable progress. See if you notice signs that your Explorer has improved attention at home. 

Once we’d packed up our knives, we headed down to the creek to play a game with the Ospreys, a Girls Explorers Club group who happened to also be at Lookout Mountain that day. When we met up with them, however, they were learning the basics of starting a fire, so we observed their attempts to light damp twigs. Both the girls and the boys now have a greater appreciation of just how difficult that can be!

We next meet on Saturday, March 17 for a service outing. More on that as we get closer. In the meantime, check out Sunday’s photo gallery.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sheltering at Point Whitehorn; 12/2/17

Let’s start at the finish. Before boarding the bus to return from our outing to Point Whitehorn on Saturday, Mentor Brian asked the quite chilled Jumping Mice to form a circle, except for two boys who’d been taken aside and given the following instruction — “Your job is to try to get into the circle.” The circled boys were told that the two boys had been told that their job was to try to get into the circle. The activity began. 

The two “outliers” approached the circle somewhat aggressively, trying to find weak points at which to penetrate the circle. Meanwhile, the circled boys locked arms, bracing for the attack. About 30 seconds later, one of the “outliers” was in the middle; the other was still struggling to gain access. At that point, the mentors stopped the activity.

When the boys had disentangled, Mentor Brian asked a simple question of the outliers — “Is there a reason why you didn’t just ask to be allowed to join the circle?” And the corresponding question was directed to the circled boys, “Is there a reason you didn’t invite them in?”

This activity goes to the heart of one of the things we’re working on with the Jumping Mice - focusing on and attending to others. According to an Explorers Club motto, “We work on widening our circle of connection with others, focusing on including others and mixing up our known circle to connect with all. In this way, groups often form a special kind of kinship over time.” (Motto - Widen the circle)

In my view, that kinship has yet to form for the Jumping Mice. There are friendships, to be sure, but the group identity that would compel Explorers to put aside their desire to horse around in favor of supporting fellow Jumping Mice in the construction of a driftwood shelter (our task for the day) simply wasn’t there. Neither was the individual focus mentors look for as a sign that Explorers are ready for bigger things such as carving (which they’ve begun to request). 

There are indications we’re getting close. Earlier in the outing, we tried another team focused activity (Helium stick) in which all the Jumping Mice had to lower a stick, which was resting on one outstretched finger from each Explorer, to the ground without any finger losing contact with the stick. This is much harder than my description would indicate, but the Jumping Mice nailed it first try. I’ve seen this activity done a few times and never have I seen a group succeed the first time they do it. 

Mentor Glen and I saw also moments of curiosity and concern for other individuals on the outing. And we should write off some of their distraction to the natural playground that is Point Whitehorn and to the cool, wet weather (check out how dark the pictures are!). Whereas I’m grateful for the life-giving rain, I will also attest to the penetrating cold and wet we felt on Saturday. As I imagine you realize, it makes everything a bit more challenging.

And speaking of challenging, our next outing offers another opportunity for team effort. We’ll traverse from the Clayton Beach parking lot to the Larrabee boat launch. Lots of forest and beach hiking and a rascally tide with which to contend. Here are the rest of the photos from our Point Whitehorn exploration. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Jumping Mice Hone Their Focus to Construct Shelters

The Jumping Mice arrived at North Lake Whatcom Trailhead on Sunday for their second outing of the fall 2017 season. We gathered up, had our opening circle, and hit the trail. Our goal was to find a good location to practice our shelter building skills and perhaps play a round or two of Spiders Web.

Checking out the newly finished Chanterelle Trail and the new signage
From the start of the outing the group was energized and eager to hike up the trail in order to begin our work on shelter building. We finally found a place that fit our criteria for shelter building (ask your Explorer if they remember what to look for!) and settled in for some lunch. Transitioning into shelter building, we split into two groups and began construction of debris huts. This “competition” was a not only a good way to brush up on our shelter building skills, but each group had to work together as a team in order to complete their shelters in time.

Creating the framework (two Y-Sticks and a Backbone)

Adding all the Ribs

Gathering debris to pile on top

Finished with debris (for today, a legitimate survival shelter to keep warm in would require 2-3 feet of debris to properly insulate)

Throughout the day, the group boiled over with energy that made it difficult to focus in circle and listen to one another as well as the mentors. Although the energy made sitting in circle a practice in patience, it also provided an opportunity to learn how to demonstrate respectful listening and create a safe place for all voices to be heard.  We had a discussion around the importance of listening to one another and learning how to balance letting your energy out through playfulness and focusing your energy in order to listen in a thoughtful and respectful way.

Gathering up after discussing the importance of respecting one another
Done with shelter building, time to celebrate with Spider's Web!

Despite the drizzly weather and distractible energy, the Jumping Mice were able to focus their energy into the construction of two solid debris huts, an exciting game of Spiders Web, and a genuine circle of thanks at the end of the day. The progress this group made from the beginning of the outing to the end was substantial, and it is clear they are well on their way to not only becoming competent shelter builders, but thoughtful listeners as well.

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

The lower mandible of a raccoon or possum that was found while collecting building materials

Friday, September 22, 2017

JM Squires Lake; 9/15/17

Welcome back, Jumping Mice families, for the third year of Explorer’s Club. We had a little turnover in the roster but most of the group remains as it was in 2016-17. 

One roster change of note is in the mentor ranks. I guess we kinda knew that Jedidiah was destined for grander things…he has moved on to lead tracking expeditions down toward Seattle (I think). In his place - presenting Adam! Your Explorers were very welcoming to Adam as they were to other changes in their group. A good thing, this embracing attitude! (motto- Widen the Circle)

Friday’s outing had a number of firsts. Along with Adam’s debut, the Jumping Mice also took their first ride on Merkel, one of Wild Whatcom’s two trusty buses (the other is Moose - you may also have heard of Stubs; it was retired a few years ago). It was a pretty quick run down to Squires Lake and your boys comported themselves well. 

In the early 1900’s Victor and Luia Squires purchased a large
tract of land, including the small lake, from Bloedel
Donovan Timber Company. Several generations of
Squires lived and worked the land until 1960. 

Once there, we scrambled up to the lake where we held our opening meeting. Our focus was our skill for the year -
shelter building. Adam talked through the essential elements of an earth shelter (also known as a debris hut). He and I learned that the Jumping Mice already have a good knowledge of the materials needed and the process for construction. 

Now we get to enjoy it as Squires Lake. Here
the boys spot frogs.

While a promising start, we’ll need to wait for their October 1 outing at Stewart Mountain to see their “stuff”, as we were unable to access our planned work site above the beaver pond - too much underbrush and too little time to bushwhack through it. 

Leading the way?

So we turned to our budding navigator - a new job we’re piloting in the Jumping Mice -who directed us to a prime Spider’s Web spot. It was game on! The Jumping Mice asked eagerly for a mentor to play the Spider because “he’s fair”. We agreed this time, but soon an Explorer will fill that role. Having peers on both sides of the contest tends to stretch the boy’s edges (motto- Stretch Your Edge) by stressing their sense of honorable play. Many an Explorer’s cry of “not fair” has led not to lasting conflict but to constructive agreement. 

Ask your explorer to identify this plant.

Our game and closing meeting complete, we hiked around the lake and back to Merkel. A short return trip brought us a final first for the day. The 15th was a “Purple Friday” for Bellingham Public Schools but a normal school day at Samish Woods. We arrived to wade right into the pickup line with many Samish Woods parents! They were gracious as usual. And we at Wild Whatcom have learned our lesson. (motto- Turn Problems into Possibilities) Subsequent “Purple Friday” outings involving a bus ride will likely follow a different schedule. Stay tuned for further word.

Looking for a great spot to give thanks in our closing

The Jumping Mice next outing is Sunday, October 1. Check the full schedule and the rest of the photos from our outing.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tracking, discovering, playing: The Jumping Mice command Lookout Mountain

They’re closer than we realize, watching us as we amble through their space, being careful that we’re not there to do them harm. Mostly, we don’t notice them. But if one slows down and observes carefully, it’s quite possible to see the signs of their presence. 

The deer had clearly climbed this hill, so
off the Jumping Mice went to learn more.

We wanted to finish up our Tracking and Bird Language season strong, so Mentor Joey and I decided to stack our outline with activities (mostly games) that involved the “Six Arts of Tracking” (from Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature). 

The Jumping Mice are learning that "Fast is slow and
slow is fast" (BEC motto). That is especially true with

When we detect signs of a deer, squirrel, salamander, etc., asking Who, What, Where, When, Why and How (The Six Arts of Tracking) is our template for successfully learning more. Thus, the outing outline focused on these six questions and related activities. 

We talked about naming the ravine we
found, (Jumping Mice ravine). It appeared
that it'd been some time since the last
Homo Sapiens had been by. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that we didn’t do a single one of those activities! And for all the right reasons. Our first objective was to find a track, after which Joey and I would talk about the questions to ask and…..blah, blah, blah. What happened when we found the deer tracks in the mud was SO-O-O much more valuable! The Jumping Mice immediately began following the tracks up a hill and along a ridge. They were on fire with curiosity and questions (some of which actually mapped into the Six Arts). The mentors had trouble keeping up with the Explorers’, both physically and intellectually. It was fun and, for me at least, memorable. And when a person experiences with his or her whole being, the lesson is more likely to be internalized. 

Down we went, amid mosses, a stream, and lots of

It’s funny — the Boys Explorers Club mentors build outlines around a flow that places the “work” early in the outing, followed by celebration and reflection. We put that flow aside for the Six Arts approach described earlier. However, after all the excitement of tracking the deer, we explored a little and found a spectacular ravine that provided the space for free exploration, just the thing to balance the more intense activity earlier. Ironically, while we were relaxing a bit, Mentor Joey spied a raccoon spying us from a near hill. He and a few of the boys quickly switched into tracking mode, but were unable to pick up the “scent”, as it were.

This mud pit provided the spark to a wondrous tracking

We finished with a few games of Spiders Web, the only game we played all day! I’m confident the Explorers learned both the technique and the thrill of tracking. I know that Joey and I learned once again that sometimes the best mentoring involves setting the stage and getting out of the way.

Next time, for Spider's Web, CAMO!

This outing completes our 2016-17 Jumping Mice year. With two full years under our belts, we can begin to expand our focus by exploring new places and new skills, all the while revisiting what we've accomplished in years one and two. I'm excited to reconvene in September to amble further down the trail. Have a great summer and I hope to see some Jumping Mice in Wild Whatcom's summer camps. Check out the rest of the photos from Sunday's outing at Lookout Mountain.