Rick's Journal

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Last Day of Walkabout Camp

This summer has been intense. Both for me and the camps, as well as our staff and all of the many volunteers and students here this summer. It started off with a great staff training, waaaaay back in June, and then we had the most severe flooding we have ever had here in the county. The water ran over our bridge, and washed out a lot of our road, and we had to do some filling of ditches to make things safe for travel. Our newsletters alerted our friends and supporters about the situation, and we raised over $4,000 in the weeks that followed, to help repair the bridge and road.

We applied to FEMA and the NYSEMO, to see if we can get aid in the form of grants or loans, and are still waiting to hear back about how much we are eligible for. If there is a funding gap, we are hoping to see if there is a way we can seek additional aid. We are currently waiting for estimates from our area contractors, just to have them give us a ball park idea of what kinds of repairs and their costs might be, and with so much damage to other areas in the region, they are taking a long time to get back to us. So we are hopeful it will work out. I will try to keep you posted.

So, anyway, after the flooding, we kept rolling with our camps. We went to a one-week camp format this year, rather than two weeks, which is how we used to do our programs for the last 15 years. I am happy to report that initial responses to this new format were very positive. We were able to actually focus our teaching on specific areas that let to real skills being taught, learned and practiced. Hawk's Hearth, our camp that focused on wilderness cooking, and Yellowknife, which focused on camp skills, were really big hits. The students raved about what they learned, and more importantly, you could see the changes in the students, in how they stood, carried themselves, etc. You can't hide confidence, and it was great to see.

We had so much rain this summer that the wildflowers were especially spectacular. Our gardens flourished, and the kitchen staff made meals the kids seemed to enjoy each day. All in all, it seems, the ingredients for a good summer came together perfectly! We also completed many projects, with Earth Skills Program graduate Ryan Smith creating a new stone causeway for our trail up to camp, to alleviate the perpetual muddy path and bridge. We had many staff and caretaker helpers complete the Chesapeake Deck project, which was promptly enjoyed by all by the time it was operational. Volunteers Schuyler Senft-Grupp, Justin Katsuki, and Ryan Smith helped get the frame done, and Walt Gigandet did much of the construction for the frame and deck. Rebecca Schinazi, Josh Roberts, Eli Martz, Abigail Houghton, Tim Brown and Barry Keegan helped with the decking and then the white ash railing, which is beautiful and sturdy, and keeping with our wilderness theme! Many caretakers helped with other aspects of the deck and construction, including the stone ramp and courtyard in front of the deck, and Tim Manney helped with lots of stone work around our barns and camp. We really appreciate the work you all did, and for all of the supporters who donated to the Deck Fund in so many ways, to help it to happen. Thank you.

I have photos that I want to post, but I don't have my camera ready to download them, so I will put them up next time, but soon I will be posting many things all through the website, and I will let you know when I send out our e-Newsletter. If you want to get it, just e-mail me and I will sign you up, or you can click on the menu to the left and sign yourself up. It is easy to do, costs nothing, and you can get off the list at any time. Best of all, it is full of camp and program news, articles, stories and community learning, as well as updates and even a little poetry if we get the space and time. So don't miss it!

Have a great last week of summer, and we will hope to see you soon.....


Sunday, September 3, 2006

A short recount of The Beginning of Hawk Circle

Before the camp was born, there was a vision quest.

Four days in the wilderness, without food, with just enough water, and lots of deep meditation and introspection. I was pretty young, but asking for the universal life force to give me an insight into the future, into my purpose for being here on this earth at this particular time.

It was spring time, but the first couple of days were rainy and very cold. The nights were long, sitting, sleeping little, and waiting for dawn. I unraveled my life and felt Spirit waiting around, as if testing me to see if I was ready for what was to be revealed.

What I saw, felt and understood, was a vision of a future where the peoples of the earth were in massive confusion, pain, suffering and change. I didn't see anything specific, but storms, disruption of our social world and daily lives was prominent. There was fighting, and fear in everyone, and many people were lost, in both a real and a spiritual sense. This vision was powerful, intense and scary to me, just 21 at the time, because it appeared so much larger than my own experience and skill to handle.

I saw many other things in my quest, that helped guide me to the work you all are familiar with in our programs. But it was this overriding vision that started me in this life. It was still years away from the time in which I would run my first camp, but my training had begun. I took courses in wilderness survival, wild foods, native skills and crafts and earth philosophy.

The name of our camp and our organization, Hawk Circle, comes from several sources. The influence of William Ackerman, the guitarist who founded Windham Hill Music, was with me as I wandered the coastal mountains of Central California was considerable. Hawk Circle was the name of a composition that he wrote that captures not just the beauty and power of a hawk in flight, but also the depth of it's soul as a predator, as the keeper of balance.

Another source was the sheer volume of hawks that made themselves known to me in the first few years of my training. I saw hawks in trees, in deep blue skies, in thorny brush and hovering over grassy meadows. I learned many things about hawks in those days, mostly from being around them, feeling them looking at me, and seeing their beautiful yet terrible eyes. I waited while they waited, hunting and sitting in trees over grasses, and we shared something that I can't describe.

In the days the followed, I saw how the circling flight of the hawk allowed it to spiral up a column of warm air, called an updraft, and with each pass, rise higher and higher. When it was high enough, the hawk would fly in any direction it pleased, and it could use very little effort, just gliding easily. No flapping.

I thought about how our camp, our programs, were like the updraft that a hawk needed to grow and ascend into the sky, with each skill learned, each expansive experience pushing awareness higher, until the young 'hawk' could fly anywhere it needed to go.

It was the right image, concept, philosophy, for our work. The name "Hawk Circle" has passed muster, for 17 years. And the journey continues......

Friday, March 17, 2006

St. Patrick's Day

It has been a while since I last wrote, and much has happened! I spent a few days leading a winter survival intensive up in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Tahoe in February, and we made igloos, snow caves, fires in the snow and great survival kits.... The snow pack was about 5 or 6 feet thick, which is the most snow I have seen all winter. Here in Cherry Valley, it has been pretty much a warm winter. The best thing about the Tahoe area was that it was in the 50-60ºF temperature range during the day, and at night in the 20s, so it was just about perfect for running our class!

I have spent much of the last few weeks, after getting back from California, writing, doing the layout and graphic design for some new brochures, print ads and planning programs for the upcoming year. We have been working on all kinds of new programs, including our Earth Shelters and Historical Replicas, which is really exciting for us. The Algonkian Wigwams and Longhouses are just awesome, and I really am excited that we can offer these programs to other educational centers, museums or schools. Barry is also completing work on a seriously big Bark House over in Cooperstown, and the students here are learning a ton about making long term earth shelters.

We are doing a little maple sugaring here at Hawk Circle, as well as helping with native American traditional sugaring off demonstrations for the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown. It is great to show so many people the way natives did rockboiling, or used birch bark containers and clay pottery to boil down the sap. Barry has a lot of birchbark buckets for sap too, which are pretty cool.

Summer is coming and is also in the front of my mind. I am hiring staff, making plans for each program, and Luke has been doing alot of 'systems planning' for each part of our program here, with Trist's help too. This is going to help with the flow of each program, reducing energy on the so called 'bottleneck or redundant' areas and help us put more and better energy into the students/kids, too. Examining these systems, from how chores are done, to how our kitchen runs, all add up to being conscious of our entire organization, and move from an "Ad Hoc" style of operation, to a system that is actually based on strong direction and organization. I cringe when I think of how much time, effort and energy has been spent on problem solving the same areas, by so many staff! It seems like a small thing, each system, but really, it is a vital aspect of our growth and evolution.

Well, I have to get back to work here, but it is good to write and post these new pictures. Please feel free to call or write with any questions, if you have the time. It will let me know someone is actually reading this! I love to connect with people who love wilderness skills and nature and community.

Be well!


Friday, February 10, 2006

February Thaw

Alright, I don't have time to put more photos up on this entry, but I wanted to write a quick note before I head up to Tahoe in California for a winter survival skills class up there I am leading. I am almost finished packing for the trip, and packing always make me excited for the adventure! Make no mistake, it does come down to work, and making sure that everyone really learns to take care of their business when it comes to survival in the wilderness!

I am proud of my winter intensive students, who, last month, made it through their trek,despite heavy rains in January. This would have broken the spirit of lesser students, because it can be so miserable and uncomfortable! But they found a way to enjoy it and stay positive and upbeat. All of these are important keys to survival, too.

I have been changing my whole approach and feeling about my work here as the executive director and leader of Hawk Circle. I just feel very strange, at times, even a bit detached and distant, to the idea of the whole thing. This isn't to say I am any less passionate about my work here and my co-workers and our community. Far from it! But I guess I am changing the internal reasons that I originally had for starting this place, and for getting us to this point. And I think that this has been needing to happen in order for us to grow and take the next step in our development as an organization.

I know that we needed to change, too, because I have been needing to let go of trying to do everything here. In the past week, I have worked on a postcard to be mailed to our entire mailing list, worked with a media planner, made some small changes to our website, helped Luke with developing the paperwork for this summer's campers, finished a grant proposal for a new database, completed our second E-newsletter and mailed it to everyone on our list, as well as many other details, letters, phone calls and other meetings. Whew! It makes me tired just thinking about it! It has been so good having Barry and Luke here to help me in this transition, and all of the students who are living here and practicing skills and keeping things light and fun.

I will write more and let you know how the program went up in Tahoe. The mountains are calling me, and it will be good to visit my home state, too, just for a little while. Mmmm, I can almost taste the enchiladas! Yeah, baby!


Monday, January 9, 2006

Winter Earth Skills Intensive

This past week, we started a new year, and a new Winter Earth Skills Intensive. This season, we are preparing students for a four day winter expedition where students will make their own snow shelters, build fires with woods gathered in the cold, make grass mats, and use snow shovels carved from basswood. We started our course with a 122 question Winter Earth Skills Comprehension Test, which definitely set the stage for the type of program we are leading, and it is really good. We are also drying meat (venison) to be used on the trek, over a fire, the traditional way. We are making braided rawhide rope, for hauling gear, firewood and many other camp uses, and practicing our outdoor cooking skills, such as rock boiling, using bark containers and spit cooking. More than anything, so far, it has been a lot of hard work and good learning happening too.

Personally, I love this time of year, because the weather can be amazingly warm, and nice to be out without a million layers, and the tracking has been excellent. The students are eager to learn everything they can about this time of year, and when we covered hazards and winter related first aid, we had a great time. I think there is a magic to knowing that you have to sleep out in a shelter you make, even in subzero temps (which we haven't had yet, in 2006 anyway), and that seems to motivate everyone to work just a little bit harder in practicing and getting crafts done so we will be ready for the campout.

I tasted some wild grapes that were still on the vine the other day, when the North Wind students were here, and they were really sweet and good, once you spit out the seeds. We had a lot of fun in that camp, especially roasting chestnuts on the fire, tracking all kinds of animals and the snowball fights.....

This is a busy time of year for me, actually, because there is a lot of planning, organizing and thinking about the coming year. I have been updating the website, as you can see, as well as working on an e-mail newsletter, which should be out shortly. I have way too much to do, but I still try to find the time to flesh the occasional deer hide, get myself out in the fresh snow, fill the birdfeeders, bring in some firewood and dream about summer!

My favorite basketball team, the Kings, aren't doing too well this season, and I have been thinking about why teams (like organizations) do well, and why they don't. I have been thinking about leadership, and all of the different styles and structures of organizations that enhance or detract from good leadership. I have been thinking about our mission here at Hawk Circle, and what I would say if I had to distill our work down to a one-line essence of Hawk Circle. Man, that is a lot of thinking!

It has been really fun working with Luke Gaillard, Barry Keegan, Ryan Smith and all of the other staff and students that helped us throughout the fall. We got an amazing amount of work done, good crafts and skills taught, and we had a lot of fun doing it too. I am so grateful to have Barry and Luke here full time, helping me move forward in so many projects and areas that have needed attention for a very long time.... I am finally getting some time to write, too, which is exciting. I will talk more about that when I get a few more chapters done!

More on our winter adventures, as well as our upcoming Ice Fishing trip on Indian Lake, in the Adirondacks, coming soon!