Rick's Journal

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Week with My Son, Javier

When Javi started falling asleep while we were trick or treating for Halloween, we knew something wasn't right. It was a cold night but not too cold, and he just couldn't get warm and he couldn't stay awake. He just wanted to push his head back as far as it could go and then keep his eyes closed, like the light hurt his eyes....

We went home immediately and let him rest, sleep a little, and he woke up an hour later, had some candy and seemed a little better. He said he had headaches and that he didn't feel good, but there was no cough, no fever, no other things that usually go with the flu, or a cold. Trista and I got that familiar feeling in the pit of our stomachs, like we were going to be going through something really hard again.

Javi was born with spina bifida, and he can't walk. He has poor balance at times, and it is difficult for him to do crafts or write or do artwork. He has a v.p. shunt, because he has hydrocephalus, which is too much cerebral spinal fluid in the brain. Usually it flows and bathes and is absorbed along our spinal column, but for him, it doesn't work that way. So the shunt helps that to be okay.

Except when it doesn't. Sometimes, they stop working. He had problems with it five years ago, and he had it revised. Which meant surgery, and it was hard for us, but it worked out and we made it through. He was a lot younger then, and it was touch and go. But the neurosurgeons were really good and everyone took great care of him and it was done quickly when they realized that it was needed, so he was able to recover with no problems.

In this current case, however, he didn't show all of the signs of shunt failure that indicate that that was what was happening. He would sleep through the night and have periods of feeling better. He had a huge appetite, which is almost the opposite indicator. When he wasn't feeling better by Monday, we took him in to see his pediatrician and he said it looked like he just had a virus that contributed to some migraines. "It could be ten days before he would feel a lot better, but that it didn't seem anything more serious than that." We tried to breathe a little easier, but it was shallow breathing. I'll admit it.

I tried to work through the days that followed, but it was really hard. I couldn't concentrate, and I hated leaving him with Trista, worrying that if something were to happen, I wouldn't be there to help her. He is getting big now, about 55 lbs, and she has trouble lifting him, so I tend to stay close throughout the day, so she doesn't hurt her back.

On Thursday, he was worse, and the Tylenol we were giving him wasn't touching the pain. We packed some things because we knew we were taking him in to the hospital and there was no telling what might happen or when we might get out. Javi was feeling so out of it he didn't really have time to get nervous or worried about it. That is the good thing about being that sick, I guess. You don't have time to get freaked out. Unfortunately, neither Trista or myself were sick, so we could go through the full range of emotions.

They took an MRI when we got to the local hospital here in Cooperstown, and then they sent us to Albany Med, where they have a Children's Hospital. I rode in the Ambulance, and Javi kept talking about his brother Matthew coming to see him, and wanting to know if he could have chocolate chip pancakes when he got home, and would he be out of the hospital in time to see his sister's play. It was hard to ride with him and comfort him, holding his hand, but I know it was harder for Trista, following us in the car. I could tell she was crying the whole way.

We got to the ER and eventually got admitted by the early evening. The neurosurgeons wanted to find out if he had pressure on his optic nerves, so they had a young doctor come to test him, carrying a huge black bag with her portable lab equipment. She should have had a cart, honestly. She checked his eyes, from top to bottom, and said he seemed okay.

I don't know how to describe being in the hospital for those first few hours. It is like holding your breath, constantly, and waiting endlessly for whoever was trying to figure out what was happening to come by and talk to you. The nurses checked him every fifteen minutes, so he wasn't really sleeping, and we were on the edge of our seats, watching for signs of improvement, then offering that info to the doctors and nurses. They wouldn't let him eat, because they were worried that he would need surgery, so Javi kept talking about food in a voice that was unusual for him. It was kind of flat, I guess, would be the best way to describe it, without the usual hills and valleys of expression. Very different for our little guy, who is so vocal and talkative most of the time. I could tell it was driving him crazy to be so hungry, but he hung in there.....

Finally, they let him eat, and said they would just observe him for a while to see if they could determine the reason for his headaches. Javi felt a little better, too, and after eating, he was able to hang out a little and even watch TV. But he was really tired. We were officially admitted, and headed up the the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

The doctors didn't want to do the surgery unless they could tell for sure that it actually was a shunt problem. After all, who wants to have any surgery on the chance that it might not help you? We sure didn't, but on the other hand, it was hard to have him feeling so bad for so long.... and not know how to get him help to make him feel better.

I walked through the hallways, so emotionally raw, trying to think of something we could do to help him. Trista called a medical intuitive, which was marginally helpful. We were just there with him, all of the time, so he never felt alone. We took turns sleeping after a while, because by Sunday, we were wiped out. Still nothing conclusive.

I'd head downstairs to get food from the cafe, and I could see other parents or sons or daughters, moving in a daze, just trying to breathe and get through each moment. I tried to find a way to smile at them, even as I knew my face was probably just as transparent. I saw doctors and nurses and adminstrators moving about, quickly getting food before heading back to work.

I admired their ability to do this kind of work, and to be around people in their greatest moments of need. Life and death, pain and suffering, healing and wellness, all rolled into one big series of buildings, with teams of people trained for years to be the best, the smartest, the most attentive to the smallest details, because everything hinges on really helping those in need.

I saw the many floors, with hundreds of people, with hard jobs and simple jobs, to keep this whole place clean, in top working order, organized and in sync. I was amazed and grateful that this team was working to help my son, as he lay in pain, and I was helpless to do anything for him except hold his hand, or get him juice or whatever he needed. I didn't know what to say to these doctors and nurses, all of whom seemed to be ten years younger than me, but fully competent and able and attentive to my son's needs. They were so caring!

When we realized that there was a wireless connection in the hospital, I sent out a newsletter about our programs but with an update to let our greater Hawk Circle community know that we were there, with Javi, in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. We didn't have much to share about it, but it just felt important to let everyone know that he was there and that we were there with him and that we were doing everything we could.

Your responses just blew me away. They came back, one after the other, and I would tell Trista and she would ask me about who each person was if she didn't know already. Javi would ask too, and mostly he just tried to sleep. I felt like it was something we could do, I could do, which was to ask for help, and to let everyone who knew Javi be somehow, in some small way, be connected to him.

Javi doesn't go to school, and he doesn't have a lot of friends his own age. Most of his community of friends are the people of Hawk Circle, our community, who get to see him in a workshop, for a little while, or at the camp, or during our Earth Skills Semesters. He has people who take care of him, who provide speech and physical therapy, occupational therapy, and he has his family, which is scattered over the country usually. Cell phones aren't allowed in the PICU, so it was hard to stay in touch with everyone about how he was doing and not leave his side.

He got worse by Tuesday, and they decided to do surgery. That was a long two hours, let me tell you. On one hand, it is the worst feeling in the world to know your son needs surgery. On the other hand, it is better than sitting there, watching him get worse and fading from the world. So it was good, and scary and bad and everything, all rolled into one.

There were people waiting for sons, daughters, uncles and moms, all in surgery already or just going in. Some were just getting knee surgery, something that was needed but not life-threatening, and I was jealous of how easily they seemed to talk, how relaxed they were. I thought of all of the hospital shows, like Grey's Anatomy, or ER, or even Scrubs, where the doctor comes out and says 'I'm sorry... we did everything we could, blah blah blah' and I just couldn't bear to think of living my life without my son.

On the other hand, I did know that he was strong, that he was full of light, and that he would be okay, no matter what happened, because we are all beings of light, and this world is but one of many... But I still worried about him, being so young, and having to deal with all of this trauma and drama, with all of the other challenges he has to face, each day.

But each thing I thought just made my head spin, so Trista and I just tried to wait, and be present for each other and breathe. Jesse, his sister, came to the hospital and waited with us, and we all tried to just stay calm and comfort each other in this impersonal surgical waiting room.

The short version of this story is that the doctor came out and told us that he did great, the surgery went very well, and Javi was out of any danger and seeming to recover very well. We rushed upstairs to see him and he was sleeping. He was wiped out. Days of no sleep, just painful, crushing headaches, were finally relieved, and this blissfull sleep lay on him like a soft cloud. His head was shaved on one side, where they put the new shunt in, and covered with bandages. His small body smelled of the odor of the anesthetic, but he was resting, with real rest that was healing and good. We talked when he woke up, and his voice ws back, tired but back, and I just lost it. I was so grateful to him, for being so strong, and to the doctors, and the nurses, and the hospital employees, and to Trista, who was always here for him, and me too. I felt sick to my stomach, I was so happy.

I realized that I hadn't slept really either, and that probably made me more emotional than usual, but I didn't care. I met my mom, who flew in from California, and she took watch with Javi while Trista and I fell asleep in the Parent's Room. (Note: No one actually sleeps there, so they decided to get the most uncomfortable beds!)

Javi got better each day and we were soon home, but with a new appreciation for every day, for every moment with him and with our family. I was never so happy to sleep in my own bed, and make a fire in the woodstove and cook our own food and be together.

We still ask about the boy who was in the room across from ours, who had been in a car accident and didn't know who he was. He kept asking the nurses if he was in jail, and what happened, and he needed a lot of help from his own injuries. We all knew that while we went through our own trials, we were still going home. We were lucky. And grateful. And we prayed and sent good thoughts to that young man and his family.

The prayers and e-mails and good messages really meant everything to my family, when we were about as low as we could be. We could feel that support. I don't know how, but we could. It comforted us in our time of need. And I am thankful to everyone for it.

I could go on and on about things I saw, felt and heard but I think this is already the longest blog entry I have ever written. So I will stop. But there is a lot more I could write, believe me!

If you ever need help like we did, just let us know, and we will do the same. I hope you never need it, but if you do, we will be there. All of us. And Javi knows what it means now, too.

Somehow, I think he always did.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vote, and then sign up for the Advanced Bird Language Course! Coming May 3-8, 2009

A lot of people think that learning bird language is just memorizing a bunch of bird songs. You know the type of naturalist, who can imitate any bird? (I am secretly jealous of those folks, even as I call them bird nerds!)

Anyway, this isn't that kind of class.

The bird language we are talking about is far more useful, universal and full of information. It is about understanding the mood of the birds. The tones they are using, and how, to be able to inform us about what is going on in the woods that we can't see.

In the summer, the foliage is so thick that it is almost impossible to see deer, coyotes, foxes or bobcats. In these situations, we really need our feathered brothers and sisters to help us get a clue as to what is moving about.

Not only is it cool, it can save someone's life.

Bird language can tell us through concentric rings, when someone is coming up the road, up the trail, with plenty of time to hide if you are alone and it is dangerous. Bird language can tell you if there are predators around, another good thing.

Bird language can also give us ways of moving through the forest where we don't set off the alarms that tell other people or animals, that we are there. Yes, I know! Isn't that cool?!

In other words, the secret of invisibility, true invisibility, is contained in these teachings.

Dan has worked hard for years to get them. He hasn't taught this course since the last time he was here, at Hawk Circle, in 2004. (On the East Coast, that is.) And he is a wealth of knowledge that I would venture to say, one of the top three people who could teach this course. He might be in a class of one. I'm not sure. He's humble and probably wouldn't even cop to that, so whatever. The bottom line is, I don't know where you would go to get an intensive like this.

Have you ever gone to a language course, and 'almost learned how to speak the language?' Yeah, it sucks. You are so close, and then you have to go home and you instantly forget it all. Well, that's why this isn't a short, introductory, weekend course for beginners. It's the real deal. You won't fall between the cracks, and you will actually learn to do this stuff. For real.

And, if you take the time to go out in your own neighborhood, your home, etc, and practice what you learned, then you will soon master the details. And it will change the way you see nature forever.

I use it all of the time. During deer hunting season. On tracking classes. On hikes, gathering or exploring. Or just around the home, to know where my cat is at all times, or my kids, or my students.

I invite you to come and be a part of this program. We are only opening this class up to 20 people, so if you are at all inclined to learn this, well, don't wait to get your application in and deposit. We might not run it again for a few years, and I don't know where else you will go to get this detailed look at a vital skill.

I hate writing the above paragraph, because it sounds like I am pandering to fear, etc. I totally don't want you to feel that way. I am just stating a solid fact about the course, our schedules and ability to bring Dan Gardoqui in for an intensive class, and saying, hey, if you are serious about learning, this is the time to do it.

There's plenty of advance notice. Make the time, find a way, figure it out, whatever. We hope you will join us and if you need to make payments to take the course, you can start now.

There are a lot of people who study wilderness skills, learn to make fire, make a little buckskin, sleep in a shelter a few times and notice a few tracks from time to time. They are great people who are taking their time learning this stuff, and they won't get better anytime soon. It is too slow of a pace for them to really grow and become truly connected to nature and the Earth.

If you want to grow, you have to make the effort. And the payoff is big. It is a sure thing, even. In these financial times, the investment in your own education, your own knowledge, is something you can bank on. Well, on a river bank, I guess!

Hope to see you there! Call or write with any questions and enjoy the exodus of the birds for the warmer climes!


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Moving Past Fear: The Wilderness Survival Metaphor and Current Events

It doesn't take more than reading the front pages or watching the news to figure out that America is in trouble. The financial changes that are coming are going to be tough for a lot of people. A lot of our 'pillars of society' are crumbling and it can seem like our entire way of life will never be the same. But what is interesting is how our country, and even the world, is reacting as if we are all destroyed, and no one has died. Nothing has happened except that the concept of money, which is a societal creation, has changed. It has been exposed as 'the answer to our prayers' and we can't rely on it as our sole source of security and comfort.

As scary as all of this seems, life will move forward, and we will find ways to adjust, and move past the fear. In it's place will be people, working together, finding ways to connect, share and grow.

Some people won't be that lucky, though. The change is going to hit hard and it will take a long time to recover.

Being in these difficult situations isn't really the problem, however.

But the real issue here is the lack of leadership. Leaders can get everyone pointed in the right direction, working together and moving towards a common goal. Even if the direction isn't always the perfect answer, it helps us all to do something, rather than sit and wait. And we can adjust as we go, making small course changes rather than picking a far away goal and then working blindly towards it. Leaders are the people who are still confident that we will thrive and survive, and find a way to get to our goal along the way...

It helps in a crisis, to use the wilderness survival metaphor. In other words, what are our priorities? What are our 'needs'? What are our resources? Who are our allies?

In the wilderness, when you are lost or stuck, you have to do all of the above. You have to let go of your 'wants' and focus on your needs. You have to find shelter, clean water, have heat and food. You prioritize based on the weather, your resources and your family or group.

When you first realize that you are in a survival situation, you should be thankful for what you have, rather than complain about what you don't have. You have to stay positive, mentally, and believe that you will not only survive but thrive, from your experience.

In this financial storm, you should remember that our grandparents and elders survived the Great Depression, and they made sacrifices to get through. They have stories of people who helped and worked together to make their futures and grow through it all. It didn't last forever, and it spawned the greatest period of middle class success and productivity that America has known. (Yes, I know this can be argued everywhichway, but the bottom line is that most of America is not currently living at the same level of free-time, debt-free, leisure and family time of the 40's, 50's and 60's. The disparity of wealth is what it is.)

Survival thinking is not negative. It is about strategy, and trust, and learning skills to make life easier. One of my teachers, Tom Brown, Jr., often said, "If you are struggling in the wilderness, for any reason, it is because, quite simply, that your skills suck." Of course, this quote is both humorous and telling. It applies both to the wilderness and to life in society. Whenever I have been struggling in my work at Hawk Circle, I often think, "What skills do I need to learn or do better, to allow me to get past this struggle?" It works, far better than simply complaining, or looking for someone or something to blame.

I will talk more about these ideas in a few days, but let me know what you think about them, and if they are helpful to you in this time of change. Don't panic, and keep breathing. We are going to get through this, together!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seeking Deer, Finding Strength

I am a hunter. I mean no offense to those of you who are vegetarians, for any reason, and I can understand, both rationally, and emotionally, that decision. I honor anyone for that.

However, I am a hunter, usually, just for deer. I also fish, when I get a chance, to feed my family and connect us to the natural world. I hunt to connect with the spirit of the deer, like hunters have done for millenia, to hunt and seek and test myself and stay strong. My awareness changes from that of a teacher and director to something more, something that fills me with wind, brush, autumn smells and cold air flowing down the mountain.

At this time of year, I walk through the forest, through the fields and old orchards, enjoying the flowers, the crisp blue sky and the smell of freshly fallen apples, but I am looking for any and all signs of the passing of deer. Tracks. Nibbled browse. Pushdowns through the tall grass. Piles of brown pellet scat.

The other day, I saw where the deer had moved from an open meadow to some thicker brush. I bent down and peered along the narrows where thin legs had passed. Just being in that place, looking in that way, I had the sensation of something wild inside of me coming alive. I saw hair pulled and stuck on a sharp stick, scraped off at shoulder height. I could almost feel the scratch in my own shoulder.

Even as I looked at the trail, I was seeing the whole landscape play before me, like an aerial camera. The swamp, the tangle of apples, the raspberries, the open maples, the ferns and grass, all of them with their options of concealment and vantage points. Where was this deer going? Where would it stop? Where would it lift it's nose and try to catch the scent of whatever was following it?

I stopped myself. The trail was days old, the story unfolding before me ancient history to this deer, who was probably up on the hill, bedded down for the afternoon, dozing in the warm sun and chewing last night's browse. Part of me shifted back to the 'rational me' but the native hunter part, the primal part, didn't want to let go of being alive, awake and in control. Even in just minutes of release, it felt good. My body felt good. I shivered, and walked on.

When I scout the trails and fields, I look for deer trails with heavy use. Frequent use. Which direction are they headed? Up or down? I find the feeding areas, the brush that has been browsed in the past few days. I look for oaks, with their dropping acorns, and I look for apples that have been crushed by molars, bits and pieces falling out of narrow mouths.

Deer need three to five pounds of browse, (read: woody, shrubby buds and branches, not grass) for their stomachs and digestion to work correctly. They can't just eat corn, or alfalfa, or clover. They need cover, to hide and break up their outline to predators, and they need places to go for water. They need solitude, even if it is just areas where humans almost never tread.

If there is an area where you never go because it is too thick with brush, brambles or general tree thickets, you can bet that is where the deer are spending a lot of time. Along with a lot of other animals....

Scouting these areas, I start to get a picture of what is going on this year, this season. Deer are creatures of habit, but they also don't waste energy and time. If there is a change in food sources, they will move to those sources. And change trails. You have to do your homework, pretty much all of the time.

At Hawk Circle, we have lots and lots of woods, cover and food. It is tough to hunt sometimes, because the deer can be literally anywhere, and they are difficult to predict. Which makes it a challenge. Some people I know hunt active farms, and there are more fields and meadows, with predictable lines of cover and trails, where deer have fewer choices in movement and bedding. In those cases, your scouting is a lot quicker.

I will be taking our Fall Earth Skills Semester students out to find these trails, scout the areas and explore what is going on. Usually, by the end of the day, they are very pumped to sit out and 'hunt', even if it is just with a camera. Some actually hunt, but it is very difficult with a native style bow for beginners to get close enough to even take a shot. But that doesn't keep us from trying and feeling that ancient hunter inside that makes us feel strong and alive and awake!

See you in the woods.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Wilderness Skills Reconnect Families

Hey All,

I am back from a trip down South, where I spent a week teaching a wonderful family about nature, about wilderness skills and native ways. For five days, we made fires, coal burned bowls and spoons, practiced hunting skills, explored the woods and streams, cooked over the fire, sewed leather pouches, made arrowheads and stone tools, carved bone and drilled stone pendants and twisted cordage from milkweed, dogbane and tulip poplar. We also sat in a circle around a fire, shared food and drink, took care of each other in many ways, kept our camp clean and listened to the sounds of nature.

Northern Alabama is hot in August, I won't pretend that it isn't! But the Creator was kind and smiled on us, and gave us some cool nights, and a beautiful breeze, and a sweet, cool stream where we could wash off the dust of the day, escape the heat and be renewed. We slept, played and learned underneath huge hickory, beech, sweet gum and oak trees, where the air was fresh and clean. The cicadas serenaded us all night, loudly, and the coyotes enjoyed the Coyote stories we shared around the fire at night, howling and barking their protests and pleasure! The woods were full of all kinds of owls and woodpeckers. The land was good to us and we learned from her each day, each night, even as we slept, lying on her soft ground.

Learning and sharing the skills of living close to the earth brings a family together in many ways. It brings us close to each other, as we look after each other with wood carving, or sharing a meal, or using fire to make a tool. We get to spend time with each other away from the electronic distractions of the modern world. We eat bread that is well done, toasted over the fire, and pick our way along the rocky stream bottom, holding hands and keeping our balance.

What other activity do you know that can bring a family together in this way? Nature's power is so great! She soothes us with her winds, her colors and her sounds. The skills of survival are built into us, genetically, as our ancestors all were hunter-gatherers, and we find ourselves in little ways as we make the tools and practice those skills. Carving a bowl, my hands work hard to create something unique, special, useful and beautiful. It relieves my stress, and the smell of the wood opens my senses and my deeper awareness. These skills help us grow as we develop them, and as a family, we get to see each other grow before our very eyes. We are there to see the joy on our child's face as they learn to drill a hole in a stone pendant, or make the evening's campfire.

As a parent, I love family camp outs. I know it is a lot of work. It isn't easy to drop our work, let go of checking our e-mail, and plan meals, set up tents and bring gear, etc. But it is very, very important. Our kids need these experiences, and if given the chance, they will help with the camp chores and make it work. They need to get dirty, and hot, and hungry, too. They need to learn how to do these most basic things to take care of themselves, because it is the foundation upon which to build our very lives.

I am not just talking about fire-making, or survival skills, either. Self soothing is a skill, where we take the time we need to let go of stress and unwind and heal by the banks of the river, or leaning against a tree. Studies have shown the extremely detrimental effects of stress on our bodies and mental health, and learning how to 'self sooth' at an early age is a true gift of life that we can give our kids by learning to unwind and relax in nature.

Leadership and communication is something that can be strengthened by a wilderness trip. We learn to talk to each other to make the decisions that affect us all, and share in a circle, in council, using a talking stick and listening with our hearts. Leadership is more than just making decisions, too, as good leaders rely on a deep and sensitive awareness of everyone in the group, their mood, morale, focus and needs.

My week in Alabama was amazing and special, as I got to spend so much quality time with everyone and see how hard each person worked in all of these areas. There was a deep caring, and a strong love between them as well. It was lonely indeed as I loaded up my gear and hit the road for my 18 hour/two day drive home. It was strange not to see Bella by the fire, or Lili working on her crafts or Robert showing off a salamander or frog.... We are back in our daily lives, getting ready for school or back to work, but the moments we shared by the Cypress Creek campsite will live in our hearts forever.

It's not too late to plan a campout before the cold comes! Don't wait, and if you need ideas of what to do, write and I will try to help you out! Trust me, it is well worth the effort....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Winding Down

It has been so busy here this year that I haven't had a chance to blog much these days. I am hoping that this will change, but I can't be certain! We are building timber frames, making beds and bunks for the camp cabins, clearing old fields of brush, working in the garden, cutting firewood, putting wood chip down on our trails and lots more important, good and fun projects that make Hawk Circle feel good.

We did raise a cabin since we put up Aspen! It is called Maple, and I will have more pics of it soon, and I will tell you all about it. It went very smoothly, the raising, that is, and we are working on the roofing and getting the siding up and rolling. It is a beautiful cabin in a great location nestled in among the maples on the west side of the camp area, near the lean to. I am enclosing a picture, too.....

I almost forgot to mention the awesome camps and skills being taught this summer to all of our campers..... How do you quantify that? You just can't! I will tell you more about them, though, I promise!

I am packing up for a trip to Alabama for a family skills week there, teaching all kinds of wild things like fire, shelter, water, food, stone tools, hunting skills, crafts, cooking and exploring and getting close to nature. It is going to be a great experience, and while I will miss my family while I am gone, I know it will help me to grow as an instructor and as a person too.

Luke is wrapping up a year of being our Youth Programs Director, and he is doing the Scout Skills Intensive this week and heading out for the Adirondack Expedition next week, so he will be busy. He has done a great job this year making our youth programs really great and working well with the summer staff too. We will miss him when he is gone in September.

The Fall Earth Skills Semester is coming up and I am looking forward to that as well as all of our workshops too. They are going to rock!

I will write more about them in the coming weeks, but until then, Trista might be filling in for me and sharing some of her work and vision about Hawk Circle too! Just so you know! Enjoy her posts and in the meantime, have a great 'end of summer' season!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Meet Aspen, Our Newest Camp Cabin Frame

Hey! Here is the reason I haven't been blogging lately. It's called timber framing and we have been building and cutting the frames for two more cabins in the past couple of months. Craig Boynton taught us last August about the techniques, which are traditional methods, using square rule and lots of heirloom chisels, slicks and corner chisels. It is fun, a lot of hard work, and addictive, as almost anything done by hand is when done well, and we have been enjoying our work in the barn, making rafters, posts, plates, girts and braces, not to even mention all of those pegs!

Barry Keegan champhers the edge of the top
plate beam in the Hawk Circle Barn
Aspen is the first cabin that I measured and did the layout for, without Craig's guidance. I made a few minor errors but nothing that impacted the beauty and strength of this wonderful space. It felt really great to see all the beam and pieces come together to form a strong structure that will last for generations.

It is the second cabin completed in our Sustainability Campaign, as we move from tents (disposable, non-biodegradable, prone to breaking, short lifespan) to cabins (long lasting, secure, traditional and built for four seasons). Last summer we built the Adirondack Lean-to, moved one of our previously built cabin frames up to our new campsite, enclosed it and another small cabin for our staff/student use, built the hand washing station and first aid deck as well as cut the frame for Spruce, our first cabin in the series. That was a long summer! Now Spruce is enclosed and awaiting bunk beds, and Aspen is going to quickly follow. Next up is the third cabin, which is Maple, and the beams for her are almost all cut and ready to be assembled.
Tim Brown checks the sill beams for level.
Our forth cabin, Pine, is awaiting funding before we can get started, but we are hoping this will happen in the coming weeks. We have plans for a small campaign to raise the money soon, (as soon as I can stop framing and write some letters and newsletters and let our awesome community know!) We are just amazed about how much support and love has poured in to help our camp move to a new place that continues to make a difference in the lives of our students, campers and staff.
Rick adjusts the stone base of the
cabin frame.
People, I can't expressed how beautiful it feels to be inside one of these cabins, and how peaceful it is to sit back and look at the handcrafted beams and enjoy being inside this new space. (I'm talking about Spruce now, as Aspen doesn't have roof just yet, as you can see!)

Raising the second bent!
The wood comes from local forests, in most cases less than twenty miles from the camp. That's the wood for the beams, the siding, the roof, the battens and all of the trim. The only wood that is from any significant distance is the plywood for the floors. It feels so good to know that it was done in a sustainable manner, and almost no electricity either. The chisels, slicks, drawknives and other hand tools are almost all heirloom tools that are decades old, worn and used by craftsmen and women before all of this modern technology existed.

Raising the top plate beam.
The barn has become the cool place to hang out, work on an arrow or bow while we work on the frames. The floor is piled with wood chips from our axes and drawknives, and it feels good to work slowly, carefully, towards the completion of the next frame. It is exciting and calming, healing and energizing, all at the same time. We are careful to stay in a focused, positive frame of mind as we work, and take a break if we get sore or tired, to do something else.

Fitting the second plate beam onto the posts.
In addition to the frame, we are getting an awesome garden rolling, as well as making buckskin, bark tanning, bows, bark baskets, and helping our heirloom apple orchards along. It is good, honest work, and our caretakers, visitors, students and staff appreciate the feeling of a job well done at the end of the day!

Noah guides the plate into the
post mortise, while Barry fits
the brace into the pocket.
The bottom line is that these cabins have helped us in more ways than just shelter. They have taught us about doing our best work, to focus, to work hard, to pay attention, to keep our work area clean, to talk and work at the same time, to marvel at the gift of wood and metal and hands and vision. We have learned something ancient and new, through this skill that is still valued today. Anyone who has worked on our cabins has stood a little taller through being a part of this mission. It feels good, now and going forward, far into the future. We are building life skills, for ourselves, for our friends and our students, our children and our coming generations.
The Aspen Frame, finished and fully
raised.   A good day's work!
The interior, after installing the bunk beds.
Building Aspen, I feel like I know a little more about the concept of thinking ahead for seven generations, to insure that the good things that we have in our lives now will be there for our children, and our children's children, for seven generations ahead. You are helping make it happen, and it is real, and it is good. Thank you!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Vision: The story between the lines...

I have been thinking lately about Hawk Circle in the visionary sense. After all, it's been nineteen years since we started this program rolling, and it is now large and far reaching, running year round and in all sorts of different forms and programs.

Bottom line is, having the vision is the easy part. Seriously. Of course, at the time, it doesn't seem that way. All of the fasting, isolation, pondering, deep thoughts and seeking spiritual guidance, when it is revealed in all its vague glory, it seems awesome and important and amazing. Blessings raining down from heaven. Yeah.

Then, you have to actually do something. You have to build up momentum, inside, and you have to believe. You have to try and fail and try again. You have to solve things, and look at all of the things that you thought would be easy, and realize that you just aren't that good in some areas.

In my journey, I have struggled in many areas. One is in the area of expectation. I expected that the universe would support me in the ways that I was secretly hoping it would. I thought it would be easy, or easier than it actually was. I thought that the way would be opened unto me, blah blah blah. It didn't matter how good the work was that I and my staff did, either. Sometimes it was still just plain hard work with small, incremental rewards that made me think I was just treading water.

My expectations also were blown wide open about myself. I would feel confident, sure and full of faith in my programs, and around my staff, even my family. However, in some cases, I would have my own doubts, my own fears and worries, and I was scared to admit this part of me, or share it with anyone. I thought no one would understand that I had these feelings, and that they would leave if I shared that side of me and the carrying of the vision.

I eventually learned that it is okay to have highs and lows in any given month or year. It is okay to be real, and real friends understand what it means to be honest and open. Even with the inner stuff that isn't as fun and magical as making a fire or turning hides into soft buckskin!

Carrying a vision is intense, especially in the field of wilderness education, because it is a pioneering field. (Pioneering is another word for struggle here, people! Have you ever tried to clear a field out of an acre of forest? Hard work, baby. When the stumps are gone, then you have to try to move the rocks.... Whew.)

On the other hand, I am just incredibly stubborn. I won't give up, and I will continue to pour my effort, thoughts, creativity and resources into bringing the Hawk Circle vision forth into the world.


Well, that's easy. Because the world, and the peoples of the world, need help. They need the healing, the awakening, the soothing of the soul, and the tempering power of leadership that the wilderness can give. And we can do something that many other agencies and organizations can't. We can create serious change through shepherding youth in the wilderness.

Contact with nature is key to help healing what ails us inside, and we offer ways of connecting that are seamless, almost painless and fear free. You don't have to feel bad about yourself, or the world, either. You just have to be real and be willing to spend some time away from the distractions of our modern world. For a little while, that is.

When I look back at the journey Hawk Circle has taken me, I know that I was held and supported (am still supported) by the universe, and by people who recognize and care about what we are doing. I was supported not in the ways I thought I wanted but in what I needed, which was to get better and figure things out and find ways to make things happen when you have little to work with. Kind of like wilderness survival! The love and support is always there, all around you. It just doesn't always look the way you thought it would. Whatever.

Anyway, I don't know where I am going with this post but I just felt I needed to write about it and it seemed important, so I'm laying it on you. I hope it wasn't a waste of your time.

If you have any thoughts or comments, I would love to hear about them. In the meantime, enjoy the sights, smells and sunshine of spring and get out and walk barefoot in the grass.....

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The 2008 Tracking Expedition

If there is one thing that is hard to teach, it's tracking. I mean, tracking is all about awareness, and it is damn hard to change that! Basically, you are working hard to change old habits of perception. And there is the added helping of belief. If you don't believe you can see tracks in leaves, or moss, or gravel or sand, then you won't. So that part is definitely important.

Fortunately, it is made a lot easier when people actually want to become good trackers, and are willing to work hard to grow. Which was the case in April while we were on the Spring Earth Skills Semester on the Tracking Expedition.

We left the third week of April to head down to Cape Cod, where we stayed for five days and melted our brains in the sands of this amazing place....

Luke Gaillard and I started with everything from footprint drawings and study, to stride and gait patterns and even a little track aging thrown in for fun. We tracked in sand. We tracked in gravel. We tracked in moss. We tracked in pine needles. We even tracked in deep leaf litter, and that was intense and revealing....

One of the highlights of the trip was taking the group blindfolded into the forest, letting them see and find their own trail in dry leaves. (Yes, they did find their way back.)

Another thing that was very successful was moving from area to area and applying the skills learned to the new place, building our awareness and tracking tools with each stop. It was amazing how tired everyone got just looking at tracks and trees and plants and animals and ocean. Nature can sure tire you out!

We followed skunk tracks in the dunes of Nauset Beach, and deer, coyotes, cottontails, fishers and raccoons in several areas. The crow tracks were really neat, and the way that the damp sand and clays showed hair and even finger/paw prints was amazing. There is something powerful about studying animals through their tracks, feeling and seeing the landscape and exploring the terrain through their eyes.... well, words can't express what it was like. Spring was in the air, with branches budding out, flowering and green. I wish I could share our walks and studies with everyone!

The open, fresh clean sand of the wide beaches gave us lots of time to test our skills, making tricky trails where we had to figure out what our companions did in fifteen-twenty steps, which let us ignore the wind and the fading sunlight and our tired legs and just unravel the mystery.

Yeah, it was a good trip. See you next year!?

Have a great spring!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hawk Circle and Waldorf Education

Waldorf education has had a huge influence on me. I will come right out and admit it. My mom was brilliant in putting me in the Sacramento Waldorf School in my early grades, then I was part of the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in their pioneering years from fourth to eighth grade. We lived in Camphill Village in Copake, NY, too. The philosophy wasn't something I read about, studied and thought about. It was something I lived, for much of my youth.

Even as I studied my wilderness skills throughout the country, I was never far away from Waldorf communities. I worked with Tamara Slayton in Sebastapol, developing Rites of Passage and Coming of Age events for young men and women. I worked for a summer at the Summerfield Waldorf School's summer day camp in Santa Rosa, and worked at the Hawthorne Valley Farm store for years as I developed the Hawk Circle Summer Camp on the land in that community.

I also worked at Hawthorne Valley School cleaning and doing maintenance projects, as well as being part of the Visiting Students Program on the Farm for several years. It was Nancy Dill, the director of that program, who helped me get Hawk Circle started on the old Agawamuck campsite location. Those were pioneering days!

For me, Waldorf education and the community environment shows up all of the time. I sew, draw, build cabins and teach through storytelling, all skills whose foundations were laid in my early classes at those schools. I am comfortable in front of large groups of people, usually! (Thanks, school play!) and I feel good about creating safe spaces where campers and students can grow and thrive, where they have a good balance of challenge and inner connection to nature that is unique to each group.

I guess this post is a small way of saying thank you to all of my teachers, who were patient with me while I knitted, drew with block crayons, painted in dark colors (I'm colorblind!) and goofed my way through eurythmy! I know I wasn't the easiest person to mentor and bring through the process, so I know it was a labor of love. Yeah, the pay probably wasn't that great either! Hopefully, the work I have tried to develop here at Hawk Circle is part of the growing unfoldment of positive leadership, change and transformation that is taking hold in our world today.

This year, we are working with the Minnesota Waldorf School, the Waldorf School of Garden City, the River Valley Waldorf School, the Rudolf Steiner School in NYC, the Aurora Waldorf School and a number of other schools. They come to Hawk Circle with their sixth grade, or seventh or eighth grade, for a week of immersion into nature, as a group. We work with the class teacher to develop a program that is customized to each class's unique needs, modifying native crafts, skills, adventures and experiences that will help ensure an awesome experience.

It is a great feeling to go into those schools and visit their class/parents, (as we do for each group that comes to Hawk Circle). We can really feel the strength, the caring and the dedication that is present, and to see the effect it has on the youth, on everyone, really. It makes me proud to have been and still be a part of this movement, and to support it with our wilderness camps and class trips.

I have a small article coming out in the next issue of LILIPOH, the unofficial publication of the expanding Waldorf influenced universe, as well as mention in a similar Waldorf education meets wilderness education article in Renewal (the official publication of Waldorf!) We look forward to continued collaboration and support in these movements, for the benefit of our children and young adults, and, well, all of us!

Please note: By the way, the pic above is of the October 2007 Baltimore Waldorf Coming of Age program at the Gunpowder Falls State Park in Maryland.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Blog is Born: Hawk Circle gets interactive!

Well, we did it. We have a blog online, and you can leave comments about any of the things we have written here. Questions. Comments. Ideas and suggestions. Heck, you can even leave poetry!

But I will be realistic. You probably won't.

I am not thinking negative here, just observing human nature. My nature, even. I read blogs from time to time, and really enjoy them, but rarely ever leave comments. I will read the comments too, but still rarely leave anything behind for the writers/creators to see.

Overall, I understand it, because I have an excuse. We're busy! All of us.

But, if you like anything we put up here, and if it resonates with you, feel free to leave us a comment.

Just in case!

Either way, I am writing to give you insight into who we are, in a way that we can't do on the main website, in our course description or brochures, that gives you a sense of our personalities and our outlook on our work at Hawk Circle. Because there is a lot of variety out there when it comes to Wilderness Schools and their philosophies. Some are pretty radical, by some measures. Others are pretty mainstream. It is good to make sure the course, camp or program you select matches what you are looking for.

Anyway, I will do my best, and you can feel free to e-mail me with any questions, too.

More, much more, is coming soon. Prepare for content, people! This has been a long time coming, and it is going to be fun!

See you soon!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Welcome to Hawk Circle 2.0!

If you are looking at the pictures over there to the right, you will see some of what I was working on during all of those months that I wasn't writing in my journal!

Yeah, that's right! Cabins! And not just any cabins, either, but beautiful, traditional timberframed cabins....

We cut this frame this summer, before and during the workshop with Craig Boynton, and raised the frame as part of the Sustainability Basecamp experience. (Thanks, guys!) We put the first cabin high in the meadow, because it is the first of four new cabins here at Hawk Circle. They will transform our programs, both in making them more sustainable, more protected and less seasonal. Currently, our tents are made overseas, last a couple of months and then are wrecked, leading to a continuation of the cycle. They don't hold up well in snow, or winds or heavy rains, and they make everyone damp and cramped. I'm not trying to badmouth tenting, because we have been able to have some great camps for 16 years using them and they have been ok.

But the time has come to change this. Time to upgrade. Okay isn't good enough, and we want to move towards something more, something deeper, something awesome....

I think when you see them, you are going to be surprised. Impressed, maybe, or even a little excited! They are so beautiful and strong and solid. They laugh at blizzards. Strong winds are like a backrub to these fellows! You will have to come and visit to find out more!

We are in the process of cutting two more cabins this winter, and fundraising for the last cabin as well. We will raise them this spring, when the snow melts, and get the roof shingles on, then the siding and windows and doors. Jerry and I will be working long hours, and it will be good. Honest work. Fun work. Rewarding work!

The staff are excited, but for different reasons. No more tarp repairs at midnight when the wind has ripped them down in a rainstorm. No more bug netting repairs of zippers by headlamp. No more taking them down, storinng them for next year, and trying to find the right stakes, poles or rainflies! No more leaks that lead to wet clothes, sleeping bags, washing machines, dryers, wasted time, wasted energy..... Can you imagine? They can!

Translation: Better sleep for all. Less time spent on logistics. More time for stories, mentoring, learning, growing. Safer, in the worst thunderstorm. Good Times!

For me, personally, I am living the dream. I see these cabins built and lasting for a hundred years or more. Your grandchildren could sleep in the cabins we have made, with our own hands, some chisels and handsaws, and experience Hawk Circle in ways that will be traditions for us all. We are building a legacy that will change the lives of many.

The pictures tell the story of the cutting, raising, and something about what the campfire circle looks like now.... A new camp firewood shed. A staff Cabin, with new First Aid deck and the Incredible Handwashing Station.....

Ok, I will take a break now, because I think you get it!

I will tell you more about the Fall Earth Skills Semester too, and also a bit about the Winter Intensive, going on now!