Rick's Journal

Friday, November 26, 2010

Earth Skills Semester Program student goes Bark Crazy!

It is always great when a past student gives you an idea of what they have done with the foundation of skills you provided years ago, and let's you know how you have impacted their life and those around them through your time spent together.   Stefan Thompson is just one such student.   He has made all kinds of bark shelters that are more than just a structure.  They are works of art, a labor of love and actually create community through their building and daily life.   There is a magic to them that you can feel as you sit and warm yourself by the fire, drink a cup of herbal tea or cook something good over the coals....

I don't think most people really get how much work it is to gather and peel the amount of bark you need to have to make a shelter like this.   It is just massive, and getting long, wide, thick sheets of birch bark is just so precious!   I am looking forward to getting some pics of the insides of these places, and the people who put them all together, too...

I just wanted to let you know that while most people aren't going to build a wigwam to live in through the Canadian winters, you could!   That says a lot for the type of training Hawk Circle students get when they spend a longer time here, exploring their natural world and their place in it...  These shelters look like they belong here, and like they are part of the living landscape!   The natural artwork is really great, too.

Nice work, Stefan and thanks for sharing this with us all!    Very inspiring!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

View from the tree stand: A bow hunter's story

There are a lot of things that happen when I go bow hunting. First, there is getting up early. That in itself, is a change of routine for me, as I am usually more of a night owl. Then, there are the clothing/scent issues. Staying clean, warm and smelling like the woods is important. I try to dress quickly, and check to see how cold it is, to see how many layers I will need to stay warm while sitting still for those cold hours.

Once outside, I figure out which way the wind is blowing, as this will help me determine where to go. I head out along the trails, moving as silently as possible in the dim light. When I get to my spot, I either climb my tree stand, or I will sit at the base of a tree, or jumble of logs and branches and settle in. It is important to get comfortable as I know I am going to be there for a while.

Then, I drift in and out of sleep, my awareness moving from the direction of the wind, light tendrils of dream consciousness pulling me to relax, the smell of the woods, the sounds of the red squirrels waking up and chickadees trilling in the ironwoods. If I am by a small stream or spring, I can hear the steady trickle of water that can sound both faint and loud. I am not sure why it suddenly can seem so loud that it is all I hear, and then it can almost disappear.

The forest lightens as the sun rises, and trees and branches come into sharp relief. The colors of the November woods is beautiful, with greys, browns, black and tan colors melding together so softly, waiting for the snow that is sure to come soon.

I lean against my tree, and feel my heartbeat, my breath rhythmical and deep, and the forest begins to envelop my senses, accepting me as part of the whole system. It is a good feeling and it makes me happy, knowing I belong and am home again.

The sound of hooves crunching through leaves comes sharply, startling me, and my heart jumps. Tiny twigs break as a deer approaches. My senses come alive as I strain to see the first glimpse of the forest ghost, the white tail. The direction of travel, my scent trail, the wind and shadows all come into play as I sit up, and ready my arrow. Any discomfort, cold or cramps are gone, and there is nothing except the pure focus of the predator.

I wait perfectly still, heart still pounding. The deer pauses, hesitating, and nibbling on raspberry canes, waiting for something. There is no sense of fear, of warning or stress, and I imagine myself a shadow along the tree, or a slight, drifting mist, no longer human hunter but only benign forest elemental being.

The deer steps into the trail, coming closer, step by step. I see that she is a yearling, a small tiny deer, hardly bigger than my dog. She is stout and strong, but I know that this is not my deer. It resonates deep in my chest, my gut, and I lower my bow, ever so slowly. The deer turns to look behind, and I see her mother, walking along the river trail, away from my stand, and the little deer runs to catch up. They both move quietly and slowly, and in a flash, they are gone.

The woods return to their winter stillness, with the occasional cawing of crows, the honking of geese, the rustling of leaves in the breeze and my heartbeat, slowing down again, and I sit back, and drift off to dream again, listening for the crunching of leaves...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Willow Spring Pics and the Promised Natural Dye Pics too!

Okay, so I checked my trail camera today and it was a good thing I did. I set it down by a little wetland area I call Willow Spring, near a bunch of overgrown apple trees and overgrown pasture land. This place is thick with brush, grasses, shrubbery and dead trees. There is a lot of browse and food around, and lots of cover for all sorts of animals. My camera caught pics of red squirrels, eastern cottontails and chipmunks but no birds this time around. I also got a pic of the resident porcupine, a skunk and a ton of raccoons! There are tons of them, mostly a pair that seem to be brother and sister, and once in a while, there are three of them running around.

They all seem very healthy, and it is nice to see them around, because the raccoon population got hit really hard about 10 years ago when the rabies epidemic moved through the area. We had a few rabid raccoons move through camp at that time, and we had to make sure none of the campers got anywhere near them. Then, after the wave of disease passed, we saw hardly any raccoons around our camp for many years.

So, it is good to see them back! I am also sure that they are hitting our compost pile hard during the summer season, and searching the bushes for crusts of sandwich and apple cores.

The skunk and porcupine didn't stick around long as they passed through the area, so I am thinking they are finding a lot of food and aren't all that hungry to sample the fallen apples.

The deer stayed for a long time, and I had about fifteen pictures in different stages of eating, sniffing, scratching and looking around. I was surprised that there weren't more deer running around in the area than just this one, but I guess they aren't using this trail.

Next week I will post more pics and I am moving my camera to another spot, so we will see if I can get a picture of a coyote, or a fisher or maybe the bobcats rolling through. I will probably pick up a road kill of some kind to see if that will attract some different animals. Meat, especially decomposing meat, will bring in crows, hawks, opossums and other scavengers. We might even see a bear!

Right now, the forest and swamps are chock full of berries, hawthorne apples, wild apples, acorns, hickory nuts, beech nuts and lots of other seeds and foods. It hasn't been that cold yet, so the need to pack on the calories hasn't kicked in just yet, but it will happen.

Getting good pictures starts with scouting the trails, to see which ones are being used by game and finding food sources, too. I have a lot of timberframing to do for the next few months, but I will try to get out for a mid morning walk and see what I can see.

I am also adding some pics of Trista's wool, which she dyed last week. The colors came out beautiful, and she is going to make a sweater with it! More pics of that as she gets it started...

She used elderberries, goldenrod, onion, black walnut and purple asters, I think. They came out pretty nice, don't you think?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fall Update and Thoughts...

Just wanted to let you know that Trista and I are putting together some photos about her natural wool dyes, as well as some Juniper pics, on her blog, Nature's Hearth, and I should have some nice pics from my game camera soon to post on this blog in a few days. Willow Spring seems to have two very active raccoons, who look healthy and well fed, as well as the usual deer and rabbits moving through on the trails. I think you will like the pics!

We also have three workshops coming up this fall, in October. The first is the Sacred Hunt, October 1-3, which shares skills, philosophy and awareness of the sacred art of hunting, (pretty obvious!) The second is the Unearthing the Soul Retreat, with Trista, October 8-10, which is about preparing for the coming year's growth, vision and changes as well as celebrating the past year's learning and manifestations.... good stuff and very effective and powerful, too.

Last but not least is the Wolverine Survival Intensive, October 22-24, which covers the skills of survival and earth philosophy that will change how you see and experience the woods and nature forever... Chock full of learning and crafts and skills, it won't let you down!

I know we are just a few weeks away from a big election and all the blather about the economy and stuff the media wants us to obsess about, but if you take a moment and think, most of what is important to us in life doesn't have to do with that stuff. It has to do with the people we love, with the connections we make as friends and family, and our ability to enjoy our lives, work for a greater purpose and feel good about ourselves. I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't be a pawn in the media/political arena, and get outside, feel good, and work on things you can change and grow with, rather than stress about fear, hate and worry. In the wild, you can't change a thunderstorm. You just ride through it. It will pass, eventually, as it always does. The sun comes out, and there is another day. Don't let yourself be caught up in things that waste your time and don't really help build towards your personal vision and family and community.

We all make choices in our lives, as to what we want to focus on. What we choose to listen to, and thus create our own reality. This isn't an opinion, it is a practice, one that must occur every day. We hear what we want to hear, what's important to us, or what we value.

Have a great fall, and hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Skills for the New Earth-Connected Generation: Our Sustainability and Wilderness Apprenticeship

So, you can see the direction our country, our world is heading, and the writing is on the wall. On the rocks. On concrete buildings and tall trees.

No matter which way you slice it, the bubble, as we have come to know the modern world, is beginning to burst. Or pop. Sure, it is a lot of small and medium pops that so far we have been able to weather and handle, but it's getting worse. Slowly, creeping, steadily advancing on us, we know
that it's time to pay the piper. Our debt to the animal world, the Earth Mother, to our future generations, is coming due.

You don't want to use the Ostrich Technique and pretend it isn't coming. On the other hand, building a bunker doesn't feel right either.

What you need, really, are Skills.


Learning things that will last, that will have value no matter what the future holds. Things that can feed us, feed our families, our souls.

Skills can sustain us, and remove fear.

Skills let us breathe, to relax and feel good about our lives, our direction, our purpose and path.

Skills last forever, and can be passed down to our friends and family and community.

What to do. What to do.......

Hey! I have an idea!

Join the Hawk Circle Wilderness and Sustainability Apprenticeship. It is a powerful blend of old ways, modern skills and knowledge you can use right now to reconnect
with nature, your deeper self, and grow.

Apprentices learn about gardening, composting, harvesting foods and preserving them. They learn to make baskets and buckskin, take part in workshops and youth trainings. They learn the art of traditional timberframing, as well as practical skills of stacking firewood, basic carpentry skills, cooking and much more.

Apprentices make a four to five month commitment, and provide their own food for the duration of the program.
They participate for five days a week, sometimes part time, sometimes full time, trading their sweat equity for real experience and skills that change how they see the world forever.
The farmhouse is heated by a wood stove, and the shared commercial kitchen allows for fabulous meals, communal gatherings and potlucks. The barn is ready for all kinds of projects both building and native skills. The natural surroundings are perfect for this kind of retreat and intensive, undistracted learning.

We only need five people for the fall and winter, so if you would like to be considered, please contact Ricardo or Trista at 607-264-3910 or HawkCircleOffice@gmail.com.
We'd be happy to see if this program would be a good fit for you.

Remember: Skills Trump Fear. They are the antidote to catharsis, to just going along with the herd, and they are the key to freedom.

Skills you can choose from to learn while in the Apprenticeship:

Tanning Deerskins using Braintanning
Fire by Friction, without matches
Natural Fiber Rope and
Bark Baskets and Containers
Basic Stone Tools
Knife Sharpening and Care
Useful Knots for the wilderness
Cutting, Splitting and Stacking Firewood
Bread Baking and Herbal Butters
Campfire Cooking Skills
Wilderness Shelter Building
Traditional Timber Framing Cabins and Barns
Bow Making
Deer Hunting Skills
Organic Gardening
Harvesting, Identifying & Preparing Wild Foods
Tree and Plant Identification
Community Living Skills
Winter Snow Shelters and Survival Strategies
Earth Philosophy and Personal Ceremony
Animal Tracking and Nature Awareness
Working with Youth teaching Native skills and crafts
Raising Cabins and Barns

Okay, there are probably a ton of other skills I am forgetting to list here, but these are the first ones that come to mind that past apprentices have wanted to focus on, so here ya go! If you want to learn some other skills not on this list but that are listed on our website, give us a call and we will see if it can work out!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Fall Semester at Hawk Circle: September 5th-October 30, 2010

Have you ever shot a real bow and arrow? Gathered your dinner from a mountain meadow or grove of trees? Do you know how to skin and prepare good meat from a hunt? Can you make a warm shelter to spend a cold night in the woods?

These are some of the skills offered in the Fall Semester at Hawk Circle.

It's not just skills, though. It is about wandering, connecting, and exploring yourself as you connect to the natural world.

Time changes at Hawk Circle. You can read for hours in the sun or grass, then be inspired to make indian curries for
dinner with your fellow students. You can make your own buckskin, or an ash splint packbasket that you will have for generations. You can sleep under a star filled sky so clear that it takes your breath away.

Insight, healing, rejuvenation and finding one's path are what this program is all about. It will change you in a good way. You will find strength, knowledge, direction and friendship.

Autumn is my favorite season, and the colors of the leaves, the frost, the fresh berries and foods are all amazing. I love giving someone their first taste of cattails, or wild game cooked over the fire. I like sitting out in the pre dawn on someone's first bow hunt, waiting to see what comes along, while we are invisible.

You can build a shelter with sticks, leaves and bark. You
can draw sketches of plants, or carve a bow and arrow. You can learn to timberframe cabins and homes using sustainable methods our ancestors used for hundreds of years, too. You can spend time in the garden, harvesting the remains of the summer crops and planting new seeds for the spring.

Later, as the season winds down, we sit around the woodstove, working on our projects, playing guitar or drums, and share our stories along with sweet birch or pine needle tea. "Will it snow tonight?" someone will ask. "If it gets cold enough!" I will answer, and we go to sleep wondering what the morning will bring.

Eventually, we find our spots on the mountain where we will go to seek our vision, our inner path and truth and purpose. Here we sit for day, or several, some without food, asking for guidance and direction. We support each other in our
seeking and inner journey, under the guidance of our mentors and staff. "It's hard" I say, "but it's worth it."

There is a light that begins to shine in a person's eyes when
they uncover their truth and discover their own path. It is a shine that comes from within and it let's part of their spirit out into the world, seeing things in new ways, with hope and trust and brightness.

If you need a little inner light, or the taste of autumn olive jam on fresh baked bread, come spend a season here at Hawk Circle. We'd love to have you around our campfire.

Willow Spring Trail Camera Pictures

I put my trail camera on a small elm tree overlooking a little wet spring to see what might come by. It's about 200 yards from my house, and the game trail is in an area that gets little human traffic. The whole area used to be pasture, along with some old heirloom apple trees that could have been an orchard a hundred years ago.

The red osier dogwood, black willows, sedge grasses, arrow wood viburnum and nannyberry provide excellent cover for all kinds of animals, as well as food, and there is plenty of water, too.

The trails of deer, foxes and other animals crisscross the region, and there seems to be food available during every season.

I didn't bait the area, so these pictures are all from animals moving around, in their natural environment, doing their thing.

The porcupine chews on plywood scraps inside our timber framing barn workshop, when he can get in.
We hear him gnawing in the woodshed or barn, and it is always fun to see how our students react to finding him with a flashlight at night!

One thing that is funny is that we don't really see the raccoons or hear them at our camp, even though they are clearly here and around us all of the time. Very few tracks, no problems, etc.

I hope to keep it that way! I am sure they get a chicken or two during the year, but you never can be sure it isn't the bobcat or a fox, either.

The bobcat is probably a large female who had two kittens last year. I saw the pair of them while bowhunting last year, chasing a rabbit. I first saw the rabbit, a small cottontail, stalking his way through the honeysuckle and hawthorne, and I couldn't figure out why he was stalking until he was out of sight. Then a few minutes later, I saw the young bobcat sniffing and following his trail. He never missed a step, and he would stop and sniff the air above his head to catch any other scents. He was followed shortly after by his twin, who seemed to be mostly checking up on the situation. Neither of them saw, heard or smelled me, perched in my tree stand about ten feet up. It was one of my favorite moments hunting last year.

Enjoy the pics. I have moved my camera to another area, and will keep moving it around and seeing what I get. I am hoping to get some pics of the coyotes, which have remained elusive so far, and also the fisher, the beavers, maybe a mink or two, and even the rare but present bear in the area.... I will post them as I check the camera every month or so.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Earth Changes & Wilderness Skills: A free Conference Call with Ricardo Sierra

Why a Relationship with Nature is Important for our selves and our children.
The changes that have been happening over the last two decades are mostly likely appetizers for the main courses to come. Each wave of disturbance, disappearance or storm is followed by new growth and awareness, no matter if the wave is ecological, social, technological or economic. I will be sharing ideas, concepts and strategies for understanding what has been happening and continues to unfold, and provide guidelines that can help you, your family or business adapt and grow.

Email us at HawkCircleOffice@gmail.com and let us know you are interested. We'll send you the call-in info and log-in code.

Many blessings,


Monday, May 3, 2010

The Battle on the Balance Beam: Wolverine vs Ninja Cat, vs Red Squirrel

Last weekend, we went on a great hike and found a perfect log for balance beam battles.... Personally, I am waiting until it is a little warmer, but the staff and apprentices were not deterred by the icy waters! Here is the video of their adventures...

P.S. Did you see the hidden animal in the dry leaves? It is a scout awareness test! Let me know what it is if you find it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hawk Circle 2.0 continues: The Community Conference Call

Greetings, Everyone, from Hawk Circle and Cherry Valley, where we are enjoying a blustery blast of wet snow in a typical March storm! (Okay, the picture is from a few weeks ago, in the Snowmageddon storm, but you get the idea!)

Trista and I have been thinking of having a free conference call to all interested people to:

1. Update everyone about some of the current Hawk Circle News and Happenings.

2. Speak about some of the current issues of our collective communities and discuss strategies that can begin to build wholeness for ourselves, our families and our communities.

3. Answer Your Questions about Hawk Circle, our camps and any other skills, animal, tracking, awareness or mentoring.

And you can send Trista and myself your questions by email ahead of time, too, so we can all benefit from the questions. I think it would be a good way to stay connected and gain your input on things happening in your communities, your needs, as well as insight gleaned from our collective skills, experience and knowledge.

If you are interested in being part of this call, please send me a note on Facebook or an email Ricardo.J.Sierra@gmail.com.

Thanks for your help and your friendship!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Big Picture: Thinking Like A Hawk

One of my favorite things about hawks is their amazing eyesight. They soar hundreds of feet in the air, riding thermal currents and get the big picture of the land, the animals, the clouds and their tiny prey far below. Their sudden plummeting dives are power and grace in motion.

Metaphorically, I like to think like a hawk, too. I like looking at issues, ideas and situations from high above, seeing connections, obstacles, ope
nings and multiple perspectives. I enjoy thinking from this place not just in the here and now, but also generationally, seeing how the past has influenced our present moment and how our actions or reactions will affect our future. Seven generations is a long time, but many native cultures thought all major decisions in tribal life to include the impact that their actions would have seven generations later. That is a lot of foresight!

It begs the question: Would our current economic, environmental, agricultural, medical, human rights and social issues be different if our community and political leaders thought with this long range perspective?

Seeing like a hawk, and thinking like a native, I know that we are planting seeds for the future. The work we do with youth, with children, with families and adults provide skills and experiences that will sprout, root and grow throughout the lifetime of each individual, and affect their decisions, actions and thoughts. Contact with the natural world, with each other free from electronic clutter, around the campfire, we open up to ourselves in a profound way. Listening, feeling, thinking, imagining- all of these things are part of the experiences at our camps and programs.

When I really get the big picture, when I fly or travel through major cities and across the country, I am humbled by how incredibly immense our world is, and how many people we have in this country alone. Does it matter what we do, then, with our small program and speck of green?

I think it does. Maybe more than ever.

When I started Hawk Circle, in 1989, we were one of the first exclusive camps offering wilderness skills and nature awareness skills to children and youth. There was no internet
then, so it is hard to say we were first, but the number of camps and programs was very small. Now, there are probably several hundred programs out there, in this country, in Europe and Canada, doing work year around, in schools homeschooling groups, at nature centers and mini workshops. This is all in just twenty one years! I know that our tiny movement will continue to grow as the years pass, and we will see the seeds we have planted bear much fruit for our grandchildren... for all children everywhere!

Do you see the big picture in what you do? Do you feel energized by the challenge of creating a better world for our children, or is it sometimes too much to handle? What makes you feel good about being part of the ongoing change?

Feel free to leave a message, and keep soaring on those thermals, people!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Future Seeds for our Kids: Preparing for Climate Change

Cary Fowler: One seed at a time, protecting the future of food | Video on TED.com

If you have any doubt that climate change is happening, know that there are many people who are dedicating their entire lives to help ensure our future for our children and grandchildren. While we don't store seeds, at Hawk Circle, we are preserving skills that our children will need to adapt and thrive in the changes that are to come, and they won't need money, either.

The impact this has on me and our work here is considerable. I am spurred on by their work, and I know our community and staff are fully dedicated to not only teach skills and nature awareness, but also to connect children to nature in a way that can preserve humanity in a powerful way.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Are you Experienced?

No, I am not doing a Jimmy Hendrix post here, people. This is much more important! The topic, in short, is about experience. Skills Experience. Community Experience. Nature Awareness Experience. Gathering Experience, and well, you get the idea.

When I started Hawk Circle, I remember thinking about how important it was to me to include not only the time dedicated to teaching a new skill, such as tipi fire building, or throwing sticks, but practice time. Dedicated, experience building practice. Time for trouble-shooting, problem solving, sharing with each other about what works and what doesn't, as well as time for students to talk to myself or the instructors for help or inspiration.

When I first learned a lot of these skills, I was at the Tracker School, or some other workshop, and time was often of the essence. Meaning there wasn't much time at all. We often spent our time taking notes, talking about skills or techniques, and learning through lecture and white board drawings rather than in the field, feet on the g
round experience. It was more along the lines of 70% Lecture-30% Field Work.

This might not seem that significant, and I am not saying I had a problem with it during my study. I had a lot of previous field experience, using hand tools like hatchets, axes, saws, chisels and more. I already knew how to pitch a tent in the dark, or travel off trail, or work on projects from simple sketches and outlines and make them work.

However, I was an adult at the time of my training and I had grown up in a number of rural areas. I split firewood all summer (by hand) for the winter, as we heated by wood stove, and that was how I learned my trees. It was a great way to learn but it took a long time, too.

Today's average student or camper don't have that breadth of rural living experience, so when they come into a camp or program, often they don't know their knots, trees, or knife carving skills. Their hands aren't used to holding hand tools, or twisting plant fibers into rope or string. This isn't a bad thing, really, it is just something that we have to keep in mind, today more than ever.

I set up Hawk Circle so each program focused on learning that is approximately 80% skills, or direct hands-on learning, and 20% lecture/story/classroom time. This means we might not be able to cover as many skills, but that the skills we do teach, students will leave with a real, working knowledge. Which means they can actually do those skills! (Isn't that the whole point?)

Beyond this post, my question to you is this: What does it take to get experience? Where do you practice? When do you find time to practice, to hone and refine and 'make your own' for fire-making, tracking, carving, or crafting? There are so many things that compete for our attention, for all of those precious specks of sand that pour from the hourglass of our lives!

If you have something that works for you, post and let us know about it. If you don't, and you need help, add that too. Thanks. We are all in this together.....