Rick's Journal

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Bigger Vision, Part One

Austin Wright studies tracks in the mud along the Cherry Valley Creek
This is hard for me to write, but it's important that I spell it out.   I will try to cut to the chase and leave out all the emotional story and all that, because time is of the essence, and also because, well, it's brutal math.

For the past 25 years, I have been the director of Hawk Circle.   It started small, and consisted of over night camps, day and weekend workshops, and one on one mentoring and apprenticeships, and has grown to include residential trainings, after school programs, class trip retreats, adult skills intensives, father/son programs, rites of passage retreats and more.

I would have to say that, in the last fifteen years or so, we have trained, touched, taught or guided about 500 students a year.   So, that's a total of 7,500 people.   

During the ten years prior to that, we didn't have land we could run programs on consistently year round, so I would say that the number of people I could teach, along with my apprentices and staff, would be roughly a third of that number per year, so, it was about 165 people touched or taught per year.   That brings a ten year total for that stretch to be about 1,650 people.

My grand total of my personal impact in my wilderness education career, is probably in the neighborhood of about 9,150 people.  I could be off by a few hundred, either way.  It could be a lot more, but it could also be less, depending on how you measure 'teaching, touching their lives, mentoring or other meaningful impact.

I mean, seriously, some of the people in these numbers were people who I didn't know very long, such as at a college campus visit, who managed to learn a lot in an hour or two hanging out, talking about skills, and other people who are mixed in with these numbers are people who spend a year or more at our Hawk Circle community and grew tremendously in a myriad of different ways.   So, it's tough to measure.

Trista Haggerty, Jen Buchanan, Ariana Deignan-Kosmides
and Jesse Haggerty work on the Hawk Circle Cob Oven
In any event, even if I stretched that number into a nice, round figure and called it 10,000, well, it doesn't matter.   Because even if I look at all those awesome people, the kids, the adults, the staff, the parents, it's not enough.

When I look at all the numbers, of all the wilderness schools in the US right now, well, let's just say that there are maybe 10 schools per state.   There probably are more in some states, and less in others.   So, it's a nice round way of just making the math easy to follow.

At 10 schools per state, and our 50 states, that brings us to roughly 500 wilderness schools.  I am including gatherings as part of this, too.  

Lets just say for argument's sake, that each school, in it's career, up to this point, has had the same impact as I have with Hawk Circle.  Yes, I know that some schools are very tiny, and other schools are much more massive and impactful.  Let's just agree that it evens out.

At 10,000 students impacted in a meaningful way (I rounded up my own impact to make the math easy), multiplied by 500 schools, that gives us a total of 5,000,000.   Five million people, impacted over the last 25 years.

At first when I saw that number, I thought, "Wow!   That's freakin' awesome!"   

Seriously, it really is.  I mean, how amazing it is that we've gone from having 20 people sitting in a barn at the first Tracker School, to having gatherings of 500 to 1,000 people or more in different parts of the country.  That's cool.  It's a good thing.   It means that we are growing, and probably growing as fast as we can, given the resources and training that is slowly being transferred to new students all the time.

We should all feel great about that.  Every one of us, whether we are students of the craft, or mentors, or long time teachers or whatever, well, we are a part of that.  It's quite an accomplishment.  Especially since it's happened organically, with just passion and love for nature and the old ways and little else.

But seriously, think about it for a minute.

There are over 300 Million people in the US, maybe as high as 350 Million.  (I don't have exact census numbers right now and I don't feel like looking it up.)   But it's close to those numbers.   

Our 5 Million people touched is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the population as a whole.   It's not enough to change our culture's direction.

In my intuitive perspective (I am not claiming anything scientific here or statistically accurate numbers!) I think we have to get at least 10% of the population deeply connected to nature.   Call it the Hundredth Monkey theory, if you will.   (If you don't know that theory, Google it and check it out.  It might be debunked but it's still a cool theory!)  

Okay, maybe you don't agree with me on this, and that's fine.  Honestly, I think we need to get to closer to 50% of the population, actually, but that gets really depressing if I think of how hard I have had to work for my first 25 years, and only reach 10,000.   It means we won't make it in time, before we literally poison ourselves, run out of fuel and all the other scary things that I won't go into.

So, let's look at this first goal of just 10%.   In that scenario, we need to connect with another 20 million people in the next 5 years or so.  Maybe ten, at the outside furthest measurement.  If we take too long to reach that goal, we are putting our species future at greater and greater risk.

Okay, back to that 20 Million.   

So, how will we be able to reach 20 million more people in the next five years?

Well, if we divide 20 million people by an average of 500 students taught per year, we need 40,000 (forty thousand) schools or instructors teaching those kids.

The First Aurora Waldorf School Eighth Grade Class Trip at Hawk Circle
That's the bare minimum of trained, effective, amazing and powerful instructors needed to make this happen.

Pretty crazy, huh?

Yeah, that's how I felt.

So, this is the math that brought me to doing my summit on Nature Connection, with 29 speakers about the state of our planet and our connection and more, called The Wolverine Way.    (You can still listen to the interviews and hear their collected wisdom, by the way!)

This is why, for the past eighteen months, I have been focused on this bigger, scarier vision of what we ACTUALLY NEED TO DO to make a meaningful impact on our culture and our society, and our future as a species.

I decided, tonight, right now, that I am actually going to go for it.

I am going to try to find a way, to team up with whoever will join me, to train and mentor and support and connect, whatever, to reach a goal of 40,000 new wilderness skills or nature instructors.

I am deadly serious about this.   I don't really think there is any other more meaningful use of my life than to find a way to make this happen.

Yes, there is a spiritual calling to this, but it's not the only calling.   It's practical.   It's not that mystical.   We just have to find a way to make it happen.

Me, after a Boys Rite of Passage at Severn Run primitive camp, MD
So, here's the plan.   In order to teach hundreds and thousands of wilderness skills instructors, trackers and educators, we need facilities where they can come and learn.  Not just shacking up in tents and a wing and a prayer.  We need to know we can teach these folks the right way, with all of our available energy put into making that teaching the very best it can be, without a lot of logistical distraction.   So, we are building Eagle House, here at Hawk Circle, as a workshop room that can hold up to 50 people.   We have cabins and a lean to that can house about 18 people, and we need about three or four more cabins.

We need a dining hall that can feed that many people inside when the weather is cold, and we need housing for our staff too, so we can keep them renewed and fresh for each day of training.

That's one way that I want to start, so we can begin that process of getting these people trained in a big way.

I want to be clear about this:   I don't have all the answers. 

I know that I can teach a lot of people to be excellent instructors in a fairly short period of time.  I know that we can also get those people through some experiential, on the job training too, that will get them up to speed and get them even more effective.

I know I can teach some of the more serious folks how to be great program directors, too.  That is another level of work, but it can be done, and done very well.

And, I can also teach instructors who don't currently have a school or a program going on to grow their business and their impact, and get much bigger results.  With their clients as well as their bottom line.

All of this has to be able to work financially, too, so I am working on how to help make that happen as well.   Because if we can't get those 40,000 instructors paid to do the work they are trained to do, then we aren't going to reach those 20 million kids out there.

So, it's late, I'm tired and I'm going to go to bed and sleep on it.  And tomorrow, I am going to write more, to share a few more of my ideas.  I might record it as a video, even, just to do this a little faster.

But you can trust me on this, we're doing this.  

The big question is:   Are you with me?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Secrets of Transformation through Nature

 The first step in teaching a student in wilderness or earth skills in a deep and transformative way, whether they are 5 years old, or 50, is to build a meaningful relationship. This means spending time with them, giving them your full attention. It means showing them who you are, the real you, the person behind the mission statement or the company line. It means showing them it isn't isn't just all about you and your thing, but that it's actually about them.
This can be done in a lot of ways, and it doesn't have to take a ton of time, either. But it is absolutely essential to creating transformation.

Without a real relationship, there is no trust. 
Without trust, there is no safety. 
Without safety, there is no breakthrough, because that breakthrough is hidden away, behind the walls of your student's carefully protected heart.

If you show they you care about them, that you appreciate them, that you aren't about judging them, or being better than them, that's the first step.   You have to show that you care about them enough to keep them safe and really 'seeing' who they are, and where they are 'at'.   When that happens, you will help unlock those gates of protection. Each thing you do with them will build connection, and it will help you create a space for them to transform and shine their own inner light into the world.

It is a privilege and an honor to do work like this. It's hard work. It takes a dedication to our own inner emotional connection, and our own passion and our love for nature and helping people.

We have to let go of our internal baggage, for the time we are with them, and just be in the moment, with them, in nature, or wherever we are.

Sometimes, working with kids in nature is wonderfully clearing for our minds.   It just washes everything that doesn't matter away, and leaves a fresh, clean feeling inside.  There are good things happening, and all the gunk that usually clogs our constant chatter can begin to drift away too.   Creativity is enhanced.  Problem solving, too.   Even our decision making becomes almost intuitive, and our inner awareness gets a boost as well.

When it works, it's incredible....

And that is just the first step.   

Today's youth are changing, and things that used to work ten or even five years ago aren't working as well as they once did.   The stories are different.  The attention span is different.   The timing is different.   Heck, even the jokes are different!

The good news is that there are lots and lots of ways to innovate, and reframe our programs to help kids or adults get the power of these skills and nature.   

If you are working with kids or adults and you want help with tweaking your program to make it even more powerful or transformative, or you just want to get a fresh way to see your work and get support, please schedule a time to chat with me. I'd love to see if there is a way I can help!

Just go to my website and click the link at the bottom called 'Schedule a Call'. It's 100% free and I will do what I can to help you out!

Be ready, though! I will give you little assignments and tasks to do, too! So, make sure you really want this!


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Earth Skills, Intimacy and Becoming a Transformational Instructor

Hawk Circle Instructor Eli Martz spends time teaching Daniel about carving, and following the grain of the wood.   2003
The process of learning a new skill like tracking, or fire, or shelter, or wild edibles, takes time, patience, and a lot of attention to details. You have to develop an intimacy with wood, or stone, or plants or animals, etc. and build a relationship with those elements, and be willing to learn and grow.

It's a process, not an event. It's about building lots of little skills of dexterity, awarenesses, tiny habits and practices that lead to understanding and mastery. 

For many students, this journey to learn will fail unless you find someone to help you through that maze, and give you the gifts, the tools and the understandings that will lead to success.

Think of the old, authentic fairy tales.

I know it might be a weird analogy, but it's actually very much spot on!

You don't get to have the princess or prince, and the kingdom, or reward, until you slay the dragon or the ogre. You can't slay the monster unless you have the Blade of Steel and Perfection. You can't get that Blade until you have passed the test by the Hag of the Ruined Castle, which are high above the Cliffs of Doom. So, you have to conquer your fear of heights, and unknown riddles, and weird mystical people, and pass all these tests, to achieve your goals and your objectives. You have to have friends in high places. You have to have the ability to see the deep inner gifts that those friends have, and create a relationship with them where they will offer those gifts freely. Or sometimes you have to steal them, in some tales! But in any event, having a mentor or source that you can gain wisdom or insight is key to knowing your next step.

That's the kind of mentor you have to be if you want to add this layer of transformation to your work.   And your students shouldn't be a job or a means to an end (paycheck), but someone who will be a lifelong friend and someone you will be proud to know for your whole life.

So, to be this kind of mentor, you kind of have to go through this experience yourself, and figure out how to get around these challenges and mountains, valleys, everything.  You have to do it alone, and you have to do it with a mentor sometimes too.  If you're really lucky!

If this isn't what you are all about, or you are unsure, go work at Starbucks. Go mow lawns, or wait tables at the Olive Garden, or do whatever it is that makes you happy. Not saying it's bad to do those things, because they are important jobs too. But what I am saying is that if you are in the business of transformation, you have to be the real deal. There is no faking it...

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Earth Skills Seven Day Challenge: Final Report!

Well, we finished up the Seven Day Challenge on Saturday (it was from June 1-7, 2014), and we all learned a ton.   I was thinking of posting all of the different things I learned and did in this blog, but I will spare you ALL of those details, and give you the important points!

First of all, this whole thing was conceived and started just a few weeks ago.   I put it together in a few days with an announcement on the Wolverine Way newsletter, as part of my Strategy for Nature Connection venture, and then put together an event on Facebook, that rapidly filled up with almost 150 people!     I created a Facebook Group so the rest of the group could continue on past the event posting, and we had 125 people actually switch over to that group, too.   Heck, there are still people joining in the group, even after it's over!

Second, I put together some videos about it, and how people might get the most out of their skill practice.   I released them on Facebook and my newsletter, and I made up some documents for planning and journaling their skills and posted them in the Facebook Group.   After all, support is everything in getting success.

Then, we started on our challenge, and everyone did 15-20 minutes of skills practice or learning each day for seven days.   I was practicing cordage, for a teaching display, so I started making some short strands.

What happened next was incredible.   

Participants started posting their results.   Photos.  Videos.  Stories of what they did, and what they learned.   Questions started being asked, and suggestions offered.   There were lots of Facebook 'Likes' and comments going all over the place!  It was great!

Each day, new postings were happening.    There were people practicing hand drill, bow drill, cordage, tracking, wild plants, wild edibles, trapping, basketry, bird identification, and tree studies.  People were learning with their kids, too!

And, once they started posting their results, new people got inspired to jump in on the action.   And they reported about how other people in their own friends network were commenting and reaching out, inspired by their studies and posts.

It was amazing.   I saw a lot of people who helped each other, and offered suggestions and resources whenever someone got stuck.  It wasn't just the usual talk, talk talk like so many other Facebook groups, with the usual knife postings, again and again!  (Not that I have anything against knives!)   We were actually doing and actively practicing skills.  Wilderness skills, for real!   And it wasn't other people's YouTube videos, either!

Here's what the participants said:

"Thank you Ric for putting this together, your support and enthusiasm!  I learned to be consistent with putting some time everyday into exploring, practicing and thinking about all these skills and challenges.  It also helped me expand my mind to consider other skills I have not yet learned."

"I learned about a bunch of new plants, but I also learned to be more aware of my surroundings and how being outside each day makes me feel better!   I have to make more time for being outside."

I learned that you can commit 15 minutes a day to earth skills, even if you're sick in bed, wiped out for a week.   Reading about nature, cordage, watching videos on skills, knots, drawing and best of all, sit spot!"

"I have learned that I can be consisted, albeit inconsistently, and that spending 15 minutes, 3-5 times a week gets me much further along than waiting for a whole hour or two to magically open up in my schedule.  Also, that the support of strangers with similar interests feels more supportive than family and friends who are just politely interested.  It was a pleasure interacting with all of you.  Thank you, Ricardo Sierra."

"I used the fire I created to light my earthen oven, and make a little feast for friends and family.  I also decided to stay by it's side until midnight.  Watched the stars and contemplated the knowledge that comes from fire.   Overall, a wonderful way to celebrate."

and much, much more!   

(You can read all their posts first hand in the Facebook group, and see all the pictures there, too.)

I am not sure what is next for the group, as I am not sure what they all want to do next, but whatever it is, we have all seen the power of just 15 minutes of nature and skills time can do for us!

I will post more of my actual skills journals and photos in my other blog, the Trailhead, so check that out!   I should have that up soon!   

In the meantime, GREAT JOB, everyone!   I mean, seriously, I couldn't be prouder of everyone who took part or helped cheer us all on!   Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. This was a great way to spend a week and grow together.   You are all awesome!