Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Storm Wolves Service at Woodstock Farm

The Storm Wolves were eager to get to work at Woodstock Farm for the first time in their Explorers Club careers. Breaking from the norm of working at our Connelly Creek service site in Happy Valley Park, the Storm Wolves would be getting their first experience helping out at the Girls Explorers Club’s adopted service site. Joining them for the day would be two younger groups in the Pine Martens and the Fiddleheads. 

Gathering together to learn about our service project
Being an elder group isn’t anything new for the Storm Wolves. With so many seasons of exploring and working on service projects under their belts they stepped into their usual role as the oldest Explorers at the service site. This proved to be an excellent opportunity for a group who is working on honing our ability to balance focus and fun depending on the circumstances. Not only would it be important to strike a proper balance with so many tools around and tasks to be done, but with the younger groups looking up to them for guidance the Storm Wolves needed to be role models as well. Luckily, the mentors were able to check in with the Storm Wolves about the importance of them stepping up for the day they didn’t hesitate to take on the challenge. 

Gathering together for a tool use demo
Getting to work, we focused on removing Himalayan Blackberry, English Ivy, and clearing out old trash that had been tossed in the bushes. The group was quick to get to work while the mentors pulled aside a couple of Storm Wolves to help with a tool safety demonstration for the younger groups. After everyone was up to speed all three groups descended upon the mass of ivy and blackberry working tirelessly clearing free native plants and trees. 

Hard at work removing invasive species
With our day coming to a close the groups took a break to come together for one final activity. We often overlook some of the key reasons why we do service so the mentors set up an activity called “Our Cups Overflow” to help demonstrate. This activity involves everyone taking turns pouring a little bit of water into an empty cup to demonstrate that we all have so much already that if we each give just a little bit of our own time and energy, we can take an empty cup (or someone/something who has nothing) and fill it to the point of overflowing. This helps us remember all that we have and all that we can do for others to hopefully help them one day have an excess to pass along to another in need.

Learning how "Our Cups Overflow"
All the remained was our closing circle. Breaking from the rest of the groups the Storm Wolves finally had a chance to cut loose a bit and goof off. It was great to see how this group seemed to understand the need to “keep it together” while working around the younger groups. The mentors made sure to give them credit for their hard work and to thank them for stepping up and striking a perfect balance between fun and focus for the day. Although the fall seemed to mark a bit of regression in this group’s ability to hold circles and listen to one another, the progress made today gave everyone a sigh of relief to feel like we are back on track for this group to hit its stride once more.  

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Coping with the Cold and Growing as a Group at Lookout Mountain

Getting excited to explore the mountain!

Arriving at Lookout Mountain on a chilly winter morning, the Storm Wolves were excited to be back out exploring the forest. Our last outing consisted of a more focused, stationary, skill in coal blowing spoons at Larrabee State Park and it was clear these Explorers were ready to romp in the woods and play some games. Gathering up we took a look at the map and picked out a destination for our base camp. Hiking along the trail we cruised quickly up to the waterfall lookout where we paused for a snack and some water before continuing on. Our final destination was just a ways about the waterfall where we found a nice flat area to set up shop.

Keen on seeing what we could find, we dropped our packs and spread out to investigate the nearby creek and follow it to the top of the waterfall where we were able to peer down at our snack spot and get a new perspective of the landscape. Although playing near a creek poses some challenges on a chilly day, we managed to get away with only a couple wet boots and some lessons learned in “slow is fast and fast is slow.” The rest of the outing those of us that rushed the stream crossing were reminded of this lesson as we had to figure out how to manage our body temperature and suffer a little bit to learn our lesson. 

Hiking down to check out the waterfall

Enjoying the view
After exploring for a bit it was time for a game of Spider’s Web. Although not everyone played, those that did found the thick Salmon Berry and uneven terrain an favorable area for Flies to sneak up on the food source. That being said, the Spider was on top of his game today and managed to make life very difficult for the Flies. While most of us were playing the game, those of us who were feeling the cold a bit more than others campaigned for a fire. Recalling back to our past outings the boys spread out in search of Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar bark, and we even found some “fat wood” or chunks of food that can be found in rotting stumps that is saturated with resinous sap. There was plenty of downed limbs that were dry and off the ground for us to harvest and saw into manageable sizes, and soon we had all the pieces to the puzzle to start a fire.

Processing fuel for the fire

Fat-wood shavings, Cedar bark nest, and Western Hemlock kindling bundle ready to go!

Sitting back and trying to let the Storm Wolves take the charge on starting the fire, the mentors noticed that these guys were still having difficulty stepping up and taking the lead. Out sympathy, and a bit of boredom, the mentors helped the group prepare the materials and with a strike of a ferro rod from that one of the Explorers had brought we had our first flames. Still, there wasn’t much initiative taken by the Storm Wolves to tend the fire and we soon were back to square one. Reprocessing our tinder and kindling we tried for round two and were a bit more successful this time. With some assistance from the mentors we finally got a reasonable little fire going, elevated on a platform of logs and only large enough to warm our hands, to help ward off the cold. 

Using a ferro rod to create a hot spark to ignite the fire
As our outing wound to a close, some of us found time to try and make a quick atl-atl, an ancient spear throwing device that functions much like a “chuck-it” tennis ball flinger used for playing fetch with dogs. With only a little time left and only a few smoldering embers left to our fire we finished with closing circle. After sharing some gratitude and apple slices we made sure to properly care for our fire and cover up our tracks to ensure we left no trace. Douse the embers with water until everything was cool to the touch, digging a pit and burying any of the charred material, scattering any leftover scraps from processing the wood, and sprinkling a fresh layer of duff on top of the disturbed area we effectively covered our tracks and left the area as close to the way we found it as we could. 

Getting the fire bundle going, transitioning to adding fuel to the fire
Although we had some fantastic moments of exploration, play, and skills work, the mentors were left a little unsatisfied in how this group handled themselves today. There was a need for the mentors to really reign in the interruptions during circle, a need for the mentors to significantly assist in the process of fire making and tending, and a bit too much complaining about the cold without taking any initiative to try and improve the situation by the Explorers who were unhappy with the chilly winter weather. This by no means is to say this wasn’t a very fun and memorable outing, but after many years in Explorers Club and a couple really strong seasons under their belts, this group is held to a higher standard than most and there were multiple opportunities this outing for them to step up when they didn’t. Although some of this is likely due to new group members settling in and old group members learning how to step up as leaders, the mentors will make sure we hold ourselves to a higher standard on future outings. With only a few seasons left before graduation, it is our hope that this group can get it together and have a strong, productive, and fruitful finish to their Explorers Club experience. They are more than capable of it, but only time will tell.

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Coal Blowing with the Storm Wolves at Larrabee State Park

The Storm Wolves had a change from the norm as they arrived at Larrabee State Park to hunker down and work on the skill of “coal blowing” instead of head out on a hike to explore and play games. Although we were straying from the norm in terms of our outing, the Storm Wolves made sure to keep things in line by demonstrating their top notch abilities at free play while balancing things out with pointed focus when called upon. Of course we had to start things off with the usual opening circle where we discussed our plan for the day, chatted about the Art of Fire, and finally got into some basics of carving and coal-blowing spoons. 

Our initial circle ended up taking a bit of time to get started as there was just too much energy in the group. Clearly these guys are used to hiking in a bit before hunkering down and working on skills that require patience and focus, so we took some time to enjoy ourselves and catch up with fellow Storm Wolves before getting into things. Not surprisingly, the Storm Wolves were off searching out adventure and whether it was tossing Douglas-Fir cones over the sheltered area or working together as a team to retrieve a Frisbee from the other side of a fence, everyone was able to get their wiggles out and more importantly have a lot of fun doing so.

Sometimes the best team building activities are organic

Transitioning to our focused skills work, the Storm Wolves gathered up around the fire ring to review the basics of lighting a fire. Luckily they have had plenty of experience on their prior outings utilizing Western-Hemlock to make a kindling bundle that they were able to light with a single match, so this was a walk in the park… so to speak. However, Tim decided to switch things up and demonstrated how to use Western Red-Cedar bark to make a fuzzy tinder bundle that was lit with a ferrocerium rod (also known as fire steel, “flint and steel”, etc.). Not only is it important to know how to create your own flame from a simple spark, but honing these skills will aid us when we finally take on fire-by-friction and need to use the very same tinder in order to blow our bow-drill coals into flames.

Using a ferrocerium rod to start the fire

After getting a fire going and demonstrating the importance of preparation, intentionality, and anticipation to properly process and organize your fuel it was time to transition to coal-blowing. With our initial “spoons” taking shape due to some expansive carving time, we were ready to transition to making the concavity. Being careful with our coals and remembering to be aware of those around us, the mentors extracted coals from the fire for the Storm Wolves. Placing the red hot ember on the wood and using a stick to press down on the coal, the Storm Wolves each began blowing steadily on the coal to increase the heat and transfer the heat into the spoon. After a few seconds the wood of the spoon began to heat up and become an ember in itself. After exhausting their coals, each Storm Wolf took some time to scrape out the charcoal on the concavity of the spoon and before they knew it their spoon was taking shape. This process must then be repeated until your concavity is sufficiently shaped to the coal-blower’s specifications.

Transitioning to free time, some of the Storm Wolves continued to work on their spoons while others reverted back to games of tossing the Fir cone over the shelter or playing with the newly retrieved Frisbee. Only a few of us got to complete our spoons, but the mentors were grateful to hear the Storm Wolves each exclaim how cool it was to learn this skill. Despite the requirement for preparation, patience, and strong focus the group was able to ebb and flow between focus and play with impressive ability. Although there were a few times where some of the group members began transitioning to play during circle or while a mentor was talking, the other Storm Wolves kept them in line before the mentors needed to stop and ask for refocusing. Seeing this group mentor themselves, fluctuate between play and focus, and most of all get excited about an ancient skill made this a very rewarding day for mentors and Storm Wolves alike.

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

Learning alongside a friend always makes things better!