Friday, December 6, 2019

Animal tracking is a great activity to get the family outside and in nature. Through tracking, you and your kids can solve wildlife mysteries together. You learn the stories of animals secretly hidden beyond human eyes. From backyards and playgrounds to public parks and forests, animal tracks are all around us. Use this guide to begin learning about the comings and goings of our animal neighbors.

A quick note on staying found. If you’re searching for and following animal tracks, chances are you’re headed off the beaten path. So the first thing to remember is how to stay found.

  1. Tell somebody where you’re going. Tell them when to expect to hear from you.
  2. Bring a compass and a topographical map of the area
  3. Memorize landmarks, especially ones just behind you.

Ok I’ve found a track. Now what?

There are five questions We ask that help us investigate tracks. We call them the Five Fingers of Tracking.

The Five Fingers of Tracking

Thumb of Tracking – Who is this animal?

So you found a track! The first step is to identify which animal it belongs to. Start with the size of the track—for example, a house cat will be smaller than a cougar. Next, observe its overall shape and detailed features. Match the following observations with the examples in one of the animal tracking field guides listed below!

  1. Count the number of toes. But be careful! Not all toes register (show up) consistently. Look at other tracks to confirm your observations.
  2. See if there are claw marks. Dogs show claws, cats do not. Porcupine show long claws.
  3. Look at the shape and size of the heel pad.
Index Finger of Tracking – What is this animal doing?

Each animal has its own unique way of moving. Finding a line of tracks helps you understand the gait (how an animal moves). This line of tracks forms its own pattern, depending on the animal’s speed. Your field guide is a great resource to sort out the front from the back feet, the first step (pardon the pun). After sorting fore from rear, try and move like the animal, recreating the gait with your own tracks. Gaits can be complicated, so play with it at first. Later, those same field guides can help you go more in-depth with this topic.

Long Finger of Tracking – When was it here?

“When” the animal passed by can be a challenging but fun question to master. There are a few tricks that can help us “age” a track. Pay attention to the weather. Has it rained recently? Was there frost that morning? What other elements can wear away that track? MISSION: Press your finger into the ground near the track. If your fingerprint looks similar to the track, the animal may have passed by recently.

Ring Finger of Tracking – Why was the animal here?

“Why” an animal visits and area is often directly tied to something they need for survival. In order to understand this, we need to look at an animal’s habitat—where it lives. What food is in the surrounding area that the animal may eat? Is there shelter from inclement weather or even a way to hide? Is it breeding season? Even the wind direction, which carries scent, affects why an animal moves through an area. Read about each animal’s survival needs and connect that knowledge to the water, trails, plants and trees you find right around you. MISSION: Find a place in your backyard or nearby park that you visit every day. Sit in this place anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, and map the plants and trails around you. At first, it might look like a wall of green, but very soon you begin to notice the busy town of mice, raccoons, and birds who share your neighborhood.

Pinky of Tracking – Where is it going, and where did it come from?

Following and finding the animal—this is known as trailing. Start with how many tracks you can find in a row. But trailing goes beyond the tracks, too. Bits of fur stuck on a branch are great clues. Use all your senses to find the animal. Smell for urine posts. Listen to the birds. The alarm calls of robins and other feathered friends call tell you if a bobcat or coyote is passing by. With practice and knowledge of the landscape, you can learn to predict where you might find an animal based on its needs. If it’s really dry, they might seek water. If the weather is challenging, they might hunker down in sheltered areas. MISSION: A fun game to learn trailing starts by dragging a stick through the forest. Start with an obvious line and slowly make it harder to find. Go back to the start and follow your kids, friends, or family as they try to follow your trail and find the prize at the end.

This sounds like so much fun! But where should I go?

Head to floodplains and areas near rivers. The softer surfaces like mud, silt, and sand, are great for capturing tracks. Here are some of the places we love to go:

Oxbow Regional Park

Dabney State Park

Sauvie Island – Warrior Rock

Mary S. Young Park

And what about those field guides? We recommend:

Mammal Tracks and Signs by Mark Elbroch

Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracking by Olaus Johan Murie

Mammals of the Pacific Northwest by Chis Maser

At Trackers, we teach animal tracking for both kids and adults in our camps and classes. Check out TrackersPDX.com for upcoming options for all ages!

 

If your kid is a Tracker, there is code. It describes what it means to be a Tracker and gives guidance as we all connect to community, nature, and many generations beyond us.

Code of a Tracker

Pay Attention Most people go through life with tunnel vision. Trackers Kids learn to see the entire picture, to always look for details both small and great. We teach this through wide-angle vision, animal tracking, and sensory awareness. Students learn nothing is ever what we assume on the surface. Through tracking they learn to travel subtle trails few choose to follow.

Be Truly Helpful For the Tracker, this starts by Paying Attention. We are only TRULY helpful when we listen and empathize with others. A Tracker never assumes what they are doing is right, instead they act thoughtfully to meet to the needs of the village and nature.

Respect “Awe” is often missing from our modern day experience. A Trackers Kid seeks out a great new adventure everyday, feats of respect originating from the beauty of community and the wilder world around us.

Always Grow A Trackers Kid always seeks out new answers and layers to the puzzle, to which there is never a finish. Trackers are always learning, growing, and adapting. They improve not only for themselves, but to help support others from friends and family to wildlife, from elders who come before and many generations into the future.

These lessons are shared by all of us as we care for community and adventure with nature. They are the heart of our programs, helping every kid learn what it means to be a “Tracker.”

Keep Growing,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

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Here’s the thing about wilderness survival. There are rules and lists for how to survive in the wild, but no single perfect method. Your most immediate needs can change with your environment. Consider the saying:

All models are wrong, but some are useful.

But even though they’re wrong, some rules, lists, and models can be helpful. Not perfect, but useful. At Trackers Earth, the first rule we start with is:

Tell people where you are going.

We call this rule the Trailhead. It’s the information you give people about the route you are traveling and for how long you expect before you return. That way, if you don’t come back on time, potential rescuers have vital information to help locate you. Depending on the scale of our excursion into the wilderness, a Trailhead can take the form of verbal or written information and can be as detailed as you need it to be. This principle also includes the following:

Stay put if you know someone is looking for you AND you are safe in that area.

So let’s say that you do find yourself on your own in a survival situation. That where we can start with our wrong but useful model called the 3 and 30 Rule. It goes like this:

  • You can survive 3 minutes in inclimate air conditions
  • You can survive 3 hours in inclimate weather
  • You can survive 3 days without water
  • You can survive 30 days without food
  • You can survive 30 years in a bad relationship (we’re still testing out this last one)

Based on this rule, you have a hierarchy of needs, and a way to prioritize what you should secure first in order to be safe. Given that many of us are not exploring the ocean or traveling outside of our atmosphere, worrying about air is often not the issue. So we start with the effects of inclimate weather: too hot or too cold. Then we move onto water and food. This leads to another wrong yet useful model, the Order of Survival:

  • Need #1: Shelter
  • Need #2: Water
  • Need #3: Food
  • Level Up: Fire

Addressing what your body needs first will help make subsequent tasks more effective in preserving energy. Again, each situation is different and this order isn’t definitive.

Yet often first thing you might need in a survival situation is shelter to protect you. Then you’ll need a form of hydration, and then food. But to accelerate all of these, you can use fire as a Level-Up, which we’ll explain later. Let’s explore each need in turn.

 

Shelter

Shelter gives you cover from weather, insects, and other nasty stuff; and insulates you from the cold and heat. Shelter can sometimes even provide you with camouflage (a negative if you have rescuers looking for you). Finding shelter means tempering the extremes of weather. When it’s hot, seek the cool shade. When it’s cold and raining, look for dry, warm spots and out of the wind.

Your first shelter is clothing, so always dress appropriately for the area you’ll be traveling in. But, like clothes, when building a shelter, think about layers. Many layers can insulate you from the cold much better than one warm coat. So this goes for your clothing, but also for your shelter-building. One of the first things you can do? Add to your clothing’s insulation by stuffing fluffy material such as dry leaves or grasses between two layers until you look like a scarecrow.

When building your shelter, consider the ways we lose heat when building your shelter and making choices to retain your body’s warmth:

  • Conduction—heat-loss through direct contact. Even just sitting on the ground can affect your warmth. So, build a bed in your shelter so you’re raised off of and insulated from the ground. This reduces heat-loss from laying on the cold ground.  
  • Convection—heat-loss through air contact. Your shelter should protect you from exposure to the wind.
  • Radiation—this is the normal heat exchange your body goes through. Insulation in layers can help prevent this heat-loss and trap warmth closer to your body.
  • Evaporation—water conducts heat away from the body faster than air. So if its raining, staying dry when its cold is critical. When it’s too hot, water can help you cool down. 
  • Respiration—also known as breathing. Putting a mask on helps retain the heat lost through your exhale.

When you’re building a shelter, think more like a bivy sack and sleeping bag, and not a castle. Remember, it all begins by tempering extremes—for example, if it’s raining or will rain, seek out a naturally dry overhang or build yourself a waterproof roof.

We often often “make our bed” as soon as possible because you want to be elevated off the cold ground to limit conduction. You can gather dry leaves or soft evergreen bows to create a thick layer of bedding. Remember that the bedding compacts as you lay on it, so add more until you have significant loft. After that, pack the insulation so it will have to burrow into, keeping the shelter close to your body (remember, think sleeping bag). You’ll lose heat with more air circulating, so a shelter that you have to wiggle into like a nest is the best for heat retention. After all, this is survival; not camping.

Take Away: Find natural shelter covering you from rain and blocking the wind. Build a bed inside of that to keep you off the cold ground. Use additional fluffy debris to pack in all around your body. It’s properly snug when you have to burrow in and worm your way in.

Remember, any natural shelter is also naturally camouflaged. It’s crucial that you prominently flag your shelter and surrounding areas so rescuers can easily find.

 

Water

There are a couple different ways to source water, depending on what tools you have available. There are the natural methods: you can sop up dew or collect rain; you can follow a spring to its source; or other basin and draws where your find lakes, rivers, and more.

Most sources should be treated to reduce pathogens. You cannot afford a 2- to 4-week bout of vomiting and diarrhea that will likely dehydrate you. The only real exception to this is dew or rain (which is already distilled, but only before the rain has hit the ground; use a tarp to build a rain catch). While springs might be considered safe, it pays to be cautious; there is no guarantee the water is potable, but you have a higher probability since it’s been filtered through the ground. With any source, beware of any animal defecating, dead or decaying that might pollute it. 

How you treat water depends on the tools you have available. Water can be chemically treated for pathogens (you can purchase this, just be sure to dose the water properly). Water can be passed through a chemical filter. Or you can construct a solar still (this is a pretty succinct video of how to make one). 

And, of course, you can boil water. The Center for Disease Control officially says you need to boil the water for a full minute to be safe (three minutes above 6500 feet in elevation). We agree. And if you don’t boil it for exactly 180 seconds under 6500 feet we’ll be officially mad at you.

But locating water is the first component. Follow draws and other basins. Also, watch for water loving birds and animals such kingfishers, fly catchers, and of course, unicorns.

Take Away: Find water and treat it to make it safe, using whatever tools you have available. 

 

Food

While you can go quite some time without food, having anything to eat has a positive affect on your emotional well-being. But do make sure that you’re only eating food if you have a steady water source. Water will help your body process the food, and eating without water can dehydrate you even further.

In gathering food, it helps to learn about wild edible plants. Your studies about plants that are safe to eat should start well before you go out. Learn both the toxic and edible species of your area. Even if you are not foraging for survival, learning to key out local plants makes a great trailside hobby.

Just remember, we can go around 30 days without food, depending on the environment and calories your body started with, so long as you have a consistent water supply. So a gourmet meal is not usually your first priority.

Take Away: Hunger may be your body’s loudest complaint, 

but don’t be foolish when choosing what to eat.

It helps to start by learning to identify and prepare common wild edible plants at home. These could include stinging nettle, miners lettuces, acorns, and cattail. You can also gather certain pine needles to steep in tea, providing useful vitamins and nutrients. Along with flavor that contributes to that important psychological uplift. Research safe and sustainable harvesting and processing for each individual plant. Stewardship should be foremost in your studies, you should never over harvest.

Finally, some foods should be processed in order to be consumed. And that leads us into our next point which is…

Fire

Fire is the Level-Up for the priorities we’ve discussed in our hierarchy of needs. Fire can warm your shelter and make it more efficient, boil water, make food more consumable, and help create tools. Fire can also serve to signal potential rescuers as smoke can often be seen from the air or smelled from further afield.

There are many methods to starting a fire. But that’s a whole separate article. Like this one, for example

A word of caution about using fire in debris shelters. It is very dangerous and can be considered an advanced skill. You must position, build and maintain your fire with ample firebreaks from any flammable material. To do this you can use distance and stone hearths.

Take Away: Fire is useful. Fire is dangerous. Make sure it is fully extinguished by feeling down to the subsoil of your firepit.

 

So that’s a tentative plan for how to weather a survival situation. But with all these skills, you should Train before Trial. Meaning, it’s fun (and recommended) to get plenty of practice in before you really need it.

And start with the number one rule to limit how long you have to survive: always tell someone where you’re going. Leave a Trailhead with information of where you’ll be and when you’re expected back. Using all these tips can hopefully help you stay healthy and happy even in the most challenging of times.

So remember:

Address your priority of needs. Use fire to help. And always leave a Trailhead.

 

Get to know our new Forest School Principal, Ian Abraham!

Ian Abraham comes to us most recently as the Youth Programs Manager at Portland Audubon, overseeing and developing programs for tens of thousands of youth. We’re so excited to have him join us, and wanted to share that enthusiasm with you as the school year gets started. Read on to learn more about Ian’s background, experience, and philosophy. And go here to learn more about learning at Trackers Forest School

Ian, why Trackers?

IA: I was fortunate enough to be a part of some of the earlier discussions that have now become known as Trackers Earth. While the ideals and philosophies back then were new, I have had the pleasure of watching the organization, program, and work grow into a movement that is connecting thousands of youth and adults to the natural world and themselves.

What are you most excited for in joining the Trackers Earth Forest School team?

IA: I have made it my life’s work to facilitate a nature connection for adults and youth alike. Over the past 13 years, I have spent my career as an Environmental Educator, Camp Director, and finally the Youth Programs Manager with Portland Audubon. I have also spent the last three years co-mentoring teen boys on a weekly basis with a focus on mindfulness and socialization skills. I have wholeheartedly mentored dozens of teens and educators throughout my time at Audubon and beyond. This path has allowed me to form relationships with youth and nature in a holistic and whole systems learning environment wherein nature is the ultimate teacher, providing an experiential learning environment like no other.

My personal values and mission align so well with those of the Forest School. It is rare that one has an opportunity to have such succinct alignment with personal values and organizational values. This chance to work with children, parents, and teachers within a community steeped in nature is what I am most excited for.

What’s your education philosophy? Or give me some central tenets.

IA: The strictly formal education that I received as a child was founded in human to human relationships and, as much as I appreciated that, it was always missing something. I believe that education is based in relationships between people, and the more than human world, wherein nature is the ultimate teacher.

Education should be a hands-on, experiential practice wherein children gain a working understanding of subjects, knowledge, and skills while developing lifelong critical thinking skills and core competencies. Academic learning is supported through earth-based skills through story, music, art, song, providing a whole systems environment for all learners… visual, oral, or/and kinesthetic.

How is the format and curriculum of Forest School uniquely posed to be beneficial to real learning?

IA: Unlike other forms of environmental education that are a one-off program, Forest School is an apex opportunity, allowing students and teachers to walk together in relationship with the natural world, all the while learning math and reading and writing in courageous and competent ways. I’ve never been a part of a program with this kind of consistency — full-day learning, five days a week, nine months of the year. With this amount of student-contact time, I’m excited to watch their progression throughout the year. Their progressions—teachers and students alike—are based in our ability, as a school, to give primacy to relationships, and create meaningful, honest, long-term mentoring that centers the student’s experience.

Trackers Forest School provides a unique opportunity to blend academics with hands-on learning. Full-time school for grades K-8, and a micro high school that meets three days a week. Ian’s background in administering and planning interdisciplinary curriculum makes him well-suited to lead Trackers Forest School into the next academic year and beyond. Come to our next Open House to meet Ian and learn more about the Forest School educational environment.

It’s time to get dangerous. Teaching kids knife and woodcarving skills is aiding in their development and exploration, an essential part of growing up. So If you’re interested in getting your kids a knife and getting them started on this fun and empowering activity, we’ve got a few recommendations for you.

Why Carving is Appropriate for Kids

A knife is a tool, not a toy. And we all need to learn to use tools. After all, not everything will be made by Fisher Price with safety scissors. Kids will eventually encounter sharp objects, and instead of seeing it with fear, we can teach them to greet the knife as a tool that can be useful. 

Plus, wood carving is a great way to enhance kids’ manual dexterity. It teaches fine motor skills, and asks them to gain control over their extremities. It encourages hand-eye coordination. And, it’s a full body activity that requires constant focus and attention.

Finally, introducing your child to a knife does so much to demystify the fear of scary things. The more we can use “dangerous” tools like fire and knives responsibly, the more we can empower kids to be in control and remove the sense of dread. Kids get excited about doing “adult” tasks. They want to feel responsible, like we trust them. And we can trust them, if we give them tasks that have a perceived high risk and actual low risk.

So How Do We Do That?

First, we need to lay some ground rules for parents. Here are the things you should keep in mind as you get your kid started on wood carving:

  1. Supervise kids at all times. This can taper off as you notice them becoming more adept at handling and using the knife, but it’s super important to keep a vigilant eye. 
  2. Grip the knife and piece of wood with a fist, wrapping your thumb around the rest of your fingers. Think of holding ice cream cones—thumb tucked back and away so the blade never crosses any fingers. After all, no one likes thumbs in their ice cream. No thumb dies!
  3. Carve away! Seriously, away from yourself, and never in your lap. Remember that the blade is moving in one direction and remove all things in its path, including your body parts. This means yours, too, as the parent helping.

Choose Your Tool

There are so many kinds of knives out there that it begs the question of where to start. For young ones, we recommend a smaller blade with a handle that fits comfortably in their hand. We like to get kids started with the Mora 120, but any sharp and sturdy knife will do. And yes, I mean sharp. More accidents happen with a dull knife than a sharp one, as a dull knife requires more force to make a cut. A sharp knife will allow for more fluid motion as it moves through the wood. 

And Now We Carve

To get started, use only forward cuts. That means any cut moving away from your body. There are many other techniques that you can learn and grow into, but forward cuts are all you need for whittling, and allow kids to complete many projects from start to finish. 

How to Make a Cut:

  1. Pay attention to what you’re cutting. Watch the blade at all times to be aware of where it’s going. 
  2. Protect the inner and outer blood circle. That means you take care of your body (the inner circle) and other bodies in your path (the outer circle). Don’t let the blade pierce the inner or the outer blood circles. 
  3. Let the knife do the work. Take a shallow angle and don’t try to muscle through cuts. Rather, rely on the sharpness of your tool to find the correct path through the wood. When you reach a tough spot, like a knot, make smaller cuts to chip away. The less force you exert, the more control you have.

Giving a knife to your child can feel like a big step. But encouraging your kid to use tools—and teaching them to use tools properly—will instill a sense of empowerment and respect. These basics should be enough to get your child starting on a whittling project, but for more information, check out the Trackers Earth Guide to Knives and Wood Carving. So grab a knife. Get carving. 

From Jordana, Trackers Storyteller

Gearing up for an adventure can be hard. Where did you leave those snowshoes from last year? Have you pumped up your bike tires since last summer? Moreover, where is that bike pump? Are there enough warm socks and snacks in the car for a rainy hike?

Getting ready takes some preparation. But instead of turning an early morning into a hectic moment of child- and partner- and pet- and thing-wrangling, set yourself up for success by harnessing the power of mise en place. This French phrase is used in professional kitchens around the world to cultivate a state of readiness. But out of the kitchen, these principles can help us set the stage for adventures, and make it easy (and fun!) to get going.

Make a packing list for longer trips that you save in your phone or computer. That way you know exactly what you need to gather.

Keep extra clothes such as base layers, socks, towels, and gloves in the car. Being warm and dry can be the difference between a great and miserable day.

As the weather turns brighter and the sun comes out, be sure to have sunscreen on hand at all times. I like to put a small tube in each of my adventure bags so I’m never without.

Build a snack-pack for the pantry. Replenish it with granola bars, jerky, and your family’s favorites after you get back from an adventure so it’s ready to go for the next trip. Store it in a mouse-proof container!

Water bottles. Truly, it seems like there are never enough. But keeping bottle in the car or in your pack means that you will be more hydrated for your day, leading to overall health and happiness.

At Trackers, we know it’s important to model real enthusiasm for getting outside. We want to inspire children to engage with their surroundings, to play and explore freely, and to feel confident that they are prepared for whatever nature throws at them. Plus, kids really like to be (mostly) helpful in planning and packing gear. We hope that by encouraging a little mindful preparation, you’ll be ready to take advantage of all summer has to offer.

What about you? Do you have any great tips and tricks for packing up and heading out? We’d love to hear your ideas for adventure planning.

From Jordana, Trackers Storyteller

Summer is nearly upon us, which means we’re all planning, preparing, and scheduling in order to squeeze the maximum amount of fun into time away from school. And while planning all the activities for kids means they are likely to have a blast, we recognize that this requires work from parents. So, we at Trackers want to reemphasize that the Trackers Village isn’t just for kids, it’s for you too. Our community of dedicated, compassionate educators are here to steward the next generation of thoughtful, connected individuals. And, we’ll do it together. How is the Trackers Village here for you?

Many Options for Engagement One weekend a month? One week in the summer? After school? You and your kids are busy, so join us whenever you can, during the summer, school breaks, and throughout the year. Flexible Pick Up and Drop Off – Trackers now has seven drop-off locations for summer programs, flexible early hours, and affordable after-care.

Resources & Connections Did your kid come home raving about a new skill? Are you now on the hunt for fishing holes in your area? Our staff is a wealth of information, tips, and tricks for helping your family get outside and expand on all our Trackers skills. From gear recommendations to trip ideas and everything in between, we’d love to connect you further to Portland’s awesome array of outdoor enthusiasts.

Community Events Throughout the year, Trackers offers community events, open to the public, to engage with Trackers skills. Adult Classes – Wilderness adventures aren’t just for kids. Trackers offers adult programs and classes including blacksmithing, wilderness survival, homesteading & folk crafts, instructor training, and so much more.

Most importantly, we want you to know that we are a part of your community, a part of the extended Village that is here to raise our children. Bringing your kids to Trackers is so much more than just another summer camp; it’s an investment in your children and in our community of support.

2019 Apprenticeships for Youth & Teens – Ready to Register

Apprenticeships are our year-round mentoring programs. They take place 1 weekend-a-month from September to May. Trackers staff and I truly appreciate this incredible opportunity to go beyond summer, helping kids develop greater connection to community and nature. We offer options for ages 4 to 17. This year brings a couple of new features

New Programs Along with familiar favorites such as Wilders Farm Craft, we also offer new programs exploring subjects such as Ninja Martial Arts & Forest Parkour and Photography. Also, Outdoor Leadership for Hiking, Boating & Climbing now has a single day option for all ages along with the popular overnight session. See below for a list of all programs…

More Space Quickly growing into one of our most popular programs, Apprenticeships had a waitlist of over 250 students last year. Because of this interest, we have expanded our capacity for each weekend. While we cannot guarantee there will not be another waitlist, we want to share this experience with more children, teens, and their families.

New Facilities We are excited to open our new Arts & Crafts Annex—only 5 blocks from our HQ. This newly remodeled learning studio features a dedicated classroom for Ceramics and Woodworking, along with one of the largest Blacksmithing Shops on the west coast. Plus, as Blacksmithing gets its own location, our indoor Archery range will expand.

Why Apprentice?

Finally, I want to talk about how our Apprenticeship programs can help support the families we serve by reflecting on my experiences with my own children in the program.

Friend Connections I have seen kids in Apprenticeships become part of a team and much more. My own kids have discovered lasting friendships through sharing these adventures. Many Apprentices return year after year.

Skills & Nature Connection Each Apprenticeship offers its own set of skills, but they also are an immersion that connects kids to natural world. As kids explore the outdoors and traditional crafts, they learn life lessons of resilience, thoughtfulness, and mutual respect.

Leadership & Mentoring Our long term goal is to cultivate leadership skills for community and stewardship. Our most experienced educators mentor students to take ownership of their own learning.

Remember to register soon if you plan on joining us. As always, feel free to email me with any questions about how we can best care for and support your family—replying to this email goes directly to me! We can also meet in person at our Portland Camp Fair this Saturday on April 20, 2019.

See you in the woods,

Molly Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

 

Find your Apprenticeship!

Even as we’re supposed to be more connected, our world can feel more isolated. A former surgeon general once called it a public health crises.

With our on-the-go schedules, it’s often challenging for kids to make friends. The world doesn’t always allow our children to free range together. We’re told they can’t roam parks and school offers less play and more work.

Yet children need free play to hone lifelong skills of resilience, resolving conflicts, and, most importantly, making friends. At our camps, we focus on creating an extended community of support, developing “friending skills” through shared adventures.

Everything is about connection. It needs to go beyond just learning outdoor skills. We understand that kids join Trackers—and parents send them—to discover or reconnect with friends. They also come to build a relationship with the wilderness.

We work to reclaim that connection to nature with very unique teaching methods. The modern outdoor education movement is fantastic, but when it’s only geared towards a sport or academic, we reduce ourselves to tourists of the wilderness.

Sure, our camps teach survival, fishing, archery, kayaking, and rock climbing; yet those adventures are only vehicles through which they get to know the more-than-human world. Trackers campers are always “tracking” in the forest, and this helps kids feel a part of nature, not just a visitor.

This is a core value for us: the more you track or learn about an animal, plant, or person, the more you care about them. Empathy is at the root of building community. I learned this with my own children: Robin (8 years), Annie (5 years), and Maxine (3 years).

With the right training from the Trackers Community, my three kids free range and never feel lost or alone in the forest. They know the local elk herd whose trails they easily follow, even across hard to track ground. They have personal names for individual trees, birds, or wildflowers.

This is an essential feeling of familiarity, of extended family. Our purpose is to help all children discover their own innate sense of belonging in the natural world. And with that same connected empathy, learn to create greater friendships in the human one.

All the best,
Tony Deis

Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

An extended community is crucial to raising children. As a parent, I’ve experienced the need for support from family, neighbors, and educators. Our children grow by learning from many different mentors. Tony and I started Trackers Earth in 2004 with a common purpose:

Greater connection to community, nature, our heritage, and future.

It is our community of teachers that makes Trackers special. Many camp programs only hire instructors for summer, which limits who can teach for them. Yet, along with a fantastic seasonal staff, we work to create an educational network that employs more and more teachers throughout the year. As a result, our Village of educators brings experience and responsibility to the journey of helping to raise our children.

A Village thrives through reciprocity: getting support and giving support. Since our founding, so many parents and students have supported us, spreading the word and growing Trackers into one of the largest outdoor programs in Oregon and beyond. In turn, our teachers and I promise to work every day to fulfill that community promise towards greater connection for all generations and the future.

Thank you and see you in the forest,

Molly
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom