Saturday, January 19, 2019

Wilderness survival, archery, blacksmithing, kayak building, fishing, or animal tracking! Students come to Trackers to learn skills forgotten or ignored in modern life. They feel compelled to engage with the primal physical world, not a digital representation of it.

These hands-on skills bring mental puzzles. You carve wood that doesn’t have perfect grain. You make a fire in wet conditions. Crafting leads to craftiness—a capacity for thoughtful strategy to navigate a complex world. Even more important is that the deer is not a coded object in an online game. As you track the doe, she forces you to understand that she too has a passion to live, breathe, and survive.

This all leads to the “invisible skill” of Trackers—our version of Outdoor Leadership. We teach a means of community stewardship that has existed since humans first walked the planet. At Trackers, the best leaders are actual “trackers”—individuals who deftly listen to the land they care for and the people they serve.

This ability is not gained just by following a textbook or teacher. Each student needs challenges that only the diversity of nature and forest craft can bring about. I know excellent leaders who are accomplished at negotiating the human world, but it is a rare leader whose personal intelligence also extends into the more-than-human world. Such individuals are guided by a radical awareness and profound empathy.

At Trackers, this version of Outdoor Leadership makes our courses and community greater than the sum of the skills we teach. Yet it is often invisible, threaded through the ongoing experiences of our students and families.

After much internal conversation at Trackers, we realize we need to do even more to nurture this “invisible skill” in our future leaders, the younger members of our community. Over the next year, the majority of our teen mentoring programs will feature a greater emphasis on Outdoor Leadership training.

Central to many upcoming courses is a dialogue with our Apprentices that addresses these deeper qualities of Outdoor Leadership. This includes our Rangers, Wilders, Mariners, Artisans, and Archery apprenticeships, along with our Homeschool Outdoor and After School programs for middle and high school age students.

Our goal is to foster the next generation of teachers and leaders for Trackers and beyond. We seek to grow a community through awareness, empathy, and strategies for equity. We hope to show our Teen Apprentices how tracking the deer leads us all to greater care for our shared village and the Earth on which we live.

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth, Founder

Happy New Year!

Our work moves in seasonal cycles. We recently finished up our Winter Break Camps (you can check out the photos here). Here are some events the Trackers Family is looking forward to in the coming year.

In 2017 the first Kindergarten Class of the Trackers Forest School will graduate and this September will feature both Grade K and 1. We are also adding something truly unique—an Outdoor Middle School (Grades 6-7). We follow an interdisciplinary approach and combine real-world skills with academic excellence. This is an exciting new direction in education for ourselves and our community.

But never fear: Our award-winning Summer Camps will return for their 12th year! Along with old favorites, we have crafted new themes for older campers such as pottery, rock climbing, and mobile overnights.

The summer program that has our educators most excited? The Tracking Through Time Traveling Roadshow: Solar Eclipse Edition. Campers traverse seven states in the American West, tracking wolves and antelope, checking out ancient cliff dwellings, and following 190 million-year-old fossilized dinosaur footprints. In Casper Mountain, Wyoming they will witness a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event—total eclipse of the Sun!

Finally, building upon our Guide to Knives & Woodcarving, Trackers Books will launch new field guides for kids that include archery, animal tracking, navigation, and fishing. All part of our ultimate mission to empower children and their families to make forest craft an integral part of their lives.

It’s been a busy year and this is only a short summary of what’s to come. I look forward to seeing you all at camp, school, homeschool, and other programs. I am grateful and excited to be on this journey with our incredible staff, students, and all the families we serve.

Thank you,
Molly Deis
Trackers Founder & Mom
Wilders Guild


Stand tall. The wild teaches us this. There are moments when we are cold and wet, when we desperately need fire or shelter. When we feel miserable. Instead of curling up, fearing that we lack those things, we must stand tall with the trees. Finding fire from the cedar and shelter from the oak leaves. Crafting both with our resilience.

It’s a lesson I often forget, and I’m grateful to nature which teaches it to me again and again. Yet when my kids were born, standing tall became a greater challenge. I no longer feared just for myself, I hoped and feared for them. All parents have times when we are afraid. In those moments we cannot curl up and disappear through fear. We must stand tall and be role models for resilience.

In my 24 years of teaching, I’ve seen how children naturally seek fire and shelter when they’re in the wilderness. This innate resilience is born of their enthusiasm to survive and thrive with the wild.

It is okay for our children to see us vulnerable. In fact, they should see us sad and even afraid. It lets our kids know these feelings are healthy and that we trust them. It is critical, however, that they witness our resilience through these feelings. Build that fire. Make that shelter. Stand up.

With our children’s inspiration and Nature reminding us, together we will remember how to stand tall through all the challenges we face.

Animal tracking is an incredible way to explore Nature with kids. While glimpsing a coyote or deer might be rare, their tracks are not. You just have to learn how and where to look.

When you find a track with your kids, have everyone take care not to step on any other prints that might be in line with it. Encourage kids to get down close by getting on your own knees to examine it.

Bring your faces close to the print. Tracks have a couple of key features that help you identify “who” the animal is.

Track Features:

striped-skunk_4Count the toes The number of toes in a track helps you narrow it down. For example, deer or elk hooves show two toes, while weasels like mink and marten show five toes.

Check for claws Look for the presence or absence of claws. People often overlook tiny claw marks, so look carefully. For example, dog tracks show claws and cat tracks don’t (they keep them sheathed).

Look at pad shape Pad shape also helps you key the track out. For example, cats have a distinct m-shaped pad that is all one piece, while squirrels have a pad that is made up of many parts.

Compare size Once you figure out it’s some kind of cat, the size of the track will help you identify if it’s Fluffy the house cat or the local cougar that ate Fluffy (hey, cougars gotta eat).

There are other track features you can learn about, such as symmetry, webbing, hair on the foot, gait, and negative space, which will give you more clues to identify the animal.

Tools & Teachers

Bring a notebook for drawing and writing details down, along with a small pocket tape measure. Many excellent field guides offer average measurements for tracks. We recommend Mammal Tracks and Sign by Mark Elbroch. You can also find many great resources online.

Where to Track

When you first start tracking, it’s best to begin with clear prints. Look for ground (substrate) where the foot can leave behind as much detail as possible. Good ground to search for tracks are sandy or silty floodplains, beaches near forests, or snow-covered ground in winter.

5 Fingers of Tracking

Identification is just the start. At Trackers we teach the 5 Fingers of Tracking. These are series of questions kids ask to learn more about the animal they are tracking.

Thumb Who is this animal?
Index How was this animal moving?
Middle When was this track made?
Ring Why was this animal here (food, shelter, etc.)?
Pinky Where is this animal now?

Stay tuned for more blogs how to share animal tracking with kids. Plus, our new upcoming kids book, Animal Tracking.


My workdays at Trackers can be a hectic blend of emails and phone calls from my home “office.” I always hope the background noise of my kids asking questions or the babbling baby doesn’t intrude into the conversation when I’m talking with you, our parents. Working in a family business means I sometimes get to be at home with the kids, and I also get to answer emails or phone calls on weekends, evenings, and even holidays.

computer_kidsThe biggest challenge for me (and Tony) is taking the time to unplug and get Robin, Annie and Maxine outside. Ironic, I know. Like many parents it can be hard to limit screen time for not only my kids, but especially myself. Too often I look over my computer to see Maxine playing on the floor, happily chewing her toys (a branch used in a primitive fire-starting kit). When my baby girl gazes towards me I’m reminded the glow of the Apple brand on the back of my laptop is a common sight for her 10-month old eyes. Grr arg! The inner-demon of mommy guilt rises.

It can be hard to close the computer and quickly usher the kids outside and towards the barn of chickens, ducklings, goats, and the “bear fort” my five-year old son, Robin, had made from sticks. There’s always one more thing of work to do. I try to remind myself how important it is for me personally to unplug and connect with my kids. I try to walk the Trackers talk.

It’s hard for all of us. More and more our work and social worlds demand we login through cables, bluetooth, or Wifi. I’ve never been one to resent technology. I could always use “one more minute” to send an email or cast a self-spell for my online role-playing game (a text based MUDD) while campaigning for my Kingdom.

I also understand that I can’t be too hard on myself. As a mom who also serves the families of Trackers, my job necessitates me to consistently engage that virtual world. While I also realize that in the day-to-day flurry of life online, I often need simple reminders to just be outside, unplugging and connecting with my own children. So I apologize up front if I ever miss a email or call. I promise to eventually get to it… right after Maxine and I feed the ducks. Probably just before. Or during.

Molly Deis
Trackers Earth, Founder

1-weekend a month, September to June

Announcing our 2016 – 2017 Youth Apprenticeships.
We’re excited to offer new apprenticeships along with old favorites.
Program demand has increased in recent years. We recommend reserving your place early.

This coming year we also have some new apprenticeships along with our old favorites:

Age 4-Grade K Rovers Apprenticeship
Our youngest campers have spent the year pushing the edges of their experience and skills in the outdoors. This year’s Rovers program has grown into one of the most profound.


Grade 1-4 & 5-12 Rangers Apprenticeship
The skills of stealth, archery and wilderness survival. The Rangers Apprenticeship has become a powerful team and leadership experience with training in our wildest arts.

Grade 1-4 & 5-12 Wilders Apprenticeship
Gardens, animals, homesteading and tending to the wild. Our Wilders have delved into folk craft and traditional skills while growing into a program that truly cares for the village.

Grade 1-4 & 5-12 Mariners Apprenticeship
2015 was first year of our Mariners Apprenticeship and it was resoundingly epic with days by the water, kayaks, fishing, and more. This year features overnights for older Apprentices.

Grade 5-12 Artisans Apprenticeship
2015 was also the first year of our Artisans Apprenticeship. It has been as close to real magic as we can get. The Power of Myth woven with earth based arts and crafts offer the promise to truly create ambassadors and leaders for a culture that needs to exist.


Grade 9-12 New! VW Apprenticeship
Apprentices develop mechanical genius by fixing up an old school Volkswagen Bus and Super Beetle. They then take road trips foraging for wild foods and practicing outdoor skills.

Grade 5-12 New! Trackers Chef Apprenticeship
Apprentices master the culinary arts through adventures foraging for wild edibles and cultivating locally grown foods. They cook over an open campfire, developing a vital part of community leadership: nourishment, great flavor and the table we share.

Grade 2-5 & 6-12 Archery Apprenticeship
Bows and arrows. We utilize one of the largest indoor ranges in the area (at Trackers), along with our private outdoor ranges (very unique). New this year: Make a bow in the program!


Grade 5-12 Blacksmithing Apprenticeship
Our fastest filling apprenticeship. Rashelle Hamms, our new Blacksmithing Mentor, offers personal and individual instruction for every student, while also building core competencies.

Grade 9-12 Bladesmith Apprenticeship
Arrowheads, Knives and Axes! Apprentices focus on forging bladed tools. They learn to design and shape each blade, honing it to the appropriate sharpness.

Turning 18 years Wilderness Immersion
These programs are for 18 years old and up. We know many our students and campers are graduating this year and have found our immersion programs serve as a perfect Gap Year opportunity. The weekend versions can even be complementary to college attendance.



There are many words for purpose: dreams, goals, vision. Fundamentally, to find our way, we need to know where we are going. As an educator, I understand that fostering purpose empowers students to become autonomous learner. And more importantly, it helps kids grow into well-rounded adults.

Many confuse fostering a child’s sense of purpose with making that child feel special. Unfortunately, being labeled the “chosen one” can have a negative effect on developing functional goals. When free of such pernicious myths, kids don’t care if they’re special—instead they naturally seek out how they can be useful, how they can be truly helpful.

Babies need to see themselves as the center of attention in order to survive: feed me, shelter me, me, me, me. That’s healthy, because infants cannot take care of themselves. Yet, as they grow, kids are hardwired to progressively break out of parental dependency and do more for themselves. Unfortunately, the overzealous comforts our culture demands can stifle a child’s natural inclination toward independence.

Autonomy by itself does not provide purpose, however. Different forms of independence can still prove selfish. Self-reliance is just the doorway to being truly helpful to your family and community.

We’ve all met “driven” people who act completely self-centered. A selfish visionary is never healthy. On the other hand, purpose with the right balance of humility, thoughtfulness and self-assurance not only leads to individual genius, but also contributes to collective brilliance.

This takes us back to evolution. We evolved to find purpose with the survival of our tribe. Once we understand that, we can understand what truly motivates our kids—and ourselves.

This is one challenge with conventional schooling. There’s no innate sense of greater purpose in getting good grades. You could argue that good grades lead to college, which could eventually lead to a job that does help people. But such far-reaching goals are too abstract to be good motivation for the average seven-year-old.

Grades do not build a chain of wisdom one link at time, nor do they appeal to the natural instincts of a child. But when you tell a kid, “Go catch a fish and bring it home to the family for dinner,” they instantly understand. When that fish is frying in the skillet, while everyone’s waiting to eat, the kid who caught it beams with pride. It’s like our bodies and minds function optimally with a life attuned to natural environments. Go figure!

As kids grow older, their purpose naturally abstracts to encompass more than the everyday. Ideally, it extends beyond their lifetime and for many generations into the future. A vision where they care for more than just people, they also tend to nature and the more-than-human world. In order to reach so far, we must allow our kids to cultivate the foundations that come from finding purpose in simple moments. Let them know: the family needs a fish for dinner.

-By Tony Deis

MISSION – Purpose Debrief
The Trackers Earth community lives by three purposes. If your child has been to our camps (or if they are a kindred adventurer), it might be useful to discuss these and see how they fit into their understanding of the world.

Purpose beyond self-centeredness. For family and village.
Purpose beyond human-centeredness. For diversity and the more-than-human world.
Purpose beyond our lifetime. For many generations into the future.

Plenty of books have been written recently about the need for children to connect with nature. Outdoor schools, even Trackers, tout the value of nature connection. And we agree it’s important. But how does that connection really happen?

Outdoor education usually comes in two flavors: academic or recreational. Both approaches have value. Both can help foster a love and even a lifelong study of nature. However, if your exposure to nature is only academic or recreational, it’s unlikely you will ever consider yourself part of the wild.

At Trackers we run camps, but our core curriculum is tracking and survival. When I tell people we’re a “wilderness survival school,” I get varied reactions. Are you crazy conspiracy theorists? Mulder to everyone’s Scully? Preppers? Hippies?

To us, wilderness survival means dependency. Dependency on nature for your shelter, for your water, your fire and your food. Dependency on nature to stay alive in a world that is ecologically diverse and becoming more unknown to our modern society every day. We need the Steller’s jay to tell us where the deer passes, we need the nettle for food, we need the spring to quench our thirst.

Nature dependency is the goal of our apprenticeships and year-round programs. Get kids and adults outside to experience a more wild way of living. In our Mariners Apprenticeship students weave themselves into the ecology of the water. They do not  simply stalk, kill, and eat their food (with a fishing pole) but they also harvest it with care and even cultivation, leaving a sustainable future. Our Rangers Apprentices cook meals over an open fire, Wilders Apprentices tend our wild gardens, and Artisans Apprentices make tools for the village.  Even our youngest campers, the Rovers Apprentices (PreK-K), learn Forest Craft that lets them be Truly Helpful to their communities.

Certainly, our programs feature academic learning and plenty of recreational adventure, but we also recognize that the human craving to be outside is an instinct. It comes from a time when observation and empathy for the more-than-human-world was a vital survival skill.

While we certainly need a nature connection movement, we might also need a nature dependency movement. A movement where kids (and adults) develop a love for the natural world by learning how powerfully the wild can care for them.

It is one of those spring days where big fluffy clouds drift across the sky, making the afternoon a patchwork of cool breezes and glorious sunshine that hurts your eyes and warms your back. Afternoons spent teaching after school at Trackers are some of my favorites: I get to teach, play, and explore in a way that is relaxed and more open-ended than some of our classes.

stealth-archery-and-wilderness-survival-week-4-summer-2014_8Today I am out with six boys ranging from ages seven to ten: Our goal is to find a nice patch of nettles to harvest for cooking later that week. As we exit the van everyone is restless. These kids have been in school all day, and because it was rainy recess was held indoors. They told me on the drive to the creek that most of them had not been outside all day. We set expectations for boundaries and as soon as we hit the trail they are testing the edges of them, filled with energy that can finally be released. After a few minutes of walking they settle and before long are all traveling in a tight group.

Two who have been to this spot before lead the way. Tangles of trees and brush have been given names: The Fairy Meadow, The Forest of Death, The Log of Doom. I am not sure if they realize that they are reciting a story map, a tool we teach campers for mentally mapping the wilds. Eventually we make it to the nettle patch, where we don gloves and harvest. We take only what we need, careful to help the patch grow and thrive in a reciprocal relationship with the nettle. We harvest the tops of the plants at a node so they will continue to grow.

After the nettles are gathered, I notice that the energy level is starting to rise again and we decide to explore further.  We want to see how far we can get down the trail before it is time to head back. I first set a quick pace, and then slow as the boys once again settle down and start to notice their surroundings. By the time we are in new territory, our pace is down to a crawl. We note blue elderberry that will get visited next fall, and small beaches along the creek that need exploration. There are discussions about fishing and boat building projects that we might take on in the coming weeks.

Under the bridge and along the creek we stumble upon a tiny cove. A huge log lays half in the water with its roots on dry land. Two boys immediately sit on it, leaning into chairs made of the huge exposed root ball.  A tiny side path of water runs under the roots before joining up with the creek again and one child points to a few areas in the main creek that might make good fishing spots. Rocks are skipped, tiny dams built and pretty agates discovered. It seems like no time has passed before my watch tells me we need to head back.

wilderness-survival-adventure-2012-week-8_2The walk back goes quicker. We return the way we came and our new landmarks are given names. As the last child climbs in the van and buckles up, we unanimously agree that we will revisit “our” beach and explore even further down the trail next time.

Afternoons like this are one reason I love Trackers. Curiosity and experience lead to deep learning and the development of relationship with the land and its inhabitants. When we intersperse hard skills with relaxed exploration I am constantly amazed by what is retained. Our After School students move through the woods with a relaxed familiarity, noting plants and tracks, and marking memorable landmarks without even realizing that these skills were new to them not long ago. Compared to many classroom experiences that I’ve had, working outdoors is calm.

The expansiveness and freedom of movement lets kids focus in different ways.  So when we eventually move indoors to cook our nettles, their time outside gains more layers of meaning. And for once the kids are eager to eat their greens.

-By Elaine Kinchen, Trackers Parent & Instructor

Learn more about Trackers After School programs