Monday, June 1, 2020

By Molly Deis, Founder

Spring is upon us and it is the perfect time to get outside for plant ID and harvesting seasonal greens. One of my favorite things to do when plants start unfurling leaves and blossoms bloom is to go on wild wanders with my kids for forest browsing. Some of our favorites are…

Dandelion Some see this as a weed, I see this as the base for my salads. We also pick the flowers, dip them in pancake batter sweetened with honey and fry them up for what my kids call Dandelion Donuts.

Stinging Nettle Yes it stings when it’s fresh, but after steaming, boiling or frying, you have a plant with more flavor than spinach. We use bread crumbs, eggs, garlic and chopped nettle to make Nettle Patties we fry on the stovetop or bake in the oven.

Oregon Oxalis This plant is a tasty trailside nibble. It’s got a tart taste to it, a little bit like a green apple. My kids eat it fresh while playing in the woods.

Remember, when harvesting any wild plant its important to get a good field guide to properly identify the species as some plants have toxic lookalikes. Here are a few guides we like to help learn proper identification skills:

See You In The Forest,

Molly Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

By Tony Deis, Founder

Tracking is the original education. The Tracker learns from seeing their entire environment. Yes, the study of Tracking includes secondary resources such as books and other media. Yet at its foundation is an insatiable curiosity developed through routines of observation, and by mapping the most subtle details we see in the world around us.

Tracking is a gateway to a lifetime of adventure. Education should be an adventure, and real adventure is always an education. Learning Tracking is a course of study framed through service with 3 Connections:

Family & Community
Nature & the More-Than-Human-World
Many Generations Beyond Our Lifetime

The most relevant skill to the Tracker is the art of tracking. It teaches more than how to trail and follow animals, it’s about how we see and map the world—identifying patterns through layers and details both small and grand.The education of a Tracker offers teachings in our 4 Guilds:

Rangers The study of Forest Craft, Animal Tracking & Nature Awareness.
Wilders The study of Wildcrafting, Plants, and Wilder Gardens (Horticulture).
Mariners The study of Fishing, Boating, and Ecology (with Economics).
Artisans The study of Handcraft, Storytelling, and Sociology.

The skills of each Guild are learned by going outdoors into Nature, and by applying the core awareness of a Tracker along with hands-on skills of foraging and Forest Craft in nature.

Training in the skills of our Guilds teaches the routine of always mapping what you learn, and, to a greater extent, how you learn. Ultimately, Tracking is how all humans, all our ancestors, first learned about the world. It’s a way of learning and seeing that can benefit both the children of today and many generations beyond our lifetime.

Keep On Tracking,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

At Trackers, the entire point of a day in the woods is not for our teachers to teach, but for nature to lead the way. It’s a chance to learn, as uncontained by the human world as it can be. Too often, that is not the case in the day-to-day world our kids live in.

I don’t have a problem with video games, except that I’m really bad at them. I was the kid that went over to my friend’s house, promptly died on my first turn, and watched them play for the next 2 hours… until I died again. I’m fascinated by their innovative storytelling and technical scope. I also understand many games are altruistic and educational. Nevertheless, when my 9-year-old son goes to a friend’s house and plays video games, I sometimes troll him when he returns.

Dad: Why don’t we play video games at our house?
Robin: (sighs) Because they are other human’s ideas.
Dad: Bingo! I give you 1000 power up points.

We continue the debate about how his brain is growing and patterning, and what things could influence the person he will become. I stress that I don’t mind occasional exposure, just nothing structured in a way that can lead to addiction. Please note, I find it useful for every 9 year old to be well versed in behaviorist theory and evolutionary biology, just to make such conversations practical.

My primary concern is less about the medium of games, and more about where kids spend the majority of their time learning (which they do every second). Robin and I don’t stop at his obligatory family coda (which both annoys and amuses him). We discuss how games are designed to reward a particular course of behavior, for better or worse. Eventually, he brings up the point that TV does similar things (we like our Gravity Falls) and even books are “other peoples’ ideas”. Though, of course, he recognizes none of those possess the same fully-reactive experience of video games.

But nature is a very different teacher than human-produced media. And it builds a very different kind of empathy. When you play a video game, you have to understand human thought. When you track a red fox, you’re required to address an intelligence far more foreign and less domestic. The video game programmer wants you to eventually complete their puzzle. The fox, with the entire forest and seasons that hide it, is not so generous. Social media reinforces us to always be seen—it’s how we collect our “likes” denoting approval. Meanwhile, the Pacific Wren, a small brown bird, will aggressively scold you, alarming for the rest of the forest to run away, if your presence is even mildly obtrusive to their day-to-day foraging of spiders in the sword ferns.

The best rewards in the forest, in nature, come when you are seen less—not more. The lesson learned is never narrowed to one person’s programming objective, philosophy or set of ideas. That does not mean a Tracker is unsocial or avoids learning from their human community. On the contrary, they are often far more open to new ways of thinking because most of the trails they follow are naturally open-ended and mind-blowingly subtle.

This is what I mean by kids learning with nature, and not with teachers. We are guides who keep kids safe and help them overcome any limitations they may have in following the fox. Sure, sometimes those transitions into a more wild place still looks like a program—our camps, after all, have a schedule and curriculum—but they only have enough code to bring us to the freedom of the other side.

Also, of note, my kids are much better at video games than me.

Keep On Tracking,
Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

We can all agree, it’s important for kids to get outside. And we need to do more than simply go hiking or paddle a river: kids need connection!

Another word for connection is empathy. Children track and trail animals naturally. They have an innate curiosity to finds squirrels, rabbits, coyotes and more. Trees and plants are wonderful, and I know many budding botanists, but animals most directly remind kids of themselves. Animals walk, forage, and need shelter. Our forest friends see and sense the world as we do.

Tracking also serves as an inspiration for a child’s imagination. What would it be like to forage and live in the wilderness like the elk? How would it feel to hunt like the cougar? Or to have the close friendships of the wolf pack?

Animal tracking means constantly asking those questions. You see a subtle clue that becomes an empty space to place one moment in time. It is a story of an animal very much like ourselves, but also fantastically different. It harkens to a kid’s desire to live free and in the wild.

At Trackers, whether we are weaving a story of wizards and elves or embarking on a rock climbing adventure, we try to bring the empathy of animal tracking into every moment. In our camps, outdoor skills are simply vehicles that get us further into the wilderness, while it is tracking that helps a Trackers Kid truly see and connect with the wider and wilder world around them.

Keep On Tracking,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

Help Us Connect With Families!

You likely heard the news. For Summer 2020 Trackers is going beyond the Bay Area and Portland. We now offer camps in Seattle and Denver! Everyone here is excited to bring a deep connection to nature, community and many generations beyond our lifetime to more kids and their families.

How we connect at Trackers is unique—it is more than simply a visit to the woods. It is a profound relationship that empowers children in every aspect of their life. Nature becomes a friend who is always there. Allow me to illustrate this with a simple story.

Mystery Feather

A long, long time ago, Before Trackers (circa 6 BT), I was a seasonal outdoor educator. It was a Saturday—one of my few days off in the summer. Most of my time, day and night, was spent teaching in the forest. Coming back to the city was a culture shock.

I was tired, mulling over a hard week of camp (that happens) and trying to balance my personal checkbook.* I resented being back in the city where everything was more complicated. Walking with my head down I noticed a swath of light feathers lying on the sidewalk. My Trackers brain kicked in. Pulling out my pocket journal I drew a map of the whole area, noting buildings, curbs, rose bushes, trees, people sipping coffee outdoors, and flocks of pigeons mulling about.

Then I narrowed in on where I stood. How was the track and sign strewn across the landscape? While drawing it, I found the feathers had fallen into a pattern. The lightest feathers scattered in a concentric ring further South/Southeast along the sidewalk. The feathers on the street were pushed into the curb by passing cars.

The heavier feathers did not float as far, but still followed the same flow. I tracked the Wind That Once Was, walking only 12 paces North/Northwest to find the heaviest clump of a partial wing just below the Stumptown Coffee sign, where a hawk had temporarily rested in the early dawn with her fresh kill.

Looking up again, I sighted the nearest trees one could fly to and walked West towards them. Three blocks away, in the middle of the street, I found the rest of our pigeon prey, flat like a pancake from the morning traffic. “Why did she drop it?” I asked myself and was immediately answered by the caws coming from a nearby maple tree. The Hawk would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those Meddling Crows!

Later that afternoon, my hypothesis was confirmed by a friend who lived in the neighborhood. Without knowing about my Tracking Adventure, he relayed seeing several crows mobbing a hawk very early that morning—just over where I found the remains of our Pigeon Friend.

Nature Awareness & Connection

This little quest got me out of my head and back into my senses. I opened up the wilderness in the middle of the city. We hope to share that unique form of nature adventure with more families in many other urban areas. No matter where kids live, we want them to see through the eyes of a Tracker. It gets them through challenging days and gives them a superpower to see what most modern people do not. We want to help share a deeper connection to and awareness of community, nature and many generations beyond our lifetime.

Please help us connect. Share the news with friends and family from Seattle and Denver who you feel can benefit by learning and growing with Trackers. Also, we are looking for ideas for activities and local sites to run programming, along with parents interested in becoming ambassadors for our programs in their area. Who knows, Trackers Pittsburgh?

Reply to this email to contact Molly, our Founder, directly. We will both be personally responding.

Keep on Tracking,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

Our Winter Break Programs start today! They are often my favorite camps. From Ninjas Save Christmas to Vikings & Valkyries, the holiday themes seem to bring out the kid in everyone. And I believe that is what makes Trackers unique—we remember what it's like to be a kid.

We write our camp descriptions with kids in mind or the kid inside every parent. That does not mean we act like a kid (usually). Instead, we root what we do in that "call to adventure" and the creative power of seeing a world of possibilities. We want our campers to be like those kids over 50 years ago: running down creeks, catching crawdads and coming home for dinner wet, dirty and exhausted just after sundown.

I wish that for my own children, but I can't always provide it. I have to help them with math. I have a mortgage to pay. Plus, I'm ardently following that next election. Sometimes it feels like there's an entire world working against childhood and the parents who steward it. Screens can control our focus, comfort can dull our resiliency, or classroom walls can box our hearts.

The remedy? At Trackers, we know nature as a very real friend. A wilder companion that serves as an antidote to these modern challenges. The outdoors becomes a mentor and guide to childhood, preserving that spark of adventure that helps kids grow into healthy, caring adults.

So as I visit our camps with pirates stealing Christmas and flaming archery arrows they serve as stories that make this village called Trackers a place for teachers and parents who truly remember what it is like to be a kid.

From the Trackers Family to your….
Happy Holidays!

Molly Deis
Trackers Founder & Mom
Wilders Guild

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.

Appreciation 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.

Adapt 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

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.