Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Summer provides plenty of time for kids and families to get outside. Yet the school year often finds our kids indoors, walking down halls and learning in classrooms. Their focus changes from the much wider and diverse world of Nature, to a representation of the world on computer screens, in books and from a teacher’s curriculum. At most, they might find themselves taking a spherical object from one scoring place to another scoring place—occasionally in a grassy field. So how can we parents help our kids connect with Nature and their wilder selves? Here are…

5 Ways to Connect to Nature

#1 Pitch a Tent
Every kid loves sleeping in the backyard. It’s adventure with healthy safety nets. If it looks like a clear night, pitch a tent (or better yet, go tentless) to camp through the night. If the weather (or memories of Zombie Campgets too intense, they can come inside. Over time your children will begin to test themselves in more challenging weather. Who knows, someday you might be able to free up their room for your collection of Whedonverse memorabilia. Your backyard doesn’t have to be big—kids can even sleep on the back porch.

#2 Build a Yort (that’s a Yard-Fort)
Start by learning all the ways to set up a rain tarp, which also teaches useful knots. You can also move onto more complex structures such as a debris shelter (which they learn about at Trackers). Finally, if you’re really inspired, you can do something like this guy. 

#3 Make a Creature Map
Help your kids understand, your family is not the only one living in and around your home. From spiders to squirrels, many creatures share your territory. One of the best places to start this exploration process is with birds. Figuring out where that song sparrow lives takes it from being “a little brown bird”, to a being a familiar individual living alongside you. Try to identify each bird in and around your backyard. See if you can map out the current limits of its movements—a territory that might change with the seasons. Do the same with spiders both inside and outside the house. The goal is for your child to go into the backyard and ask, “What’s Bob the Robin up to today? Has he changed where he’s feeding?”

#4 Plant a Wilder Garden
Some of us have gardens, some don’t. But the easiest way to start one is by growing “weeds”. Many wild plants are super hardy and mighty tasty. Letting the dandelions grow offers edible greens, roots and flowers. A patch of stinging nettle will provide many a tasty stir fry as well as fiber for rope. Just remember, don’t spray pesticides or herbicides.

#5 Hoard Sticks + Knives
Don’t toss that yard debris! In fact, ask your neighbors for their “junky sticks”. Then give them to your kids. They need plenty of wood and limbs to saw and carve while making all manner of projects: Spoons, spirals and more. Tell them whittling is only allowed outside, while hanging out with Bob the Robin. You can even give them this how-to book that teaches carving to kids.

Bonus Make a Campfire
You will need something to do with all those wood shavings and extra sticks. Some areas allow campfire pits (BBQ areas) in the backyard. There are burn bans for seasons, counties, neighborhoods and more. Respect them. Ask your local fire department. Then go about roasting marshmallows, singing songs, and telling ghost stories (because you already binge watched Stranger Things).

Do It Better

We hope you enjoyed some clever alternatives  to orb-based recreational outdoor time*. Of course, since Nature is so epically diverse, the possibilities are only limited by our own imaginations and how much we choose to connect to and respect the wild.

*I took my 5 year old son to his first soccer game the other day.

There’s a reason we chose knives and wood carving as the topic of our first Trackers Earth book.

A knife is an incredible tool for the forest craft we do at Trackers. You can use your blade in profound ways, from making feather sticks for lighting wet wood in the rain to carving fish hooks to feed yourself. My knife has cared for my own life and comfort many times.

That’s why it feels strange to hear that some people think of knives only as weapons to be feared. Schools suspend kids for stocking a car safety kit, forgetting about the pocket knife their grandfather gave them, bringing a spork to eat lunch with, shooting an imaginary arrow and making a clock.

I understand the very real safety issues schools have to deal with. But I also believe one-size-fits-all policies play into fear and rarely lead to good solutions. Our schools, even our culture, can lack the nuance gained from interacting with the physical world.

We’re entering an era when education only allows children tools used for abstract thought. No carving tool is allowed, but a tablet computer is required. We have dramatically changed the definition of “normal” for childhood. It has become normal to steal cars or shoot people in video games, but it’s no longer normal to carry a carving knife to whittle with.

On top of that, kids get shorter recess and more homework. They’re no longer allowed to play at the park on their own, or even climb trees there. Connecting with the physical world has, in some ways, become illegal in our schools and irrelevant in our lives.

But for some kids, I have seen that shift with powerful results. I’ve watched them use knives to gut a trout they caught for dinner. Afterwards, they cooked those fish over a campfire they started with the bow drill they carved. They even ate stew with spoons they whittled. I feel fortunate to witness many of these small but profound interactions with the forest, the cold, sunshine, the earth and the out of doors.

With a knife and other tools (even of stone, bone and wood), the essentials of life don’t come from an ethereal cloud. They come from paying attention to Nature, to things not just human-made. Through intelligent use of tools, including knives, schools can empower kids to interact with life: making and learning with their minds, hands and hearts.

The world is changing. And Trackers is teaching your kids how to survive and thrive in it. Here are some wilderness survival tips on how to keep your kids and family healthy during these hot days of summer (both in the wilds and the city).

july-2014_20Shelter: Dress For Success

White or light colors reflect heat while dark colors absorb it. So, lighter colors will keep you cooler. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat will also help protect your face and neck (although you should still remember sunscreen in these places).

Shelter: Seek the Shade

Tracking animals teaches us how to handle extreme weather. Our forest friends follow the “Principle of Extremes”. When it’s wet, they seek the dry. When it’s cold, they seek the warm. And, during the hottest part of the day, the deer know how to find the breezy shade, chewing the cud they foraged in the earlier, cooler dawn. Likewise, families can focus their outdoor time on the cooler mornings and evenings during the longer days of summer, while seeking forest shade during the hotter parts.

Water: Drink a Lot and Often

Staying hydrated is essential to beating the heat. Always have a water bottle. Empty it by drinking and refill it several times a day. Sports drinks, soda, and coffee (sorry parents) is not a replacement for pure, clean water. Get your child excited about drinking water (I’m sure many parents can think of applicable games from their college days). A child needs to consume several large water bottles each day to stay healthy and happy.

july-2014_3Food: Eat Cool Foods and Fruits

The right foods can cool you down and be a healthy snack. Take advantage of the tasty berries, fruits and veggies of the season. They not only hydrate you with their high water content, but they offer great nutrition. Smaller, more frequent meals also helps.

Remember: Sunscreen

Sunscreen not only prevents short-term burns, it also protects the long-term health of your skin. It should be applied consistently throughout the day, as even “full-day” sunscreens will wear off. Watch kids to make sure they apply the sunscreen evenly and everywhere needed (especially younger children). Remind them, sunscreen is a form of shelter.

Survival is the Game

Make every journey out of doors a lesson in wilderness survival. At Trackers survival skills are actually thrival skills, so keep it fun and about developing resilience in all weather. Imagine you’re traveling across a desert, in the jungle or even on an alien planet. How would you prepare and what would you take with you?

All these tips apply to packing for summer camp (cause it’s like an alien planet). Send them with sunscreen already applied with more to reapply, clothes for the weather, a good sized water bottle (pre-hydrate them too), and a thoughtfulness to seek the shade.

With the right preparation, kids can weather any weather. So enjoy the nature and the summer sun with a focus on staying healthy.

In wilderness survival, shelter is often your first priority. Good shelter tempers extremes of cold or heat. One way to get warmer? Immediately improve the clothes on your body.

family-fall-afternoon-october-16-2013_24MISSION – Scarecrow

Scarecrow is one of the first steps you can take to improve your survival situation when cold is a factor.

1. Find dry and fluffy material such as leaves or grasses.
2. Stuff this between two layers of clothing until you look like a giant scarecrow.

Consider how wet materials might cool you down. To find drier forest debris, make a habit of looking for and exploring cavities in strong trees, underneath logs, or hollowed stumps. Seek out sturdy overhanging rocks, or even trees that might stay dry underneath. These “Dry Camps” could also provide a great place to get out of the rain.

Remember Rule #1 No One Dies
Watch out for spiders, ticks, bees, and other biting and stinging insects when stuffing your clothing with duff. Perform regular checks for “Unwanted Travelers” where ever and whenever needed.

MODIFY Shawarma Bag

If you have a bag, sack or any container you can safely fit in, increase its warmth and improvise a shelter by stuffing it full of leaves or other insulating thatch. Then simply wiggle your way in, snug as a squirrel in its nest.

Before carving, make sure you review our Rangers 8 Blades of Knife Safety & Care.

One the most frequent woodcarving injuries occurs when kids take their blade out of its cover (unsheathing) or put it back in (sheathing). Have them follow these steps to stay safe.


Sheathing & Unsheathing

  1. Always hold the sheath near the end, not at the top where the blade comes out. Keep your hand away from the top of the sheath where the knife exits.
  2. Use your fingertips to pinch the flat part, don’t wrap your hand around the edge (or stitching) of the sheath. This anticipates any flaws in a sheath where the knife could cut through.

Together these precautions eliminate any risk of the blade accidentally slicing your hand. Remember, always follow the 8 Blades of Knife Safety & Care.


Rangers Apprenticeship Program

Rangers Apprenticeship Campfire
Rites of Passage often begin with fire.

Rangers call their shelter the trees, mountains, sky, stars and the moon herself.

From Scáth: The Dairies and Wanderings of an Early Ranger

“Rangers Revive the Village,” that’s what I told my group of Rangers Apprentices one weekend before they headed out to sleep in their survival shelters for the night—without sleeping bags. Someone might say:

What’s the big deal about sleeping in a well organized pile of leaves?

I have plenty of adults who are not ready for it. Blankets, cloth, spun fiber—in the grand scheme of things, these are relatively recent conveniences. Yet we cling to them, shuddering from cool nights and immersion into the elements that offer the thin and thoughtful sleep guiding us into the twilight of dawn.

Wilderness Survival Shelter
Shelter slept in with no sleeping bag

Where we sleep, where we dream, defines us in more ways than we know. That weekend, our Rangers Apprentices were actually quite warm, yet some made it longer in their shelters than others. This was their first time. Your modern thoughts wear at you, itching away like the unfamiliar yet familiar bed of leaves, trapped in the necessary snugness of the shelter as you are forced to sleep on your belly, chin to the Earth.

These elemental limits are important opportunities. We build more than the ability to craft a solid shelter that keeps you alive, though that mission we accomplished. We cultivate stillness and calm in the debris of the wild; cool leaves, dark, and woody fragments.

As every good Artisan will inform you, this story is best told, or lived, in stages. Small and grand, rites of passage represent a transition between Acts. When they walked into Fire Watch after sleeping hours or the entire night in the hut, our Rangers instructors welcomed them to another transition. “Sit with us and keep Fire Watch for your village.”

Some kept vigilant sentry with the starry sky for the rest of the dawn, while others woke-up to find juncos foraging near them, near invisible to the morning birds while resting in their “well organized pile of leaves”.

Stillness through Fire Watch. Stillness through sleeping in the most elemental of beds. These are the fundamental yet powerful goals for our Rangers. This rite of passage becomes the first step in the first Act of the story of a village.

Learn more about our Teen Rangers Apprenticeship

The ability to light a fire with one-match in any weather is an important survival skill.

Once upon a time, our Jr Rangers Apprentices gathered wire-thin twigs from a very special tree (can burn even in wet conditions).

This tree is the Western Hemlock Tree (no real relation to the bane of Socrates—that was a plant).

They then scraped off the wet bark of the twig bundle with the back of their knives.

Even rolling it in the dust of a rotting cedar stump to further dry the ends of their tinder.

Upon striking the the match head, they tilted it down so the flame caught the wood of the match.

They then lit their tinder bundle from the bottom. Drawing it along the shaved ends of the twigs,

Finally they rotated the tinder so every twig caught.

Carefully opening the hand holding it to add airflow or or closing this hand to condense the bundle to better spread the flame.

After setting it upright against a rock or stump, they built their tipi fire by placing thicker twigs around it.

The End

Grown-ups can do this too! 9-month Rangers Wilderness Immersion

Featured Youth Programs

Ages 9-17 B.P.R.D Training Camp July 29-August 2 Trackers is proud to partner with Dark Horse Comics for a camp that takes you through the mythic and epic comic book universe of Hellboy. Trainees team up with experienced Agents and take on an anchent and malevolent foe bent on taking over the world!


Ages 10-15 Kayak Adventure Camp Offered throughout the summer Travel the waterways of Portland in our traditional hand-built kayaks. Learn to balance, paddle, safely recover from tips, knots, and many other nautical skills in this awesome Mariner camp. We provide the Kayak  you bring the sense of Adventure!


Featured Adult Programs

$67 Bow Making Basics May 28 & 30, June 4 & 64-evenings  Learn to craft your own bow out of locally harvested materials. We cover how to hew wood with simple blades and knives for wilderness survival and more. We focus on wood crafting skills with simple tools and symmetry in all wood craft.


8-month Archery Immersion 1-weekend a month immersed in the sport and art of archery. Our instructors provide expert coaching in archery fundamentals while bridging into more advanced skills.


$5 Open Archery Range Saturday, May 18, 12pm-4pm Come shoot at the Trackers open archery range in SE Portland. Every Saturday we offer a comfortable and fun place for family and friends to hone their archery skills. Also, check out our Family Training Session for 11am-Noon.

Tracking is the art and science of Paying Attention to the details, both large and small, and using this awareness to find hidden aspects of the world most people miss. Good Trackers can find a set of prints, human or animal, and follow them over any ground. Great Trackers can tell you what this means to health of their woodland, forest friends, and village.