Monday, June 1, 2020


One day our elders will be our ancestors. We’ve all experienced such loss. We witness as they pass on, knowing sadness to be part of love. And through this grief, we become elders ourselves.

-Artisans Fire

My family’s elders, my own parents and in-laws, make me a better parent. My kids are lucky that both sets of grandparents live nearby. Tony and I can count on them to help watch the grandchildren. Then there are the great grandparents. Those who have passed we still honor. Some still live on this Earth and we treasure each visit.

Children grow to be well rounded with the contributions of elders. As parents, we offer inspiration and values which contribute to the happiness of our children, but elders become part of a greater story. They are the Earth of an extended family, of all our generations and history. Elders know a life of love that understands grief, loss and continuing on.

Elders not only allow for mom or dad to have a break, but they break the kids out of parental routines. Interestingly, through age and maturity, elders share a different perspective on life. Sharing multi-generational stories and skills fosters respect in our children. The world can be small when it’s simply us parents guiding the way.

Elders and all extended family let us know the Village is greater than ourselves. In weeding the garden with Grandma or baking bread with Grandpa, children learn community is not centered on them, but instead, they can grow-up to be truly helpful to their community. In turn, children root our elders, renewing patience and a youthful outlook for life.

Where do you find elders? It can be difficult in this world of the fissioning family. So desperate to be respected or find a connection to other generations, I’ve heard that people take “Elder Leadership Workshops and Initiations”. But is purchased status the answer? Instead, time, patience and great humor cultivates eldership. Even when not related by blood, we can seek out elders whose challenges and joys inspire us. It’s a mutual gift. Looking forward through children adds profound dimension to all our lives.

Not all elders have raised children. Yet how they interact with young people is telling. Great elders are masters of celebrating the simple moments. They appreciate cultivating the story of our shared lives. Elders hold a crucial piece in the puzzle of what is truly important to a family.

Adult and parenthood can mean being selfless, yet it can also be fraught with the hubris of modern life and fissured individualism. An extended family that includes our elders and our youngest generations can be cultivated into a fusion of love and revelry. A reunion to remind us to slow down and live the joys of every day.


Molly Deis

Trackers Earth, Founder

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.



Happy Holidays from our family to yours! This year has been wonderfully busy. Because our work is caring for families and the natural world, busy feels good. Running an outdoor camp connected to the hopes and dreams of so many kids, grown-ups, and staff can sometimes be a daunting task. We always try to “Do it Better,” seeking the beauty of imperfection and the wonder of thoughtful progress. In that spirit, we want to share some areas in which we feel Trackers grew this past year.

New Portland Location

After eight years Trackers said goodbye to the place where it all began: Our beloved old Scout Pit in Sellwood. We bought a building four blocks north where we finished off our busiest summer season yet. The new facilities are thoroughly updated, offer more space, and far better parking (yet not too perfect). Read more about leaving the original Scout Pit and the new “needs a name” location.

Marin Summer Camps

This year marked a big step for us at Trackers – we added a full summer of programming in Marin, including all our most-loved camp themes.  Under the watchful eye of our Marin director Lynn and her stellar crew, the summer was a rousing success. We are excited to return to Piper Park again in 2015 with even more themes and adventures planned for our friends in the North.


Our year-round Rangers Apprenticeship and Archery Apprenticeship for youth and teens reached its third year and has really come into its own. This fall, we also introduced  Wilders (homesteading and folk craft) and Blacksmithing Apprenticeships. Many students have attended the program since its beginnings and all Apprentices have gone farther than our greatest expectations. We appreciate the dedication of our mentors and the strength of the kids who will someday take their place (but hopefully not Highlander style).

Even Better Camps

The new positions of Program Coordinators were born this summer and allowed key leaders in Trackers to run our camps in smaller, flexible teams. Small but vital changes such as this have a profound impact on our programs by supporting our values of personal care and mentoring. Through our recent growth, we even made headway on some of our most long-standing challenges: finding more land for kids to roam freely and  adding more year-round staff. By the way, if you know someone who would be a great fit for Trackers, have them apply here for next summer.

Trackers Tales

You may have heard that we started developing books and even hired a real life publisher and editor (a Trackers parent since our first camp). After we wrote, edited, re-wrote, and edited some more—Tony, of course, was not satisfied (he folds his laundry before washing). Like our camps, we want our books to reflect the best we have to offer; to be potentially life-changing. So, we went back to the blank page and came up with an idea that we feel will have an even deeper impact. And since we’ve forbidden Tony from doing any more revision on the first book, you can expect it soon. While it’s ostensibly only about Woodcarving with Knives, it hints at a new vision that might change the nature of Trackers itself.

Family & Friends

Finally, this past weekend at the holiday party we invited our community to share in musical caroling and waffles. There we saw dozens of families and friends who came to celebrate the season with us. We were amazed at how the kids walked around our new space like they owned it. Which is not surprising, because they do own it!. We were again reminded how so many people have found like-minded friends here. And of course, we all noticed how awesome the new archery range looked.

10 Years of Trackers

When Tony, Molly, and other friends first talked about starting Trackers – or even with Jess joined the Bay Area team 5 years ago – we never expected all this. We couldn’t imagine the incredible and beautiful people we would meet. 2015 will mark Trackers Earth’s 10-year anniversary. An impressive milestone to be sure.

But we also feel a deeper change; a maturity that we at Trackers, and the communities we connect to, may not quite understand at the moment. We feel as though we shifted this year in a way we can’t yet put into words. Sure, there’s the accomplishment of our most successful year of camp so far, and big program changes and maturity. But we don’t think that’s it. We’re going to watch the winter, and listen to the wind in the trees for awhile, hoping the overwintering sparrow will tell a story the leads into spring. Then maybe we will begin understand the changes always taking place.

Like I said: Such efforts feel like the right kind of busy.


Molly Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom of New Trackers Camper


Jess Liotta
Trackers Earth
Bay Area Director & Mom of two boys who can’t wait to join camp


BTW, on Monday Robin (Molly’s 4-year old son) will have his first day of Trackers Camp!

It’s the season I pull out the kid’s all-weather gear. Stripped off wool socks, rain boots, and insulated hooded rain jackets become common litter around our house. Keeping the kids well layered for the cold and wet weather is key in keeping them happy and appreciating nature when we go outside to play.

My father grew up in Southeastern Alaska and always tells me, “If we waited for it to stop raining to play, we’d never get outside!” Portland’s 40 inches of yearly rain pales in comparison to the 110 inches from his childhood town of Petersburg. “We grew up making time to get outdoors no matter what the elements hurled at us, especially when it was “nasty” outside.”

I want my kids to learn to weather any storm in life and there’s no one teaches this better than nature herself. Plus, there’s lots of great play to be had on rainy days. From puddle-jumping to rescuing worms, kids who adventure in every weather become adults who can appreciate and even revel in the stormier days of life.


A couple things I consider when dressing my family for the wind, rain, and cold…

Layer, Layer, Layer Many layers can be as good as one big coat. They can be removed as needed. Things may not soak through as quickly. And all those layers can trap in the heat. A base layer of thermal underwear should form the foundations—options include wool and synthetics. Some wool can be itchy but Merino wool is soft, with cost-effective options outside of the more expensive brands.

Wool Over Cotton The right kind of wool can still insulate even wet—while cotton has little warming value when soaked. If you choose wool socks, they are often oversized, make sure they fit well to prevent blisters. Also, we like the army surplus wool pants—they can be scratchy but thermal underwear of softer wool helps this. Unfortunately such pants don’t come in little person sizes, but people (including me) have had luck shrinking them*.

Wind & Rain Proof Keeping the rain out with a proper rain jacket, pants and boots can go a long way towards keeping the kids outside. Not lonely does a rainproof layer let them stay dry, it also stops the chilling wind from whisking away important body heat.

Play On The goal is to always “Play On” even when a kid’s a little cold. Of course you want watch kids for any signs of shivering and getting overly chilled. But it’s an okay lesson to let our kids know they can still have fun even when a little uncomfortable. In fact, advanced training at Trackers includes learning to embrace cold and other discomforts as part of the adventure. Ironically, younger kids can be better at this than adults, especially with the right encouragement.

*Calling all pattern makers and sewers out there. If someone wants to develop kid friendly wool pants, I bet Trackers can help create an entire cottage industry.

Occasionally people ask why we root many of our camps in story and role-playing. Even some other outdoor educators have asked why don’t we just “focus on skills, STEM, or nature arts and crafts” (all good stuff) rather than the next “Disney fad” (which we don’t necessarily do).

For example, Realms of Cascadia is a role-playing adventure camp with dragons, elves, and Rangers. Zombie Survival Camp features, well, the apocalypse of the undead. While we know some of our themes might rely on a specific taste, I feel adventure through story opens up possibilities to connect more kids to nature. If becoming a wizard is the inspiration for a kid to journey outside, then they can join our School of Magic! If they love pirates, they might join our scurvy crew in the Pirates of Cascadia.

Even the story-lines for our “serious” skills camps (ha: “serious”) prove just as important. I remember as a kid how certain books sparked my passion for homesteading. Or how Hatchet inspired me to build survival shelters and explore the creek in my backyard. Story drew me out of my comfort zone, and beyond reading the pages of a book it inspired me to get outside and get into nature.

Honestly, sometimes I have a hard time encouraging my own kids to ditch the (somewhat messy) playroom and head into the great outdoors. At that point I read a bit of Lord of the Rings to Robin, Annie, and Maxine which adds a power-up for elves exploring the real forest or Hobbits harvesting chestnuts on a rainy day in Fall. So, to return to the question posed by our outdoor educator colleague(s), I feel the answer is simple: Trackers tells stories because that’s how a lot of kids, and most of us, play and learn.

As for those folks who still wonder if we’re catering to the next “Disney fad” I might recommend they just Let It Go.


Molly Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom



Remember running outside on a cold morning with only a t-shirt and shorts? Or your bare hands throwing snowballs until you could hardly stand it? Many of us wistfully recall accidentally cutting ourselves with a pocket knife while whittling sticks found in the backyard or scraping a knee after skidding around a corner, leaving us to carefully pick out rocks and other bits of Nature.

rangers-apprenticeship-november-2013_7Risk taking with Nature remains one of those elements of childhood that helps create a competent, thoughtful adult. We learn to pay attention while experiencing positive and negative consequences from the more than human world—not just being told what to do by other people.

It’s one of the greatest ironies of being a parent and even teaching at Trackers Camps. A primary tenant of my life’s work is to reduce risk. Everything has to be as safe as possible while also providing outdoor experiences that feel genuine and real.

That’s why our children’s time in the out of doors should go far beyond our camps. Educational programs like Trackers can act a springboard where kids learn useful skills, find friends and get inspired. And we’re always going to play it as safe as possible.

It’s only as parents where we have the liberty to let our children launch down the snowy hill on a sled, climb that tree to the very top and wander the woods with no aim other than grand adventure. So this winter, during its possible cold and rugged days, and in every season, let’s all remember to go outside with our kids to risk and revel with with Nature, with everything real.


Please Note In our dialogue with parents, families and even kids we profoundly appreciate the value of candor and thoughtfulness. Our musings are meant to evoke healthy discourse—going beyond simply an organization that runs camps. We want to cultivate deeper relationships by exploring the depth and power of balance—a dynamic art required for our specific work of education and mentoring. Hopefully through reflecting all the wonderful challenges we face in this journey called life (and Trackers), we cultivate a deeper appreciation for one another.

What do I mean by failure? Failure doesn’t mean bad. It means you learned more while you strove for an epic goal that you did not reach.

I began teaching outdoor education 22 years ago. At the age of 17 I started down this path because I loved being outside in the wilds. I also sought community. I desperately wanted the two to connect: to be part of a family of people who love nature.

Versions of this came and went. I noticed the primary challenge to building a long-lasting community related to our mutual ability to make a living. Ten years ago I created Trackers with the goal of providing my friends with a healthy and shared livelihood.

We also hoped to make outdoor education better. We wanted the kids, adults, and families who joined us to feel part of this same community connected to the wilds. We saw three parts to this ecology: staff, students, and nature. From this, I realized I needed to give people real jobs to develop such stability.

And we – I – failed.

The first challenge? Camps and outdoor education remain seasonal. We have many wonderful people working with us each summer. They feel excited to join our organization and our efforts to offer kids fantastic camps (something we actually have accomplished). Yet for what we ask people to give, I know these jobs should pay more. Finally, after a summer of incredibly hard work, there remains only a handful of year-round positions.

first-day-in-building-summer-2014_14Traditionally camp counselors across the industry might earn only $30-$50 a day (due to a legal exception for camp programs that permit them to pay below minimum wage). Trackers does not do this. We pay a full wage… and still recognize it must be more. While we want Trackers programs to be accessible for everyone, at the same time we have to compete with other organizations that pay their people far less.

This is not a complaint. As a founder of Trackers, this remains my responsibility.

The second challenge? To improve programs and secure our future, we must purchase a building. To reduce our dependence and impact on public parks, we need to acquire land where kids can build fires, shelters, and shoot arrows without getting in trouble. Because we commit ourselves to providing the safest programs, we invested in the safest transportation methods possible. All these intensive and sometimes unique expenses come together to create the Trackers camps we all love.


The third challenge? We tried raising tuition fees this year, which helped. But it also understandably frustrated many parents. I empathize, when I was a kid, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to any camp, let alone one like Trackers.

There’s never a finished answer, only the ongoing work and wonder of balance.

In our ten year history we’ve had incredible folks get frustrated; sometimes become disappointed and burnt out with their work. Even beyond Trackers, the entire outdoor education industry is not necessarily a sustainable livelihood. Still, many motor on, seeing slow but sure progress while working thoughtfully for change. Yet each person, no matter what their hopes, fears or tenure with Trackers, has courageously dug into their innermost awesome to make all of it a beautiful experience for the kids and adults we serve.

rangers-focus-days-summer-2014_13This summer I took a step back to teach one group of kids, write books that help train our staff, and do my best to see things from a different perspective.

During this time I asked myself: if my original goal was resilient connections for a community supported by a strong livelihood, have I failed? The honest answer is yes. But I have learned a lot. And if we never try, we never learn, right? I actually feel excited that I don’t know exactly what we need to do next.

In reading this, someone might mistake that I see no value in what we created. On the contrary, the actual result often proves greater and more fantastic than I ever expected.

After my first draft of this blog I spent the afternoon with two very important people. Sarah and Romain have taught at Trackers for many years, quickly rising through its ranks—they are 22 and 23 years respectively. I talked with them about my concerns and the content of this blog. We discussed their goals for programs, community and healthy livelihood. I realized that Tony Deis (that’s me) around their same age may not have been ready to teach with Trackers. These two phenomenal individuals proved fundamentally more thoughtful at an earlier time in their life than I ever was. Trackers may well have contributed to that, but more importantly these are the great people who make Trackers what it is.

After that I continued my evening walk, wandering back to our new Scout Pit (do we call it that anymore?). There I found a group of staff playing tabletop games. They expressed to me how grateful they were to share the space and simply play together for an evening. I felt even more confused but also happy. I remembered then, I never set out to solve any of these problems on my own. My entire goal was to find people who will work together with me to solve these challenges—friends to share the journey.

Where do we go from here? After ten years I learned individuals alone don’t solve problems. Friends and community can. I deeply appreciate being surrounded by people who I have faith can contribute diversity and new perspectives. Not just our staff, but our parents, our kids and even the stories of nature that we discover while spending time together in the wilds and lands we love.

I started out saying failure does not mean bad, but that you learned. It also means you better know how to move forward. Failure is a portal where your dream finds its way into reality—imperfect, resilient in unexpected ways, and far more real.

And yes, in spite of this transparent conversation of our challenges, Trackers is still going strong and anticipating a great future! Thank you everyone for listening and offering your support.

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Proud Founder



Housewarming Celebration September 27, 4pm-7pm – 4617 SE Milwaukie Avenue, Portland, Oregon First and foremost, we want to invite your family to a Housewarming Celebration for our fantastic new home in SE Portland. Join us for music, apple cider pressing, our open archery range (free for the evening) and more. Plus, bring a potluck dish while also enjoying grilled sausages with refreshing tasty beverages. RSVP on Facebook

The Community Art Project

Admittedly, at Trackers we feel both excited and nervous about our new space. When you walk into the building it shouts big and updated; not scrappy and tough (remember the Scout Pit). We know this will benefit our programs, students and community; yet we need help warming up the place.

We want our new home to be yours!

This summer I had many great opportunities to talk with different campers, parents, adult students and staff. Some had attended Trackers for years and with others, it was their first time. I learned a-lot in these conversations. People told me stories about how they take what they learn beyond our programs, bringing Trackers into their lives through incredibly creative ways.

What does that mean? Kids talked excitedly about “playing” Trackers at recess (and in Minecraft)! Parents told me about camping trips where their children foraged wild salads for the family meal. I even received awesome pictures of both kids and adults setting scenes with their new Trackers Minifigs (dorky yes, but we love it). Finally, I met people who adamantly identified with one of our Four Guilds while sharing stories of planting blue elderberry in their Wilders Garden or watching a coyote pass silently in their Rangers Camp.

All these tales went beyond our “school” and blew my mind. I honestly had no idea of the impact our staff has made until I could step back and see it from another perspective. But it also made me realize that our new home needs to become a place where the community could truly gather to share their stories. Thus the Village Wall was born!

The Village Wall

The Village Wall acts as a simple and profound community art project. During our Housewarming (Sept 27) bring a photo of you or your family living, playing and working as part of the Trackers Village. It could show you loosing arrows in your backyard archery range, representing with your Trackers t-shirt in front of the Leaning of Tower of Pisa, crafting a forest or folk project, helping friends prepare a wild feast, or whittling with your kids. All Trackers, everything you.

We plan to place all the photos on a single wall*. So harvest that nettle, break out the cheese pot, or simply unicycle on down while wearing your Trackers hoodie. I’m excited for everyone to help us create a Village mosaic; one the fills our new space with stories of creativity, humor and adventure.

BTW Feel fee to write small story on the back of your picture. You can also drop photos in our mailbox or also post on our virtual wall by tagging #trackersvillage

*BSG Post-Caprica style without the apocalyptic overtones


Who All Trackers families and friends
When Saturday – September 27, 2014, 4pm-7pm
What Potluck with Trackers supplying free sausages, refreshing beverages and the fixings as well as chips
Where Trackers Earth’s new home, 4617 SE Milwaukie Avenue, Portland, Oregon

RSVP on Facebook