Saturday, July 4, 2020


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

At Trackers we strive to live by a Code of Common Sense. We root all our camps and programs in this. It guides how we learn from nature and thrive as a community.

Common sense is no longer common. As our world grows more disconnected, our children’s education is literally boxed in by walls and tied to desks. Yet children long ago (all our ancestors) felt at home in nature. They could light a fire with no matches, create tools from stone, and find shelter on the land. Those abilities still live on within all our kids.

Tapping that ability takes time, practice and care for the children we work with. It requires a Code of Common Sense.

Four Guilds divide Trackers and each Guild teaches a code:


Push the edges of your awareness: eyes, ears, and all your senses. Keep an open mind and heart. Don’t restrict yourself with a narrow view of things. The challenges and opportunities Nature provides often go unseen. Pay Attention to the spaces and places most people ignore.


Understand the difference between what you believe is helpful and what is Truly Helpful. Complaining about being cold and hungry is not helpful. Building a campfire or catching fish is helpful. When you put the needs of your community first you become Truly Helpful.

Mariners Guild RESPECT

Many think surviving in nature means struggling against it. Yet, like a Mariner sailing the currents of the sea, we can Flow with nature. Take the time to experience the true way of things: creeks, plants, animals, birds, trees, wind, clouds, stars, sun, and moon. By giving your time, appreciation and respect, you become part of their Flow.


Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. There’s no perfect way to shoot a bow or weave a basket. There is only progress. Be excited that you’re always doing it wrong and there are countless ways to improve. Like the plants, animals and even mountains, you never stop growing. You always do it better!


Part 3 in our Kids + Parents series for Woodcarving With Knives. Start with the Part 1: 8-blades of Safety and Care when using a bladed tool.

For both parents and kids we often start with carving stances.  Carving stances form the foundations for guarding one’s Outer and Inner Blood Circles (keeping the carving action away form the body). Before supervising your child carving, we recommend you try these positions and techniques to better understand their safety features.


Ask your child to stand with feet shoulder width apart. They can loosely bend their knees and sink slightly at the hips. They then extend their hands and arms out—keeping the carving action away from their body (Inner Blood Circle).

Kneeling Tall

This stance is also shoulder width apart but they instead stand tall on their knees. Because their body stands vertical from the knees up, this also keeps the carving action off of their lap.

Safety Note NO ONE DIES

Remind children (and adults) to resist the temptation to rest back on their heels or sit down and place the carving action on their lap. If, while in this position, the blade slips, you risk cutting a major artery of the leg—which can lead to serious injury.

The Twist

If your child has developed basic competency with a blade and wants to sit down while carving, show them how to twist their torso to the side of the hand holding the knife. This takes the carving action away from their lap and out of their Inner Blood Circle.


Modify The Block

Kids can use a solid surface such as log round or table to help stabilize the wood. This even allows them to sit on a chair or stump as it places a solid wood block between them and the carving action. As always, keep everything out beyond the knees (away from the inner thigh).

Refinement DO IT BETTER

As your kids learn from more mentors and teachers, it’s guaranteed that they’ll see different carving positions and techniques. These are not necessarily wrong. They may simply be more advanced than the basic stances described here—even a different style. For example, we ask beginners to twist while sitting since they lack experience keeping the carving action out of their lap but proper extension or mastery of more advanced cuts changes this. As your child’s technique improves their stances can become more flexible. Your job is to watch their work while guiding them to think for themselves. Then, they begin to understand how they can safely and functionally apply any new skill.

Kids learn more about Woodcarving & Forest Craft at our
Rangers Apprenticeship



Part 1 in our Kids + Parents series for Woodcarving With Knives. Parents commonly ask us how to bring our wood-carving curriculum home from camp. With sound judgment and a thoughtful approach you can supervise your kids and safely support their new skills.  At first we recommend full adult supervision. As you and your child both grow in experience, you can better judge how much supervision they require. A structured approach to woodcarving with knives helps kids develop the responsibility to use tools safely on their own.

The 8 Blades

The 8 Blades are essential principles for working with cutting tools. A Ranger knows the 8 Blades backward and forward. Like many Rangers Guild skills the 8 Blades follow the Four Cardinal Directions (East, South, West, North) and the Four Wind Directions (Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast).


Safety The 4 Cardinal Blades

  The Cardinal Blades (East, South, West, and North) are important practices for safety and competency.


With every cut imagine any potential path your blade might take—be willing to shape and reshape your position and plans to assure complete safety. Stay alert. Injuries happen when you stop Paying Attention. Avoid carving when tired. Don’t look away or get distracted, always keep your awareness on the cut. This extends beyond what you see—use all your senses to feel and hear the knife moving through the wood.


Your Outer Blood Circle is a safety zone you guard whenever using a blade. Imagine circles as wide as you can reach with your sheathed blade—up above and all sides. Don’t let anyone step into your Outer Blood Circle in case you slip while carving. If someone steps into your Blood Circle, immediately stop using your blade and sheath it if necessary.


More force in a cut often leads to less control—especially for beginners. The less control you have, the greater the risk of injury. The value of self-control is a Ranger’s first lesson in flowing with nature. When using blades, consider how much control each technique gives you. As you get better with a blade you achieve a balance—optimizing both control and force.


Consider your Inner Blood Circle. In addition to watching out for others while you carve, take care with your own body. Your body is filled with blood—cutting into your flesh will cause you to spill red wet, sticky stuff all over the place. Remember to imagine any potential path of the blade—keeping your body, hands and fingers well out of the way of any cut.   


Care The 4 Wind Blades

The Wind Blades remind us how we care for our blades and the Village.

Southeast Blade STAY SHARP

“Sharpen your knife, sharpen your life” is a Ranger’s motto. A dull knife can be dangerous, requiring more force and potentially slipping to lose control. Maintaining a sharp edge requires less effort than fixing a dull one. A Ranger keeps her blade honed and ready–always prepared to be Truly Helpful.


Choose wood that closely resembles your finished project. Wood straight and free of knots requires less effort to carve. Don’t hack mindlessly with your blade. Think of the animals who call the trees home. When you cut a living branch or tree, it must have Great Purpose—caretaking for both  Village and Forest. RESPECT You might be able to fall a tree in a short time, but it takes years for another to grow.


Accept full responsibility for your blade and everything that happens with it. Always keep it clean, and sheath your blade when not in use. Before using any blade, make sure the handle is secure. If you must set down a live (unsheathed) blade, treat it like it could cut at any moment—maintaining both Outer and Inner Blood Circles. When storing your blade, make sure less experienced children and adults cannot get to it.


A Ranger protects, caring for the woods, plants, animals and people of his community (the Village). He does not show off his blade. Today, many people see a blade as a frightening weapon instead of a useful tool. While a Ranger knows better, she must learn and follow all local rules. Research what type of blade you can have and leave it at home when required by culture and custom.

Mission: 8 Blades – Do It Better

Help kids become responsible for your own safety and competency.

  • Have the learn the 8 Blades and describe their meaning in your own words.
  • Ask them to teach the 8 Blades to another Ranger-in-training.

As kids gain more experience with bladed tools, revisit the 8-Blades. You’ll be impressed how much their understanding changes over time.


A has been telling all kinds of stories during the camp week, from hunting boar to how to not get lost in the forest. He is a veteran in summer camps (start going to summer camps from 3 years old), but this is his favorite so far.
-Tianyi (SE Portland)

August 10, 2014 – 4617 SE Milwaukie Avenue, Portland, OR This Monday began our first official week of camp in our new location. It’s only 4-blocks from our original location but with twice as much room, superior parking (!!!), a larger archery range (starts in September) and thoroughly updated facilities. Also mark your calendars and join us for our Grand Opening of this location on September 27, 2014. Check out some pictures of moving in and our first day of camp at the new headquarters:


He was so thrilled each day to come home and tell us about his days, practice his new skills, and fall into bed each night after a full day romping and stomping in the woods. It was his favorite week of the summer! “Best week ever,” direct quote.
–Emily (NE Portland)


J is having a great time! Everyday he has a story to tell! My favorite is about the baby bunnies they found, he said they found several babies bunnies and the mommy in the forest. What a great experience for him!

– Melissa (Hillsboro)