Ten months earlier I had just begun my journey in the Wild Intelligence Year of the Coyote adult wilderness program. I got into the program for many reasons. My son had attended some of their summer camps. I saw how their use of play and appealing to our human instinct to explore our world made him feel comfortable out in nature.
When they partnered with our school to lead “Into the Wild Wednesdays” I was intrigued to see their work up close. Clever questions, fascinating stories and adventure games had even the most nervous and reluctant children immersed in being out in the woods. They thought they were just having fun, but they were learning basic skills, like navigating using natural clues and using natural elements to make cord and tools.
WI kept crossing my path. Somewhere in me a spark was lit and then I heard about their adult program, Year of the Coyote.
I went into that first weekend ready have fun and learn and build a new skill each moth so that by the end I would be this amazing wilderness woman. The main two skills we were to learn that weekend were making a fire from a coal and making cordage from bark. I killed it on the cordage. The fire not so much. In fact, not at all.
That afternoon during our “sit spot” time I wrote a journal entry about wanting to start a fire that would illuminate my way through this journey and through life. I quickly learned that is precisely what WI programs offer.
After a few months I had learned how to make healing salves from herbs I could find in my yard. I learned how to identify healing plants and edible plants and plants that could tell me things that could save my life. I learned bird songs are not just music but a language we humans can understand if we sit for a while and listen. I had learned how to track animals and hunt. I learned how to let nature feed and sustain me. I played games with abandon and had sensitive, thoughtful conversations about how what we were doing connected to our life outside the woods. I did everything but light a fire with a coal I created using a bow string fire kit. The weekend of my solo fire sit, however, taught me an insightful lesson.
Sitting all night in the darkness tending my fire I had nothing but my work and my thoughts. It became a clear metaphor for me. Tending a fire kept my body alive. Being alone to do it kept my mind alive. I saw clearly that it didn’t matter how you made your fire but how you kept it going. I looked up from my fire many times in the night and I could see the small lights of the fires of my fellow coyotes scattered through the darkness. I knew that they were each tending their fires in their own way. Seeing their lights gave me comfort to know I was alone but not on my own.
Months later, when we were on our survival trip, the sun was going down and our fire still hadn’t been lit. Everyone had chosen tasks for the day and our fire crew had been working diligently throughout the day to get our fire going. We eventually all began taking turns holding the spindle or pulling the cords trying to create that coal. Those of us not actively involved sang songs of encouragement. Finally, as the sun began to fade and after who knows how many rounds of This Little Light of Mine, we had our coal and our fire sprang to life. Suddenly all the work we had done over our months together and that day came into focus.
We fed the fire with the wood we gathered until the shelter we built felt cozy and inviting. We boiled water and made soup with the plants we had foraged during the day. We sat by its warmth, as we had so many fires before it, and talked long into the night about the things that create familial bonds and draw us closer.
Throughout my time as a coyote, I never lit an actual fire by myself but a fire was lit within me. It illuminated for me not only my need to connect with the skills and knowledge of my ancestors but my desire to interconnected with nature and my community.
Since going through YOC I have found myself a member of a community that is connected to so many other circles and groups to which I belong. The light that was sparked in me burns in so many others who have found WI’s approach of using nature education to bond us as a society a good compliment for all the other activities and interests in their life.
Whether it is though their various youth programs that expose young people from toddlers to teenagers to the wonders of nature or their community programs that teach how to use nature to mentor to adults and children, Wild Intelligence is lighting fires in people and organizations who see the value of living in harmony and partnership with each other and our natural home.
Wild Intelligence has many programs that cater to everyone from the beginner to the expert, from the skeptic to the true believer. Each one of these programs is like a solo fire, created and tended to offer warmth and sustenance to whoever is drawn to it. Together these programs are creating a community of fires that are inspiring generations, young and old, to find connection with our natural world and our natural selves, whatever form that may take. They do not seek to start a wildfire that will burn away life as we know it. Rather they seek to blanket the world with fire circles whose light and warmth draw in as many as it can.
Contributed by Sarah Hubbard
In September our Young Naturalists Guild got a chance to work with local artist and extraordinary human Chris Taylor at
The State Botanical Gardens on his Nest Building Project. Chris has been building nests at the Botanical Gardens since March 2015. Most Saturdays he can be found somewhere along one of the many trails at the State Botanical Gardens creating. Ours is number 20! He just finished his last nest on Sunday November 22, 2015! (Congratulations Chris)
Chris is probably one of the most likeable people I have ever met. He isn’t shy and he loves what he does. He hopes to inspire others. Like those of us at Wild Intelligence he hopes to help build a bridge for people between our everyday lives and the natural world.
When we arrived at the Botanical Gardens in September I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I didn’t know or understand what building ‘Land Art’ was like – being an artist myself I was certainly curious. As we passed a few of his other nests I was immediately struck by the internal reaction I felt for them. I suddenly had this strange empathy for all the animals that live on the land. While talking about it with Chris he shared with me this was one of his motivations in making the nests – to invite people to think and look at where and how animals live – to imagine ourselves living that way as well.
He led us up a small creek to the location he had picked for the next nest. We had the choice of building it on the bank of the creek or actually in the creek on some rocks that created a nice little bed right in the middle of the nest.
Naturally, we picked in the creek!
He laid out the nest building process – we were going to gather sticks and organize them (something we do a lot of at Wild Intelligence) and then we would start building. I was feeling a little nervous… I thought for sure the kids wouldn’t be into it. These two have built countless numbers of fires and shelters – to the point they could probably just about do it in their sleep. Thankfully, they were excited to be part of a cool art project and they jumped right in. We had a nice stack of sticks in no time.
As we worked Chris talked to us about his process, his relationship with nature, his childhood adventures, and the experiences he has had with the numerous people he has built nests for. We talked about some of his dreams and hopes with the art he creates and the impacts it has on people. There isn’t anything selfish about what he’s doing other than that he wants it to be fun for himself. What he most wants seems to be to inspire people and to get them outside.
And… he doesn’t just make nests. He uses a lot of different types of living and non-living materials to make art. He’s even made a nest out of plastic bottles.
I have to admit I was surprised by how quickly the time passed and how the easily the shape came together. We started with big sticks and made our way down to the smallest branches. He had us pick pretty specific types of branches and sticks. As we finished up we were weaving the smallest sticks together.
A nest materialized right before our eyes.
Once we finished up our nest and after basking in what we had just created we headed back down the creek and onto another creek to really dive into how Chris looks at art. When he’s making anything in nature he Explores, Collects, Curates, and then Creates. He does this with every project he works on. He picks one item from nature and that’s the only thing he uses – he might use leaves, nuts, rocks or seashells – whatever is in the landscape he’s working in. He then looks for a place where his items will have contrast. He might play with the light using shadows and reflection. He might pick an area that is a contrasting color than his picked item. He might hang his items from a tree or build something out of sticks for them to hang on. Once he’s gathered up his items he then sorts them into groups. He typically sorts them by shape, color or size – and then he sets to work. For Chris the sky is the limit. And because he is making living art he knows it could last a day or it could last several seasons. He embraces the impermanence of it. (That’s my kind of thinking.)
As we wrapped up the day I was seeing the landscape yet another way than I had before. Colors looked different to me, shapes suddenly stood out in new ways, and though I already see the earth as amazing I saw even more potential in what is possible to create with what is already there.
A few weeks later I had the opportunity to go back to the spot where we built nest #20 with a group of teachers from Chattahoochee Hills Charter School and Tommy. We all gathered around the nest and talked about the creation of it and the effect it had on them. Tommy and I were taking the teachers on a Wild Intelligence style wander to work on deepening their connection to the earth so they could take their connection back into their classes. We spent a nice chunk of our time talking about nests and animal habitats – we even built one a small one for a game of eagle eye. Proof that Chris’s nests are a point for real connection for folks who come across them in their wanderings.
If you are looking for something cool to do with your kids or need an excuse to get outside you should take a walk on the trails at the Botanical Gardens. Make it a game to see how many of Chris’s nests you can find. If you want to check more of Chris’s Land Art you can visit his website, follow him on Instagram (@34degreesnorth), and Facebook. Take pictures and tag him! It makes his day to see people enjoying his artwork!
Here’s a map to the Botanical Gardens made with 21 of the current nests on it. After this map was completed a few of the nest have gone by way of rain. See which ones you can find and see if you can figure out which ones are now missing. Which one is your favorite?
contributed by Tommy Tye
Wild Intelligence recently held our first woodland Ramble! It was hosted by the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and a great time was had by all.
All three of us.
You see, the rain had been coming down in buckets, raining cats and dogs. It was a real toad-strangling gully-washer.
OK, hopefully I have all the cliches out of the way.
But in case you were wondering, I wasn’t joking when I said our Rambles will happen rain or shine. With all that wind and rain, and more in the forecast, what could we possibly expect to see or do on a woodland ramble?
Well, our Rambles are your chance to see the forest through the eyes of a Wild Intelligence mentor, and to share in our excitement and curiosity about nature. No two Rambles will be the same. Here is a tag cloud of our experiences on this one:
tracking, tree identification, landscape history, ecology, sit spot, scat id, plant id, edible and medicinal plants, bird language, stalking, body radar, art of questioning, micro and macro search image, using all the senses, nest finding, mycology, natural navigation, deer biology, entomology, deep nature connection, logical and intuitive trailing, philosophy and ethics of connective practice
If that looks interesting to you, don’t feel left out. We will have another Ramble on December 13. Stay tuned for more info.
Till then, check out these pics from our Photo Journal:
After all the rain, there were so..
Ever wonder why some acorns fall while they are still green?
Ever wonder how the tree knows when to ditch ‘em?
Can you see the animal trail?
Who made it?
Where are they going?
We found nests of two different birds.
This bird must have been so tiny.
Can you imagine this nest hanging down between the forks of a small branch?
What kind of little Dr. Seuss critter is on this Beech tree?
What are they doing?
Or am I a not-so-tasty look-alike?
These scat were nearly 3 inches long.
Are there hogs at the Bot Garden?
You’d have to be pretty Smart to know this Weed.
We found scads of these white mushrooms, all on top of fallen logs and partially eaten.
What’s going on here?
JOIN US for this year’s
family friendly FALL PARTY.
November 14, 4pm to 11pm
Southern Brewing Company
Advance tickets available!
There will be skill sharing happening: bows, fire, carving, crafts, wanders, and more! There will be story telling, community, local food and locally brewed beer! We will have a silent auction with items for everyone.
We’ve got LIVE FUNK music from STREET PEOPLE featuring members from the Funk Brotherhood and we’ll be closing out the night with DJ CHIPFUNK! There will be something for everyone!
For the line up, more details, or to purchase tickets in advance visit >>> click here!
Our youth programs consist of a variety of the following: after school, year-round, summer camp, weekends, home-school, and workshops. We focus on games, skills, teamwork, independence, stories, and most importantly fun. Our classrooms have no walls, our teachers have feathers, scales, and bark, and our tests are evaluated by how big the smiles are on our faces…
contributed by Sarah Hubbard
South Jackson Elementary has invited me to visit their Science Enhancement Class once a month for the 2015-16 school year.
I go one Tuesday a month with the goal of taking their students on a ‘Wilderness Wander’ along their trails! (South Jackson has a great trail system built by their dedicated teachers.) My day consists of 5 classes – each one about 50 minutes long. There are anywhere from 20 – 30 students in each class. Time goes real fast.
In September when I was scheduled to go we were experiencing days upon days upon days of rain. The earth was a giant puddle. I decided (with the help of the rain and Mr Stephen Lush – the science enhancement teacher) to do our ‘Wilderness Wander’ inside the classroom.
To make it a ‘wander’ I was going to have to get real creative.
My goal in September was to talk about tracking. I LOVE tracking. To me, animal tracks are like a great mystery waiting to be solved. At the end of the story is an encounter (maybe) with a wild animal.
There is a world of information held within an animal track. We can ask how long ago the tracks were left? How many animals were present when the tracks were made? Is it the same animal that comes every time to this particular spot? Is it male or female? Where did it go after it left here? What was it doing in this place?… Every track is a story waiting to unfold before us.
Tracking is a powerful educational tool.
It teaches questioning, awareness, problem solving, and critical thinking. It asks us to pay attention – CLOSE attention, to look at details, and to look at what we might be missing.
I wanted to convey to the 5 classes to look beyond – to see the track – to see the story left behind for us…
My solution to the quandary of tracking in a classroom?
A great tracking story (mission impossible style) and treasures left behind of animals from
this region found through my
own tracking and wandering. A wise mentor of mine once told me that the bones of an animal are the last track they leave . That has stuck with me. Whenever I find bones I spend time considering what the tracks of the animal were like, who they might have been, where they might have lived, and how their bones ended up here on my path.
I put my found treasures on the tables in the classroom and left them unlabeled, but numbered. The kids numbered their paper and wrote their guesses down – sort of – some also drew the skulls and bones I brought with me – some didn’t write anything down. Like the tracker from my story their goal was to look for the clues other might miss from the skulls and bones. Based on what stood out to them they were to try to figure out who these animals once were.
One by one, class by class the students excitedly made their way around the tables. There was thoughtful consideration of what each item was and why. Every class jumped right in joyously eager to see whether they could solve the stories the bones held.
Many of the students got them right or at least close to right simply because they looked for the right clues even noticing some really small details – they did this without my help. And… then… they chased down the patterns and pictures in their minds that matched what they found. (There were also some pretty outlandish answers too – I think triceratops was pretty popular)
Now… I’m not totally unfair. After everyone had a chance to look at all 11 ‘final tracks’ we went around the table together as I told them who each of them were.
I didn’t give them the ‘label’ immediately. We talked a lot about what stood out to the students, why and how we can use those clues to help determine who we were looking at. We talked about the size of the bones and the size the animal might have been. We talked about the shape of the bones and skulls and how that can also be a clue. We looked at the teeth still held in the skulls and how that could tell them a lot about who they were as well as what they eat.
When I finally gave them the ‘label’ they were able to see the animals clearly for themselves.
In that moment they too became trackers.
We didn’t get outside, but we definitely practiced tracking. We asked a lot of questions and we had a great time!
Next month, we will be talking about scout and stalking skills. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain!
contributed by Sarah Hubbard
My life is busy – like crazy busy. It’s not always easy to make sit spot happen. I am goal oriented, so taking 30 days and committing to it keeps me motivated. When I get slack these 30 days are a great reminder that sit spot is what I make of it, that I am human like everyone else, and most importantly that 5 minutes here and there can be enough.
Here’s what a 30 day sit spot challenge looks like for me.
The first 3 or 4 days I start out pretty strong. I roll out of bed early – usually before the first bird sings its morning song to the sun. I have to get up earlier than I usually do – I pay for it on day 5 because even though I’m getting up earlier I typically forget to adjust my bedtime.
Day 5 I yawn all day and get grumpier by the minute (My kids hide in their rooms on Day 5).
Day 6 I manage to get up on time, but fall asleep early on the couch and don’t get any of my evening chores done.
Day 7 I have to sleep late because when I woke up to go get in
my bed I couldn’t get back to sleep. I’m restless the rest of the night and now I have to figure out how to squeeze it in later.
Parking lot while running errands? That’ll do.
Days 8 and 9 are a real struggle – once I get behind I stay behind.
I pour a glass of wine and begrudgingly go sit under the pines in the front yard.
Days 10 and 11 it rains. I really love being out in the rain but, it’s hard to be soaking wet first thing in the morning. Inevitably, because I’m in the struggle zone I realize work is beginning to pile up, so it’s 10 minutes walking the dogs between rain showers and 10 minutes picking vegetables today.
Day 12 is about the time of my challenge I get rewarded for my determination and I see something cool that keeps me motivated.
Thanks to the Hawk I am now obsessing over and the deer grazing just up the hill from me days 13 – 20 are pretty easy. (Wild animals are great motivation)
Then, the inevitable day 21 rolls around. Sometime during my sleep I realize I have WAY over scheduled myself today. I’ve made a list of everything I need to get done – all while ‘sleeping’ of course… The sun rises, the list floods my mind beginning with that really important email I was supposed to send parents two days ago. Sit spot is officially on the back burner until all this stuff is done. Today sit spot is disconnecting for me. I put fresh seed in one of the bird feeders and leave the front door open while I melt into the couch and call it D.O.N.E. at the end of the day.
I begin consider letting this challenge go…
Day 22 is usually an incredible morning – my efforts from the previous day are typically rewarded with a thick morning fog and total silence where I sit – it’s just me and the crickets.
Day 23 and Day 24 are beautiful and slow. (Thank goodness for weekends!)
Day 25 I jump out of bed to the sound of alarming Cardinals. I dash outside just in time to catch a buck chasing a doe and that hawk on the heels of the doe! Score!
Day 26 we oversleep – even the dogs don’t wake up to be fed. We rush around barely making it to school on time. Thanks to the grumpy teen who has no lunch I remember I haven’t been to the grocery store in three weeks – oh… that’s what I gave up it seems. The nice long lecture I got on the way to school because we had to stop at Chick Fil A for breakfast (and her lunch) does the trick. I’m off to the grocery store and making my list and meal plan in the parking lot. While I’m in the grocery store my phone rings and… we have a sick kid – how did I miss that?
I have officially entered into the day with no break…
It’s a hard work day…
And my bad attitude doesn’t help.
To make matters worse I go into the kitchen to make dinner to discover in my haste I put the chicken legs we were going to have for dinner in the freezer. Even though I just went to the grocery store – guess it’s family pizza night. Can you feel my anxiety? Even writing it I’ve got a big ball of it in my belly.
This is when I have to have to pull out my super woman. We go get pizza and while the boy pulls the X-Files up on Netflix I offer to put the chickens away for the night. I take in the weather, look around at the garden, take a deep breath, and another day is complete.
Day 27 isn’t any easier. It seems once I am in panic and rush mode I stay that way. I squeeze it in by watching the sparrows that live in the trees in the parking lot at Target. (will the weekend ever come?)
Day 28… I am so close I can taste the finish line. I manage to get up on time. I can feel the cool air beginning to settle closer to the earth, leaves are falling.
I remember why I do this. Why it is important to me.
Then it’s on to the finish line. And usually past. (the longest I’ve gone is 95 days in a row – I usually manage to squeeze it in even when we travel)
For me, sit spot is about intention. Stopping for even 5 minutes can feel impossible.
When I’ve only got 5 minutes I make it the best 5 minutes I possibly can.
And… It brings me back to center and back to connection.