Monday, April 9, 2018

Short-tailed Weasels, Coyotes, & Salish Seals pull English Ivy at Woodstock Farms

The Short-tailed Weasels gathered in the North Galbraith Mountain parking lot full of energy and excitement. As we circled up Sammy, an Explorers Club mentor, introduced herself to the group. She informed them that they would be working with two Girls Explorers Club groups named the Chickadees and the Salish Seals at the Woodstock Farms service site.

Before catching a ride aboard Moose, our trusty Explorers Club bus, we reviewed our three group commitments that we had set to improve our circle time, general focus, and group decision-making. First to encourage the heart by supporting other group members, being genuine and caring towards one another, helping peers when needed, and keeping each other’s goals in mind. Second, don’t waste anyone’s time (including your own) by taking advantage of what is offered during the outing and listening when needed. Lastly to be here now, which is an Explorers Club motto that demands staying present and mindful during outings and group focused work.

Arriving at Woodstock Farms the Salish Seals and Chickadees were already in full swing digging out English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry. A mentor named Holly walked over to greet the group and asked the boys to review tool safety and tell her a little bit about their group. The STW squirreled out, lost their focus, and distracted each other in the circle. Calling attention to their three group commitments, a mentor reminded the boys to be here now and not to waste time on this service opportunity. The mentor also mentioned that the two other groups who were at the site were one to three years younger than the Short-Tailed Weasels, so it was important to demonstrate maturity and focus to set a strong example.  

Refocusing, Holly gave the group their plan for the day and we got to work. The mentors were pleasantly surprised to see the Short-Tailed Weasels disperse and integrate with the other groups. Working side-by-side the Explorers carefully unraveled the English Ivy from the native Honeysuckle, Ocean Spray, Salal, and Snowberry. The project took persistence and patience, and while the Explorers hands were busy working, their conversations ambled and brought them closer together. Once the Ivy was untangled and clipped at ground level the next step was to dig it out of the shallow and rocky soil, which was no easy task. The Explorers switched back and forth between unearthing the Ivy and digging Blackberry roots while being careful not to clip the Bald Hip Roses as the two looked very similar without their spring foliage.

Stopping for some lunch the Short-Tailed Weasels circled up with the Salish Seals. Service outings are a wonderful time for Explorers Club groups to cross-pollinate. One of the mentors mentioned that he had found his nature name “dog”. This spurred on the Explorers curiosity and they asked to hear each other’s nature names. The Short-tailed Weasels mentioned that they did not know what a nature name was, which shocked the Salish Seals. They explained that a nature name is one that is chosen by the individual and reveals itself through experience, connection, personal awareness, and self-identity.

The Salish Seals shared their nature names with the boys and the group started to lose their focus. Recognizing the need to transition the mentors called for a strong finish to the day and the Explorers got back to work. As they worked the Explorers noticed buds and flowers beginning to pop all through the landscape. With the sun breaking through the clouds and the Spring Equinox only a few days behind us everyone was primed and ready for the seasonal transition in Whatcom County.

As the Salish Seals departed to have their closing meetings the Short-tailed Weasels were charged with finishing processing the Blackberry clippings and gathering up the tools. As they chopped Blackberry canes into the buckets their conversation wandered to Harry Potter and some dropped their tools altogether to follow their own interests such as sliding down the hand railing next to the site.  The mentors had to engage in some direct leadership with the group and what should have taken fifteen minutes stretched on for over half an hour.

Circling up in the orchard near the site we shared a closing meeting together. The important part about having our group commitments is circling back to them at the end of the outing as an accountability tool. Self-assessing the Short-Tailed Weasels reflected that they had done a great job encouraging the heart while working with the two other groups, but wavered in their time management and ability to stay present on our outings focus of service. This self-assessment piece is a critical component in the group taking ownership of their outings and having a baseline to draw back on.

Sharing apples the Short-tailed Weasels expressed gratitude for all communities who are positively impacted by our service at Woodstock, for the opportunity to work with the GEC, and for the amazing landscape that we get to call home.

For more pictures please visit the Short-tailed Weasels’ photo album from the day of service. Thanks!

Branch Hoppers and Kingfishers Engage in Spring Service at the Connelly Creek Nature Area

The Branch Hoppers arrived at the Connelly Creek Service site drop-off location excited to engage with the project they had been pouring effort into semi-annually for four years. Circling up, the mentors informed the group that we would be headed to a new service location just north of the previous site, but still along Connelly Creek. The boys were a bit shocked that we were moving sites and still felt that we had much more service to do at the previous one. The mentors explained that the parks felt that we had vastly improved the site and wanted to focus our efforts elsewhere. The good news was that we would be headed back to our original site periodically each season with a few Explorers groups to maintain the progress that we had made.
A little disappointed, but excited to see the new site, the Branch Hoppers asked if we had any other groups joining us in service. They were pleased to find that the Kingfishers, who were in their first year of Explorers Club, would be arriving a half hour after them. The mentors took an opportunity to frame our day based around our three group commitments: encourage the heart, don’t waste anyone’s time, and be here now. The mentor’s aim was to empower the Branch Hoppers to treat each other with respect and care through their commitments and for the group to model a strong example for the Kingfishers.

Walking over to the new site the mentors provided some background information. At the previous days service a woman named Wendy Scherrer walked by and shared the story of our Connelly Creek site. Sixty years ago the land along Connelly Creek was cleared by Joe’s Garden for farmland, but proved to have a low yield. In 1986 the teachers and students of the Bellingham Cooperative School along with parents and community volunteers, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement, and the City of Bellingham came together to establish a 24-acre wildlife enhancement effort along Connelly Creek. How wonderful to think that slightly north from our original service site a 32-year long restoration effort, led by children, was taking place simultaneously.

As a mentoring community we are thankful to have Wendy Scherrer in our community and as the saying goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Wendy has poured her time and effort connecting students in Whatcom and Skagit County to the natural world helping to: develop the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) and worked as its Executive Director, co-founded the Environmental Education Association of Washington, the North Cascades Institute’s school field-based environmental education and teacher training programs (including Mountain School), and curriculum guides for fourth through eighth grades including Celebrating Wildflowers, Teaching for Wilderness, and Sharing the Skagit.

Arriving at the service site the Branch Hoppers unloaded the tools and got to work digging Himalayan Blackberry roots. It wasn’t too long before the Kingfishers arrived with a few EMAs from the Red-Tailed Eyas group and after a tool safety demonstration the groups joined forces to extract the Blackberry roots growing in the native plantings. Working side-by-side the Branch Hoppers connected with the younger Explorers.

As we worked the sun broke through the clouds and we peeled off our rain gear and basked in the warmth of the day. I’m not sure if it was a spring rain followed by some sunshine or if it was the fact that we were unearthing many worms, but nevertheless the Red-Breasted Robin calls rang out through the forest. Stopping for lunch we leisurely ate and our conversations wandered. Fueled up we finished out our day by moving an extensive pile of mulch with buckets. Little by little we made mulch rings around the native plants and in the words of the Explorers we were careful to make “doughnut shapes around them, not onion rings”.

Waving goodbye to the Kingfishers the Branch Hoppers commented on their ability as Second and Third Graders to focus and make a solid effort with hard work. Circling up for our closing meeting we circled back to our group commitments. Self-assessing the Branch Hoppers reflected that they had done a great job encouraging the heart while working with the Kingfishers and each other as well as in their time management. The mentors offered a little feedback that some behaviors that might be appropriate for their group might not be well suited for a younger Explorers group, e.g. a harmless gestures meant as a joke, a conversation about video games, or something that they were processing within the inner-dynamics of their school. The elders need to be occasionally reminded that the younger kids are literal and lack the discernment and filter tools that they themselves are developing.

The mentors then told a story of a gentleman who was the Park Steward of the Connelly Creek Nature Area and how sadly over the course of the last few years had suffered multiple strokes and was no longer able to carry on his duties in the same capacity as before. Each time he walked past the Explorers working at the site he would stop and admire their progress and effort. He commented a few times that the Explorers work fills him with hope and joy. Our work carries on a legacy of stewardship and is the definition of what it means to be a community.
Sharing their gratitude the Branch Hoppers were thankful for all our community members who are positively impacted by our service work and to feel ownership in it, for the opportunity to work with younger Explorers, and for the sunshine and their friendship.

For more pictures from our service outing please visit the Branch Hoppers & Kingfishers’ photo album from the day. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Gray Wolves, Black-Tailed Deer, Pacific Chorus Frogs and Barnacles; Connelly Creek nature area service; 3/24/18

At its core, Explorers Club (EC) is about connection and our recent service work (Saturday, 3/24) exemplified this like few other outings. Let’s take a look at all that went on through the lens of our EC mottos.

As you may know, Explorers have been restoring habitat in Happy Valley Park for several years. Now, the good folks at Bellingham Parks have determined that we’ve brought that site to the point where it can hold its own for a while. Time to Widen the Circle by following Connelly Creek across Donovan Ave to begin work on the Connelly Creek nature area originally designed by high school students several decades ago. The trail through this area is a popular walking, jogging, dog walking spot. As we worked, several people called out to thank the Explorers for their service. How sweet to connect with community members in this way and to see today’s kids carrying on the work begun by today’s adults when they were young, all under the aegis of the joint effort of Bellingham Parks, the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) and, of course, Wild Whatcom. A web of connection across communities, across generations, between EC groups. 

The work feels familiar — uprooting Himalayan Blackberry, planting native trees and shrubs, spreading bark over invasive Reed Canarygrass. At Wild Whatcom, we believe that exposing Explorers to their natural environment through exploration and service builds a connection to the land that supports an ethic of protection as expressed in the motto, “Connect and Protect”. 

"If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it."-David Sobel 

Doing this work persistently over several years conveys a sense of the deep, abiding need and nature of the effort. 

Many Hands Make Light Work” is an old axiom we co-opted and, for our service outings, super charged by age-stacking the bodies attached to those hands. Four groups arrived, in age order — 12-13 year olds, then 10-11 year olds, 9-10 year olds and, you guessed it, 8-9 year olds. We encourage the older Explorers to coach their younger brethren, providing leadership experience, role modeling, caring and a different kind of fun and engagement. And, for good measure, the youngest group is our gender inclusive cohort, adding that dimension to the experience. Oh, and we got loads of work accomplished!

"If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you'll come to understand that you're connected with everything." – Alan Watts

The mud notwithstanding (or thanks to), we enjoyed several hours of besting blackberry bushes and giving back to the community. For information on your Explorer's next outing:

Barnacles, check here,

Pacific Chorus Frogs, here,

Black-Tailed Deer, here, and

Gray Wolves here.

Everyone! photos!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Roosevelt Elk Calves, Jumping Mice, and Townsend's Chipmunks Team Up for Service at Connelly Creek

The Roosevelt Elk Calves, Jumping Mice, and Townsend’s Chipmunks teamed up for a big day of service on a St. Patrick’s Day Saturday. Gathering together at our Connelly Creek Service Site in Happy Valley Park the Roosevelt Elk Calves started things off by helping to prep the site by moving the tools and doing a walk through with the mentors to learn what tasks we would be working on for the day. When the Jumping Mice showed up and started their tool use demonstration, some of the Roosevelt Elk Calves got excited to put on a “skit” to liven things up. After we reviewed safe tool use we teamed up and began working on our projects for the day; planting native species in two new caged areas, removing any remaining blackberries, and mulching, mulching, mulching. The Roosevelt Elk Calves and Jumping Mice were well on the way to getting the first plants in the ground when the Townsend’s Chipmunks showed up.

Getting some native plants in the ground!
Without hesitating that Townsend’s Chipmunks jumped right in to the work. Taking on planting the remainder of the native species in the Red Alder grove, the Townsend’s Chipmunks enjoyed some guidance from a few enthusiastic Roosevelt Elk Calve master-planters. With most of the native species in the ground it was time to transition to moving mulch. Sometimes there is just a desire to do simple work that takes some extra elbow grease. The three groups teamed up and put their noses to the grindstone and began moving mulch faster than all of Mickey’s broomsticks helpers in Fantasia. Before we knew it the mulch pile was almost gone. While the mentors were trying to figure out what else to do we had a surprise visitor; Monica from the Bellingham Parks Department!

Working hard to finish up the last of the planting

Moving mulch!

Taking a break to play some games

Taking part in the pilot Poop Patrol project with Bellingham Parks

Playing "Toss the Turd" !
Taking a break to eat lunch and play a few rounds of "Fire in the Forest” the three groups got a chance to relax and recuperate for a strong finish. Setting our eyes on the remaining mulch the Roosevelt Elk Calves broke from the rest of the group to participate in Monica’s pilot “Poop Patrol” program that will focus on educating Bellingham residents on proper care and disposal of pet waste. Participating in a few educational activities like the “Turd Toss” where the Explorers got to toss bags of fake poop in a trash bin for a prize and the “Poop Patrol” where the Explorers fanned out across the park to flag any piles of dog poop, we had a lot of fun and learned a bit at the same time. With over 20,000 dogs living in Bellingham producing over 15,000 lbs of pet waste a day, it is an ever growing concern that without proper care we could begin compromising the water quality of our local watersheds. Armed with fresh knowledge and feeling satisfied in accomplishing all our tasks for the day at the service site the Roosevelt Elk Calves, Jumping Mice, and Townsend’s Chipmunks went home with smiles on their faces and a solid day of work to hang their hats on. 

Make sure to check out the rest of the photos from our outing here!