Saturday, December 8, 2012


1st Row: Anjay, Lauren, Teage,
2nd Row: Sam, Fish, Cody, Magnus, Austin, Frannie, Sam, Leo
3rd Row: Miles, Gavin, Luke, Matt, Beaven, Seth[/caption]

As Winter Solstice approaches, the sun is setting earlier, nearing its shortest day, and the last remnants of Autumn are shaking down from the trees. At our overnight, we sat on the shoreline at Little Eagle Bay, looking west as the sun dipped below the Adirondacks. The surface of the lake was smooth and quiet, the scattered kids gazing openly and lovingly out over the water was such a peaceful and serene moment. And looking at this community that has grown so much in the past 3 years, I felt so grateful for all of the wonderful work of the other mentors, Lauren, Chris, Jed, Sam, and Monique, and others who have helped this program grow.

I gave thanks the great cliffs jutting up dramatically from the lake and to the smooth rocks made flat and smooth with time lining the shore, waiting to be skipped. the water for its gentle percussion rocking softly against the outcroppings, for warming the air ever so slightly, for guiding the winds off the lake, and for quenching our thirst. the trees, the cedar roots struggling to gain purchase on the crumbling shale, for feeding our fire, for sweetening our tea, and sheltering us from the rain. the pair of mallards that swam out from the shore and watched us patiently while we celebrated the sunset, and the ravens circling overhead. those who had come before, who had tended this land, made it beautiful, protected it from development, and were generous enough to let us use it today. the first stars just then opening their eyes to the coming night sky, to the moon who would rise in a few hours, the sun who had warmed the rocks, and the sky for holding it all.

...and to the parents who might have been just as nervous about the overnight as the kids!

The following poem was written by Luke, inspired by his time at Crow's Path. It was recently published in the Burlington Free Press. So until February, let us enjoy Winter's Song!

Winter's Song
The Winter’s Song is long and thoughtful. The wind blows hard. The wind is the melody of the Winter’s Song. The wind is cold; it swirls like a spiral in a paper birch forest. It sounds like a soft swirling ocean with a sad tone.

The white snow falls into a stream. The snow is the beat of the Winter’s Song. It sounds slow and constant. Some flakes are big. Some are small. They will never, ever look the same even if they sound the same.The cold stream whirls, over and over again. It is the chorus of the Winter’s Song.

At the shallowest parts, the sounds are fast and strong. At the stream’s deepest part, it is quiet and will stay quiet. With the wind as the melody, the snow as the beat, and the stream as the chorus, the Winter’s Song comes alive.

And with that, we look forward to seeing you in the spring. (Spring registrations forms are available on our website).

Monday, December 3, 2012

UVM's NR206 students' final presentation

Entrance shelter built by our NR206 students
Our all star UVM interns from the senior capstone course: NR206 Environmental Problem Solving (taught by good friend and amazing mentor/educator Matt Kolan) just presented their work that they did for the class. I worked with them to identify three projects that they could complete: a track box, an entrance shelter, a boardwalk, and a staircase. They completed all four!! Did I mention they are all stars?

Here's a link to a powerpoint they put together for their final presentation. Enjoy!!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Field School: November 29

Today had such a different feel to it; it felt as though everyone has just gotten into the rhythm and culture of Crow's Path! It felt beautiful, something akin to what I've heard called the village hum. Everyone just showed up this morning as their full selves, free to follow their own curiosity and passions.

We started with another fire challenge. This one was a 5-minute fire. The kids were so close to starting a fire in the time limit with a single match. Once they took a break and rethought their strategy they got a blazing fire going in the next 5 minutes. They worked together so well gather fire wood and get the fire set. Afterwards we were going to split into guilds, but the kids initiated all of these wonderful projects on their own so we just followed their lead.

Gavin worked on "carving" a knife by burning the edges then grinding of the charred parts.

Cody made a walking stick, then finished it by smoothing it out with sand paper. I then showed him how to burnish the wood using a glass jar. Burnishing works best on harder woods, and when applied leaves a wonderfully smooth and polished surface. It does this in two ways. First, burnishing rubs off any of the softer cellular material sanding didn't get rid of, leaving harder cellulose fibers. Second, burnishing collapses and compresses these harder fibers and, when heated, the pores seal up. Next week we'll be stitching a leather handle on!

Sam battled Luke and Austin in an epic game of Stay-on-the-log. Sam won.

Ryder and Emmett took over a construction project to build a "scout pit."

Luke, camouflaged as always, was attempting to stalk up on another group. If I hadn't seen his hat, I would have missed him!

Miles has been totally hooked by fungi the past few weeks. Sam (our UVM intern) brought in a field guide to mushrooms. After identifying the birch polypore, Miles worked on turning a couple of them into glasses. Above he was carving out the eyehole on one of the rims.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Field School: November 15

Winter! What a perfect time of year to sit around a fire and share stories. Over the past couple of weeks Lauren's been putting in lots of hours practicing fire-by-friction. Last week she borrowed one of my sets (aspen spindle, basswood fireboard) and plugged away for a good 20 minutes while the kids sang songs to support her. She didn't wind up getting a coal that week, but spent the week practicing and getting her own kit ready. She modeled some wonderful patience and commitment and this week got a coal in about a minute. It was beautiful to watch. Above is a photo of Lauren blowing on the tinder bundle until it went up in flames.

Lauren, Chris, and I talked about our anticipated theme for the day and we wanted to focus on the energy of Autumn. The kids talked about this as a time for celebrating the harvest, eating good food, enjoying the changes in weather. We found quite a bit of animal sign on the land today, including a crow carcass. Sam, Tanner, and Lauren pieced together the story from the few remains (missing skull, but lots of vertebrae and feathers!). Looked like it may have been nabbed by an owl (barred owls are the biggest threat to crows, and we've got a pair of barred owls around our camp) and scavenged by a fox.

We followed that find up with a nice pile of red fox scat right in the center of one of our bridges. That's the 3rd time we've seen red fox scat on our bridges (foxes love to poop in the open to mark out their territory). Red fox scat also smells pretty bad. Everyone is making their "ewww, red fox scat" face (Cody, in the center, won the contest).

We ended the day by giving thanks to the birds that share their home with us one day a week. We first split into three groups and went for some long wanders. My group found an old hemlock tree that had come down. The inside was rotted out, making it the perfect size fit for a 9-year-old. Eventually we collected some pine cones to make pine cone bird feeders. A simple recipe of: 1) pine cone, 2) peanut butter, 3) bird seed. We then strung them up around at our sit spots.

We wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and we look forward to seeing you all in two short weeks!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Field School: November 8

Yesterday was cold, but we hardly noticed. The soggy ground in the alder swamp creaked and cracked as we walked over the new boardwalk our UVM interns created.

Ally, one of our Big Picture interns, took photos for us today.Once in camp we played a good game of "Stay on the log" to warm us up. Here Luke's trying to roll Sam and me off the log.

A hot fire burning hardwood logs makes for some great coals
Lauren, Matt, and Sam harvest some of the ash we felled last week
 Lauren worked on coal burning with Matt & Sam. Here they're cutting a section of white ash. They then split the log in half the long way and put hot coals on the cut surface. By blowing on the bottom of the coal, the coal transfers to the wood. By continually blowing (or holding the cup/bowl up to the wind) the wood will slowly burn (without flames) the wood down. It's a slow meditative process, perfect for cold days.

At the end of the day we made some "birds nests" as a treat. Birds nests are easy to make and fantastic to eat! We slowly melted chocolate on soapstone that we had heated up in the fire, then added a bunch of crushed up shredded wheat. While it was still hot we scooped out spoonfuls and shaped them into little nests. We topped them off with yogurt covered raisins inside the nests to look like eggs. They were absolutely delicious!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November 1 (Rabbit Rabbit)

So the answer to the mystery from last week is an opossum (our only native north american pouched friend) and a regular old domestic house cat.

 Our biggest smiles
What a remarkable difference the storm has made out at our camp. The wind seemed to take all of the leaves from the trees and the woods are about as naked as they'll be all year.

Seth and Lauren skinning the raccoon
Lauren found a road killed raccoon outside her door a few weeks ago so she, Chris, and Seth worked on skinning that today, with a lot of other folks jumping in to join them. For me, the process is always a mix of fascination and discomfort and respect for the amazing complexity of the animal.

Emmett with a keen eye for perfection
Poor Emmett's been reminding me for 3-weeks to bring gourds to Crow's Path. I finally remembered this week and we got to start the process of learning how to make bowls from gourds. Gourds, though entirely inedible, are thought to be the oldest cultivated plant in the world. Because of their thick, waterproof shells, they're perfect as bowls, canteens, containers, and cooking pots (we boiled water today by heating up soapstone in the fire and putting it into a bowl that had water in it).

 Emmett and SBHS Big Picture intern Ally working on bowls
 The process for making a bowl using a gourd is pretty straight forward.

1. Cut off the top part (this is where the stem is; the stem is porous and will leak unless sealed).
2. Clean out the insides. You can either dry scrape out the guts of the gourd (much like scraping a pumpkin clean) or soak it in water and then scrape out the guts. We used our fingernails, spoons, and hooknives to clean the insides.
3. Once it's mostly cleaned you can sand off the rest to make the inside smooth.
4. Since the gourd is inedible it gives food a bitter taste. To finish the bowl, I fill the bowl with boiling water, let it soak about 5 minutes, then dump the water out. I repeat this process until the water doesn't taste bitter (or is just slightly bitter).
5. Some people coat the inside with beeswax or another food safe finish. And that's it!

Sam proudly displaying future banjos
Sam is one of our interns from UVM. He's a fantastic musician and naturalist. Today he found a way to pursue both interests by cutting his gourd in half the opposite way to make a banjo-like instrument.

We've had a group from UVM's capstone course for seniors in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR) - NR 206 Environmental Problem Solving - working with us this semester. They redid the boardwalks through the alder swamp, built us a track box, and are working on an entrance shelter. At the end of the day we watched them chainsaw down a big white birch tree - after felling the tree we scoured it clean of birch bark for starting fires in the morning.

Fire challenge
The UVM students then helped us with a fire challenge. We set up a string about a foot and a half off the ground that the groups had to burn through by building up a fire. They started with a lit piece of birch bark. Their diligence was rewarded after about 10 minutes of retooling and reworking their strategies (it's a young group and they've got lots of practice ahead of them to really master fire building). Once the first group burned their string it was an exciting rush for the next group to get through another section. Anjay, Leo, and Tanner were particularly excited about this challenge!

And lots of gratitude to Magnus for closing our circle today with a beautiful story of his experience this summer getting to spend a few minutes watching a pair of red foxes in a moss-covered hollow.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nate performs at Crow's Path

My friend Nate, aka Gull, is an incredible musician and has played around the world. He was recently in town visiting and added some percussive flare to the morning walk in to Crow's Path. I had him go into the woods before the kids arrived and had him start playing as we walked in. We were about 100 yards away when the drums kicked in. The kids were thrilled to be greeted by his drumming. A few of us later did a blind-folded drum stalk through the woods to where Nate was playing. It was a great addition to our day!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25

Leo, the angry ninja
Today was another wonderful weather day. We started in the parking lot by creating costumes out of a huge pile of scrap fleece I came across last week in Hyde Park. Needless to say, it took longer to get into the woods than normal.

This is our 3rd year partnering with Big Picture South Burlington students. We've had some wonderful interns from their school in the past and this year we look forward to welcoming some new faces. Today Allie visited Crow's Path to see if it would be a good fit for her academic goals. Tanner, Gavin, and Myles were our Ambassadors and gave her a tour of the site. When we have guests, kids volunteer to be our ambassadors. Ambassadors make our guests feel welcome by giving them a tour, sharing stories with them, and showing them places that they should know about.  Here, they're exploring our "art gallery."

Our ambassadors show Allie around

Our guilds split up into three groups. One group went out into the meadow and harvested milkweed for making cordage. Another built shelters, but wound up working together to bring down a large white ash snag. They used teamwork to devise a pulley system that would allow them to pull down the tree in the direction they wanted while being out of harm's way. The third group went on a wander to the cliffs to look and listen for birds.

Before splitting into guilds, the group put on our forensic investigator hats and went to where we had set out the beaver carcass to check on the game cam and see what was left. Unfortunately the memory card was low on memory so we only got a few videos. I'll leave it as a mystery as to what animals we got on video and reveal it next week after everyone's gotten a chance to take their guesses.

Last spring we had some UVM students work with us to build an entrance structure and we planted gourds at the base of it. We got one fruit that's been drying. Matt harvested it this morning and will let it dry for a few weeks before turning it into a bowl.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October 11

Sam with her finished product
We split into guilds again for the morning. Lauren's guild set off to make bittersweet baskets. Through trial and error they figured out a process and at the end of the day Sam had a beautiful basket woven out of birch bark, bittersweet, and sensitive fern.

Tanner sets up the game cam while Luke shields his nose from the smell 
My guild headed off to the woods east of our camp to set up a game came with a road kill beaver I picked up on Tuesday. We put the beaver about 3' up in a red oak. We postulated it would attract fox, fisher, raccoon, and possibly coyote. We'll check the game cam in 2 weeks when we're back at camp and see if we were right.

Seth with a collection of clay babies
On our way back to camp we took the stream with the hopes of finding fossils from the Champlain Sea, which existed 10,000 years ago. We didn't find any fossils, but we did find these clay babies. These are similar to the "buttons" you find at button bay, but the form underground around decaying roots.

Up close cross section of a clay baby

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October 4

Anjay with his sword-in-progress
At the entrance to the woods
We were happy that the weather held off today until the last few minutes of the day! I find in reflecting on the day that I could write forever about all our little adventures. Instead I'll give a brief synopsis of our day with some photos I took and explanations of some of our core routines.

Gate Keeper: Each morning we gather at the edge of the woods, eagerly awaiting our own challenge. Our gatekeeper whispers a unique challenge to each kid ("See which trees are turning yellow and which are turning orange"). We then walk quietly into the woods, one at a time. The gate was built by UVM students last Spring and serves as a chance to shake off the road dust and consciously shift into "woods time."

Cody tending the fire
Fire tenders: Once we arrive at our camp, we get a fire going using friction. The kids have been super excited about getting involved and all want to help. We agreed to share this responsibility, of tending the fire, and each week we have a couple of kids that take this on. Today Cody and Seth helped out. Afterwards we asked them what they learned from the experience. "It's hard to start a fire when it's wet, but shaving off the bark of twigs is a good start!"

Welcoming guests: I had a friend visiting today and he met us out at the camp. We had two kids (Magnus & Luke) who served as our ambassadors this time. We talked about how we might make a guest feel welcome in our space and the kids suggested we give them a tour. Nate brought his drum kit and played some wonderful music for us (I'll post a video for next week). We gave the ambassadors the challenge of trying to sneak up on him first, the pat him on the shoulder to offer him a tour.

Magnus with a destroying angel we found 
Phenology: Phenology is the study of the time of different seasonal events in the natural world. Today we were focused on the mushrooms! Magnus found a destroying angel (above) and the Drawing Guild collected about a dozen different specimens. All the rain has certainly brought out a new world. We also found lots of eastern newts probably brought out of the leaf litter with all the rain. In their juvenile stage (up to 7 years long) they spend their time wandering the forest.

Red eft (juvenile Eastern newt)