Sunday, December 22, 2013

A few pictures from the Fall session

This is what muscle wood looks like!!!

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We can't wait to see you all in the Spring!  Happy winter solstice!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Zip lining grey squirrels!

Our good friend Kindle who has been coming out to the field school on Tuesday sent us this amazing video of a zip-lining squirrel at her home in Blue Hill, Maine.  People have been trying for as long as bird feeders have been around to find ways of outsmarting the squirrels who come to eat the bird seed.  Kindle's family nearly outsmarted them by tying the bird feeder up in the trees with nothing for the squirrel to climb up, until this one brilliant squirrel figured out how to use the cord as a zip line!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pottery, newborn nests, and a new shelter!

The level of creativity at the field school has been incredible this week!  Maybe something about the cold weather helps us to focus on crafts and projects, but it has been amazing to see all the spoons, clay mugs, fire-by-friction sets, rabbit taxidermy, wooden swords, stories, dream catchers, and sacred gardens that have been created lately.  We also have one big new creation out at Crow's Path... a new structure for our main camp!
The good man Fisher admires the beautiful frame that we will be calling home from now on.

Many, many thanks to the students from the UVM Environmental Problem Solving class that built this beautiful structure for us as part of their final project!  All the wood for the new structure was harvested from the land in an area that was going to be cleared to be maintained as meadow, so we are so grateful that all the years of sunlight and growth the trees put into their wood are now being used to provide us with shelter.  

Another one of our amazing community partners, the Rock Point School, recently asked us if we'd like to join them in pit firing a bunch of pottery with their ceramics class, so we got busy making mugs, bowls, and a theatrical cyclops monster (thanks to Anjay) out of clay.  

And our last piece of excitement for the week is that our good friend and Crow's Path mentor Mo Bissonette is having a baby!  Mo was gone from field school on Friday preparing for his newborn to arrive, so we took part of the day to prepare a bunch of little nests in honor of Mo's baby entering the world.  

We are so excited for Mo and we're sending him a ton of love and support as he steps into the role of fatherhood!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween at Crow's Path!

Halloween is one of our favorite holidays out at the field school, and is the perfect time to celebrate the changing seasons.  We're about half way between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, and the changes out on the land are starting to feel a lot more like winter than fall.  We started the Halloween week off with a Halloween overnight that celebrated our ancestors who have passed on and this joyful time of harvest.  The Halloween feeling kept rolling all week, with some kids coming out in costume, and lots of candy being shared!
Our Wednesday group got to carve a giant pumpkin that our good friend Chuck donated from his garden.  We decided it would make the perfect head for our headless scarecrow, so we put it on and our good friend Lenny was born.  He is kind of like the Frosty the snowman of Halloween and is now helping to welcome everybody to our gateway into Crow's Path.
 Anjay, Beaven, and Lola were actually able to fit their entire head inside the pumpkin, just to make sure that we hadn't forgotten any of the pumpkin seeds that we'll be roasting.
Anjay shows off his new knife made from the beautiful buckthorn tree.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ryder's Animal "Trap"

The following post was dictated to me by Ryder (9, Champlain Elementary):

Two weeks ago, I made un animales trap. At first I dug a 12" deep hole in the ground. Then I put acorns and beech nuts in it and covered it with moss. It was supposed to catch squirrels but we got a lot of other things too. I learned how to set up the game cam and put it in certain spots you're most likely to get different animals. To get raccoons we would put the camera down by Brick's Brook. I was surprised that I got more things than just squirrels, like skunks and grackles.

In the videos, the squirrels stole the acorns. They put them in their little mouths and ran away with them. They then bury the acorns in the ground to eat later. Enjoy the videos!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

October sunshine!

The sunshine just keeps pouring down on us this month!  We've taken advantage of these sunny days to take long wanders on the land and build things with our hands before the harsh winter cold forces us into our mittens and gloves for a while.  Lauren's guilds have been busy making fire by friction kits and gorgeous cattail weavings from the cattail marsh near Fred's Beach, while the rest of us have been building miniature bows and catapults to launch the abundance of acorns that are falling to the forest floor this year.  It is a huge mast year for red oaks and we've been busy collecting the acorns just as feverishly as the squirrels have been.  We're planning on making acorn flour with all we've collected, and hopefully we'll be able to make some bread sticks and pancakes with it out at the field school soon.
Beaven climbed inside the giant coppiced red oak in the Pine Bird Forest that is dropping tons of acorns right now.
Graham grabbing some sticks to work on his gnome home with.  On Friday we built a ton of little structures and then built catapults with the buckthorn that was so prevalent in the area and proceeded to demolish our structures with acorns launched from our catapults. 
Leo takes aim!

The sunny skies don't feel like Fall but the changing colors in the canopy remind us that winter is right around the corner, so we've also been busy harvesting medicine like burdock and dandelion root that will nourish us this coming winter.  Signs of the harvest are all around, from acorns falling on our heads, to the abundance of apples being roasted at the morning fire.  What a sweet time October is out at Crow's Path!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Game with Friday Field School

The frantic energy of squirrels in the fall

While out on a wander a few weeks ago, my Guild noticed a well-worn trail. We got into tracking mode and looked for any signs we could to determine what species used the trail. We found a spot with fresh urine marking it (smelled like sweet pine needles, indicating it's an herbivore). We followed the trail uphill and found an trance to a burrow. We speculated about who lived in it and looked for hairs around the entrance and fresh footprints. The entrance had exposed sand so we thought it might be active. We guessed woodchuck.

Raccoons investigating our game cam!

Not surprisingly, during the day most of our videos were of squirrels. One of the coolest parts of the squirrel videos was watching them bury red oak acorns and bitternut hickory seeds. They then pad up the ground to hide their tracks. During the night we got lots of videos of raccoons (above) and a bunch of skunks. The squirrels seemed to avoid the trail, while the skunk and raccoons (there are at least 2 raccoons) stayed along the trail pretty faithfully. We'll be setting the game cam again this week and this time baiting it to see what changes we can observe. 

Skunk caught on the game cam

Monday, September 16, 2013

Second week

The finished fire circle
The weather seemed extra fidgety last week, with temperatures soaring into the high 80s, epic thunderstorms, and lots of rain. This time of year summer always seems to try a little extra hard to hold its grip. But as the apples begin to fall we know winter is rapidly approach. 

The weather didn't dampen the high spirits this week. One of my highlights was an impromptu clean-up session on Tuesday. Cooper wanted to get a fire started at our lunch spot so we wound up cleaning up the fire pit behind Chuck's house (Chuck is the property manager).

When we started, the fire pit was barely visible - overgrown with jewelweed, golden rod, and grasses. The kids grabbed rakes, clippers, and pruners and got to work making the space look immaculate. We fixed up the benches, got a fire going, and had our closing circle at our new fire ring. It was beautiful to watch the progress. At one point one of the other kids came over and asked, "Why are you doing chores?" to which Hazel responded: "They're not chores if you're having fun!"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

First week back at the field school!

The Crow's Path field school has finally begun its Fall session, and it has been a whirlwind of excitement!  We now have three full days of field school and it has been exciting to see so many new faces along with all our old friends.  We spent this first week getting ourselves oriented to the land and getting a taste of Rock Point.  For some of us it was the first time exploring this landscape and for others it was a refreshing reminder of the beauty and wildness that this land holds for us to explore all year.  We created a scavenger hunt that led each group to different areas of Rock Point, with creative clues such as, "Lauren lost her song blouse, so she asked the strong mouse, who took her to the wrong grouse, who then directed them to the.... (long house)!"  But it didn't take very long before the magnetic pull of Lake Champlain drew us to its waters, and mud fights soon ensued.
Mud-Monster Miles found a pit of deliciously goopy wet clay and was immediately spreading the joy of mud fights on a summer day with anybody he could find.  

I think part of the appeal of mud fights on these sunny days is our ability to jump right back in the lake and watch a trail of mud spread from our bodies underwater.  After one of the best mud fights in recent memory Cody was ready to jump in the lake and wash off before it's time to go home.
New friends share in the joy of pure clay on a sunny day!
And of course, it wouldn't be a day on the beach at Crow's Path if we didn't build at least one flaming birch bark boat.  I was trying to get the soon-to-be-flaming "sail" to stick into the ship when Matt and Isaac had the great idea of using the nearby clay to hold it secure.  It worked perfectly and the boat had a long flaming journey out into the lake.  
When we weren't enjoying these last days of summer down by the water some of us were sipping on sumac-aide, exploring sea caves, smelling sweet fern, eating blackberries, identifying poison ivy, playing camouflage, gathering acorns, singing songs, or creating fires.  
We had such a great time being back out on the land with so many new and old faces and it is sure to be another amazing session at Crow's Path.  It's so amazing to watch the Crow's Path community grow and we're bubbling over with excitement at what this season holds for us!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Storming the castle!

Last Saturday night, quite a few of us gathered at Salmon Hole to paddle the Winooski River. We were, in total, 19 people and 8 boats. The Winooski River is one of my favorite things/places and it was with great excitement that I was able to share that with so many other people. We put in around dusk and enjoyed the quite brisk current that floated us gently downstream. The water was higher than last week when I paddled that stretch by a few inches. Also visible was the silt deposits on plants along the shoreline about 2' higher than the water.

As the sun sank into the western sky we watched it paint delicate colors of pink and orange on the retreating clouds. The stars soon came out and brought with them a raucous chorus of treefrogs, bullfrogs, green frogs, and American toads. Also out in force along the way were an abundance of beavers. With visibility so low due to all the sediments in the water it's a wonder how they navigate under water. I guess this was partly resolved when one slapped near the boat my sister and I were in. It dipped under the water and a few seconds later emerged under our boat! It bonked its head and startled us probably as much as it startled itself!

I got to paddle over the breakwall in downtown Burlington again as the lake has exceeded flood levels ( It's already started to drop given the dry conditions.

To be included on the mailing list to find out about events like this and other nature-based events (like trips to Mt Philo in early September to see the hawk migration in action), you can sign up here: Naturalist Guild

Monday, June 3, 2013

Vermont 4000' Trip

Over the past 8 days I co-led an 8-day journey inspired by the adventures of some of the greatest naturalists from the past couple of centuries, particularly John Muir, Mark Twain, and Charles Darwin. Our journey began where Rte 15 intersects the Long Trail in Johnson. We climbed 4000 feet along the spine of the Green Mountains, postholing through 2 feet of snow at Mt Mansfield's peak and then drifting back down into the Winooski River Valley where we picked up our canoes and paddled our way to Lake Champlain. The trip covers about 85 miles of river and trail and traverses a wide variety of habitats and natural communities. We kept a list of wildlife species along the way, amassing a somewhat impressive list. As we're at the tail end of the migratory season for birds, we emphasized this taxon. At the end of the trip we had seen and/or heard 75 different species of birds (organized below by rough habitat description). Not bad!

Forest edge
  • Catbird
  • crow
  • robin
  • common yellowthroat
  • chestnut-sided warbler
  • turkey vulture

Mixed-hardwoods, lower elevation
  • Ovenbird
  • black-throated blue warbler
  • blue jay
  • winter wren
  • raven
  • mallard
  • black-capped chickadee
  • red-eyed vireo
  • hairy woodpecker
  • black-throated green warbler
  • white-throated sparrow

  • blackpoll warbler
  • red-breasted nuthatch
  • dark-eyed junco
  • hermit thrush
  • wood thrush
  • Bicknell's thrush
  • ruffed grouse
  • yellow rumped warbler
  • pileated woodpecker

River above Essex
  • song sparrow
  • Canada goose
  • veery
  • black & white warbler
  • belted kingfisher
  • turkey
  • bank swallow
  • osprey
  • cedar waxwing
  • American redstart
  • Baltimore oriole
  • kingbird
  • common merganser
  • bald eagle
  • red-winged blackbird
  • chimney swift
  • pigeon
  • mourning dove
  • common grackle
  • downy woodpecker
  • warbling vireo
  • yellow warbler
  • great blue heron 
  • ring-billed gull

River below Essex
  • titmouse
  • woodcock
  • indigo bunting
  • cardinal
  • double-crested cormorant
  • brant!! (first for me)
  • broad-winged hawk
  • wood pewee 
  • red-bellied woodpecker
  • barn swallow
  • eastern phoebe
  • great egret
  • starling
  • red-tailed hawk
  • wood duck
  • Cooper's hawk
  • spotted sandpiper
  • cliff swallow
  • blue gray gnatcatcher (first for me)
  • northern flicker
  • greater black-backed gull
  • common tern

Urban species
  • American goldfinch
  • house finch
  • house sparrow

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Some of my students from previous classes I've taught at UVM worked together for a sustainability education course and created a beautiful video for us. Hopefully it helps put our pedagogy in context and make some sense out of the apparent wildness of the program! In the future I hope to include more voices - the kids, the parents, the other staff, volunteers, and others involved in the program. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Raft building

Sorry for the long delay in posting. I haven't brought my camera in a while and so took a break from posting. Last week on Wednesday we took advantage of the warm weather to spend some time out at the lake. Beaven and Olin had been talking about building a raft so a few of us headed to Mink Bay and started construction on our driftwood raft. It's not yet done, but it floats and holds about 4 kids right now. It was a great project where we learned some new knots for lashing logs together while feeling chill of the water against our feet.

We've also been bringing instruments more and more this session. The kids have loved messing around with the guitar and mandolin. Her Fisher's looking like Sid Vicious rocking out on the guitar. Sam tuned the guitar to open tuning so anything they play sounds like gold. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rattle Making

Alicia Daniel joined the Earth Skills Seminar for the last 3 weeks to share with us the beautiful process of making rattles. It was great to see her bring so much thought and care to the process of creation. And this was so clearly reflected in the rattles everyone produced - each a reflection of our unique personalities. We've also been working on making gourd bowls and next week will finish some as of yet unfinished projects and begin work on spoons. It seems like the return of sun and warmth to the land has brought with it a renewed excitement to be physical, to use our hands, to dig into the earth, harden calluses, and build up a sweat. Goodbye knitting season and welcome the season of plenty!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Still sugaring

Last week we were in Rock Point's sugar shack helping with their boiling operation. This week we got the first significant flow on our birch bucket. Here, Emmett's checking out the sapscicle on our striped maple tap. The sapscicle was super sweet and delicious. With our Wednesday group we boiled down some of our syrup and made conifer tea using hemlock, pine, and cedar, flavoring with a touch of sumac. Delicious!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Winter music

I won't be posting new photos this week as I spent far too long editing together this "music" video from last week. The sound didn't come out all that well. The mic on my camera isn't the best and seemed to pick up the sounds of the kids in the background better than the guitar and harmonica right next to me. Anyways, I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Quinzhees and a beautiful day

We started our day with a good game of Voles! Voles! Run For Your Lives! Here Fisher dives for some food. Rules: The game is best played in deep snow. Carve out a big circle with a small circle in the middle. "Tunnels" go from the middle to the outside. Along the outside ring there are sticks, which are the voles' food source. There are also foxes on the outside ring that are waiting to hunt voles that leave the safety of the subnivean zone. Voles have to get all the food back to the middle while the foxes try to eat them.

Today was one of the most beautiful days ever! We actually decided, democratically of course, that it was indeed the most beautiful day of all time. The fresh snow and baby blue sky were just glowing in concert. The pines seemed extra green and the birds were happy to be out (we spotted a merlin this morning). We celebrated the perfect day with lots of music - Ari brought his harmonica and I brought out a guitar that Sam and Nathan passed back and forth. The snow had covered our tepee style hut with a great new roof. By mid-day the clear skies had clouded over and we journeyed with our rickshaw north to the home of old man winter, who decided to give us another wondrous dusting of snow.

My guild focused on snow shelters. Led by lead foreman Emmett, we built an amazing quinzhee that could comfortably sit 6 of us. I've spent many nights in many different quinzhees, and this was easily one of the most spacious ones I've enjoyed.

Auggie and Margo inside of the quinzhee

Steps to build a quinzhee:

  • Pile up a huge amount of snow (this is where energetic kids come in handy)
  • Let it sinter (a process where the snow grains fuse together, unnecessary in 33+ degree weather where the snow melts and refreezes together when you scoop it up)
  • Hollow it out
    • Usually I put sticks about a foot long in to the snow pile to make sure that when I hollow it out I don't make a part of the wall too thin. We had enough snow that we didn't have to do this
    • We also didn't raise the floor of the shelter. Cold air drains out so you want your entrance to be lower than the floor

Lauren's guild had headed down to the lake to make pillows stuffed with cattail fluff. Beaven's been so excited about fire-by-friction and Lauren spent some time working with her. Below they're going tandem to get a coal using a beautiful bow that Lauren carved.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Balancing acts and splitting wood

We had a wonderful week with the cold weather and rainstorm. Lauren's guild made little pillows and filled them with cattail fluff and lavender. On their wander down to the cattail marsh they found a nearly complete skeleton of a buck. At the end of each day we finish with story time. Kids share highlights from the day and the staff then asks them follow up questions to get them to dig deeper with their experiences. Isa and I were doing some forensics and deduced that the buck had died of starvation sometime in the fall. Its molars were totally worn down, and as deer rely heavily on their ability to break down food that's hard to digest by chewing it, having well-worn molars doesn't bode well for a deer's ability to get enough calories into its system. They found most of the bones but didn't find either of the lower jaw bones. 

The kids love cooking pretty much everything over a fire. We had some soapstone laying around, which holds heat really well (which is why they top woodstoves with it). We use it as a "skillet". After heating it you can warm up food really well on it. Ty was cooking quesadillas, then others starting cooking strawberries, grapes, cookies, and pretty much anything else edible. We'll be working with soapstone down the road to make skillets, carvings, and other stone projects.

My guild on Wednesday was "using dangerous tools safely." To teach the basics of using splitting wedges, axes, hatchets, and knives, we went to Chuck's house (he's the property manager) to split wood. Fish came out for the day and gave us a great demo on how to split wood. We first split the large rounds (whole sections of a tree's trunk) into halves with a sledgehammer and wedges. We used an ax to split these into quarters, a hatchet to split it into smaller sections, and a knife to split it into kindling. 

We took some of the smaller sections of white ash we had split and learned some of the basics of carving! Ty and August are working here on making little wooden knives.

Nathan and Mo (above right) got a balancing game going. They staked a sapling in the ground then added more and more branches to it. Pretty soon they had an audience and more participants. Below, basswood buds are starting to swell as the tree gets ready to leaf out. A few years back, my friend Emily Stone told me that the buds resembled a mouse wearing a motorcycle helmet. In the closeup I can definitely see that. 

Mouse wearing a motorcycle helmetEating basswood buds