Saturday, July 4, 2020

By Tony Deis, Founder

Tracking is the original education. The Tracker learns from seeing their entire environment. Yes, the study of Tracking includes secondary resources such as books and other media. Yet at its foundation is an insatiable curiosity developed through routines of observation, and by mapping the most subtle details we see in the world around us.

Tracking is a gateway to a lifetime of adventure. Education should be an adventure, and real adventure is always an education. Learning Tracking is a course of study framed through service with 3 Connections:

Family & Community
Nature & the More-Than-Human-World
Many Generations Beyond Our Lifetime

The most relevant skill to the Tracker is the art of tracking. It teaches more than how to trail and follow animals, it’s about how we see and map the world—identifying patterns through layers and details both small and grand.The education of a Tracker offers teachings in our 4 Guilds:

Rangers The study of Forest Craft, Animal Tracking & Nature Awareness.
Wilders The study of Wildcrafting, Plants, and Wilder Gardens (Horticulture).
Mariners The study of Fishing, Boating, and Ecology (with Economics).
Artisans The study of Handcraft, Storytelling, and Sociology.

The skills of each Guild are learned by going outdoors into Nature, and by applying the core awareness of a Tracker along with hands-on skills of foraging and Forest Craft in nature.

Training in the skills of our Guilds teaches the routine of always mapping what you learn, and, to a greater extent, how you learn. Ultimately, Tracking is how all humans, all our ancestors, first learned about the world. It’s a way of learning and seeing that can benefit both the children of today and many generations beyond our lifetime.

Keep On Tracking,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

At Trackers, the entire point of a day in the woods is not for our teachers to teach, but for nature to lead the way. It’s a chance to learn, as uncontained by the human world as it can be. Too often, that is not the case in the day-to-day world our kids live in.

I don’t have a problem with video games, except that I’m really bad at them. I was the kid that went over to my friend’s house, promptly died on my first turn, and watched them play for the next 2 hours… until I died again. I’m fascinated by their innovative storytelling and technical scope. I also understand many games are altruistic and educational. Nevertheless, when my 9-year-old son goes to a friend’s house and plays video games, I sometimes troll him when he returns.

Dad: Why don’t we play video games at our house?
Robin: (sighs) Because they are other human’s ideas.
Dad: Bingo! I give you 1000 power up points.

We continue the debate about how his brain is growing and patterning, and what things could influence the person he will become. I stress that I don’t mind occasional exposure, just nothing structured in a way that can lead to addiction. Please note, I find it useful for every 9 year old to be well versed in behaviorist theory and evolutionary biology, just to make such conversations practical.

My primary concern is less about the medium of games, and more about where kids spend the majority of their time learning (which they do every second). Robin and I don’t stop at his obligatory family coda (which both annoys and amuses him). We discuss how games are designed to reward a particular course of behavior, for better or worse. Eventually, he brings up the point that TV does similar things (we like our Gravity Falls) and even books are “other peoples’ ideas”. Though, of course, he recognizes none of those possess the same fully-reactive experience of video games.

But nature is a very different teacher than human-produced media. And it builds a very different kind of empathy. When you play a video game, you have to understand human thought. When you track a red fox, you’re required to address an intelligence far more foreign and less domestic. The video game programmer wants you to eventually complete their puzzle. The fox, with the entire forest and seasons that hide it, is not so generous. Social media reinforces us to always be seen—it’s how we collect our “likes” denoting approval. Meanwhile, the Pacific Wren, a small brown bird, will aggressively scold you, alarming for the rest of the forest to run away, if your presence is even mildly obtrusive to their day-to-day foraging of spiders in the sword ferns.

The best rewards in the forest, in nature, come when you are seen less—not more. The lesson learned is never narrowed to one person’s programming objective, philosophy or set of ideas. That does not mean a Tracker is unsocial or avoids learning from their human community. On the contrary, they are often far more open to new ways of thinking because most of the trails they follow are naturally open-ended and mind-blowingly subtle.

This is what I mean by kids learning with nature, and not with teachers. We are guides who keep kids safe and help them overcome any limitations they may have in following the fox. Sure, sometimes those transitions into a more wild place still looks like a program—our camps, after all, have a schedule and curriculum—but they only have enough code to bring us to the freedom of the other side.

Also, of note, my kids are much better at video games than me.

Keep On Tracking,
Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

It’s time to get dangerous. Teaching kids knife and woodcarving skills is aiding in their development and exploration, an essential part of growing up. So If you’re interested in getting your kids a knife and getting them started on this fun and empowering activity, we’ve got a few recommendations for you.

Why Carving is Appropriate for Kids

A knife is a tool, not a toy. And we all need to learn to use tools. After all, not everything will be made by Fisher Price with safety scissors. Kids will eventually encounter sharp objects, and instead of seeing it with fear, we can teach them to greet the knife as a tool that can be useful. 

Plus, wood carving is a great way to enhance kids’ manual dexterity. It teaches fine motor skills, and asks them to gain control over their extremities. It encourages hand-eye coordination. And, it’s a full body activity that requires constant focus and attention.

Finally, introducing your child to a knife does so much to demystify the fear of scary things. The more we can use “dangerous” tools like fire and knives responsibly, the more we can empower kids to be in control and remove the sense of dread. Kids get excited about doing “adult” tasks. They want to feel responsible, like we trust them. And we can trust them, if we give them tasks that have a perceived high risk and actual low risk.

So How Do We Do That?

First, we need to lay some ground rules for parents. Here are the things you should keep in mind as you get your kid started on wood carving:

  1. Supervise kids at all times. This can taper off as you notice them becoming more adept at handling and using the knife, but it’s super important to keep a vigilant eye. 
  2. Grip the knife and piece of wood with a fist, wrapping your thumb around the rest of your fingers. Think of holding ice cream cones—thumb tucked back and away so the blade never crosses any fingers. After all, no one likes thumbs in their ice cream. No thumb dies!
  3. Carve away! Seriously, away from yourself, and never in your lap. Remember that the blade is moving in one direction and remove all things in its path, including your body parts. This means yours, too, as the parent helping.

Choose Your Tool

There are so many kinds of knives out there that it begs the question of where to start. For young ones, we recommend a smaller blade with a handle that fits comfortably in their hand. We like to get kids started with the Mora 120, but any sharp and sturdy knife will do. And yes, I mean sharp. More accidents happen with a dull knife than a sharp one, as a dull knife requires more force to make a cut. A sharp knife will allow for more fluid motion as it moves through the wood. 

And Now We Carve

To get started, use only forward cuts. That means any cut moving away from your body. There are many other techniques that you can learn and grow into, but forward cuts are all you need for whittling, and allow kids to complete many projects from start to finish. 

How to Make a Cut:

  1. Pay attention to what you’re cutting. Watch the blade at all times to be aware of where it’s going. 
  2. Protect the inner and outer blood circle. That means you take care of your body (the inner circle) and other bodies in your path (the outer circle). Don’t let the blade pierce the inner or the outer blood circles. 
  3. Let the knife do the work. Take a shallow angle and don’t try to muscle through cuts. Rather, rely on the sharpness of your tool to find the correct path through the wood. When you reach a tough spot, like a knot, make smaller cuts to chip away. The less force you exert, the more control you have.

Giving a knife to your child can feel like a big step. But encouraging your kid to use tools—and teaching them to use tools properly—will instill a sense of empowerment and respect. These basics should be enough to get your child starting on a whittling project, but for more information, check out the Trackers Earth Guide to Knives and Wood Carving. So grab a knife. Get carving. 

From Jordana, Trackers Storyteller

Summer is nearly upon us, which means we’re all planning, preparing, and scheduling in order to squeeze the maximum amount of fun into time away from school. And while planning all the activities for kids means they are likely to have a blast, we recognize that this requires work from parents. So, we at Trackers want to reemphasize that the Trackers Village isn’t just for kids, it’s for you too. Our community of dedicated, compassionate educators are here to steward the next generation of thoughtful, connected individuals. And, we’ll do it together. How is the Trackers Village here for you?

Many Options for Engagement One weekend a month? One week in the summer? After school? You and your kids are busy, so join us whenever you can, during the summer, school breaks, and throughout the year. Flexible Pick Up and Drop Off – Trackers now has seven drop-off locations for summer programs, flexible early hours, and affordable after-care.

Resources & Connections Did your kid come home raving about a new skill? Are you now on the hunt for fishing holes in your area? Our staff is a wealth of information, tips, and tricks for helping your family get outside and expand on all our Trackers skills. From gear recommendations to trip ideas and everything in between, we’d love to connect you further to Portland’s awesome array of outdoor enthusiasts.

Community Events Throughout the year, Trackers offers community events, open to the public, to engage with Trackers skills. Adult Classes – Wilderness adventures aren’t just for kids. Trackers offers adult programs and classes including blacksmithing, wilderness survival, homesteading & folk crafts, instructor training, and so much more.

Most importantly, we want you to know that we are a part of your community, a part of the extended Village that is here to raise our children. Bringing your kids to Trackers is so much more than just another summer camp; it’s an investment in your children and in our community of support.

2019 Apprenticeships for Youth & Teens – Ready to Register

Apprenticeships are our year-round mentoring programs. They take place 1 weekend-a-month from September to May. Trackers staff and I truly appreciate this incredible opportunity to go beyond summer, helping kids develop greater connection to community and nature. We offer options for ages 4 to 17. This year brings a couple of new features

New Programs Along with familiar favorites such as Wilders Farm Craft, we also offer new programs exploring subjects such as Ninja Martial Arts & Forest Parkour and Photography. Also, Outdoor Leadership for Hiking, Boating & Climbing now has a single day option for all ages along with the popular overnight session. See below for a list of all programs…

More Space Quickly growing into one of our most popular programs, Apprenticeships had a waitlist of over 250 students last year. Because of this interest, we have expanded our capacity for each weekend. While we cannot guarantee there will not be another waitlist, we want to share this experience with more children, teens, and their families.

New Facilities We are excited to open our new Arts & Crafts Annex—only 5 blocks from our HQ. This newly remodeled learning studio features a dedicated classroom for Ceramics and Woodworking, along with one of the largest Blacksmithing Shops on the west coast. Plus, as Blacksmithing gets its own location, our indoor Archery range will expand.

Why Apprentice?

Finally, I want to talk about how our Apprenticeship programs can help support the families we serve by reflecting on my experiences with my own children in the program.

Friend Connections I have seen kids in Apprenticeships become part of a team and much more. My own kids have discovered lasting friendships through sharing these adventures. Many Apprentices return year after year.

Skills & Nature Connection Each Apprenticeship offers its own set of skills, but they also are an immersion that connects kids to natural world. As kids explore the outdoors and traditional crafts, they learn life lessons of resilience, thoughtfulness, and mutual respect.

Leadership & Mentoring Our long term goal is to cultivate leadership skills for community and stewardship. Our most experienced educators mentor students to take ownership of their own learning.

Remember to register soon if you plan on joining us. As always, feel free to email me with any questions about how we can best care for and support your family—replying to this email goes directly to me! We can also meet in person at our Portland Camp Fair this Saturday on April 20, 2019.

See you in the woods,

Molly Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

 

Find your Apprenticeship!

An extended community is crucial to raising children. As a parent, I’ve experienced the need for support from family, neighbors, and educators. Our children grow by learning from many different mentors. Tony and I started Trackers Earth in 2004 with a common purpose:

Greater connection to community, nature, our heritage, and future.

It is our community of teachers that makes Trackers special. Many camp programs only hire instructors for summer, which limits who can teach for them. Yet, along with a fantastic seasonal staff, we work to create an educational network that employs more and more teachers throughout the year. As a result, our Village of educators brings experience and responsibility to the journey of helping to raise our children.

A Village thrives through reciprocity: getting support and giving support. Since our founding, so many parents and students have supported us, spreading the word and growing Trackers into one of the largest outdoor programs in Oregon and beyond. In turn, our teachers and I promise to work every day to fulfill that community promise towards greater connection for all generations and the future.

Thank you and see you in the forest,

Molly
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

Wilderness survival, archery, blacksmithing, kayak building, fishing, or animal tracking! Students come to Trackers to learn skills forgotten or ignored in modern life. They feel compelled to engage with the primal physical world, not a digital representation of it.

These hands-on skills bring mental puzzles. You carve wood that doesn’t have perfect grain. You make a fire in wet conditions. Crafting leads to craftiness—a capacity for thoughtful strategy to navigate a complex world. Even more important is that the deer is not a coded object in an online game. As you track the doe, she forces you to understand that she too has a passion to live, breathe, and survive.

This all leads to the “invisible skill” of Trackers—our version of Outdoor Leadership. We teach a means of community stewardship that has existed since humans first walked the planet. At Trackers, the best leaders are actual “trackers”—individuals who deftly listen to the land they care for and the people they serve.

This ability is not gained just by following a textbook or teacher. Each student needs challenges that only the diversity of nature and forest craft can bring about. I know excellent leaders who are accomplished at negotiating the human world, but it is a rare leader whose personal intelligence also extends into the more-than-human world. Such individuals are guided by a radical awareness and profound empathy.

At Trackers, this version of Outdoor Leadership makes our courses and community greater than the sum of the skills we teach. Yet it is often invisible, threaded through the ongoing experiences of our students and families.

After much internal conversation at Trackers, we realize we need to do even more to nurture this “invisible skill” in our future leaders, the younger members of our community. Over the next year, the majority of our teen mentoring programs will feature a greater emphasis on Outdoor Leadership training.

Central to many upcoming courses is a dialogue with our Apprentices that addresses these deeper qualities of Outdoor Leadership. This includes our Rangers, Wilders, Mariners, Artisans, and Archery apprenticeships, along with our Homeschool Outdoor and After School programs for middle and high school age students.

Our goal is to foster the next generation of teachers and leaders for Trackers and beyond. We seek to grow a community through awareness, empathy, and strategies for equity. We hope to show our Teen Apprentices how tracking the deer leads us all to greater care for our shared village and the Earth on which we live.

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth, Founder

Happy New Year!

Our work moves in seasonal cycles. We recently finished up our Winter Break Camps (you can check out the photos here). Here are some events the Trackers Family is looking forward to in the coming year.

In 2017 the first Kindergarten Class of the Trackers Forest School will graduate and this September will feature both Grade K and 1. We are also adding something truly unique—an Outdoor Middle School (Grades 6-7). We follow an interdisciplinary approach and combine real-world skills with academic excellence. This is an exciting new direction in education for ourselves and our community.

But never fear: Our award-winning Summer Camps will return for their 12th year! Along with old favorites, we have crafted new themes for older campers such as pottery, rock climbing, and mobile overnights.

The summer program that has our educators most excited? The Tracking Through Time Traveling Roadshow: Solar Eclipse Edition. Campers traverse seven states in the American West, tracking wolves and antelope, checking out ancient cliff dwellings, and following 190 million-year-old fossilized dinosaur footprints. In Casper Mountain, Wyoming they will witness a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event—total eclipse of the Sun!

Finally, building upon our Guide to Knives & Woodcarving, Trackers Books will launch new field guides for kids that include archery, animal tracking, navigation, and fishing. All part of our ultimate mission to empower children and their families to make forest craft an integral part of their lives.

It’s been a busy year and this is only a short summary of what’s to come. I look forward to seeing you all at camp, school, homeschool, and other programs. I am grateful and excited to be on this journey with our incredible staff, students, and all the families we serve.

Thank you,
Molly Deis
Trackers Founder & Mom
Wilders Guild

 

Stand tall. The wild teaches us this. There are moments when we are cold and wet, when we desperately need fire or shelter. When we feel miserable. Instead of curling up, fearing that we lack those things, we must stand tall with the trees. Finding fire from the cedar and shelter from the oak leaves. Crafting both with our resilience.

It’s a lesson I often forget, and I’m grateful to nature which teaches it to me again and again. Yet when my kids were born, standing tall became a greater challenge. I no longer feared just for myself, I hoped and feared for them. All parents have times when we are afraid. In those moments we cannot curl up and disappear through fear. We must stand tall and be role models for resilience.

In my 24 years of teaching, I’ve seen how children naturally seek fire and shelter when they’re in the wilderness. This innate resilience is born of their enthusiasm to survive and thrive with the wild.

It is okay for our children to see us vulnerable. In fact, they should see us sad and even afraid. It lets our kids know these feelings are healthy and that we trust them. It is critical, however, that they witness our resilience through these feelings. Build that fire. Make that shelter. Stand up.

With our children’s inspiration and Nature reminding us, together we will remember how to stand tall through all the challenges we face.