The Short-tailed Weasels met at Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve for a day of exploration and working on carving skills. They circled up in the parking lot as the rain poured down and saturating everything, including our rain layers. After revisiting our three group commitments we made a plan for the day: hike to the waterfall and spend some time exploring for amphibians, then connect with the main logging road to harvest some of the Vine Maple from the brush cutting that had been done to maintain the width of the road. We would be able to make some excellent tend pegs and digging sticks from the strong and dense Vine Maple hardwood.
Looking around the circle the boys were clearly ready to retreat under the shelter of the forest canopy. Hiking along the signs of spring were all around, a full spectrum of the color green engulfed the forest. Salmonberry flowers were in peak bloom and the Cottonwood leaves were beginning to sprout, sending their sweet aroma into the air. As a mentoring strategy we try to highlight these seasonal changes for the boys so they can begin to recognize the signs of changing seasons. Drawing connections to exploring in the pouring rain and its ability to transform the forest has proven to lighten the Explorers hearts in the toughest of conditions. Two Explorer Club mottos come to mind in these moments attitude of gratitude and all things are connected.
Hiking up to the lookout above the falls the boys were anxious to explore the creek below it. One of the mentors scouted a deer trail and came back to the group with some beta. Lookout Mountain Falls runs through a very steep arroyo with easily impacted valley walls. With fourteen pairs of feet scrapping and sliding down to the creek we would be sure to cause some erosion and negative impact to the creeks ecosystem. Together we talked about some of the organisms and plants that might be affected by this impact. The mentor went on to explain that a path down to the falls next to the lookout had been closed for this very reason and that Whatcom County parks was currently trying to mitigate and manage this impact.
After roughly half an hour of scouting we found a low incline way down to the creek and were able to navigate it while causing minimal erosion. Along the way down we came across special flower called Trillium. The boys were told to watch their feet so they did not step on any because a trillium can take up to ten years to produce its first flower and seed. The flowers are common in the forest, but important in the ecosystem for pollinators and ants that eat off the seeds before discarding them and dispersing them in the process.
Hiking up the creek most of the boys were careful to protect their dry layers, while the rest carelessly overtopped their boots and drenched their under layers, losing their footing on the wet rocks. Standing a safe distance away from the 50-foot falls the views were breathtaking. The Explorers really enjoyed feeling the mist coming off the rocks and the sound of the crashing water that filled the arroyo.
One of the boys in the group brought a gold pan with him and finding a nice bank of sediment he taught the group to pan, they even found a few gold flecks! It was powerful to witness the boys connecting with a skill that has a deep history in the Pacific Northwest. Sensing we were at critical mass, as we were starting to get a little cold and in need of calories, we safely navigated our way back to the trail and climbed the switch backs until we found a lunch spot above the falls.
After lunch morale was low and the group looked cold. Playing a couple of rounds of hide to get us moving we circled back up to assess the plan we had come up with earlier. Through some excellent group decision-making facilitation the leader of the day helped the group amend their plan. The boys felt that sitting down to carve when it was pouring rain, with the group already cold, wouldn’t be a smart choice. They thought it was better to stay moving for the rest of the outing as a way to stay warm. The mentors made sure to point out to the group the wisdom in their decision and that it was okay to amend a plan based off of change in environmental conditions and what the group needed in the moment. They also reminded those who had not done as good of a job protecting their dry layers in the creek of the importance of thinking through decisions and acting preventatively.
Hiking along the vast wetland the boys searched for Pacific Chorus frogs and Salamanders, but the day proved to be a little too chilly for these cold-blooded amphibians to be out and about. After some exploration the boys started to again present the lethargic sort of ‘kicking around’ behavior that happens when morale is low and the rainy day starts to get to you. At this point the mentors knew they needed to intervene with a game. After playing a few rounds of Where My Egg? the group's spirit started to rise and they began to warm up.
Once each boy had a Vine Maple Rabbit Stick that fit well in their hands and was relatively easy to throw we went over our safety rules. Don’t throw when anyone is in front of you, have a clear line of slight for the entire distance you are throwing, be out in the open such as a field or logging road, and only use it for practice; because the Short-tailed Weasels are not prepared to properly harvest a small mammal or bird as well as not ready to make the decision of whether or not they would want to.
Setting up a small Rabbit Stick range we practiced our aim until it was time to circle up for a closing meeting and a round of thanks.
This outing was challenging for the group and they persevered. Some powers for the mentors from this outing was the boys ability to safely explore by the waterfall, the ability for games and activities to redirect us and change our attitudes, and for the heightened level of group decision-making that these Explorers showed. Checking in on our three group commitments before heading out the boys felt that they did a great job encouraging the hearts of their fellow explorers and being present, but needed to work a little bit on not wasting anyone’s time by being more focused in our circles.
The mentors reminded the group of their need to be responsible with Rabbit Sticks the same as we expect them to be responsible with their knives, using them as tools not weapons.
For more pictures please visit the Short-tailed Weasels’ photo album from the outing.