Archive for September, 2008

This week the pioneers learned about candles. In order to make candles the old way…. over a fire pit….. a fire pit must be made! These Pioneers made one of the best yet…

The masons brought all the stone in and layed a sturdy border, with two flat stone oven sides, where coals could be raked under the platform. The water carriers brought up water for the project and for safety, checking for good, clean flowing water. The log rollers made seating for all, wedged by stones and small wood anchors for stability. Everyone went to collect dry firewood, and sorted it into sizes.

We learned about the three stages of tinder needed for an effective one-match fire. For this fire we used red cedar bark ‘fur’, cattail fluff, and birch bark. Then, a strategic tipi of kindling and sticks was made around the tinder, before the match was struck. See the little ‘doorway’?

The candle wax was melted and poured successfully, and the finishing touch rendered beautifully:

The bayberry wax went on as the final layer to the candles, creating an Autumnal aroma for everyone. Now, the longer nights of winter will be well lit for supper and good storytelling!


What about the Scouts, you might ask? Well, it sure is hard to get me and my camera to be in all places at once, but Melissa and Joe reported a day of survival training…… deep in the woods they had crashed from a plane, and were left to survive on their own….. what should they do first?

The Souts learned the order of survival…. from creating a shelter, finding tinder and fuel for a fire, and how to purify water for drinking by boiling or using rocks. With the most critical aspects covered, they could tell stories, journal, and think about their next task: food! They hunted down some nutritious wood sorrel before stamping the day “to be continued”…….

Higher up on the trail, were the Wildernes Challenge group. This week they were faced with some serious teamwork initiatives, forcing them to think critically and as a unit. Two types of shelter were constructed during the day, with minimal materials. Shelter is so important and can be easily overlooked this time of year, when the warm days do not tell of the cold nights ahead, and poor judgements can be made.

On the way back, each student was to bear a different disability. As a team, they had everything they would need, and so the challenge was in service of the whole as greater than the sum of the parts… as the old proverb goes….

Friday was wonderful. The MicroScouts measured water level, read animal stories, played games, and drew in their journals.

The Jr Naturalists spent this rainy day preparing wild medicinal teas and studying roots. They simmered Sassafras root, infused spicebush berries, cold-soaked smooth sumac, and prepared ginger fennel syrup. We looked at root structures, and sang a wonderful bamboo song. The Jr. Naturalists are gaining some significant strengths in gathering detail, logging in their journals, and using indexes successfully. Their teamwork is also very good!

Oh! And Sage got stung by the most amazing caterpillar……

A Saddleback …. one of the most venomous caterpillars in Connecticut. Also adept at camouflage, considering it wouldn’t show up on my camera until contrasted to Ethan’s watch! Cool little crawly!

See you all soon……


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Good Hard Skills

As romantic a notion it is… this idea of living of the land, doing things as they used to, and tribal or Pioneer living, it is easy to theorize that the simplistic is ‘easy’. Nothing brings us back to reality like good old fashioned hard labor. An invisible but visceral experience of achievement can be much greater for a hard earned, small, Black Ash Basket, than a frustrating exchange of unloved work for a full shopping bag. This group spent most of the day rendering perfect strips of basket material, from hand made Oak and Hickory clubs, and I have to say they have a good stock of elbow grease. Interwoven (no pun intended) through the day was a plant mission, a blindfold drumstalk, grinding of Spicebush berries, journaling, dramatic storytelling, and plenty of teamwork.

For those of you who share my passion for plants, you may enjoy this link on Black Ash. One amazing tree!


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The Apple press, that is!

Autumn for nature enthusiasts and New Englanders alike usually elicits the insatiable desire to harvest. Since Great Hollow is a former apple orchard, it is a fitting theme for Pioneer living, and a great springboard for the study of many things; fruit, trees, winter food storage, and little fruit eating critters found in the middle of apples.

Despite the years passed between now and the days when the root cellar and cider barrels were full, the apples fresh from the trees are crunchy and amazingly sweet. The collecting of apples is no small task as well…. requiring many upreaching arms and basket hauling teamwork. Ethan’s homemade apple press worked it’s magic and everyone enjoyed fresh cups of juice.

Something interesting you may or may not know about apples, is that they are related to some more of our favorite plants: roses, strawberries, raspberries, peaches and cherries! They are all a part of a larger plant family we call the Rosaceae family. The members of this family all share the same numerical pattern of flowers… five petals and numerous stamens. The leaves usually come in odd numbers with one or two pairs of leaflets and a lone leaf at the tip.

On Friday, the Jr. Naturalists continued branching out on apples, along with the other activities they did such as birdwatching, a root study, hearing a wonderful story about Cicadas from Whendi, and making a track trap. (try saying that 5 x fast!)

From a handout coming next week, here are a few quick apple facts:

~The Pilgrims planted the first apple trees in their colony

~Apple trees take 4-5 years to produce fruit

~An average tree can fill 20 boxes that weigh 42 pounds when harvested

~Americans eat 19.6 pounds or about 65 fresh apples a year

~25% of an apple is air

~The largest apple picked weighed 3 pounds

~It takes the energy of 50 leaves to produce one apple

~One of George Washington’s hobbies was pruning his apple trees

~Apples ripen six times faster in room temperature than in the refrigerator


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~and moving right along… into the brush, is the not so sneaky coordinator out to snap a couple photos of the Wilderness Challenge….

I heard it was an invigorating day!

On Friday, the MicroScouts also had their first day. They were all so cute at lunchtime, circled around drawing in their journals. They day was infused with imagination and wonder, as treasures were uncovered in the forest during a long hike almost to the waterfall. Monarch and Viceroy was the game of the day, proving just how clever a viceroy can be, and how nature creates ingenious ways of keeping her critters alive.

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Ahh yess……. back at the hollow……

We are stepping into the new semester with fruiting ideas and energy, in tandem with the ripe concords, the juicy Russian Olives, and crisp heirloom apples. The breeze whispers invisible lessons of growth, discovery and ancient ways of walking the land.

Within half an hour they were no where to be seen….. traces in the barn of supplies collected, a walkie talkie brought, the pencil box opened and wrappers peeled back from a fresh package of moleskine journals. With hillsides rich in diversity, there wasn’t a chance of missing something astonishing. Stored in the mentors minds are basketfulls of questions and clues just ready …. open to the learning that unearths at any moment. Multiple animal tracks and traces were found and recorded, plants were identified and gathered, and teamwork was practised and tested. A first day foundation is built.

……………..”Cue the music”………..welcome Melissa!

Personally, I can’t help but hear the Allman Brothers’ “Sweet Melissa” when I see her. A bright, shining light of wonder and cheer, Melissa brings us a background in education but a present moment of openness and excitement. Let’s just say Melissa and Ethan are both very lucky – not to mention us!

OK – this really goes without any special narration. Just a goofy celebration of a great first day!

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Hi! My name is Dave Schneiderbeck, and I will be leading this years Wilderness Challenge program at Great Hollow. I’m 38, and have lived in the area since 1982, first in New Fairfield, and after college, Sherman. I currently own and have run Rizzos Garage in the center of Sherman for the past eleven years.  

Besides having played outside in the woods most of life, I am also an accomplished mountain bike racer, rock climber, swimmer, and canoeist. I have also skydived, and I am a certified scuba diver and Medical Response Technician. I also am a board member and trail steward of the Nairomi Land Trust . I completed an Outward Bound program as an adolescent in the Adirondack Mountains, which to this day remains on of the greatest accomplishments of my life. I hope to instill some of the lessons I picked up there in your children, while having a good time as well!


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UPDATE: So far the weather looks like it will be just fine, maybe even very pretty – but if we do get RAIN and have to cancel, the notice will be sent to the google group AND posted here by 3:00. Make a phone buddy if you won’t be by your PC since I will not have the time to call everyone individually. Thanks and hope for the best!

To all Great Hollow Registrants:

Wow! I can’t believe it’s that time already. Family night is this Saturday! I can’t wait to see all your familiar faces and finally meet all the new families too. I’m looking forward to you all coming together on our common foundations through Great Hollow for a fun night of community. Some of our staff will be there and you’ll have a chance to meet them to!

Andy’s been amazing this week bringing us up to speed on fire building, tracking, nature games, and many traditions of Great Hollow. Emily and Joe who are new to the Homeschool program are bringing fresh energy and creativity just ready to brew up a huge pot of fun and Natural learning. Whendi brings her expertise in Critical thinking, oral traditions, arts, and music for a dynamic new level of understanding. Ethan and Melissa will of course be infusing our programs with seasoned experience in Primitive skills, natural awareness, contagious enthusiasm and wonder, and much more. Our new Wilderness Challenge instructor, Dave, has designed a semester of survival scenarios that will elicit new teamwork and bravery from the students. 

We also have two new adjunct instructors, Justin and Janet! Justin, coming to us from Two Coyotes Wilderness School, brings a well of knowledge in perfect alignment with Great Hollow objectives. Janet comes to us with extensive experience working in areas of environmental education and Audubon volunteer work.

I can’t possibly do them justice here in this short moment, for each of these instructors is slated to have their own profile on here as soon as we can….. but I couldn’t help but give you a little peek into the realm of wisdom that will be ready for your child to utilize.

SO, back to family night. Come between 4:30 and 5:00. We’ll be holding an opening circle at 5:00, hopefully sharp. Then you all can relax into your picnic (BYO) and talk with each other.

This is an informal fundraiser for Great Hollow Homeschool…. please help us raise money for some outstanding adjunct instructors and educational materials!! Please bring some petty cash or change jar extras – thank you!


1)Parking: Please park up at the first lot, where the 5 car garage/barn is. Walk further down, hang a left and follow the noise to the back!

2)The Climbing wall is OFF LIMITS. I’m bringing this to your attention because in a free form atmosphere, the kids are likely to want to climb on it, but it’s not set up for use, or facilitated, so even though they can see it, it cannot be used. Thank you for your attention on this.

3)Alcohol and cigarettes are not allowed.

TIP: Bring a couple good flashlights, and warm layers.

OK I think that covers that. So far I have two helpers for the afternoon to help construct a fire pit (start at 1:00 pm)…… I would LOVE a few more volunteers to help move big rocks and to bring some firewood (or go into the forest and gather), that would be awesome. Just send me an email!

See you there!

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Lower Dip, Great Hollow

Lower Dip, Great Hollow

Families of Great Hollow, and considering families….

This week is staff training! Which means I am fully focused on cultivating great mentors and facilitators for your children. It also means I don’t have the same amount of time or energy to dedicate to replies and registrations.

So, if you are waiting for a response, are unsure of your enrollment, or any other miscellaneous ends that you think are loose, please do EMAIL ME with your question or reminder ……. BUT you must include information so I don’t have to puzzle piece through, even if I know you 🙂 Your FULL Name, your child’s names and ages, plus what program they are in or wish to be in.  I will do my best to answer emails at night.

If you have not yet sent in your registration forms, please do. These records are really important. I will have extra waivers and med forms on the table the first week – but it’s better if we don’t have to eat up time with paperwork.

Thank you for your patience and support while I am in a learning curve and I truly hope I am serving you all well.

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