Archive for October, 2008



Due to popular demand…. we have added an extended late fall session! This is so exciting… the first time we have been able to offer this option. So for you die hards out there… sign up fast! These will run for the first three weeks of December.  

An important note you should be aware of is that the Pioneers will CAP at 12 students. We are nearly full. 

The session includes three of our programs: 

Wilderness Skills: Tuesdays 

Pioneers: Thursdays

Jr. Naturalists: Fridays  

All classes, 9 am to 3pm 

The registration form is here

or also found on the registration page of this blog.

If you are returning – you do not have to fill out another waiver and med form.

Happy Hollowing!


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One of the nice side effects of working with a bow drill, is that it creates the most lovely incense. The little pocket where the drill creates friction smoulders the wood just so, dropping a small coal below and releasing the fragrant smoke above. Ethan has been perfecting his coal carrying techniques, which you see in the photo, so that the students can learn as well. In the meantime, the five car smells like a welcome sanctuary. 

practice practice practice…….

And what are these two buff Pioneers up to? Well, it’s not an injured rock. It’s a clever way of transporting the building materials needed for the structure. I have to say, the teamwork was impeccable! If effort were anything less than 100%, I don’t think they could have accomplished as much as they did. 

What better way to introduce both geothermal and radiant heat, than to build a stone firepit? 

Whendi was voted mvp for hauling in some of the most massive rocks. Everyone enjoyed the success of the stones at the end of the day. Next week they will begin building the wooden frame. 

On the other side of Great Hollow, the Wilderness Challenge group was having their own summit. This was so exciting to watch! Each carefully placed foot, then hand, and another steady push towards the top. Each instructor had their own personal way of cheering and supporting each climber as they leaned into their harness at ground level.

Everyone made it to the top of both sides. Not easy!

Did I mention the morning was cold? The scouts decided to come inside for a couple games, to reclaim their warmth before heading back outside. The scouts’ day was filled with fun and games, including bat and moth, a Jungle Book poetry hike, the dragon game, and a tastey encounter with the ‘root beer’ tree.

Lucky for us we have a beautiful yoga room to use when we need to warm up.

By the end of a discovery filled day, they had completed a beautiful and festive wreath to adorn our place. 

Friday’s early morning brought beautiful frost, highlighting some of the vibrant fall foliage.

But the day warmed up, enough for some extraordinary bird sits (scarecrow replaced by kid!) And they all had a chance to be a first hand bird feeder. The stories are still swirling around about the various different birds, the chimpunks crawling up legs, and the blue jay stare-down. We should be in for more this week if the weather lets up.

A journey to collect pomacious fruits was a colorful endeavor. The rose hips are sweet and ripe, and the apples are still crispy. Did you know that apples, roses, cherries, and peaches are all in the same plant family?


Some delicious vitamin C syrup was made by the Jr Naturalists, a timely project during cold season!

The microscouts had a different idea of how to use the round fruits :). As a three dimensional element of their lanscape portrait, of course! This apple became quite the masterpeice. Each student took a mental photograph while on their hike, and brought the image back to paint. It was a day of great artistic appreciation and expression, each one unique and beautiful in it’s own right!

I was also informed that painting is often more effective than the spoken word. Perhaps facial expressions are too?

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The Tuesday group must be the sneakiest. They escape pictures like little rookie ninjas. But they can’t hide their traces yet…. walking through the 5 car means seeing clues to what they might be up to. Clues of wood shavings, tools neatly piled, and sweatshirts not so neatly piled, as if they were peeled off mid-run and abandoned without a thought. If their backpacks were left behind, I know they are off for a short game nearby. If the backpacks are gone, I know they have headed into the deep woods for something; perhaps hunting for magic, testing their skills, or practicing teamwork.

At this stage in the game, often what happens is that imagined community starts being replaced by true community. What I mean by that is, conflicts have surfaced already, making known some of the seemingly problematic issues of either personalities or group dynamics. But what happens after that, when held in a type of space that fosters both individual gifts as well as group strength…. is that the group finds themselves feeling more than the sum of their parts. They begin to negotiate, speak up as well as listen, and contribute effort on behalf of both themselves and the good of the group. It’s one of the most rewarding processes I have had the privilege to witness. 

Along with the story of this group, each day there is a story read. The book pictured is the recall of the explorations of Sven Hedin, arguably ‘one of our last great explorers’, cite the several places where his biography is found. Ethan has a knack for finding exceptional reads.

Thursday was filled with sweetness and fun. The Scouts got to create their own T-shirst from both natural dyes and craft paint, and played some new, challenging team games which I’ve been hearing about all week. In fact, the Scouts outwitted the Pioneers.

Up at the legendary log cabin, after the rousing game with the Scouts, the fires were set up for the day. A short but important lesson on maintaining heat was covered (after a failed attempt to transport a small coal earlier), and the coals were piled strategically for cooking. Sweet roots and twigs were simmered down into a sticky, concentrated syrup. While the supplies were being set, we headed out for a tree observation walk, using our near and far vision to decipher varying tree bark patterns. In the winter when there are no leaves, knowing the bark of a medicinal or edible tree species can mean life or death, food or famine. The students began by seeing obvious differences, and worked there way towards finer and finer detail. Soon, they were noticing the very subtle variances between the Lenticels (trunk and root pores) of the black birch and black cherry, as well as new bark and old bark.  'root beer' syrup


Appalachian elixir

Appalachian elixir

 The syrup was poured into the seltzer water and made a new years style celebration of fizz. The kids lined up for a very fancy traditional treat, after their hard earned home made ice cream. 


hand tossed ice cream

hand tossed ice cream

The squishing wasn’t difficult….. until all the hands were freezing cold!! That’s when they got creative…. wrapping the bags up in extra jackets or the bottom of their sweatshirts, and playing catch like a cold potato. 

We had a potent debrief at the end of the day, discussing value to work ratio. It was unanimous that no one would trade a gallon of store bought root beer for even a cup of their own hand made. 

For this week, the Pioneers are tasked to investigate a process, source to product, of something they don’t know about yet. It could be a food item, an appliance, a chair…. anything that spikes their curiosity.

The Wilderness Challenge had some more team initiatives to tackle this week, with a cinnamon swirl of literature somewhat analogous to their own challenges….. discussing the homework writing by Kurt Vonnegut: Harrison Bergeron.  The keyword of the day was appropriately: potential.

up up and away

up up and away

Their homework for this week is to research the cause, effects, and treatments for hypothermia, an essential set of knowledge for any dedicated trailblazer.

Nothing like good old fashioned elbow grease and determination! They managed to hoist everyone in the group. Their thinking skills were exercised again when challenged to make a one match fire and proceed to boil water in nothing but a paper cup. 

Gee, I can’t tell….. do you think they are happy with their work?

Friday’s adventures and discoveries were many. Bird language and seeds on the wind were explored, along with close observation of the many details of a new, unknown plant for each student. The microscope was put to good use for elephant grass seeds (did you know they are barbed?) A bird count sit spot unveiled countless feathered friends, whom either stay late in the season or must be die hard New Englanders.

The animal stories at lunch were especially hilarious. One about a very beloved but mischievous raccoon, and another about an unusual insect called a sphex. We all got a good healthy belly laugh.

The Micro Scouts waved their magic wands of cuteness over all of us on Friday….. with their curiosity, creativity and spontaneity. Together they examined bugs, measured the water level again, made leaf rubbings, wove a web of interdependence (a fun yarn game), made “sap” like the trees, and read good stories from the Jungle Book. It was a full and satisfying day! 

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This year we will be running a mini-course as an introduction for students wishing to begin the Wilderness Skills or Wilderness Challenge groups in the Spring, but have not attended wilderness programs in the past. It’s essentially a preparatory course where they can learn some of the hard skills that they will need ahead of time, the patterns of our teaching, and get a sense of the land.  

Here are the details:

What: Great Hollow 101 Preparatory Course for Homeschoolers, ages 11-16

When: 4 consecutive Wednesdays, October 29 – November 19

          9:00 am – 2:00 pm

Where: Great Hollow Wilderness School 

Instructors: Ethan and Melissa Elgersma

Cost: $180 (must be paid in full before last class.)

To Register: Please print the registration forms found here on the blog and mail them in or drop them off at the office.

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Hi! This is a little post to announce the added page. If you look up at the navigation bar, you’ll see the new ‘wish list’ page. Here I’ll keep a running tab of things that we need or would like for the programs, that may not be inside the regular budget or may just be things not worth purchasing new. (R,R&R!) 

THANK YOU to the generous families who have already donated items this fall! 

Please also note that this is a very important time of year…. the time of the annual support campaign for the whole regional YMCA of Western CT, of which we are a branch. I will post a full letter soon in regard to this… as it is nearly closing time (November 12!) Look for that post soon. 

Bright Blessings!


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I don’t blame this Monarch for sticking around for fall in New England. The leaves are turning magnificent colors, making the forest tapestry turn from the ‘wall of green’ into a four dimensional masterpiece vibrant enough to make Van Gogh drool. The falling leaves are swinging faster and faster down the wind paths, racing each other or outwitting the grab of a child.

We learned recently that plants don’t absorb every color of the rainbow, leaving behind the light color they already possess and drinking up the one/s they lack. An interesting parallel to the change of the leaves; taking their own turn creating rainbows; as if to thank the light of the summer. The magic of this isn’t lost on the Jr. Naturalists.

As we enter into the fall, we also feel the stark relationship between gathering and letting go. As the wheat is harvested, we gain a bag of grain, but the plant is sacrificed. And so it goes, in nature, the great cycles of life. Nature reveals this with shameless precision and choice, never as gratuitous or wasteful. Thursday the Pioneers witnessed this phenomenon in the woods, real time, start to finish.

It was quite the experience.

After being humbled by nature’s cyclical display, we trekked up the hill to the cabin, where Ethan had prepared several fires. These were to be made into primitive ovens and stoves.

Underground Oven

Underground Oven



Eggs on a Rock

Coal Muffins

Coal Muffins

Clay Oven

Clay Oven

 The scouts had a challenging day of teamwork and goal setting……


The Wilderness Challenge took on the Great Swamp:

(Evergreens always have the last word in the fall.)

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Landscape photos

Here are some gleaming moments from the land on Tuesday.

Dandelion's first lacing of frost


 The morning greeted us with a show of lace across the field. The first frost made a striking skirt around the sun loving goldenrod.

As the crystals melted and the sun settled our goosebumps, the trees and seedpods of the Hollow revealed their new jewel toned wardrobe. The clear rushing water escorted the gems downstream, as if to usher in the stars of fall.

See the stipules? The little underdeveloped leaves? A signature of the Willow genus.

And the red squirrel gave a little show too. Along with the wild turkeys.

They were hiding in the island of thicket.

The red berries gave hint to nearing holidays.

A search for clay.

Ancient teacher…..

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