tylers-cordageThe rain trickled in and out throughout the week, inviting indoor activities. The stalks that have been drying in the rafters throughout the year were brought down for lessons on fiber and cordage. The rhythmical twist of the reverse wrap is hypnotic, a beneficial side effect for those long winter days. stalks-in-rafters


cordage-varietyleft to right: Nettle, Cattail root, Milkweed, jute, raffia. Nettle proved to be a solid fiber; one loop of nettle cordage joining a rope to a beam held upwards of 100 pounds of weight. Resistant to insects and rot, Nettle fiber can last hundreds of years. Cattail is surprisingly silky, I could easily covet a good pair of cattail long johns! Milkweed is also quite strong, and with the variegation’s of color it makes visually interesting cordage. Jute and raffia serve their purpose as training fiber.

Check out this link for an interesting read on Nettle fiber and some history. Personally, I prefer to eat the leaves as delicious high nutrient food, and dry them for winter infusions for extra energy. But now I know what to do with all the leftover stalks! 

Not to mention it lends itself to deepening friendships…..


Evolving mentorship…………


And self satisfaction………..

kaiAs you can see, both the Tuesday Skills and Thursday Pioneers got their hands on the fibers. I hear the lodge is coming along as well, pictures of that to come this week. They have been working hard on their Goldenrod thatched roof!

The Challenge group was sent out on a quest for depth this week, with two initiatives that brought their minds and emotions forward. “Crossover”, an exercise in diversity and self awareness, was skillfully facilitated by Emily, as we all discovered new aspects of each other and ourselves. 


We rolled right into another fun initiative on the whale watch…..

whale-watch…….where nonverbal communication and sensory awareness are at their peak. The plank must be kept in equal balance as they travel cooperatively around it. In a moment of sheer magic silence, the great blue heron pushed it’s way through the misty air but feet away from the group; a lavish reward for their unified and peaceful efforts. While three of them lunged a pointing finger to alert the others of the visit, not a sound was made as we witnessed the heron weave it’s path above the water line. 


Lunch covered eating of course, but also some important first aid knowledge on choking and preparing a splint.

The whale watch lead perfectly into putting it’s physics to work. The lever and fulcrum mechanism was translated into moving a large log for use in their rainy day warming fire. Which they needed since the afternoon was spent in resolute stewardship! 

wc-week-9-005This bridge really needed help. Thank You!

….and over at the log cabin, the scouts gathered their things for the returning hike. 

scoutsTheir day included a fun filled series of games including bust-a-move, dear and coyote, and one of my personal favorites adapted from a group dance training process called flocking. This is a really fun sequential movement game which switches leadership in verbal, then nonverbal ways. It gets the kids thinking kinesthetically and on the fly, in a way that fosters self and group awareness simultaneously. 

Kinesthetic learning was carried over into story-time this week, with a pencil creating a ‘story line’ while Joe read another witty tale from the Lao book. The lows, highs, tensions and successes of the story were captured in the abstract art of the Scout’s illustrations. Noteworthy was their capacity to retell the story simply from the memory cues of the wavy lines they drew while listening!

The afternoon was topped off with some wild tea of goldenrod leaves and pine needles and some good mellow journal time.

Friday morning’s show and tell for the Jr. Naturalists consisted of a frozen dead baby pig. Although surely educational, I missed the photo op on that one :). It was a great introduction to the lessons of the day, however, inviting conversation about ethical use of hunted animals, and primitive containers. Following was a fascinating study on Goldenrod galls, which were collected in numbers and then placed in a gall garden to set until spring, when we get to watch them hatch. Galls are a fascinating element to nature’s ingenious and cyclical patterns.


Plant class took a new angle this week, in order to sharpen observational skills and invite in some art concepts. We took to the field for an exercise in visual perception of depth and varying levels of detail and shape. Specifically we focused on landscape silhouettes, which will serve in the future as an important way to identify different trees. We made a sketch of the silhouette shapes we saw and noted the type of habitat. To engage the idea of contrast, we then overlapped onto our sketches a series of leaf rubbings. The details were beautiful and rewarding to watch emerge from under the waving pencil motions. 




The afternoon activity was a fun craft of cleaning and preparing gourds for rattles. Connection to the earlier discussion of primitive containers was made. The painting of the gourds included a layer of history, referencing old ways of storytelling through cave paintings and symbolic prints on objects. Each gourd was to become their own personal story of Great Hollow, told through color, shape, and symbol.

matthewLate Friday I spent a few minutes with the Micro Scouts, who were quick to give me a delightful run for my money. They articulated the similarities noticed between lamb’s ears and the large leaf of a mullein plant. Above you can see the animated punctuation.

zoeA celebrated moment spontaneously after stringing hand painted beads onto twine. 

tuckerAnd authentic, primal expression. 

What could be better at that age?

See you all at graduation!


I can hardly believe we are heading into our second to last week of the fall semester. As I look over the weeks of peaks and valleys of social and intellectual melodies, brimming with subtle syncopation and steady harmonies, a tremendous symphony occurs. Each person learning when to play their solo and when to find their bass line. It’s remarkable to say the least. 

bow-drill-partsThe tools of the trade are being put to good practice, and although I usually only capture the traces of the Tuesday Wilderness Skills group, this week we had a willing ambassador:

zephyrDonning his handmade bow and arrows, he’s a ready student and steward of the forest.

Thursday’s troupe was full of adventure (and controversy) as any cutting edge society must be. The three groups (scouts, pioneers, and wilderness challenge) played a multi-layered game involving teamwork, problem solving, tracking, physicality, social dynamics, and moral decision making. Here is a shot of us tracking the bead trail:

stalking-beadsAnd a glimpse into the land of mixed tribes:

gh-week-8-013After lunch, the Pioneers worked dutifully on gathering and preparing plant stalks for their thatched roof. It was rainy and wonderful, replete with song and cooperation. The scouts continued on their pursuit of happiness via ripe rose hips.


rose-hip-juiceHigh in vitamin C and really fun to smash up in a bowl! 

And you know who they decided to share it with?


Yup, the big kids 🙂 Which, wet and chilled, they greatly appreciated.

wc-week-8-001-1Rain is heavy!

donals-and-kidsMeet Donald, a family duck of one of our Jr. Naturalists, and friendly at that! Donald is so much better than a cartoon; he (she?) had all the kids rolling in laughter within minutes… with a honk resembling a very loud belly laugh. Donald hung out for show and tell, giving each of the kids including the Micro-Scouts a chance to feel the downy feathers. 

The Jr. Naturalists had a chance in the morning to really see if they could be like birds…. to try and identify their classmates through call alone. It was a worthy experiment, sometimes identifying each other – and sometimes not. They also did a study on the Great Leopard Moth

During plant hour (and a half) we first covered some very important stuff: the deadly plants. We compared the botanical structures of two potential look-alikes, the common yarrow (a member of the Asteraceae family) with illustrations of flowers from the Umbelliferae family. The latter holding the two deadliest plants in New England, as well as the edible and relatively safe Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace). Important to know!

We made careful certainty that we could tell them apart, and should we come across another plant with double umbels, we could stay away. When the technical part was well covered, and embellished with a story, we rewarded ourselves by making an herbal salve! We used the wintergreen we harvested last week, which I had put up in oil, as well as a yarrow infused oil. We learned all the ingredients that went into making a salve, and decorated our own labels. The remaining salves will be sold as a little fundraiser, $5 a tin 🙂

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a great day to brew up mischief in the kitchen, since they spent the afternoon harvesting the pristine bumper crops of Nettle and garlic mustard leaf to make a wild pesto! It was SO delicious I don’t think it lasted more than twenty minutes…. and I hear that a few micro scouts got to the last of it! 

Speaking of Microscouts, again they managed to evade my camera, other than the visit with Donald. They are quickly moving up to the sneakiest class! I was told however, that they had one of the best days so far… filled with “exceptional peace and focus”. They played bust a move (a favorite moving game), hiked, ran through puddles, read stories, and sang songs. They made beautiful traditional smudge sticks using native plants, and they built their own rock people with hats. They used their walking times to practice what Tom Brown calls ‘lostproofing’ which can be done using several techniques. In the case of little ones, walking together all holding the same object (like a stick or string), the body’s sensory memory makes an imprint of walking closely with the group, without having to link aloneness with something fearful.

They even found time to paint their clay bowl and beads which they made last week. Oh – and finish the pesto.

Now we head into week 9, as winter creeps slowly towards us. The nights fall earlier, and the winds are getting crisper. The stars are brilliant and the dawns misty. The land ever fertile with gifts and beauty.


It’s cold in the mornings. The light beams down, brighter but only bright enough to melt the frost. When the Tuesday students roll in, they are layered strategically in wool and polar fleece, smiling behind the cloud of warm breath. The first thing they do is start a coal; a practice in the most vital of primitive necessities, and a challenging one at that. 

Once the cold of the winter sets in, a tribe must be stocked with enough food to sustain them for almost six months. Green food is scarce and hard to store. Hunting takes on it’s most important time, when large animals and many small game can be cured at once for a stock of protein, fat, and mineral rich foods. 

Of the many gifts rendered from a hunt, bones are one way to ensure next autumn’s hunt. Besides dishware, costume and tools, spears and hunting gear can be carved while spending the days snowed in. 

As the temperature dropped throughout Tuesday, fingers deftly rolled small bones along a file, carving sharp tips and barbed ends, with extended shafts long enough to plunge into a shallow river. The bone was wrapped to its handle with sinew. After crafting a good spear, the only thing left would be to outsmart the weather and the animals. 

Thursday my camera and I were glued to the office, working on important sequences of numbers and tallies for the upcoming year. Lucky for me, I get all the juice at the end of the day when we have our staff meeting. It was reported to be a truly ‘epic’ game in the morning, where the Pioneers and the Scouts, together, went up against alien jungle instructors (in yellow rain ponchos), guarding the precious ‘food’. The fire was lit and they had until the last coal to win back their food. 

As the third week of this game, (tied score of 1-1) the intricacy, wit, and strategy employed was off the charts. It could have represented an entire year of social, tribal and governmental dynamics in an effort to maintain both needs as well as peace. Negotiations were attempted. Peace offers were tried, distractions and tall tales were exercised. Raw bravery was ignited in some of the more timid students, and incredible sacrificial plays were made by some of the seemingly boastful members. Meeting needs won out in the end, as the Pioneers and Scouts realized that there were precious goods to be traded, utilizing each individuals strength toward achieving their goal. Now, since this saga may be crafted into the full story, I wouldn’t want to give away all the details…. so you’ll just have to hang onto your hat, but I can attest to the many more layers of adventure and heroism than I elude to.

The Scouts had a great day. After the riveting game above, they did some new things like the hula hoop magic trick, dragon tag, and started on some cool storytelling exercises. they practiced leaping over their favorite ditch, made a collective talking bowl out of clay, and read the Miraculous Adventure of Turtle and Swan: a hilarious zen-like fable with a satirical twist! 

Meanwhile, the wilderness challenge had another day of team initiatives and physical challenge. Each member was bound to a partner’s leg for the day. Dare I guess it wasn’t a walk in the park? I’m not sure which is harder to learn; the physical science behind a duet fulcrum, Or the mental science of a personality fulcrum? I suppose it’s all individual. Maybe that’s the problem. Ohhh the thought of surrendering autonomy for something potentially greater than the Self…… that’s a tough one! But this group is a class act, coming out strong and resiliant, both physically and mentally fit. Not to mention they have an amazing set of mentors to guide them.

I guess you could call this lunchtime bonding? 

Friday morning the Jr. Naturalists began with an enriching show and tell, followed by an in depth study on bird nests. The design, material used, and location are all indicators of whose nest it could be. Some are stuffed with hair, with leaves, or with a variety of stuff. Some are packed solid with mud, and some are woven like a professional basket.

After crunching numbers long on Thursday, I was a ready participant in the day. I’ve been meaning to capture the bird sit, and I finally had the chance. See the scarecrow? It’s been sitting there a few weeks now, training the birds to come and feed from that spot. What’s not so easy to tell, is that the scarecrow is actually Campbell. Sitting very still, watching each winged visitor swoop in for seed from her hat or glove.

Slowly but surely, each Jr. Naturalists has had the chance to be the scarecrow. They are even advancing to the point where multiples can sit without donning the costume, and the birds still come.

During Herbal Hour, one of the highlights was getting to hike up to a special place where one of my favorite herbs grows wild. With a rich history of healing, wintergreen is a treasure to show and to gather. We collected a small amount to prepare into an oil for a project.

Lunchtime was fun as always. We listened to a story about a woman who hand feeds wild birds; a perfect fit for the day. 

After that, we chased fish up stream. Going farther up the trail than we have yet, we were lost in the magic of the forest and the spell of the glinting waters. The loamy fall aroma is intoxicating. The aliveness in the air a libation for the spirit. We followed the fish shadows as they slinked along the cavernous banks in hiding. One lucky fish got to be the center of attention for the afternoon, identified later by the kids as a brook trout.

On our top speed hike back (racing against the clock – we lost) we crossed a beautifully designed bird’s nest, bringing the day full circle.

Now, my post wouldn’t be complete without reaching the cute quota. Since I was playing hooky with the J-Nats, I’ll give you one I didn’t post last week, and tell you that they had another adventurous day, with stories, games, running, clay creativity, and nature awareness exercises.

OK – two! I promise I will get more of the Scouts and Microscouts this week.

Happy November!

Extended Fall Session



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!

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?

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! 

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.