Wish List Page

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!



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.)

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…..

Tuesday’s Wilderness Skills escaped my camera lens, but looking back at Ethan’s staff journal entry, I see a pretty full day indeed….. “Blindfold string walk, sensory awareness excercise, tracking lesson including a cedar waxwing kill sight and a bobcat track, cedar tree and birch tree identification and uses, bowdrill work, river walk, cattail cordage and tinder, successful primitive fire building….”

Thursday was off to a bright start with an interview from Brian Koonz, of the Danbury News Times. Many of you have seen the great front page from yesterday. I was so excited I talked an elderly man’s ear off at the 7-11 when I went in to buy copies. Luckily he was joyfully all ears and excited for us in return. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can veiw it online. Thanks Brian!

Thursday continues with wilderness fun as the Scouts headed out on adventures. They did everything from discover bugs, read and enact Lao animal folk tales, explore some wild plants such as mugwort and spicebush, and try their teamwork on the whale watch initiative. They also worked on their fire building skills and spent some time making entries in their field journals. Something tells me that a lot more magic and lessons occurred than I can capture here in a paragraph.





On the other side of the land on Thursdays, two more groups run their course. This week, the Pioneers experimented with plant dyes. They harvested plants with pigments, such as poke berries, barberry, black walnut hulls, and even scooped up ash from the fire for a grey color. The raw wool was hand washed in the stream, then dunked in the chosen plant decoction and hung to dry. Lunch and story time were not to be missed….this week two chapters were read!

Soon into their journal entries, they also discovered that their paper was worth dying too…. hence the exploration of parchment and old time colored paper.

At the Amphitheatre, the Wilderness Challenge executed a rope initiative,

 Created maps for the opposite team and tried to follow them,

…..and carried a wounded teammate all the way back in a handmade litter. Not to mention they also fit in a river walk, leapfrog hikes, and physical conditioning. Amazing!

Friday was no exception to the magic that’s conjured at great Hollow. The Micro Scouts played games, measured the river water again, and employed spectacular teamwork while making an enormous leaf pile with the Jr. Naturalists. At the end of the day, the immersion into their journals was so deep…. they even lost track of time!

The Jr. Naturalists explored bird behavior displayed by the Robin, and habits of the notorious red squirrel who gave them a front row performance. In herbal hour, after they were prompted to forage for certain plants by a riddle, we discussed the importance of accurate plant descriptions and some different ways that foods and liquids were preserved before there was refrigeration. One of the ways used was the process of lacto-fermentation, so we brewed up the plants foraged and started some jars of herbal ‘sodas’ using whey and organic sugar.  Next week we’ll find out which ones worked the best: Grapes, Birch, cherry twigs, pine needles, or apples!

Until then…….

This is truly so exciting…. the roots of this revival in nature awareness and eco-education have rendered their decades of wisdom into a handbook for mentors. It’s about time! I can’t wait for this to be released, and I hope I can somehow get a copy into each instructors hands, for I have a sneaking suspicion it will never leave their backpack.

See for yourself what this is all about…. and take a peak into the future at the wonderful fruit that our place, Great Hollow, will bear over time:


Go to ‘home’ and start from the first page if you want the whole story.

ALSO, there is a conference call Monday night, October 6, open to all. Here is the invitation:
Join Internationally acclaimed speaker, naturalist, and teacher, Jon Young for an inspirational discussion on the importance and potential of mentoring ourselves and children in nature awareness, community resiliency, and the power of the up coming Art of Mentoring, hosted by the Vermont Wilderness School in mid October.(http://8shields.org/jonyoung)

Theme: The upcoming Art of Mentoring, The context of our times and positive solutions

Who: Anybody can participate!

When: Next Monday, October 6th, 7pm – 8pm

With respect to not inviting spam callers, please email me for the call code.

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……

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!