Forest Forensics

P1000190     While tracking out behind my house, I settled in for a quick lunch half way up a gully overlooking a brook that was moving swiftly from the melting snow. As I stood up to seek a way through the thick laurel, I spotted clumps of hair poking through the leaf litter. Pulling back the leaves, I discovered a voluminous pile of hair and quills of a porcupine. As I probed the site, I discovered the skull a few feet away. In examining it, I noticed the bones on the upper ridge of the nasal cavity had been broken. My forensic conclusion is that a fisher likely predated upon it. Fishers will attempt to corner porcupines and then lash out at their quill free faces. When the animal weakens from blood loss, they will sometimes then go for the throat. Eventually, the fisher will feed on the porcupine through the belly, which is also free of quills.


How a river can move you.

We all know that unstructured play is of the utmost importance for kids.   Especially in these modern times where kids days are highly activity structured, they have benchmarks to meet in relation to academic standards, and technology has an amazing capacity to mesmerize their attention.

Here is a video that speaks to the limitless expression of outdoor play and nature connection, and which makes us here at the office reflect on how we choose to engage or not engage in our surroundings and how we all, large and small, can enjoy and benefit from play……

When was the last time you spent a day by a river?

Wild Hearted Kids during April Vacation

We are thrilled to bring back a recently beloved program, Wild Hearted Boys, and introduce a soon-to-be-beloved parallel program of Wild Hearted Girls!

There is a new structural twist for the spring session in that it is an Adventure Week of 5 contiguous days during April vacation. (In the fall of 2015 we plan on returning to weekends spanning several months as a regular offering, with week longs every spring.)

cave prepEvery day is different and ranges from caving and climbing to hiking, nature skills / connection and general woods tromping. We are excited to spend a week with these crews of local kids.  The single gender format provides a powerful vehicle for personal transformation, including the courage to be bold in new ways and the potential to create deep and lasting friendships. We had so much fun in past years building forts in the woods, descending into caves and having amazing conversations together.

See our Wild Hearted Programs tab for more details and to register.  We so look forward to playing in the wilds with you!

“Seven Sisters” – Beautiful Mountains – Beautiful Song

For those of us that live in the Pioneer Valley, the Seven Sisters Range is a common sight from many vantages. This lovely range is an anomaly in that it runs roughly east west and was created as molten rock erupted through fissures in the bedrock. I have hiked these hills many, many times and never tire of the views that can be beholden from the many vistas along its 9 plus miles. Another delight here in the valley is the depth of talent in the musical realm, as well as dozens of venues in which to experience it. Brooks Williams lived here in the valley and recorded many recordings on the valley label Signature Sounds. Please check out his lovely song – “Seven Sisters” here.

Going outside, as the doctor ordered….

Started in 2011, by a Washington DC pediatrician by the name of Robert Zarr, there is a movement afoot in which doctors can prescribe the outdoors to patients!  As a means to fight obesity, chronic disease and ‘nature deficit disorder’, doctors are sending folks outside.  Parks Rx, which is a program under the National Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative, includes a newly created database that chronicles some 350 parks and helps match patients to local outdoor venues.  The care providers and patient discuss what might be an enjoyable outdoor activity  that would have strong health benefits – this information goes into the database as well to help determine the actual prescription.

This is both a wonderful development and a somewhat disturbing testament to how separated many people are from being physical in the natural world. How about getting outside to play, recreate and exercise BEFORE the doctor tells us to?

We can call it prevention.

Dinosaurs in our Midst

Every once in a while I have a vision – I am suddenly transported to a place in my mind where I can picture the banks of the Connecticut River swarming with large, bipedal dinosaurs.  Did you know that the “first dinosaur tracks in recorded history” were found here in the Connecticut River Valley? (Or at least the first European person to take special note of them…) The story goes that in 1802, a farm boy by the name of Pliny Moody plowed up a slab of rock with tracks in it which he described as being “three-toed like a bird”. He brought it home to use as a doorstep.  Local religious figures attributed the track to “Noah’s Raven”. Later the tracks were thought to have been made by a large, crocodile-like reptile and paleontologists named the creature Otozoum moodi in Pliny’s honor.

It was an 1835 road paving project in the Greenfield area that got the attention of scientists, after a large volume of tracks were found.  Dr. James Dean is credited with recognizing the scientific significance of the tracks. Professor Edward Hitchcock of Amherst College began to study the many tracks, thinking at first they were from some kind of “unknown ancient birds”.  Hitchcock’s intensive study of the tracks essentially started the field of Paleoichnology (the study of fossil traces).   And so it began.

You could spend your whole life learning about dinosaurs, of course.  There are many places to learn about the history of dinosaurs in the Pioneer Valley and even visit tracks still in the ground outside.  One of the most amazing places to visit is the Amherst College Museum of Natural History, since there has been study of these local dinosaurs since thye 1830’s! There is an incredible array of tracks as well as passionate staff who will impress you with their knowledge.  This Yankee magazine article has a great list of  “Places to see dinosaur tracks in southern New England.”  The Nash Dinosaur Track Site and Rock Shop has a some great information as does the

If you have a few minutes or a lifetime, drop into this little rabbit hole of amazing history and see the place you live with new eyes.


Upcoming Summer Programs

Dates and Registration Info

Northern Woodlands – Great Outdoor Publication

If you are looking for a great gift for an outdoor enthusiast on your holiday list, look no further. I have been a subscriber to this fabulous magazine for four years, just gifted all of our staff with a subscription, and ordered about 40 back issues.

I find this to be one of the best resources that I know of to keep me learning about the natural and cultural history of our New England forests. The magazine is full of beautiful pictures, well written articles, and all in all a great resource.


Get Outdoors & Remember to Wear Your Orange – Deer hunting season is upon us!

The season is upon us where all outdoor enthusiasts need to take caution. The deer hunting season in Massachusetts is the most popular and concentrated hunting season of the year. Monday through Saturday, the woods and forests are full of folks hoping to fill their freezers full of meat and engage in an age old pastime that has been happening in the state for many, many years. I have attached a document that reflects the “when” of the hunting seasons, though not the where. Please inform yourself as to where in your area hunting is occurring, and keep yourself safe by wearing orange, sticking to the trails, and using common sense.

Have fun and stay safe!

Hunting season Doc:seasons-summary-2014


Biking In The Quabbin!

I have spent many a day wandering on and off trail in the Quabbin Reservoir over the last 30 years. I recently, and happily,  found out that certain sections of the

Quabbin can be explored by bicycle! It was such a delight over the last few weeks to venture out, with my wife on one occasion, my friends on another, and once on my own.

On my solo venture, I had a wonderful encounter with a moose, 4 otter, and a number of loons!

There are four different spots to explore – see maps here: eastquabbike, northquabbike, quaboffresbike, quabparkbike




Five (More) Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do

In another inspiring TED talk, Gever Tulley continues his exploration of risk and safety as they relate to children.

Does the media fuel an illusion that our children are in danger? How does reality compare to our fears? Tulley asks these questions and others.

And, the answers may surprise you. For example, regarding the fading concept of ‘stranger danger,’ did you know that kidnapping by a non-family-member doesn’t even make the top 5,000 dangers that children face?
Maybe walking to school isn’t such a bad idea, since it increases situational awareness, improves character judgment, and increases fitness (and thus memory and overall well being).

Then there are activities we can do with children with some actual risk involved,  like playing with fire, whittling, driving a car, licking a battery, and more. According to Tulley, by exposing children to small risks we teach them about safety, and we equip them to challenge fear and address real risks in the world.

Or, as Tulley says, “The most effective way to keep children safe is to give them a little taste of danger.”

For more by Gever Tulley, check out his book 50 Dangerous Things, his website, and his talks on Ted.Org.

The Importance of Self-Care

“Self-care is a touchy subject. That’s because our society largely views self-care as selfish, slothful and overly indulgent…Yet, it’s anything but. Taking good care of yourself not only makes your life more fulfilling and contributes to your well-being, but it also extends to others.” – Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

In a field that requires as much energy as outdoor education, the importance of self-care cannot be overstated. That said, it’s also important for everyone else: educators, students, parents, etc.

The concept reminds me of the oxygen masks on airplanes: we are charged with putting on our own so that we are then better able to help others. It’s the same in many other areas of our lives.

Self-Care Ideas:
Have a game nights with friends and family, go on a nature walk, meditate, take a yoga class, garden, journal, cook a delicious meal, listen to a favorite podcast, work on a craft/DIY project, get a massage, read a favorite book, go to the movies or a concert, tell bad jokes with a loved one.

The sky’s the limit! Whatever you find relaxing and rejuvenating can be employed in your self-care practice. For some deeper self-care suggestions, check out this article on PsychCentral.Com.