Photo Journal: Central Atlantic Seacoast – James McNaughton

“This Fall, I had the good fortune to carve out a large chunk of time to leave home and journey south on a much needed sojourn. I recently purchased a baby Airstream camper called by the manufacturer, the Bambi Sport. It is 16 feet long, which is shorter than my solo canoe! I have taken to calling it ‘The Escape Pod.’ 

I spent nearly a month visiting state and national parks along the coast of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. I arrive back home with a new level of clarity as to what I commit to bringing to myself, my wife, my community, family, vocation and life. 
Happy 2018″

Photo Journal: The River of Grass in Florida’s Everglades – Farlin Black

My recent trip (late December ’17 to early January ’18) to instruct a canoe expedition in the Everglades with a group of college students represents an annual pilgrimage of catharsis. By continuing to return to such an exhilarating environment – the River of Grass, the mangrove forests, and the coastal estuaries- I find that they continue to teach me, not only of my place in the intricacy of the shared human endeavor and the seemingly endless interconnectedness of the natural world, but also of the reciprocal relationship that humans have with it. This adventure enabled me to connect with a group of people much more deeply than life in society allows me to in a similar amount of time. Part of it is the magic of the place, but a bigger part of it is the shared sense of purpose coupled with a sense that everyone in the microcosm is needed. 
I find that a lot of questions that I didn’t even know I had seem to surface in that place where salt and fresh water swirl and mix…
Where I am able to find joy in the face of adversity I am able to reflect on the big picture and take some sense of personal growth away with me. My ability to stay connected to the sharp end of the learning experience enables me to connect with more awareness to the participants and students I instruct throughout the rest of the year on Adventure In Adventure Out programs. 

A New Fleet of Wilderness Systems Kayaks

The 2017 summer season found us in the fortunate place of turning over our aging Old Town kayak fleet and replacing it with Wilderness Systems Pungo 12′ recreation kayaks, as well as two 14′ versions for instructors. These new kayaks are a big step up, both in terms of design and performance. The Pungos are faster and more stable, and also more maneuverable. The hatch cover seals and enclosures are much more user friendly. The Pungos offer three different areas of seat adjustability which also makes for a notable upgrade in comfort. On top of it all, these are significantly lighter vessels for loading, unloading, and transporting which all add up for our instructors over the summer season. Overall, AIAO staff and participants have been very happy with this upgrade to Pungo kayaks.


The Hunter’s Mind – An Alternative Perspective on ADD/ADHD

In the course of a year we work with dozens of schools and organizations, and many hundreds of young participants. Invariably, some of these young people have an ADD or ADHD diagnosis. It would be all too easy to lump these folks into some sort of confining category – unfortunately this is sometimes something that we witness – and let that negatively affect the ways in which we relate to these young people.

Thom Hartmann’s Hunter & Farmer breakdown of ADD has been an invaluable tool for us at AIAO as we try to understand and work best with some of our own staff, as well as the young people we serve who have ADD/ADHD. In its simplest form, Hartmann’s hypothesis states that what are now labeled as maladaptive and disruptive traits (i.e, disordered behavior) has had tremendous value in humanity’s evolutionary past. It’s just that culture and society have shifted so quickly that these once highly-valued and necessary attributes that allowed individuals and cultures to thrive, don’t fit as easily into the slowed down, modern farmer’s (agricultural) society that most humans now live in.

Check out the simple chart below for a simple breakdown of the hypothesis. You can also check out Hartmann’s book and additional information here.



Thom Hartmann’s Hunter/Farmer Table for understanding ADHD.

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.