EWM course outcome

For outsiders our course lessons often look just like some chill people hanging out around a fire. That may sometimes be true, but there is always something more happening actually.

The teachings and learning experiences are more subtle and not as obvious as, say drawings and paintings in an art course or thick folders of homework in college courses.

Throughout the course there is a shift happening from “going out into nature” to “being part of nature”. From the outside this may look exactly the same – a person taking their backpack and going for a walk in a forest, park, field, wherever outside. But the person themselves is doing something quite different and the inside of the backpack looks probably different, too.

Let me explain in some detail:

The person “going out into nature” feels separated from the “nature” out there. They have to prepare and brace themselves to survive challenges and dangers from a potentially hostile nature. They tend to take a lot of gear with them. Outside they look at their environment like one looks at a movie or a painting, as a scenery to their own life, without deeper understanding. They use this scenery as they see it (often leaving long-lasting traces) and afterwards come back to the safety of their man-made home.

The person “being part of nature” knows its place in the universal web of life and feels connected to strands of this web near and far. They go out to feel at home in nature. Their backpack may contain some water and food, too. But usually there is less shiny gear, less protection from unlikely dangers, less overall stuff. They tend to wear less clothes or shoes and immerse themselves more in all elements. They leave less traces, they connect deeply to the places they visit, they treat other living beings with as much respect as they want to receive themselves. They are grateful for nature´s gifts and bid farewell to the place before they return to the isolation of their man-made home.

The returning person actually can look different even from the outside, some dirt may prove immersion and contact.

For many of us the EWM course was a re-awakening of our inner child. As children, most of us were playing outside, rolling in the mud, throwing leaves, knowing the hidden places in the nearby hedges, building forts from sticks and moss. Growing up there was less and less space in our life for this simple connection to our environment. Now we had to reconnect and to find this sense again to being part of something bigger. Starting out with the first course days and some other individual tasks to be done outside (like sit spot) we gradually built our web of nature connection, culminating during the 3 weeks tour to Sweden. Most of us (me included) have never spent such a long time exclusively outside before. We returned to Germany, to our families, to college and work changed not only from the outside (leaner, suntanned, stronger) but also and maybe more pronounced changed at heart. We know each other and ourselves on a deeper level. We know more about our abilities and skills, how to communicate, how to rely on the group. We feel more at home outside.

Of course, not everyone is experiencing this shift to the same extent or in the same way. Some are just a bit more comfortable outside and more self-confident in other settings. Some are re-discovering old habits or hobbies outside. Others take their time outdoors to new levels in different ways.

Some profound insights from this course can be found in every participant.

We are already using these mentoring tools and skills not only in our everyday work, we are utilizing them in the planning process for our practical exams, comparing different methods, finding the most natural way to implement them (see also earlier blog posts, for instance “bees and trees…” from September 2021).

The time sitting around a fire is always spent sharing these experiences, learning from and with each other, connecting as a group, caring for each other, making plans, striving to heighten our awareness and understanding, sharpening skills, and so much more…

Don´t be fooled by cursory glances and superficial appearances!

The chill people around this fire are working hard, but that doesn´t keep them from enjoying the process. Christine Tirkot

Celebrating gratitude – the last day of EWM2020

On Wednesday March 9th we last year students met for the last time as a course in the usual setting. Everybody was helping. Preparing a comfortable meeting place has become second nature to all of us. Some were bringing food or cooking over the fire. We spent the day focused on gratitude. Everyone was contributing – sharing food, guiding group rituals and singing, sharing stories and memories of learning content. Some were putting finishing touches to their crafting projects. We appreciated and celebrated nature ´s spring awakening. And we acknowledged the sad topic of war in Ukraine with peace songs.

Great emphasis throughout the day was on gratitude for everything that is special about this course and the content we have been studying, the insights we take with us. This course is not about dry teachings soon to be forgotten, but about learning from and with each other, about the lasting connection and the re-connecting to nature we are experiencing and spreading.

Especially the 3 weeks tour to Sweden helped us to immerse ourselves in nature and to gain insights, knowledge and skills to pass on to the next generation. This is our task as educators. Many of us are already carrying the spirit of the course into their work in childcare institutions. How could future generations learn to protect their environment without learning to love its beauty?

Our mentors with their innate enthusiasm instilled in us the desire as well as the skills and knowledge to lead children and adolescents onto their individual paths to exploring nature, to find their own thrill and joy of discovery. Now we are the multipliers teaching and mentoring children to know, to love and to protect their environment.

I feel deeply grateful for being a participant in this course!

Without this experience for instance the forest group project in the SOS children´s village would not exist. Weekly children from age 6 to 12 visit the nearby forest and explore the natural environment in a playful way. Especially children and youths living in residential homes benefit from this method of learning and connecting to nature, in experiencing self-efficacy and developing resilience. One of our ongoing projects is the exhibition of trash in front of the SOS village drawing attention of the public to our waste picking activities in the forest.

Simone Geguszies

announcing our activities
our place in the forest
waste on display

Wilderness mentors welcome international guests at Schlaubemühle

From 25.04.-04.05.22 Potsdam´s Wildnismentors were having guests from Sweden and Romania. The visit formed the last part of an Erasmus Strategic Partnership Project. After getting to know the base of the German Wildnismentors by circling the island of Hermannswerder in canoes our guests received some input on the Coyote Mentoring approach. They also followed a songline to the course place in Kieskutenberge forest. Basics of the circle way and in wildlife tracking were applied during the following nine day stay at BUND centre Schlaubemühle. There we did not have to go far to find an abundance of animal footprints and bird voices. At nightly campfires we exchanged stories, songs and dances from our countries or made our own ones. A longer hike led us to an overnight stay at a BBQ cabin at lake Treppelsee. Early morning bird watching/listening and a rallye around the lake provided more stories and songs. At a weekend marketplace German Wildnismentors offered several activities for the guests: felting, body wellness, knot binding wristbands, footprint artwork. Back to Potsdam the whole party said good bye to Hermannswerder in a dragonboat race.

Participants most of all appreciated that they had time to follow their passions and to rediscover their inner child. Three years of project work was displayed at Coyote Camp during 30. Bildungsforum Internationaler Spielmarkt on Hermannswerder. There teachers of three countries also offered workshops on certain aspects of their approaches.  AP  

    

Birdlanguage

As days are getting longer birds´ voices are becoming even more noticeable. It will be many more in some weeks time. The repetitive melorhythmic stanza of the wood pigeon, the clacking sounds of starlings who also imitate exotic birds they might have met while being away, the tawny owl calling more often now, woodpeckers competing in drumming sessions and of course the melodic flute song of blackbird are some examples of what is going on. 

Blackbird is a good teacher to start dealing with birdlanguage. Whenever you hear a blackbird singing its rather long melodic stanzas you can be sure that no enemy will be around, that it is a male probably attracting a female and/or indicating that it is his territory. In contrast to singing, calling sounds much different. It is mostly short sounds usually using one note only to express contact calls, begging or warning. As ground breeders blackbirds are masters in both, ground alarm and air alarm. Typical “duk-duk-duk” sounds in a frequency depending on how close the enemy actually is indicate ground alarm. Highly pitched  “ziiih” sounds indicate predators from above as sparrow hawk who is feeding almost exclusively on birds.

Task: Try to differentiate between bird song (or baseline) and alarm. In a next step you could figure out the source of the alarm: Is it yourself or other predators looking for prey? If bird alarm is expressed further away (60 to 70 metres) it could be other animals that have noticed your presence hence uttering a so called secondary alarm. Gradually you will understand what birds are telling about the landscape around.         

Sitting (as introduced in the previous blog) is probably the best way of experiencing baseline in bird language. Some more birds are rather sensitive to changes around them hence giving their warnings to all other species around. Tits who are so curious are a good example for that as well as the high “tix-tix” of the woodpecker.

Extended tasks:

Listen for a differentiation between melodic singers, rhythmic singers and melorhythmic singers. Paraphrase the singing with metaphors, syllables you can hear, etc.

Listen for the second one of a species!

Spot the bird and perceive features like silhouette, type of beak, length of legs, top of head, shape of tail, prominent wing feathers, flight pattern. Add drawings to your nature journals. AP

Foxwalk, owl eyes, deer ears – Extended core routines of nature connection

Extend your `core routines`, combine them and awaken further senses by applying so called animal forms to your sitspot routine. Experience `foxwalk, `owl eyes` and `deer ears`.

`Foxwalk`

Did you ever get to see how a fox is sneaking up on its prey and jumping onto it? Foxes live mostly solitary and are on a hunt at night and at dusk; then they roam their territory in search of food. They use their excellent sense of smell and hearing to track down their prey. Numerous whiskers on the snout and paws are used to perceive even the smallest movement and vibration. According to recent studies, they sneak and pounce on their prey aligned with the north-south axis of the compass. So – they must have some kind of sense of magnetism.

In wilderness pedagogic you use the so called foxwalk to raise your focus and awareness und to move as silent as possible e.g. not to disturb and startle animals. Ideally practised barefoot it basically means bending your knees slightly to gain better balance and slowly putting down your foot whereas toes come first, then the outer rim of your foot and then the whole sole initially without putting weight on your foot. This will enable you to feel the ground and hence to find a good spot for placing the step to come. By slowly rolling over the ground the surface is slowly contracted to prevent rustling noise. If you feel a thin twig e.g. or leaves you would then place the foot to a different place. Once everything will fit you start putting weight on your foot. Even while lifting the second foot you are careful to do so in a controlled way to prevent unnecessary noises. `Foxwalk` you can apply in different paces, quickly but also as slowly as if hardly not noticing any movement. Doing foxwalk in slow motion means that your soles will take over the job to observe the ground while your eyes will be free to watching the environment. This is also called `seeing with the soles`. Fox walking also includes openness, curiosity and full body awareness. Alignment with the path in front of you – wider view – so that you can anticipate sources of noise. Mindful and silent movement involves the whole body, including arms etc. Choice of clothing and shoes is also important.

`Owl eyes`

In contrast to many other animal hunters, owls have a forward-facing pair of eyes, just like us humans, which enables them to see binocularly and measure distances. Their eyesight is many times better than that of most birds, and owls´ eyes are extremely sensitive to light, allowing them to detect small amounts of residual light. In addition, they can rotate their heads up to 270 degrees to secure themselves from the sides. It is important for hunting in the twilight to have the widest possible radius of field of vision to perceive even the smallest movements. In complete darkness they follow their amazing hearing. An owl is able to precisely hear and localize a mouse scurrying under a 20 cm thick layer of snow. It also helps that she can fly almost noiseless.

So let´s train the so called owl eyes. Normally your view is centred to the place of the clearest optical perception. This corelates more or less with a tunnel view where we only see a small field very clear. But our eyes can also switch into a wide viewing mode. To adjust to that mode you can stretch out both arms away to the sides, wiggling your thumbs and moving both thumbs together until both of them get visible. This is wide angle view – seeing an extended area even if a bit blurred. However, what the eye can detect thoroughly is movement and that within a bigger radius. One can also move hands inside towards outside to set the field or even move hands up and down to set the frame of wide angle perception. It is just about playing and getting astonished. The field is usually wider than you assume and it gets wider the more you train. If you have tuned in stay in that mode and see what will come up. Owl eyes offer the biggest chance of opening our visual perception. This kind of viewing, rather wide angled than focused and rather in an attitude of finding than searching is comparable with the practice of the so called soft view. `Soft view` is an perception exercise in yogic and buddhist meditation practice.

`Deer ears`

Deer are mainly evening and twilight active. In the colder month, ricks and their young join together in herds which then usually break up again in the spring. A herd can include more than 50 animals. In this community there is a regulated distribution of tasks: some graze, the other deer observe the surroundings. As soon as danger threatens, they give a warning signal and an escape movement begins. Deer have excellent hearing. Their ears are long and pointed and are about 2/3 of the length of their head. In addition, dear can move their ears. If they suspect danger, they prick up their ears and try to locate the origin of suspicious noises in the area with the help of ear movement.

So – your own sense of hearing you can support by the practice of the so called deer ears. Here you extend your outer ears by putting both your hands behind your ears to extend the outer ears and pointing them slightly ahead of you. Again – you can play until you have reached best reception. Slowly move in a circle doing so. What can you hear? Try the same movement without deer ears and sense the difference. It is enormous, isn´t it? This also works with open hands facing backwards or upwards. GW

Celebrating winter solstice

Winter solstice is here, the longest night of the year. Time to look back on the past year, to be grateful for all the good and the challenging experiences and time to celebrate! We met around the fire to share stories and food, as well as love and joy. Moon and stars were dancing while Mother Earth slept, covered in a white blanket. The bird people sent their greetings – wild geese flying south at midnight, a robin watching our breakfast.

Good bye, 2021! CT

EWM Pre-Christmas Camp

Before Christmas European Wilderness Mentors in their third and last year of training are following their own aspirations at our spot on Hermannswerder in Potsdam. This is what we are doing presently: Burning bowls, carving Christmas trees, making nettle string, throwing ancient hunting sticks, making fire with bow drills and pump drills, manufacturing foldable saws (see May 2021 blog), reading animal tracks, playing animal form games not only to keep warm, telling stories, cooking for the whole pack over the open fire and most of all enjoying each other´s presence. AP

Step by step instruction how to carve a Xmas tree