Our Blog : Posts by Mike

Welcome to the Medomak Camp blog, a place for us to share with you, our campers, all sorts of goodies that you might be interested in.  From food and living off the land , to what Medomak looks like in the off-season and a behind the scenes look at our winter office, check back often for all new posts.

Favorite Camp Site and Night Navigation

March 28, 2012

Hey folks, I have been extremely busy prepparing taxes for a firm who hired me back in February. April 15 is around the corner, and I will be relieved when it arrives. I’m chomping at the bit to get going on so many awesome projects, but for now I’m spending a lot of time in an office.

I got back to the yellow house last night and needed a detox. Sitting in cubicle land and staring into a computer all day certainly takes its toll on me. So when I got home I quickly changed and headed out for a walk. As I walked I began to feel so thankful for the land that I currently live on. Even know Rockland is a very small city (actually fellow New Jersians would certainly not qualify it as a city at all), there is still a hum and a hustle bustle that goes along with city life.

Now alone in the woods behind family camp field I could feel the quietness sinking in. Cold weather moved in with the heavy winds over the past day. Last week it was summer, in the 80′s, now back to winter. I was glad I dressed approprietly: long johns under my thin wool pants, a warm wool sweater beneath my wool hunting jacket, light gloves , and winter wool hat. Thats one of the things I love about Maine, especially spring and fall. The weather keeps me aware of my environment, it is constantly changing. “Its maine, if ya don’t like tha weatha, just wait fifteen minutes”, a local general store cashier said to me this afternoon in his thick down east accent.

I revisted one of my favorite places on the property. An old campsite located somewhere between the current Family Camp fire circle and the pond. The area is flat, I’m sure it has made a lovely tent site in the past.  How I long to hear stories of happenings here from campers many years ago! The site over looks the water from atop a small ridge and allows a perfect view of the sun setting through the pines and behind the pond. A brilliant orange filled the western sky. I sat and watched and let the thoughts and stresses of the day wash off of me. Nature has a way of washing me in this way.

When darkness was full, I decided to light a small fire, mostly looking for an excuse to stay. I gathered some small sticks and made a tiny fire, just enough to give me some company and warm my fingers which were getting cold. The smell of the campfire brought my back in time to memories of past camping trips. I smiled and laughed and sung the memories into a improvised song.

The sun had been down for atleast an hour when I decided to start the walk back. I took extreme care in putting out the fire and making sure it was FULLY out by running my fingers through it thoroughly several times over. Then I set off on my next mission: Follow the trail back to Family Camp Field.

I knew this wouldn’t be easy. The trail meandors often, is rarely ever used, and blends in well with the young trees that make up large chunks of this part of the forest. Before I left the site I gave one last mention of thanks in my heart for this area and took a bearing on my situation. It was late, I was alone, and the temperature was hovering just below freezing. Thinking ahead, I devised a plan in case I did loose the trail. The moon was opposite the pond of me, I need to keep the moon at my back, casting my shadow forward in front of me. Also I need to head uphill. So continue to climb in elevation. I KNEW if I followed these two rules, I would easily get to a familiar place.  Within 100 I lost the trail, but made it to the field just fine.

Thanks for reading. I hope to post as often as I can.

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Posted by: Mike
Topics: Uncategorized

Fox Den, Roosting Turkeys, and other stories from a morning walk.

February 27, 2012

Hey All. The winter has been mild lately, so I was excited to see snow falling when I went to bed last night. Today is Saturday and since I have the day off I was excited to sleep in and catch up on some sleep from a busy week. But this attitude quickly dissolved when a dream woke me up at 5 and  I saw there was a few inches of snow on the ground. Without hesitation I put on my boots and jacket, and armed with only a camera, a knife, and a curious mind I set out on an adventure not knowing what I would find and not having a place to be or a time to be there. I long for this type of freedom again, and I know it is only 2 months away. I hate being chased by the clock in an office all day. (More on this in the next blog “3 Ways to Intergrate Primtive Skills into an Office Job”) But today this was not the case.  I was free to explore!

The first few rays of light were barely over the horizon when I entered Family Camp field and found my first tracks. They were hard to see when I looked right at them, so I had to keep my eyes soft and occasionally use my fingers to verify I was still on track. At this point I walked slowly and fluidly, attempting not to startle or alert any surrounding wildlife. With the light levels so low, I knew it was only noise discipline I needed to worry about, with my silhouette masked by the dark fir trees.  Still dark, I took a seat outside the fox den and began to wait.

As I sat, the stress of my week began to detox from my mind. Events that stressed me out during the week were allowed to be looked at in a new light. There is something about sitting quietly in nature that does this for me. After being cooped up in an office all week I began to feel thankful to be outside. That the day was still so young and there was 3 inches of fresh powdered snow to track in was a bonus. I began to think about my family home in Jersey and my community here in Maine. I am so thankful to have the support and foundation that these people bring to my life. I offered thanks next to the earth, amazed at how so much life can be supported on this big ball of dirt and rock. And finally I let my awareness flow to the wild animals of the forest, who tweak my curiosity daily through their tracks, their songs, and their dens sites, motivating me to get my butt outta bed at 5 am hoping merely to catch a glimpse of one of these wild creatures.

The creaking sounds made by the wind moving through the frozen and frosted ever green boughs brought me back to reality and I realized Grandfather sun had fully risen. Still no fox, oh well, there was exploring to do! I got up and headed down towards the pond waterfront and passed an old shelter campers had made during a nature program a few summers back.

A classic small tepee design of the north east, where large slabs of birch bark is used as shingles. This shelter has seen better days, but I thought it looked cool frosted with snow.

 

After hearing a flock of chickadees in the distance, I tried my luck at calling them in with a “chh chh chh”. Sometimes they’ll come right into the tree I’m siting under, looking to fight off the imaginary other flock attempting to enter their territory. No luck today though. I continued to walk and was constantly reminded how much I love being in the Maine woods with snow draped over the firs and pines. The quietness is almost eerie and the electric glow makes it mysterious.

I walked passed many tracks left by various rodents, mostly red squirrel, who love these softwood forests. One chattered at my presence as I walked on by, following a fresh trail left a few hours earlier by the red fox. The trail was long and straight, characteristic of this species, and headed past the pond and into a forest made up primarily of medium aged white pines. I noticed more and more turkey tracks as I walked until I stumbled upon what will now be know as “Turkey Highway”. Take a look for yourself!

With so many wild turkey tracks around I should have put together that this may have been a roosting site, but I didn’t. Not until turkeys started flying out of trees one by one.  I think I was just as startled as the first one to fly off, but after that it became fun to watch. Four flew out of that forest in total and I bet there were even more who saw/heard me coming and preemptively bailed.

Well, so many stories to tell and adventures to share. I’ll have to leave out the one about the cat tracks that I had mistaken for skunk (sure glad it wasn’t the other way around)  leading one way into an abandoned trailer and scared me half to death when I poked my head in and it came running out past me. Or the part about the bird party that was happening across the street at the bird feeders. Blue Jays, Crows, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Cedar Waxwings, Hairy Woodpeckers, Piliated Woodpeckers, and a random seagull all gathered to grab a free meal at this time of year when food is hardest to find. Oh, and how could I forget, the Robins! At least a dozen of them, the first robins I’ve seen since fall.  Here’s a final shot of the continued turkey highway passing on the waterfront road, within 15 yards of Route 105/220, cool, huh?

There are mostly all turkey, with a set of fox tracks earlier in the night crossing the road in the same place.I couldn't figure out why this was the preferred crossing area.

 

 

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Posted by: Mike
Topics: Uncategorized

Winter Walks

February 13, 2012

Hey Folks. I’m back from a three week hiatus with stories I’m excited to share. I spent almost 2 weeks in Florida and then started a new job in Maine when I returned. So, things have a been a little crazy lately, but ave certainly been fun. Since returning from Florida, other than being at the office, I’ve taken two weekend courses at the Maine Primitive Skills School and had the opportunity to take several late night walks around the Camp Medomak property.

Working at an office is much different from the “woods office” that I’ve been accustomed the past few years. I’m learning the power of environment and how the environment that we choose to put ourselves in shapes who we are in many, often subtle, ways. Noticing this, I’ve been coming back to camp after being in the office all day and doing a “detox” walk, where I walk around the forests and fields at night.

When I get back from my walks I take a few minutes to journal my experiences. I’ve found journaling helpful in keeping my experiences real. The best example of this I can think of is keeping a dream journal. Have you ever woke up from a intense dream and within several minutes can’t remember what it was about? We’ll, I journal my experiences in the woods for a similar reason. Here’s one of my recent journal entries.

One of my favorite parts about living in New England is the distinctness of each season. It is winter now and even though it has been a mild one, the spirit of winter has settled deep over Medomak Camp. For me, winter is a time of reflection, envisioning, and contemplation. Spring lay far below, coiled up like a cobra ready to strike. And fall is a distant memory, almost like a nearly forgotten dream. I spend a lot of my time sitting, dreaming about the upcoming seasons. What projects to undertake once the snows melt and where to devote my energy in this exciting new year.

Then I step outside, and my thoughts are engulfed in the cold silence on this clear Maine night in the family camp field. The nights are always colder without the blanket of clouds to insulate the earth. The moon is young and the stars are brilliant. I attempt to ponder the awesomeness of the night sky, but soon my mind surrenders in amazement. It wanders to thoughts of the sun. I jump between curiousity and amazement as I begin the calculations. How many Jupiters can fit inside the moon? How many Earths can fit inside Jupiter? I try to remember 7th grade science class, but the numbers become irrelevant. The hugeness is too big to fit in my head. Each of those tiny sparkly dots in the sky is similar to a sun, I think to myself. WOW.

My wandering continues across the field and into the woods. Crunch, crunch, crunch with every step. The temperatures have fluctuated above and below freezing the past 2 days, and now the melting snow from this afternoon has solidifyed into a very crunchy and crumbly sub straight. I take a few steps, then stop and listen for sounds, hoping that the animals are having the same difficulty keeping quiet as I am.

I contemplate what the deer are doing on this cold night. Perhaps they are bedding down beneath the insulating branches of a hemlock tree. I reach my bare hand down into the cold, icy snow to feel the deer tracks beneath my feet. I can feel their two toe imprints solidified in ice on the track floor. I know they like this area, behind the lone cabin next to the entrance to the swim trail. I’ve followed their tracks from the waterfront to the cabin many times. The fox use the same trail everyday. The turkeys use it also, but less frequently.

My hand moves from track to track. I wish I knew more about the deer in this area. I begin to fantasize about spending a week in the woods, following the deer from a distance they fell safe. How many days would it take for them to let me get close to them? I picture myself foraging fir tips, cattail roots, and other wild plants from a distance and stuffing my clothes with beech leaves for most of my bedding insulation. I want to watch their daily routines and how they move accross the landscape. I want to see their reactions to the bird alarms in the distance and where they hide when they hear the coyotes coming.

Recently I’ve been having many daydreams similar to this one. I guess thats part of winter for me and a release from being cooped up inside all day. Anyone else out there feeling the cabin fever beginning to set in? These are the hardest times of the year. Get outside! Breathe in the cold air, observe the night sky, follow a trail of animal tracks. Let your curiosity run rampant. And then come back and share your story with a friend or a loved one. Try it and see what happens.

I’ll be posting again soon. I was tracking the Medomak fox this weekend and found its den site. Pictures are on the way! Thanks for reading.

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Posted by: Mike
Topics: Uncategorized

Sounds of the lake in Winter

January 13, 2012

Last week my brother and his friend came up from New Jersey to spend a few days at Medomak Camp. We spent the better part of 3 days just wandering around the 200 acres or so that surrounds the family camp.

The quietness of winter has stolen over the camp. I think it even frightened the boys from Jersey the first time I showed them the family camp field under a fully lit moon. I love it, the feeling of brisk cold air in the lungs and the sound of silence. To me it produces a very subtle hum that I can feel more than I can hear. This hum seems to illuminate any other occasional sounds made in the winter night, from quacking ducks to the barred owl’s classic ”who cooks for you”. This is in stark contrast to the constant drum of car engines, flashing of street lights, and thousands of stressed out, apex species that my brother and his friend left behind at the train station in Newark.

I had to show them the waterfront at night. The moon and a few stars were the only light our eyes could see, no glow of electricity. I was explaining how the lake is seemingly preserved in its natural beauty because of a law that requires any new building to be a minimal distance set back from the shore of the pond. “And besides”, I continued, “there’s barely anyone out here on the lake this time of year.” At that moment, as if it was scripted, we heard a noise unfamiliar to all of us. It was a loud, low bellow. We all froze. It was one of those deep sounds that sound unearthly. I racked the memory storage portion of my brain to find matches. It sounded like a whale. I laughed to myself. Keep racking…

Then it happened again this time with a crunching or cracking sound as well and we all realized it was the ice forming. The temperature was dropping and the lake was speaking to us. My two visitors were astounded and it set the tone for the next few days.

We wandered the woods, played camouflage games, made up stories, stalked red squirrels, built fires, slid belly first on the frozen lake, sat and listened to the ravens, followed fox tracks for acres, sang songs, and watched one of the local Bald Eagles swoop to and from its nest. We played in the woods, like children do. Like children have been doing for thousands of years, we played. When the trip has concluded I sensed fulfillment in them, they seemed to smiled deeper. A richness money cannot buy had seeped deep inside of them. The Maine wood is good medicine.

When we entered New Jersey after 8 hours of driving the familiar feeling of their past lives in the Garden state began to reenter into their minds. I felt the wave of heaviness fall over them as they sighed and thought about college assignments, jobs, ect. I told them “most people in our world live their entire lives without experiencing what you have during the past few days. Be thankful for it. Remember the way you felt in those woods. Journal about it as soon as you get home because New Jersey is going to steal it from you quickly and make it all feel like some vague dream.” Thats just the way it works.

I attached some photos. Thanks for viewing.

Otter Slide!

         

A local red fox uses the frozen lake to hunt by quietly running along the shore and listening for sounds made by rodents.

 

Bones beneath Eagle Nest Pine

 

 

Washington Pond partially frozen

 

B&W of Family Camp Cabins

Greg letting the goodness of Maine seep in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Exploring Nature with Children at Medomak

January 2, 2012

Happy New Year everyone! New Years is a time when we can reflect upon the past year. I tip my hat to the many lessons I learned in 2011, the people that I met, and the places I got to see. During 2011, I worked as the Nature counselor at Medomak Family Camp. And since this is a time for reflecting I would like to share my favorite experience working out-of-doors with children in 2011.

It was my first week at the family camp and I had been discouraged the first day with the way my lessons were going with the children. I had been teaching children outdoor skills for 2 years at this point and during those 2 years I had learned many lessons and really begun to crave the fulfillment of being an outdoors instructor. I’d grown to love the feeling of being with a group of kids and barely having a lesson plan. We go off into the woods and 75% of the day is improvisation. I end up surfing a razor’s edge. One side being the boring, exhausted public school teacher approach: with a rigid curriculum and a “have to do this at this time and that at that time and fit all this into one class session” attitude. The other side is the person who has no control over his group of children. They are running all around with no discipline, no boundaries. Children may injure themselves this way, get into trouble, and learn very little.

The way that I’ve been taught to run children programs from my mentors at the Maine Primitive Skills School is to be guided by intuition during the program to read the energy of the group and point them in the correct direction to maximize their learning. This is done by putting them into situations that are challenging, yet fun. Done correctly, this style of mentoring coupled with wilderness skills leads to adult human being who are self-actualized, passionate about their life, and able to maximize their own unique gifts. Is there anything more a parent can hope for their child?

So, getting back to the story. My first week at the camp so far was not going as I had hoped. No one was having fun. I wasn’t having fun, the kids weren’t having fun. I saw myself forcing lessons about ecology and biology onto them and got frustrated when they would rather kick a soccer ball around. When I brought them into the woods they complained of mosquitoes biting them. And on our way back to the field we ended up running into poison ivy patch after poison ivy patch, then we got stuck in a raspberry thicket. Things weren’t going well. By the time we made it to the nature cabin, my group of 4 children looked as though they had spent the last 4 days lost in the woods without food or water. Such was their body language, facial expressions, and their attitudes.

But then it all started to change. It started by letting go of any hope to continue with what I had planned to teach that day. When we got into the cabin I was immediately bombarded with questions about the stuff I had strew out around the cabin during staff training the week before. Inside the nature cabin was a nature museum! And what 11 year old boy can resist asking questions about a turtle shell laying about on the desk!

I made a nature museum inside the cabin knowing full well that children would ask me questions about it. I knew excitement would gather in them as they realized that the white thing on the table was really the skull of a wild animal! “What kind of animal?”, was the question asked to me. “Well, what kind of teeth does it have, do you think this animal eats meat?” was my response. And as I had hoped, the whole group transformed into detectives, searching and dissecting clues of the skull. I surfed the wave of answering each question with a question, pushing their curiosity deeper and deeper.
After about 15 minutes or so of questioning and allowing them to discover the different parts of the museum, their curiosity started to slow. The attention span of most children is not long. The shift was subtle, but I knew I had to do something fast, or they would be back in the field kicking at a soccer ball. This is where teaching is so much fun for me. I notice the group needed a change and for a short time I had no idea what was going to come next! The tension was building inside of me as I was racking my brain for activities while telling them a story about the deer skull on the table. Just barely holding their attention, I glanced over at the empty jars on the table. Got it! The group needs a change in environment, we need to go back outside. I asked the kids if they wanted to go exploring for stuff to add to the nature museum and handed each of them an empty jar. Then we spent the next hour crawling on our hands and knees through the fields and the woods looking for “cool stuff”. We were all rummaging through the grasses, breaking open logs, lifting up rocks. The children became engaged and we had a blast! We found salamanders, butterflies, shiny rocks, beautiful flowers. We even found a fox den! When the lunch bell rang each of the children went running to their parents and sibling excited to show them what they had found. There was no doubt in my mind that the children learned about biology and ecology that day just by being immersed with nature and having fun!

So as I look back on 2011, I do so with a smile at experiences like this one and look forward to more in 2012.

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Posted by: Mike
Topics: Uncategorized

Ninjas of the Forest

December 20, 2011

While walking around the land at Medomak Family camp this morning I saw two sets of deer tracks in the dirt road directly between the barn and the farmhouse. I often see deer tracks here, but rarely do I see any deer here.

This seems to be a common occurrence, if people are patterned on seeing animal tracks on the ground. Most people miss the tracks all together. But even for those of us who have developed the habit of walking around looking for dents in the ground resembling animal imprints, we still often miss the animal itself!

Isn’t it amazing to think that these animals are constantly passing by just outside our sphere of awareness? Why don’t people see more animals in the woods, in the fields, even in their own backyards?

If you live in a suburban or rural environment, chances are there are animals who see you just about everyday, and you don’t see them. If you do get a glimpse of an animal, usually its just that, a glimpse. Usually of the animal’s backside fleeing for its life from us humans. So what are some things we can all do and practice so that we can have more interactions with these ninjas of the woods.

Well for those of you who live in suburbia, you may be in luck. I grew up in NJ and saw deer all the time. At least once a week around sundown, deer would exit the forest and enter the fields behind my house for me to sit and observe. I was always amazed at how they seemed to sense my presence, looking up and seeming obviously unsettled when I watched too intensely. Contrast that to when I moved up to Maine, thinking with all the wilderness here I would see even more wild animals. This did not prove to be true, with so much open space, the wild animals have more space to eat, sleep, and hide. But regardless of where you live there are some things we can all do to increase our awareness of wild animals.

The first and perhaps most important aspect of increasing our awareness is our mental attitude towards these wild animals. It is an old native saying that “when you see a wild animal, it is because it has allowed you to”. Adopting that mental attitude puts one into the mindset of respecting and honoring that experience. It is a special thing to see a wild animal, it is a gift. Here’s a good place to start.

From there are two different aspects of approach which are equally important and necessary.

The first is often referred to as “library time”. It involves reading and studying as much as you can about the wild animals in your area. What are their general behaviors, mating behaviors, what habitats do they frequent, what do their tracks look like, what do their homes look like, their scat?ect. Sketch the animals. Sketch them while running, sitting, laying, ect. Watch youtube videos of the animals and study how they move. Get creative with this library work, keep it fun.

Supplement your library work with what is reffered to at the Maine Primitive Skill School as “dirt time”. Go into different ecosystems and look for tracks and signs that you found in your library books. Bring children with you if you can, they are usually much better at spotting these things than us. Remember to walk slowly, like a fox. Expand your senses. Where is the wind coming from? And why is this important in seeing wild animals? Keep your ears tuned for any noises that stand out from the “baseline” of forest sounds. What are the birds doing? Be aware when something changes in bird world, because it usually means that “something” is around. And to make sure that “something” isn’t you and your motley crew, walk slowly and use passive body language. Keep in mind that when you enter a wild area, you are entering the homes of the wild creatures. They will not let you see them if they view you as a threat. Their lives depend on this way of thinking.

Please post your results and experiences. Retelling our stories of animal encounters adds to the fun of it. To retell these stories increases value of our experiences. Remember this when working with children. What will your story be today?

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Posted by: Mike
Topics: Uncategorized

Trees

December 16, 2011

This is the time of year when trees really deserve our thanksgiving. Logging practices usually begin around this time as the ground is beginning to freeze, allowing easier access into the forests for heavy skidders. These practices have given us our homes and our furniture. Also, many folks are busy stacking their woodsheds or garage with fire wood to burn during the cold months ahead. And many more are walking out into fields to saw down their own tree to bring home and grace their living room with as a Christmas Tree.

Trees are amazing beings. I was raised in the Northeast, not in a desert or a tundra region, so when I think of the outdoors, I think firstly of trees, forests of trees. Trees are often the staple of a landscape or homestead. We even name these matriarch and patriarch trees and they help connect us to our sense of place.

On the Medomak Camp property we have many trees that have easily been around for the entire history of the camp, almost a hundred years. These trees have seen children grow up and grow old. They have been present for and helped to fuel campfires on summer nights for many decades. They have listened to our songs, and heard our stories time and time again. They have seen the loneliness of many winters while being pounded by ice storms, blizzards, and the heavy winds of many autumn nor’easters. They have been around a long time, and seen many things. In our human communities they would be referred to as our Elders, and they would be respected. This is how I view these trees.

These trees include the Grandmother Apple tree outside the farmhouse. Her flowers graced us in the spring time before the campers arrived. Children in my nature group this summer picked the immature apples to play games with and offer as snacks to the animals they would draw. Then in September hundreds of delicious apples fell from this tree. Basic tracking observations proved that I wasn’t the only one being fed by this tree. Her apples pulled in wildlife from all over the 300 acres of property. I found tracks and sign of deer, porcupine, foxes, crows, and raccoons.

There’s also the large White Ash tree behind the barn, growing alone in full sun light. This tree shaded the children I had in my groups this summer and also gave us a “base” in numerous nature oriented tag games. I wish this tree could tell me stories of times past as it stands strong bording the field of cabins. It has the perfect vantage point to watch campers arrive and depart.

Then of course there’s the Eagle Nest White Pine tree, whose tall trunk has stood on the banks of Washington Pond for well over a hundred years and is currently host to a pair of Bald Eagles. I wonder how many times campers have looked up at this tree while sailing, canoeing, kayaking, boating, or swimming hoping to catch a glimpse of the magnificent birds who call this tree home. Nearly every week this past summer there were stories of Bald Eagle sightings and encounters while on early morning fishing trips.

Last but not least is the Grand Oak tree on the Retreat Center land. For years men in their 50′s and 60′s have been coming from all over the country just to get one last glimpse of this tree and to remenise of time spent beneath it. It provided a gathering place on many a summer night for camp fires. Unfortunetly, this Grandfather tree has recently dropped its final limb and therefore lost its final hope for producing green leaves next spring. The Grand Oak has moved from Elder status to Ancestor status, and still has a powerful effect on the landscape. Just ask the Racoon family who is living inside its massive trunk!

So its true, landmark trees are important for connecting us to our sense of place. Think for a second back to your childhood and of a favorite piece of property you spent a lot of time at. Perhaps its your parents backyard, or maybe your grandparents. Do any specific trees come to mind when you think about it? For me its the old Apple tree that my dad build us a tree house in. This tree served as the home base from which many adventures had taken place. Most notably my brother and I pretending we were indians, living with the land, digging for arrowheads, and sitting in the tree devising our defense strategies from the badguys in the woods. Or the huge juniper bushes that lined our basketball court whose branches formed tunnels giving us access to sheltered areas which blocked out most of the sunlight and the rest of the world. In these places we hid to spy on the neighbors, sat still to watch the birds perch around us, and climb high in the air just because we could. When I think of these trees and others, vivid memories flood back into my mind and connect me to my past.

Try doing this yourself. Not only for past memories but for future ones as well. Give names to the oldest trees in your neighborhood and give notice to how they support the local human, animal, and plant communities. Look at them, sit by them, climb in them, play in them, have fun with them! If you have children in your life, involve them in this process. What an amazing and unforgettable gift to give to a young mind this holiday season!

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Posted by: Mike
Topics: Uncategorized

Red Fox Sighting at Medomak Camp!

December 14, 2011

This morning during my sit spot I was visited by a Red Fox! The “sit spot” is an activity designed by members of our collective ancestry, people who walked this earth many, many years ago. It was used by many native cultures to teach their children the ways of nature and get them more comfortable being outside alone. Like so many activities passed down through our ancestors it is so very simple. Find a place outdoors that you like and sit there. Just sit, outside, in nature. When people come to classes at the Maine Primitive Skill School, they often ask the instructors “how can I get to know nature better?” and the answer is almost always: “find a sit spot and sit there as often as possible for at least a full year. This way you’ll be able to observe the changes in nature on a weekly basis through all four seasons.”

There is something to this simple technology. Just being out there and sitting allows for the natural world around us to settle down and accept our presence, allowing us to observe the magic in nature that is so often missed. How often do we allow our selves time to just sit? Most people, when they go into the woods, are moving too fast and scare away all the wildlife. If a predator several times your size walked into your living room, you’d run and hide too!

One of the first things I did when I moved onto the camp land was find a sit spot. This took some time, for I wanted a spot located in an area where a lot of wildlife activity would be. This usually happens around “transition areas”. A transition area is located on the border of two different ecosystems, and usually is the place where the most wildlife activity happens. Transition areas are common among places with water, or the edges of fields. Many omnivorous animals who live in the woods need to come into the field to graze, like the deer and the rabbits. And this of course pulls in the predators, making field edges a popular spot for wildlife, this includes many bird species.

Medomak Camp property has many fields and I choose my spot on the south side of the barn underneath an apple tree. I choose this particular spot because of the apple tree, knowing that many animals will come to eat the apples. Also, there were porcupine quills sticking into the truck of the tree! Proving my hypothesis.

The first time I walked out to my sit spot back in September I was stopped in my tracks about 30 feet from the apple tree by a sort of chewing sound. It was almost night fall, a time when wildlife activity is usually peaked so I knew there was a good chance of me seeing an animal. I stalked closer to the tree, not wanting to startle whatever was making the noise. When I got within 15 feet I saw there was a porcupine standing on it hind legs chewing on an apple in the EXACT location I was planning to sit. I wanted to laugh, but I held it in and sat from a distance to watch as this quilled creature moved from one fallen apple to another. It would only take a single bite or two before discarding it for a new one, which I found very interesting. As the sun finally set the animal moved on into the woods and I went beneath the tree to gab some chewed apples for my tracking studies. Since that day I have had the opportunity to watch that porcupine eat several meals from my sit spot. One day I even had it come and eat while I was sitting under the tree!

This morning I saw a different type of animal. The majestic Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) . Who knows what it will be next time!

 

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Posted by: Mike
Topics: Uncategorized

Weather Changes at Medomak

December 9, 2011

Last night I was awoken to the sound of our dog barking at some noise he heard outside. As I lay in bed awake, I listened to the outdoor sounds. From my training at the Maine Primitive Skills School I’ve been taught to listen for sounds coming out of the previously silent places on the landscape. In other words, I focus my attention on the areas without sound.  This has trained my ears to pick up on a lot more sounds in the forest, because it prevents me from only focusing in on the obvious sounds. As I lay there listening, my mind is silent and my senses alert. I hear the wind moving through the trees. The wind is the composer, or catylist, playing each tree species to a differenet note. It starts by howling off in the distance sounding like a frieght train coming right towards us. The tall white pine trees are the first to be played, way high in the air above the others, as the wind wisps through their light, airy needles. Then into my awareness comes sounds of the flickering leaves battling to remain attatched to the strong branches of the beeches and the oaks. This is followed by a low sounding chorous given off by the colony of young white birch trees surrounding the area and across the road. As the wind pushes and pulls on their flexible trucks I imagine them swaying in unison like an angry crowd. Its as if they are taunting the wind to break them.

“Probably just a stick broke, and he barked at it” said Wesley, my girlfriend, noticing I was still awake. I had forgot completely why I was woken up in the first place and that I might be listening for danger of some sort. My awareness remained outdoors and my mind plugged into something larger. Beyond the tree chorus was the weather patterns and something was shifting. What did this heavy wind mean? It had been raining for two days and it still was, I could hear it. The temperature had also been mild, not dropping below freezing. My hypothesis was that during the past few days the camp had been under a low pressure system, which I know to usually bring cloudy skies, rain, and mild temperatures. Now something was changing. Perhaps the wind was being caused by a high pressure system moving into the area and pushing out the low pressure system? I began envisioning the next day. Clear skies, gusty winds, and colder tempertures. I declared my prediction to Wesley. To which she relied ” Well, if that’s the case then perhaps the rain will change to snow during the night”.

We both woke up at the same time and looked out the window. Clear skies, wind still blowing, and about 2 inches of snow on the ground! Time to go Tracking!!

Fresh snow is a dream for someone who wants to learn how to track animals. It turns the earth into a blank canvas to be marked by all numbers of marvelous creatures. I decided to skip my sit spot plans and go for a wander instead. I walked toward the farm house, behind it, through the family camp field, down towards the nature cabin, through the woods into the volleyball field, across it to the tennis court. All the while scanning the ground for fresh disturbances or anything that stood out as differenet from the normal “baseline” of the ground. I found a few trails of grey squirrels going about their morning business, but not much else. I concluded that due to the heavy wind, steady rain, and dropping tempurtures late last night, animal activity was low. Regardless, what a beautiful day! I wandered for a bit more and found myself getting cold and longing for a sit next to the wood stove with a cup of dandilion root tea. And thats where I sit now. Thanks for reading.

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Posted by: Mike
Topics: Uncategorized

“Hi, I’m Mike, the Nature Guy.”

December 6, 2011

Hi everyone, and thanks for reading. My name is Mike and I worked at Medomak Family Camp this previous summer as the “Nature Guy”, connecting campers to the beautiful 300 acre landscape here in Washington, ME. Through interactive games and experiences, campers were guided all summer long on adventures which heightened their awareness of the happenings in nature and increased their appreciation towards it.

Since I have decided to live in the “Yellow House” on the camp property this winter, the camp director has asked me to write weekly blog entries describing my experiences and activities.

Some of the blog entries will be taken from my personal journal describing local happenings and experiences I encounter while interacting with the landscape here at camp. This may include local wildlife sightings, wild edible, medicinal, or useful plant findings, the changing of the seasons, new weather patterns, ect.

Other blog entries will describe in detail my recent activities, along with instructions to follow along, if any readers should choose to do so. These entries may include how to process bread from acorns, how to make winter health tonics from plants in your backyard, how to make healthful teas from common, easy to identify trees, how to better attract and observe wildlife through your kitchen window, ect.

I have many ideas, I am excited about this blog, and am definetly open to suggestion! But first a little background on who I am and how I got into this nature stuff.

I was born and raised in suburban New Jersey, where I went to high school and college. Nearing college graduation, the idea of being an accountant in an office for the next 30 years made me feel increasingly claustrophobic. And upon graduation I decided I’d take some time to figure out what it was that I really wanted to do.

So, I turned away from a path that promised to include a high paying job in a suburban town and all that comes along with that, and I moved to New England in search of another option. I worked and volunteered for several months on different farms in an attempt to learn how to “live off the land”. I learned first hand where our food comes from and the work involved in cultivating vegetables and caring for livestock. I learned the life of a farmer includes long hours and hard, often thankless work. However, I was finding that working outside and connecting myself to the soil, the plants, the weather, ect. expanded my awareness and gave me a sense of fulfillment, or connection. Rather than walking from the house to the car with my head racing with thoughts, I noticed myself stopping to check out what the sky was doing, or observing how much rain had fallen last night. And I began to really appreciate this connection.

During this time I met many great people, and among these people was a community of folks teaching skills which pre-dated the agricultural “living off the land” model. This community is also known as the Maine Primitive Skills School. This school teaches connection to the natural world which, though practice, can reach levels of awareness nearly forgotten by our modern society. I was hooked.

I went back to New Jersey for the winter to work and saved up all the money I could so I could return to Maine the next spring and take workshops at the Maine Primitive Skills School. And so I did, and by midsummer I had embarked on a 2 month camping trip in the Maine wilderness far from civilization, with only bare essentials.

In a little over a year I went from a interview office at a well respected accounting firm in NJ to the farm fields of New England to the wilderness of Maine.

When I returned from the woods the following autumn I had realized how deep the connection goes, and how shallow mine was in comparison. Sure, I knew a few edible plants, but I wanted to know ALL of them. I could see a deer track in the mud, but I wanted to see ALL the deer tracks, be able to tell how old it was, where the animal was going , even what it was thinking. And so was my way of thinking, and it still is. A deep sense of curiosity, child-like. Following my 2 month wilderness excursion, I decided to become an apprentice at the Maine Primitive Skills School and lived there for 2 years. I continue to have  strong relationships with its community members.

In this blog I hope to pass along some of the skills that have been shared with me during the past few years and to help those out there who want to build a stronger relationship with the beautiful world of nature. Thanks again for reading!

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