As part of my recent travels, I was lucky enough to be invited to be one of the facilitators for the 4th Art of Mentoring class hosted by EarthNative Survival School outside of Austin near Bastrop, Texas. EarthNative is an exceptional survival, deep nature connection, and tracking school started by my friend Dave Scott. Dave is a really gifted instructor, naturalist, tracker, and has mad survival skills, and it was a big honor to join him, his staff, and the participants for a week of immersive deep nature connection and diving deep into the art of mentoring.
I was lucky enough to arrive on the EarthNative campus and land a couple days early and get acquainted with Dave’s EarthNative staff and the team that would be helping run the program for the week. I was really struck by how lush the central Texas location was with greenery popping out everywhere as we were close to spring equinox. The land was filled with pecan trees, numerous vines, poison ivy sprouting up all over the place (which looks very similar to box elder a totally harmless tree), birds singing and doing mating calls, and quite a few tracks. In fact, in my first few hours there Dave took me on a little tour, and I saw both gray fox tracks (which I hadn’t seen for years) and armadillo tracks (which I saw for the first time and are quite unusual looking-almost like weird turkey tracks).
The team for the week was amazing, and it was really fun to get to know such a talented team of naturalist, facilitators, and instructors. Most of the team either currently work for Dave at EarthNative, are former staff, or are advanced students in the school’s adult programs (like their Survival intensive). Everyone was also a graduate of previous Art of Mentoring trainings or had similar experience through another program (such as doing a year-long immersion at Wilderness Awareness School’s Anake program). Lenny, Neal, Lauren, Shawn, Ann, and Britt joined Dave and myself to round out the team. The diversity and creativity of the team was immense, and rarely if ever have I gotten to work with an Art of Mentoring team that was communicated so effortlessly and easily.
For me the week at EarthNative was joyful, fun, exciting, and deeply soulfully satisfying. Educators, mentors, parents, and even just the curious joined us for the six-day program, and we were also joined by several EarthNative newer staff and Krissy our amazing cook (who has the best system for food intolerances that I’ve ever seen).
As we all began our collective journey of deep nature connection together, an ongoing joke began to happen around caracaras. The main shelter at EarthNative that is near the outdoor kitchen and which serves as an eating area/outdoor classroom is named Caracara. Caracaras are very large birds that are black and white and are in the falcon family. They act more like eagles or vultures and are very large and very fun to see. The shelter is of course named for the birds because usually it’s quite easy to see them from the shelter, especially in the morning. Ironically, by the end of the second day everybody had spotted caracaras from the shelter except me! There were also several moment of people literally saying, “Look, Nate, look...a caracara,” only for me to turn around and just miss seeing one. Apparently, I may need to go back to Awareness School or something…
Eventually, I did spot caracaras and even had a satisfying moment where I saw one that nobody else did! This playful cameraderie around nature and the flora and fauna of the site continued through the week as we spent most days learning principles and core AOM philosophy in the morning followed by field exercises and experiential learning in the afternoons.
There were many highlights of the week but for me two big events stand out. On the third day of our program, our two teams or clans (the Sun and the Moon clan) went out for all day adventures on the land. They explored, played, smeared mud on themselves, snuck around, had adventures, told stories, caught lizards, and had an overall amazing. In the late afternoon when they came back, they were covered with mud and grins were all around. That night we created a communal meal by cooking on the fire, harvesting a wild salad, and all joining together to create a feast. As the sun went down, we got to hear the stories of the day of both groups. While the Moon clan told their story, the fire kept dying down and the dark and shadows crept in...towards the end of their tale we all looked out as the full moon rose on spring equinox. Needless to say, we paused in between stories and went out for a few deep breaths of magical moonlight.
Next up, the Sun Clan told their story in booming narration as the fire mysteriously blazed to life! Their story was acted out by various members and involved much hilarity of inside jokes, re-enactments through charades, and the audience piecing together everything that happened. These two stories shared by the two clans were intermixed with ancedotes from the kids program as well, and soon our minds and souls were filled with the wonders and magical images of the day.
It's difficult to say exactly what is the Art of Mentoring or what exactly happens at the program. Is it a teacher training? A program developing mentors? Is it a week of play and fun for adults. Really, it's all of these things and more. In many ways, it's an attempt to set up at least temporarily a multi-generational village in harmony with natural cycles all around us that is also helping to deepen everyone's connection to nature and each other.
While this was happening all week for everybody in some sense, it also really came alive and peaked on Thursday night when we had community night. Community night was an open evening run by the participants as they stepped into their directional roles and welcomed in parents, children, adults, and elders from the extended community. Around a magnificent blazing fire at the Pecan Bottom fire pit, we heard stories from people of all ages, sang songs, played, and chatted late into the night as we all merged into a little deep nature connected village fully, at least for one night.
There were plenty of other adventures that week including an up close encounter with a water moccasin, fun with rainbow marshmallows, and ultimately lots of deep connection with wonderful people.
EarthNative is a special place in the lovely rolling hills outside of Austin. I can't wait to go back for more adventures and to reconnect with the lovely people and land there!