Art of Mentoring, 2012
At the end of August, 2012 I had the honour of attending a very special 6 day workshop known as the Art of Mentoring. The goal of the week long Art of Mentoring workshop is to connect with Nature, yourself, others, and your ancestors.
This week long workshop was put together by some very powerful and prominent people in the world of nature connection an outdoor education. Some of these people included Jon Young, Mark Morey, Dan Gardoqui, Saskia Vanderhoop, as well as some amazing people from Ontario like Andrew McMartin, Chris Gilmour, Laura Gilmour, Carly Jay, Skeet Sutherland, Alexis Burnett, and many other unsung heroes who make the event possible.
The August 2012 Art of Mentoring was held at the Mansfield Outdoor Centre in Mansfield, Ontario. The course is quite expensive at almost $700.00 per person. For some people, there is an opportunity for assistance for tuition through the Dušan Nedelko Foundation.
Arriving a few hours before the opening ceremonies, I spent some time enjoying the trail systems of Mansfield Outdoor Centre, as well as helping out the staff by setting out signs, and directing incoming traffic to the designated camping and parking spots.
At approximately 17:00hrs everyone gathered in a large hall where we were treated to a great supper provided by hard-working kitchen staff. We would be eating all our meals here during the next six days. The communal eating area was a fantastic opportunity to network with people of like mind and make connections.
A loud Coyote howl echoed through the countryside to signal everyone to gather for opening circle. During this circle, over 150 people gathered to watch Skeet use a bow-drill to create a sacred fire. Carly prompted a beautiful fire song to be sung during this time called “light it up to live”. It was very moving to sing the sacred fire to life.
During the opening circle, we were asked to “trust the process”. This phrase would be repeated to us many times over the next week following the question: “What’s next?”. This concept was designed for us let go of our regimented play-by-play lives and learn to enjoy the concept and process of nature. It certainly took quite a bit of getting used to.
The first evening after circle, everyone in attendance was treated to a Jam session with a few of the organizers.
The day was spent exploring the woods, playing nature games.
The next morning I awoke in my tent to a beautiful sunny day with a fog which settled over the valley. During breakfast I sat at the Elders table and conversed about Nature Deficit Disorder, and met an amazing woman who camped in the tops of trees using a hammock and climbing gear.
Shortly after breakfast we gathered and were quite politely told to gather everything we would need for an overnight trip, and prepare to depart in ½ hour. I raced to my Jeep and grabbed my sleeping bag, and a few other items and met my team to depart for the next 24 hours.
Our intrepid, barefoot team leader Carly led us into the woods and to the river which runs through the Mansfield property. We hiked along the river bank and decided to break off into three small groups and find an appropriate campsite.
Pairing up with an amazing man named Richard, we crossed the river, and wandered into a beautiful cedar grove. After some evaluation time, we decided this was going to be the spot which we would camp in for the night.Returning back to our team, we relaxed and ate lunch. After lunch, some of the team went for a swim in the deeper sections of the river.
With a lot of hooting and hollering, our swimmers returned with a large, dead, smelly crayfish to proudly show the group. They invented a game in which we had to deeply inhale the crayfish odour while they counted “one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi”. By then we were all gagging from the stench. We had a quick debate on what to call the crayfish – “Cuddles” became his name.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, some of our team members used a bow drill to create fire, while others gathered firewood. In order to ensure there would be no trace left of our fire in the area, I gathered a pile of large rocks from the river bottom, then covered them in sand (to prevent the rocks from heating up, or exploding). When I had finished, the base of our fire pit looked like a freshly poured cement disc. This would be the perfect base to make a fire which would not scar the land when we departed in the morning.
After a drum ceremony, our group played several games including “blind trail” where we took each other into the woods blindfolded and had each other identify plants and trees by smell and touch. It was a great way to spend an evening. Mutton soup arrived cold, and we created a tripod out of sticks to heat up our supper before bed. We made no shelter, and decided to sleep in our bags directly under the stars.
As dawn broke, I awoke from my slumber in the forest. Some of my camp mates examined the area and said there was evidence of deer walking right into our sleeping area during the night. We packed up our things, and made the river crossing and headed back to the main hall for breakfast. It was an amazing night out.During the day, we wrote a story of our experience told from the perspective of the crayfish:
I felt what I thought was the hand of the creator plucking me from the water.
I heard voices bestow upon me an honourable name – Cuddles. They brought me into their strange world. Part of their rituals were to sniff me deeply and examine me closely. They carried me across my native waters into ancient forest groves and sat me on a cloth to worship me. They sang praises and danced strangely in a circle. I watched as they created a sacred fire in my honour, using ancient techniques known only to them. At one point three of them left to hunt and gather food. Hey scared a scantily clad neighbouring tribesman. Then they worked on sharpening their trust skills by leading each other blindfolded through the woods, and sat around the fire, exchanging stories. After dark they watched the stars as they fell asleep. During the night, strange antlered creatures walked through the camp. The next morning they left me to tend the trees as they departed in peace. It was as if they had never been there.”The rest of the day was spent listening to Jon Young speak about our connection with our ancestors. He and Mark Morey commented that dealing with grief of loss is the most important way to move into the future. They wrapped up their seminar with a very profound saying: When the sand of death hits you in the eyes, you lose the ability to see beauty.The last evening of the week-long event I had the amazing opportunity to climb up on stage with two people who I really admire (Jon Young and Mark Morey) and drum with them while they performed a very high-energy song simply called “Coyote”. The entire building shook as almost 100 people danced around during the song. It was an amazing way to end an incredible week.The best way to describe this week was set forth in a moving poem by McConnel. Her poem is entitled “My Ode to the Art of Mentoring”
I have received the sacred gift of mentorship:
I have lain on sunlit grass filtered by foliage and philosophies from above
I have gotten pine sap on the soles of my feet and tree bark in my hair
I have filled my nostrils with the pungency of a crawfish carcass for the count of 3 mississippi’s
I have taken the time to find a four-leaf clover (or allowed it to find me)
I have been cleansed by the waters of the Pine River
I have worn the cloak of my first smudging
I have slept under the watchful gaze of Ursus Major on a bed of ferns and cedar leaves
I have tasted the dusky blue of wild elderberries, nibbled right off the bush below a descending crescent moon
I have heard the music of the wind, the waters, of shared visions and voices united
I have witnessed the dance of the river otter amongst a chorus line of leaping minnows
I have accepted the guidance of the Bear brought to me by the medicine card, and grown stronger through silent introspection
I have shed a layer of fear and uncertainty in order to open doors, climb over fences, leap from cliff edges, and finally learned to trust the process
I have met with the delight of having preconceived notions proven wrong
I have been mystified by the magic of yet-to-be-identified plants, yet-to-be-explained tracks, yet-to-be-known processes, and nature’s everyday miracles
I have felt my mind and heart fill to bursting like a plump milkweed pod
I have found family in a flock of strangers…
…And in each of these I have found a mentor
whose wisdom I will carry with me
in the satchel of my soul
I will sprinkle it around me
in my constant expression of gratitude
when I leave here tomorrow
and everyday after
on my journey to
and never yield–
my journey of connection.
The Art of Mentoring was a very moving experience which changed my perspective on experiential education, and having fun in the wilderness. Over the week I learned to connect with my ancestors in ways I could not have previously comprehended, as well as created some friendships which I will cherish for many years to come.