COYOTE TRAILS SCHOOL OF NATURE BRIDGES GAPS IN NATURE AND FAMILY
by Aimee McClinton
"We provide the venue to slow people down, get them out into the woods, and allow wilderness and nature to do the true teaching." Living in Central Oregon, most of us appreciate the good fortune of boundless adventure in our backyard. Whether it's winding along the Deschutes River trail, shooshing down the side of a snowy mountain, or nestled in a sleeping bag watching a meteor shower, many of us find peace through nature.
Coyote Trails School of Nature, a nonprofit experiential nature program, provides youth, teens and families a unique setting in which to enjoy the great outdoors. Developed by Joe and Molly Kreuzman, their mission is preserving heritage and the natural environment through the art and science of earth-based primitive living skills. Family programs, in particular, are offered to those ages seven through 70-plus.
The entry-level course, titled Family Fox Trail, is a weeklong campout where participants learn to create fire through bow-drilling techniques, identify edible plants and berries, build survival huts, and recognize different animal tracks. Sequential family courses delve deeper into honing primitive living techniques. These classes study specific areas like advanced methods of animal tracking, making coal-burned wooden bows and utensils, and flint knapping (the art of making stone tools). The essence of the experience is genuine.
From the moment families arrive at their secluded group campsite (located outside Ashland for most Oregon-based sessions), all watches, cell phones and electrical devices are stowed away. An added bonus for the adults is that all meals are prepared, organic and preservative-free, by staff chef, Rebecca Moergen. "We provide the venue to slow people down, get them out into the woods, and allow wilderness and nature to do the true teaching," said Joe Kreuzman, founder of Coyote Trails.
"Everything (in nature) is a mirror reflection of who and what we are, and nature does the teaching for us…. We just provide the container." For many families who have participated, Coyote Trails has provided a breath of fresh air and renewed perspective of life and the environment.
Sandy Willmore who is a wife and a mother of two - a 15 year-old son and 10 year-old daughter - and educator who lives in Ohio.
It was through a mutual friend that Sandy met Joe Kreuzman and learned of Coyote Trails. Intrigued by the concept, Sandy packed up her family and flew to Oregon last summer for a weeklong camping trip. "I fell in love with the program," Sandy said. "I was seeing my kids zipping by, having fun with their new friends, and I loved that, but at the same time I got to talk and connect with the other adults, who became my really good friends. So it was like I got to be a kid, but at the same time my kid was being a kid."
As an individual, Sandy re-connected with aspects of herself previously buried under the mother and wife; the experience afforded her time to deepen her relationship each family member. "It was the best family trip we've had because we truly got away from it all, and I feel we really bonded." Inspired by her time at camp, Sandy has since implemented the Coyote School of Adventure Nature Club at an Ohio middle school where she currently teaches. In collaboration with the Kreuzmans, Sandy is constructing an outdoor curriculum to which schools nationwide may access.
For the past two summers, three generations of the Daniels family have attended the Coyote Trails family program: Kelly, her two sons - ages 8 and 12 - and her mother. Not an experienced camper prior to Coyote Trails, Kelly admits she was a little nervous at first. The nerves quickly dissipated, and now the Daniels family has committed to returning every summer they are able.
"The awareness skills we have come away with have affected everything in our lives," Kelly said. "My children came away calmer, kinder, more insightful individuals, not only with nature and animals, but people as well." Parents and children come together for mealtime, group activities, and sleeping, but are otherwise separated. While the kids are off learning new outdoor skills, adults have time with instructors to discuss and share topics of importance. "We're given the space to look inside ourselves to become better people and parents that are more connected to our hearts and souls," said Kelly.
Busy schedules and demographics often cut back on time Stan has to spend with his grandkids. Last summer, he seized an opportunity to share quality time with two of his grandsons, ages 11 and 9, by signing up with Coyote Trails. "I was amazed to discover how independent (my grandsons) are," Brock said. "I came to Coyote Trails to provide my grandkids with an opportunity to get close to nature and learn about the earth. What I was surprised to find is that I learned more than I ever anticipated." One of the many lessons taught at camp is having respect for elders. Referred to as wisdom-keepers, participating grandparents are reminded that their role in the lives of their grandchildren is extremely valuable. "It's a great place," said Brock.
"They have excellent instructors and everybody is interested in the betterment of the children, the group and the Earth." Coyote Trails offers year-round sessions. Check their Web site, www.coyotetrails.org, for descriptions, further details, and a video testimonial.