Kelly Daniels- Stilwell, Kansas

From 2014

An unexpected, unforeseen outcome from a vacation with my kids that created a profound impact on my life.
 
Three years ago I read a true story about an 83 year old Apache Elder that taught a white boy from the age of 7 - 17 the love of nature, how intricately we are all a part of it,  the importance of protecting it for future generations, including the impact on the world if we don't start changing the way we are doing things. I found out that little boy grew up to start family camps to share these teachings with others and has been doing this for 20 years.. This became his mission in life.
 
I thought this would be a fun thing to do with my two boys ages 7 and 11. I happily suggested it to my husband who was not quite so enthusiastic about the idea. He thought surely there were nature camps closer to Kansas. And besides, the thought of hanging out in the forests of Oregon with a group of tree huggers learning about Indians was not his idea of fun. Well, I'm not one to give up too easily when my heart is saying, "this is what you must do with your boys". So when the boys asked me what I wanted for Mother's Day, I said, "A trip to Oregon". My husband finally gave in and gave me "permission" to go, but had no intention of joining us. So I persuaded my 65 year old mom to camp with us in the mountains, of course complete with air mattress and pillow and food being prepared for us. I failed to mention the debris huts she would be building, along with the mud she would camouflage her entire body with and the blind fold walks in the dark. (Just a few minor details.)
 
I admit on the drive out I had my doubts. My parents decided to make a road trip of it, see the country and rented an RV since plane tickets were so high. One day as my boys were eating their pizzas on their sleeping bags and spilling garlic butter dip all over the beds we would be sleeping on in the wilderness where bears lived, I did have a moment of losing it. I felt kind of bad when I saw the look of fear on their faces when I told them that bears love garlic butter and they knew I thought we were all going to die.
 
Little did I know that the entire essence of the trip was all about going beyond your comfort zone and making it to the other side with a renewed sense of strength, when you come to the understanding that you can survive almost anything. (And I thought we were just going to hang out and watch the boys learn about Indians.)  I came to find out the idea was that we weren't to really know about anything that was going to happen, were allowed no cell phone, watches, or electronics of any kind, no sugar, caffeine or any other comforts of scheduling and having some sense of control about what is happening in the days ahead. It was a lesson in learning to surrender to living in the present moment, roll with the flow, and trust. Lay that vacation on your mom and kids.
 
The first night we went to the open screened in lodge to eat dinner, the beautiful feast that lay before us was an amazing sight before my eyes. Unlike the hot dogs and smores, this was a lovingly prepared healthy feast. My children saw a different story. They just looked at the organic vegetables and grains and whispered, "Where have you taken us and where is our food?" McDonald's suddenly looked light years away. It was a beautiful thing. They were trapped and I was not responsible for the menu, where I normally gave in too easily. I knew that eventually they would get hungry and have to eat something and the real crazy thing was they started to not only like it but crave it. The variety of food they ate changed before my eyes. It was the first miracle I experienced on this thrill ride.
 
I just thought we were just going to all hang out together in the woods, but they whisked the kids off on their own adventures while they had something else in store for us adults. We were given questions to ask and sent out alone in the woods to reflect and journal.  I found this interesting and decided to flow with it. I found a rock in the shape of a heart and decided it was a sign that I was here to learn about my heart. Not really what I was expecting, but I was cool with that. Little did I know that walls that I had formed through years of numbing, would be a bit emotional as they came tumbling down. I had no idea what I was in for.
 
By the end of the week, we were all completely transformed human beings. When we first arrived we were nervous and jittery, couldn't sleep on the ground with all the weird silence all around. But within a few nights, we were not only sleeping soundly but beginning to have a sense of this being the way life is supposed to be. We became connected to this group of people like we had never been connected to any group before. We were enduring this new adventure together and getting a sense of what it must have been like to be in a tribe. My boys were not fighting anymore and were actually hugging a lot. They were kind and peaceful and had a renewed sense of self esteem and love for everything. By the end of the week, we didn't want to come home. We cried when we left, feeling overwhelmed with the thought of returning to Kansas and all the turmoil we were accustomed to living with in our normal, average, all American lives. Schedule, perform, compete and watch our lives pass before our eyes.
 
On the way home the boys didn't want to sleep in the RV, they were more comfortable in a sleeping bag under the stars. Walking into our home and looking at all our stuff was a bit overwhelming. I watched as the boys tensed and returned to their old routines, but only partially. We were all changed undeniably. And I was ready to make some more changes.
 
My family's mission in life changed that week.
 
We had had the opportunity to reflect on what is truly important. And the impact we saw on a simpler lifestyle and immersing ourselves in nature had an undeniable effect on us that we would never be able to forget. 
 
The changes in our family have been many. My oldest son has his own website for his artwork that he sells to raise money for the environment. He has been on television programs, radio shows, newspapers, and won national environmental art contests and given speeches to Senators and State Representatives in Washington DC on the importance of supporting environmental bills. There are bills that have been signed because of him. He has spoken at environmental programs and events. He has shirts in retail stores with his artwork on them and gives a portion of all his sales of all his artwork to environmental groups and Coyotetrails School of Nature in Oregon.
 
My youngest son takes his friends out on trails in the woods we made behind our home, taking them on adventures to the creeks and teaching them to climb trees. It is amazing how nervous even boys are now to take their shoes off and walk in the creek and have never climbed a tree. Nearly every 11 year old that visits is afraid to go in the woods. He is already a teacher. He throws himself in the creek with wild abandon, catches crawdads, and sneaks up on animals in the woods.  Frogs sit on his hands and look at him like he's a friend and baby ducks snuggle in his arms. He's our true nature boy. He's going to change the world someday.
 
Before I left on my trip my sole business was The Kelly Gallery designing portrait art of  families in the Kansas City area for 20 years. Since I've returned from this trip I still run my business but I now am involved with a few other extracurricular activities.  I  began after school programs on nature awareness and skills. I now teach school programs on Native Americans and their traditional respect for nature and the importance of protecting the environment. I speak on radio programs for survival skill for children. I have coordinated and run weekend family camps for the last three years in Kansas. I facilitate archery camps on empowerment for women And teens. As well as week long camps retreats for women, families and children in the Midwest to teach more about the importance of getting ourselves and our children outside and away from the electronics. I've seen first hand the unbelievable impact nature has on us and am determined to share this knowledge with as many people as possible. I am working with others to raise awareness with Organic food and creating healthy snack options for children and families.
 
In an age where it is vital that we start becoming aware and changing the way we do things, we need to get ourselves and our children out in nature. We need to give our children the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature like many of us did when we were kids. We need to give them the opportunity to not be afraid to be in the forest that they are being taught is important to save. In order for them to want to make change they need to have the opportunity to love nature with their hearts and souls. The way I have found to do this is to be in an environment where you are safely immersed in wilderness for an extended period of time and taught the joy of living simply. Giving our children the opportunity to walk in places that change them into calm, loving, giving people they were meant to be is a priceless gift. It is time to reconnect all of us to a part of ourselves that is quickly being lost.
 
This camp changed our lives in many ways. My oldest son now 20 received a $100,000 scholarship for college based on an essay about his experience and growth at Coyote Trails . My youngest son now 15 last fall went to a coming of age teen vision quest at Coyote trails that was one of the most incredible experiences of his life. This summer he will be following the footsteps of his brother and be interning in Oregon at this camp for 8 weeks. I'm so excited for both of their futures. And I give a huge amount of credit for the nature experiences that helped them through potentially difficult teen years. It taught them to feel good about themselves and the world around them, how to relieve stress in their lives and about the things that are truly important in life. Living your passion, living simply and taking care of this precious planet are just a few of the important life skills they walked away with. I've not found anything else in this society that can do what this camp did. 
 
Every family should have this experience. I am so grateful for the instructors and this camp experience that has changed my life and the life of my boys. 
 
Kelly Daniels

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From 2011

I have taken my two boys to Coyote Trails every year since they were 7 and 11. They are now 13 and 17 and the positive impact this program has had on my boys, I can truly say, has been life changing and one of the most important things I have ever done for them and for myself.

The experiences have always been set up so perfectly. Year after year always above and beyond anything I imagined it would be. It has been the healthiest, most enlightening as well as fun experience we have ever had as a family. The instructors have had such a positive impact on all of us, empowering us with the confidence to overcome fear, live with simplicity and feel with our hearts.

The peaceful setting of the forest and the very well planned, safe space they create for us heightens our awareness, forces us to live in the moment, empowers us with skills to survive on very little and helps us to feel a sense of playfulness and spontaneity that is much of the time missing in the desensitizing, busy world we are surrounded with in our daily lives. In a nut shell, it has given us a sense of peace and joy we are able to take back home with us, integrate into our lives and made a huge impact in how we look at and interact with the world.

Even at the end of the week of our first camp, we were all completely transformed human beings. When we first arrived we were nervous and jittery, couldn't sleep on the ground with all the weird silence all around. But within a few nights, we were not only sleeping soundly but beginning to have a sense of this being the way life is supposed to be. We became connected to this group of people like we had never been connected to any group before. We were enduring this new adventure together and getting a sense of what it must have been like to be in a tribe. My boys were not fighting anymore and were actually hugging a lot. They were kind and peaceful and had a renewed sense of self esteem and love for everything. By the end of the week, we didn't want to come home. We cried when we left, feeling overwhelmed with the thought of returning to Kansas and all the turmoil we were accustomed to living with in our normal, average, all American lives. Schedule, perform, compete and watch our lives pass before our eyes.

In an age where it is vital that we start becoming aware and changing the way we do things, we need to get ourselves and our children out in nature. We need to give our children the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature like many of us did when we were kids. We need to give them the opportunity to not be afraid to be in the forest that they are being taught is important to save. In order for them to want to make change they need to have the opportunity to love nature with their hearts and souls. The way I have found to do this is to be in an environment where you are safely immersed in wilderness for an extended period of time and taught the joy of living simply. Giving our children the opportunity to walk in places that change them into calm, loving, giving people they were meant to be is a priceless gift. It is time to reconnect all of us to a part of ourselves that is quickly being lost.

We had had the opportunity to reflect on what is truly important. And the impact we saw on a simpler lifestyle and immersing ourselves in nature had an undeniable effect on us that we would never be able to forget.

Kelly Daniels,

Stilwell, Kansas