Week in the Woods Bulletin Board
Week in the Woods 2019 Session Highlights
Week in the Woods 2019 ended on a beautiful sunny warm day and the last event of that day, other than taking down camp, was a game of flag tag initiated by Klaus, one of six inspiring visitors.
This year we moved camp to a new location and for the first time in 12 years the site was relatively level. This was also our smallest group, yet again one of the best years ever. The small group meant we not only got to know each other better but gained more from each other.
Two other “firsts” this year were an afternoon with a forest pathologist and harvesting second growth birch bark. The play this year was “The Nine Lives of a Camp Director” and it was gut-busting funny (all-be-it a bit morbid).
As is true every year at WITW, fun was had, friends were made, and much was learned. We all got dirty and tired and each and every one of us plans to return next year.
John Manthei, Camp Co-Director
Below are reflections contributed by Eric Tseo, a participant from the Seattle area:
“We live directly in the city of Seattle and consequently with our busy lives and many distractions, we often don’t take long trips into nature. There are day trips to lovely parks and day hikes, or even car camping that puts us away from the city, but it is still near a road or car or maintained path. There’re also the other people in the Seattle who like to enjoy the outdoors. Very often you are close to them or come across very many of them.
Week in the woods was the first time my daughter and myself had truly been in nature for a significant amount of time. 5 days of meeting, learning, working, eating, sleeping in the woods. It wasn’t roughing it, due to the many amenities provided by the program, but there were no maintained trails, no people other than the camp guests, and no sense that civilization was right around the corner. While immersed in nature, we absorbed it and didn’t really notice or comment on it to each other, but after we left the site and returned to the city of Fairbanks, things seemed so urban (yes, Fairbanks!). While walking on the sidewalk from one business to another, we both commented on how hard the sidewalk was, how few plants or trees were nearby, and how we felt kind of exposed.
It was then that I realized what a special experience Week in the Woods is. We had reset our perception of environment, gained a special appreciation for nature, and learned both mentally and viscerally about how things can be made… in the woods.”
Week in the Woods 2018 Session Highlights
Week in the Woods 2018 came to a close last Wednesday. By now everyone involved should be clean, rested up, and their gear put away awaiting the next adventure. The memories of the week are beginning to blur among the “trees” of our busy lives. Hopefully most of us will hold onto the most enduring aspects of the experience as numerated in our last circle around the fire:
WITW is an opening
WITW means all teach, all learn
WITW forms a primal village
WITW is feeling
WITW is respect
WITW is pensive
For 11 years and12 sessions this was our second smallest group at 14. What we lacked in numbers we more than made up for in energy, spirit and curiosity. Nine were from out of state, 2 from Eagle river and just 3 from Fairbanks. Our out-of-state visitors are thanks to the “Pied Piper effect” of Scobie Puchtler.
We had 3 firsts this year: with the help of Tony Perelli we turned bowls on the spring pole lathe, we put birch handles on knife blades, and we steam-bent birch and made spatulas. We also made shrink boxes and tues’, wove and folded birch bark vessels, carved spoons and story knives, made bow saws, carved small bowls, made birch tar and copters.
Under the guidance of Carolyn Parker, Terry Chapin and Derek Sikes we learned about plants and plant communities, climate change and “bugs”. Bruce Campbell showed us how to prepare both savory and sweet dishes in a dutch oven. As usual the annual WITW play was a tremendous success and included a huge blood thirsty mosquito.
The weather was perfect, bugs were tolerable and the forest provided us with everything we needed both physically and spiritually. Thank you to all who volunteered their time to make this program a reality.
Week in the Woods 2017 Session Highlights
This was the tenth anniversary of Week in the Woods and as happens every year, it was the best year yet. We had the perfect combination of just enough rain for safe fires and, believe it or not, almost no bugs. This may also have been the year of lowest bandaid usage. There were 23 hearty participants, 10 of whom were from out of state, and all but five of the 23 were new to the program. We explored the woods, harvested cool stuff, made lots of neat things, learned about mushrooms, plants, wood, nutrient cycling, hydrology and a million other things. We told stories, made up stories, played music, made good food, made new friends, acted silly, came face to face with zombies and basically had a ton of fun. One particularly special thing that happened this year was two of our very young participants from the first year (2008) are now 12 and 14 and they tried their hand at teaching. We also had an assortment of interesting visitors, many of whom were alumna that simply couldn’t stay away. We are already looking forward to WITW 2018!
Week in the Woods 2016 Session Highlights
This was our 9th year of Week in the Woods. We have had a total of 230 participants over those 9 years and the program continues to grow and improve. This year we had 20 kids from 6 to 17 years of age and 10 adults. Nine of these hardy folks were from the Seattle area. We had 7 full time staff, 3 visiting specialists, 3 helpful and fun hangers-onners and several welcome visitors who braved the muddy road. We all shared a lot, learned a lot, and played a lot. There was a great deal more story telling and music this year and even a short course on dutch oven cooking. The annual play was improvised and entirely run by kids, featuring many of the things we learned about plants, fungus and human nature and of course received great reviews. We didn’t entirely deplete our first aid supplies nor our copious stash of food and water and then broke camp on a blessed dry day. To quote a song we all have heard “it was a very good year”.
Week in the Woods 2015 Session Highlights
Our 8th year of Week in the Woods was our smallest group so far. This small group, however, proved to be a dynamic, vibrant, and fun bunch of folks composed of both returnees and new campers. This small group allowed a flexible, relaxed schedule, and lots of one-on-one time. This year’s extremely dry summer meant that we couldn’t use chain saws or any fire. Though it rained the first few days of camp, the fire ban wasn’t lifted until the second-to last day. Even so, we all circled our chairs around the stone-lined fireplace at meals, during our spruce-root peeling marathon, and for playing music.
We returned to the blessedly flatter ground of the campsite at 8-mile, and our wonderful staff looked much the same as other years. These talented and devoted folks continue to be the heart of WITW. Marianne, Richard and Carolyn have been with us since the very beginning. Mary and Tim have been involved for the past several years. Sara and Christin were new this year. As times change, we all grow older and the demands of our lives and families change; so does the makeup of the WITW family. For the first time since the beginning, Becca, Mac and Van did not join us. Charlie, who has been with us all but the first year, did not join this year.
We continued to work and experiment with the Week in the Woods staples of birch bark, wood, and spruce root, and even added some new materials to our repertoire, such as spruce bark strips and fireweed fiber. We settled in the rhythm of the woods. Carving novices created the requisite spoons with Jon, bark enthusiasts stationed themselves at Mary’s table. The spring pole lathe was installed at the top of camp. Continuing last year’s tradition, Scobie and Steve put up the big swing, and everyone swung on it. Tim carved cars with lathe-turned wheels, and set up the race track for the car race. Richard taught knife handle making and truth fabrication. Marianne worked her magic, teaching bug-carving, chip carving, and making egg paint, as well as facilitating the theater piece and bringing many craft options to the table. Carolyn and Christin took us on a mycology walkabout. We telescoped together and apart, pursuing independent projects, then coming together to share what we had learned.
In an unforeseen twist, we found remains of the work of campers from previous years in the duff. A highlight of these treasures was “Tobin’s turnip,” a bulb-shaped bobble of turned wood with three willow leaves poked in top. We spruced up an old puppet stage for this year’s theater. We curled the tight ringlets of old birch bark strips around our fingers, reminded of the physical and temporal connection to this special place.
A Week in the Woods Poem:
Lichens, cones, and willow switches,
We keyed out the forest’s riches.
Witches butter, slime mold frocks,
Foraged fungus, woody conks.
We sliced, snacked, spitted, and cooked
We peeled, split, sawed, and looked.
Fluted, hooted, howled, and whooped,
And coiled skeins of fragrant root.
A curious turnip on a wooden stump,
A lathe-turned wheel, a corky lump.
Prying wedge and sharpened stick,
Sugared cambium to lick.
We raced, twisted, plied, and spun,
Plaited, plated, poured and punned.
Swung in fun and contemplation,
Discussed physics of aviation.
We cut and crafted,
Strung and hafted.
Joked and laughed.
So weave, cleave, carve, and bevel,
Bend, ret, boil, and be clever,
Make a mistake or make up a stitch
There’s mayonnaise to clean the pitch!
See an awesome alder’s recurved bough
And envision spoons sleeping within,
Sing our songs and save the dates:
June 25th through 29th, 2016!
Week in the Woods 2014 Session Highlights
Week in the Woods 2014 was in many ways a record-breaking year. For one thing 14 of our 18 participants were men or boys. All of our young people were “guys”. We did however, have a perfect balance within our pool of instructors. We chose a new site this year in a predominantly deciduous forest, which was a first. It was a lovely spot and rich in treasures as well as rather side-hilly. Most of us needed to move some dirt in order to pitch a level tent. Weather-wise we had two stellar days and three rather wet ones, but no one skipped a beat or complained and compared to 2013 the bugs were insignificant. We had 5 visiting biologists this year and we learned a lot about plants, animals, insets and the ecology of the forest we were living in.
Along with baskets and spoons, burl bowls and carved faces, bow saws and climbing puppets, two construction projects were undertaken. Spencer headed up the team of boys in building a “fort” and Tim headed up a group of adults in building a kitchen counter.
Both these structures were lashed together exclusively with root. This year the puppet show took on a new twist. First the story was illustrated on a story pole (like a totem pole) almost 15 feet tall. Then the story was acted out to rave reviews and mountains of popcorn.
Another highlight was the production and refinement of “boreal race cars”. Under the tutelage of Tim Quintel functioning cars were crafted and a racetrack built out of gracefully bent saplings and birch bark all lashed together with spruce root. The track was a long, sloping S curve that include a jump. Each car got 2 timed runs down the track. All cars finished, some backwards, some upside down and some both, but all were winners. Another first was a huge and wonderful swing which we are sure will become a tradition.
And, in the words of John Muir, who said: “keep close to nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods…” we did just that and had a marvelous time!
A seven year old student at this year’s Week in the Woods reads a poem inspired by his experience:
I see trees they are green.
Some are pointy others are lean.
I see leaves brown and gray.
I hear leaves rustling.
I hear bugs bustling.
I bet you can’t solve this riddle:
Dead decay black brown green gray white comfy!
Week in the Woods 2013 Session Highlights
Week in the Woods 2013 was the sixth year of the program and the first time we held two sessions. It was also the hottest and buggiest year to date, and yet great fun and inspiration was had by all. We had seven new people helping us this year and everyone benefited from so much new energy and enthusiasm. We had lots of fun, tried many new things, and learned more than ever!
A few high points from the two sessions:
This was the year for making bowls! Almost everyone in both sessions tried it out with beautiful results:
With the help of David and Jenna, we had high success making fires by friction:
Both puppet shows were wild and fun and had standing room only:
This year we learned how to remove birch bark as intact cylinders from which we made containers called tues’:
Bob Hunter introduced bone, antler, and skin into the mix and folks made everything from jewelry to tools to toys:
We successfully boiled water over a fire in a birch bark basket (and the basket survived!):
Everyone enjoyed face carving with Marianne. Carvers found branches with naturally occurring arms, beards, noses, etc. and created creatures from these beginnings:
David and Jenna showed us how to make wooden tongs, which became everyone’s favorite tool around the fire as well as integral to the new international sport – tong ball!:
Sonya and Marianne introduced wood block print making:
Week in the Woods 2012 Session Highlights
Week in the Woods 2012 was the biggest WITWs to date and, without a doubt, one of the best. We had 40 participants and this large group worked together more beautifully than we possibly could have imagined. The weather was great, the bugs were tolerable, the forest was beautiful and bountiful. The staff was stellar and fully energized as usual. The participants were eager, curious, energetic and adventuresome. One of the most incredible things was how helpful all the participants were. Many people stayed after the close of camp and helped take everything down. We were all packed up in just a few hours (it took 4 days to set it all up). We also encouraged people to show up a day early to set up their camp and settle in and that too was a great success. Thank you a million times over to everyone for their extra effort and enthusiasm.
Here are just a few high points from 2012:
First year for the Springpole Lathe. It was a first time for all of us with this handmade tool and it was great fun learning together.
The Second Annual Puppet Show received rave reviews from critics around the world (or at least around the woods). For the first time it included two adult puppeteers.
Lots of interesting and exotic (by standards of the woods) foods this year and good times around the campfire.
A drawing class taught by Marianne and Tamara helped people to look more closely and see more of their environment.
Participants made solid wood stools with seats hewed out of halved logs and legs from smaller poles. We also made post and rung stools with woven birch bark seats.
Ethnobotany with Carolyn and Marty. Not only did we learn to recognize different plants but we also learned what they have been historically used for.
Bark, bark and more bark! We added two new bark experts this year – Mary Calmes and Arvid Weflin. We also enlisted Charlie Mayo’s daughter Liisa for even more help. We wove, folded, bent, twisted and stacked birch, alder and spruce bark into a myriad of cool things.
Another special treat was having families from the two most prominent outdoor programs in Fairbanks – Wild Rose and Calypso. We learned a lot from their expertise and have many ideas of ways to improve in the future. Due to the continued growth and success of this program, we are planning to offer two sessions of Week in the Woods next summer! The proposed dates are June 15 – 19, 2013 and June 29 – July 3, 2013.
Story Knife - An article by Marianne Stolz, WITW Instructor
“The story knife is an old native tradition about telling stories and drawing along with a knife that is carved specifically for this occasion. This project is a very good starter lesson for showing fundamental knife-handling skills. You will learn some basic carving techniques, and the last part of the project, the story telling, is easier than you think. Does this sound interesting?…” Click here to read the full article.
"The Yoke's on You" - An article by Philip Marshall, WITW Instructor
“In the summer of 2010 at Week in the Woods we made traditional wooden shoulder yokes for humanoids to carry two buckets of something hanging off their shoulders. The design comes from pp. 178-9 in Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft, 1978, Rodale Press. We used one year-aged aspen logs to ease woodworking; birch is better but takes longer to shape because of its hardness…” Click here to read the full article.
Week in the Woods Film
WITW would like to thank Leonard Kamerling, renowned filmmaker and faculty at UAF, for producing the video posted on the home page. We would also like to thank Takashi Sakurai and Rachel Kaplan for their assistance with the sound recording. If you have not had a chance to watch this short film, please take a minute to do so. It provides a perceptive and truthful window into the experience of spending a week in the woods.
Thank You to Spenard Builder's Supply
Week in the Woods would like to thank Spenard Builder’s Supply of Fairbanks for their generous support in 2012. The reinforced poly was the absolutely perfect solution for the acres of tarps we string up to work under. The 1 1/8″ plywood provided just the right amount of sturdy table space. We go through a considerable amount of rope, cord, saw blades, drill bits and utility knives every year and Spenard’s considerable discount on these items helped our budget significantly. These contributions helped keep many people dry and happy last summer. Thank you Spenards!