Tonight we went to the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington and 50 people showed up.

Display at the RBG: "Reach in and discover the stomach contents of this life size Giant Catfish"

Display at the RBG: "Reach in and discover the stomach contents of this life size Giant Catfish"

Each night the staff open up with a song called “Go Outside“.  Chris Gilmore of  Earth Mentorship, opened up with a story about a red fox that would show up at his high school weekend bonfires.  The amazing thing was it only showed up when they were playing music.  It would come out and sit on this little hill and listen, every time.

Threads from the talk tonight:

Deep Nature connection requires mentoring.  Left to my own devices I will continue to be aware of what I already know.  Its the mentors choice to increase awareness of the one that is learning.  I remembered back to when I didn’t know what a robin was.  There were no robins.  I played on that lawn.  I was there every day.  But I know now, where there are lawns there are robins.  A mentor showed me my first robin.  And then they hooked up my ears to hear their song.  Then through curiosity I was led to discovering the nest.  Now my yard is magic, watching birds of many species rear their young.

The same is true for parenting.  What the parent gives attention to the children will consider important.   If nature doesn’t exist for the parents it won’t exist for the children.
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Here I am in London, Ontario.  There are 45 people at this talk and hungry for something, I can sense it.  Could be hockey.  They like their Junior Hockey.

They really like their Hockey in London.

They really like their Hockey in London.

Three months ago I was approached by Andrew McMartin, founder of the Pine Project, (Toronto).  He asked if it would be possible to run an Art of Mentoring in the Toronto area next summer.  I agreed to mentor him and the area wilderness schools into an interdependent network of resilient relationships.  This approach to starting an art of mentoring in a new area is a regional strategy developed in the Northeast around the Vermont AOM and is the same approach I am using in the UK right now, prepping for the London aom.

So tonight is the first of five talks I will be giving this weekend to introduce the possibilities of bringing the Art of Mentoring to the region.  And like I said at the end of the talk, “Don’t think of the AOM as a program, because if that’s all it is, I don’t want to do it.  Think of it as a seed that will inspire you to live this in your own life.”

There were 12 youth there from a nationwide, federally funded youth program called: Katimavik (video).  They live together for 9 months together in one house, learn about community living with themselves and do service work in the outside community at the same time.  They are challenged to live without TV and to only do things they can make with their own hands, like bake their own bread, rather than buy it.  They are members from french speaking and english speaking areas of Canada.  Not only do they learn to live democratically with each other, but they travel as ambassadors to each of these culturally different areas to serve those communities.  I spoke with them about Peacemaking and gave them the research challenge to look up the Peacemaker Story of the Iroquois.  One of them said “I want to know about this invisible thing called culture that you are talking about, I want to get to know it because its impossible to see !  I want to be apart of the next generation that learns to create culture consciously “.  I gave her the homework to get the book, “Dancing with a Ghost” by Rupert Ross, (a Canadian), and send me a one page report on her reflections.  She shook on it.

An 11 yr old girl in the front row raised her hand when I asked for questions.  “What is an elder?” she asked.  I said, “I will tell you what I think, but tell me first what your guess is”.  She said, “Someone older, like a grandma or grandpa, who you can go to and they help you with stuff”.  I smiled,  ” Perfect” .

I spoke about culture that night and the importance of having a conscious facilitation of connection:  bonding with each other, knowing of ourselves and connection with nature.  I spoke about Elders, rites of passage, and the importance of parents modeling creative curiosity that the children will naturally imitate.  In the end I offered, “If we don’t raise our children the way we would like, someone else will.”

At the end of break, our host and local mentor, Kevin MacGregor, asked about local animal sightings.  The first hand went up and he said “I saw Coyote tracks down at the sewage treatment plant”.  Another one went up and said “I’ve seen Coyote tracks in Sifton Bog”.  Two more stories popped, one from Kevin about finding an actual Coyote Den and the other from Andrew, who saw two Coyote’s run by him and his children at his nature program, yesterday.

Lookin’ Good.  Did I tell you that Coyote’s guide 2nd edition just came out?

Check in tomorrow for talk #2 out of 5.

Mt Monadnock, one of the Seven Sacred Mountains of the U.S.

Mt Monadnock, one of the Seven Sacred Mountains of the U.S.

On my way out of town on the way to Austria, I felt a previous lesson rising within me.  This was a teaching, a lesson, that I had learned about going on a journey.  One time I learned the hard way, ignoring this feeling, and all of my bags disappeared out of the back of the car, but that’s another story.

“I think we should stop and offer prayers before this incredible journey to Austria and back”, I said to Aji, my adopted 17 yr old nephew.  “Good idea, Uncle Mark”.  (I should note he was with me when we discovered the mysterious disappearing bag trick.)

We pulled over and walked to the side of the gas station parking lot.  There in the distance was Mt. Monadnock.  Now this was special because it’s a rare place that one can see Mt. Monadnock from these parts.  As well, it’s one of the Seven Sacred Mountains, according to Gilbert Walking Bull, an elder of mine, who has “changed addresses” so to speak.  Each time he came to visit us from the Black Hills, he would tell us about this mountain and others like it around the country that rise up out of the land.  “People have quested on these mountains and received visions from the creator, these are sacred places”.

“Perfect”, I said to myself, regarding the synchronicity.  I pulled out my ceremonial tobacco pouch that I use when tending a Sacred Fire.  “I would like to make an offering to this Sacred Mountain here in New England, to watch over us until we reach the high mountains of Austria”.  “And back”, said Aji.  Bless us with a grounded and safe journey so that we may return and tell the story of the day, sharing the blessings and teachings from the Alps Nature community to our own”.  Aji and his mother, who was kindly driving us to the airport, also joined in.

We had a natural moment of quiet when we were done.  I think it was peace.  The feeling was, ‘We’ve done what we can, it’s the creators turn.  Let’s continue and live our mission to the fullest’.

And so we did.

When we arrived in Tyrol by plane, the descent into the high valley was spectacular.  The scale of the mountain peaks to the valley floor was ridiculous.  We were alive and impossibly in some Magical Land.

tryol landscape

Our host, Ron Bachman, co founder of the Alpen Wildnis Schule, gave us a greeting of local lore and legend on the drive through town.

The first story he told us was about this cave, which we could see, on the side of this mountain, rising steeply from the valley floor.  “ This is one of the Seven Sacred Mountains of Tyrol” he began.  My jaw dropped.  I shot a glance to Aji in the back seat that said “No way !”.   I looked up at this great mountain and reflected back on that moment, 24 hours earlier, when we left New England.  An unspeakable gratitude came over me.  I feel blessed.  This is unexplainable, but I feel protected and supported by the mountains, by these Sacred Mountains.

Inside, I expressed my appreciation and dedicated my journey to the highest purpose I could fulfill, an international network of peace.

Tyrol, Austria

Tyrol, Austria

Traveling to Austria for the first time triggered teachings I learned from Paul Raphael, Odawa Peacemaker.  He told me that before he traveled he would visit with his elders and tell them about the trip he was going on and the intention behind it.  He would ask for their blessing and prayers for his journey.  Sometimes they asked questions, looking for clarity and defining the mission.  This has become known as the Anchoring Principle.  It refines my purpose, supports my intention and empowers my best self to show up on the journey.

In this case, I talked with two elders in my community, and asked them for a message.  I would be traveling to another nature based community in Austria, I told them, what message should I carry from this community to theirs ?  “Geez, Mark, ask me an easy question would you ?”, Hank, the eldest at 84, said.  Then his gaze focused, looking me straight in the eye, “ Tell them to watch over the children, like a tree protecting the up and coming saplings” I was rivoted, my heart quickened.  “ Tell them to go the edge.  Stand on the shoulders of what we have done, there is no choice but to take risks.  Support the children to do that”.

Ok, done.  “Thank you, I’ll tell you what happened when I get back.” I was inspired by his conviction.

The other, Cara, told me this story: “Be like the Moon.  I read a story recently where an elder on the edge of the village told passersby, Be like the moon.  One day a child asked him ‘why do you always say that ?’.  ‘People complain about the rain, too wet, too cold, People complain about the sun, too hot, too dry.  Nobody ever complains about the moon, so Be like the Moon’.

“Thank you” I said, feeling blessed.

These are the first words I spoke in Austria. I shared this at the first moment I stood up to speak at the workshop, entitled “Peacemaking”.  It was my turn to introduce myself to 100 europeans from several different countries.  “ I am here with the blessing of my family and I have a message from two elders in my community for you”.  I felt a formal conduct enter my being.  Words of love and connection came through me offering a message of peace from one side of the world to another.  My gratitude to Paul Raphael and his elders for conducting themselves in this way and sharing them with me.

Next Post:

Story of the Day – Part Two: The Sacred Mountains Blessing

After the Vermont Art of Mentoring, some close friends stopped by to stay the night.  There were three families total including mine.  The teenagers slept, recovering from all-night adventures at the Teen Rendezvous.  The younger children played in and out of the house, climbing trees, drive-by snacking.  The adults sat contentedly around the kitchen table sharing insights from the week.

Then there was the Green Rag.

It was the dishtowel that had been used for who knows what for who knows how long.  It was a little gross and it sat on the table amongst the guests.

The conversation came around to some emotional exchanges about relationship.  “Do you really want to be related to me?  Because I have my ups and downs, and it isn’t always pretty.”, one of the adults expressed.  Right then, something powerful came to the surface.

After many years of knowing each other, visiting each others homes, caring for each other’s children a gateway of sorts materialized.  The challenging questions essentially were “Is this real ?  Will you really be there for me when my stuff comes up?  Can I trust this?”

The response in the room was electric and silent.  A kind of formality entered the room.  Something historic was happening.  It reminded me of when Ingwe gave me the Ndaka Oath (but that’s another story).

I looked around and saw the Green Rag and began a declaration, a tone that sounded ancient, of commitment to the other.    “In the spirit of extended family will you adopt me as your brother, ” I began, ” I will call you my sister, your children my nieces and nephews, and from here forward refer to you as family.”

And as a symbol of creating that family bond, like an invisible rope between kin, I looked down into my hands at this, moist, slightly piquant, green dishtowel.  I could feel that we were stepping over a line into “real”.  These were not casual words, it was an oath, a commitment and we were being witnessed.

I balled up the rag, with no apologies, and tossed it to my new extended family “sister” and said “Would you be auntie to my children ? ” She smiled, tears in her eyes, acknowledging the humor and depth to the green rag metaphor.  ” I would be honored “, she said.

Around the table we went, tossing the green rag, accepting all that it had to offer.  This was part of being family.  And we knew that the rag was used to clean up spills, to make things clean again, to scrub old gunk off the floor.  We knew the rag would be periodically washed, rinsed, aired out to dry, folded, only to be used again.  This was our symbol of “real” relationship.  We would be there for each other for the high’s and the lows.  And we would take care and tend these relationships with awareness and intention now.

At this point I noticed I had adopted some of their children as my nephews, in the course of leading them through the Boys Sacred Fire Initiation.  “Yes.” we said to each other, ” call the children in, they need to be apart of this too.”  They drifted in with sleepy smiles, curling into laps.  I could see some had a “knowing” look on their face, about what was happening.  The feeling in the room was pregnant.

Another edge.  The most respectful approach clearly was to ask each of them directly, will you be my niece ?  Will you call me uncle ?  What if they say no ?  Having done this before I began, “I want you to know that I am like a brother to your father and mother,” and to prove it I said,  “we just tossed this green rag back and forth”.  Everyone laughed.  When it quieted down I continued with the formal tone, lighter now but with commitment and intention, ” You always have a place here that you can call home, a place you can come to like you have.  Especially if you need support, take a break from the parental sibling scene, I will be there for you.  Would you be willing to call me Uncle from now on and I will call you my niece ?”  ” Yes, I would love that !”

Around the kitchen we went, auntie to nephew, uncle to niece, auntie to niece, Uncle to nephew.  There were so many real “ropes” of relationship going back and forth in that kitchen I felt like I was the luckiest man alive.

The kids ran off and played, like they already got this extended family thing and we were just catching on.  And it was time to move on with our day, our travels.  We stood up and something was calling, something, symbolic.  Now what ?  How do we remember?  I glanced down at the balled up rag, sitting in the center of the table.  “Would anyone like to take this home and clean this, care for it ?”

“Yes !” one adult responded,  “I had the same thought, I want to make a pouch for it, so that we can bring it out again if we need to.”  We nodded.  Yes.  It’s no longer a dirty dishtowel, somehow it has meaning, and we can’t go back. It has now entered the realm of the sacred.

Just like our relationships on that day.

For those of you wondering how easy it can be, watch this 2 min movie I made. That way you can follow my nature updates via Twitter, a micro blog.

more about "How to follow me on Twitter ?", posted with vodpod

In October 2009, I went on  a 10-day trip to Austria with my adopted nephew Aji Palar. I taught two workshops with Jon Young – a weekend workshop on Peacemaking, and a week long called Cultural Mentoring (with an emphasis on family). Traveling to other parts of the world, and meeting people who also have a desire and vision for resilient community, have shown me that this is a universal need at this time. The cool thing is that they have pieces that we don’t, and we have pieces that they don’t. I’d like to take some time and share with you what those pieces are.

Sense of place.  On our way from the airport, Ron Bachman, co-founder of the Natur and Wildnisschule Der Alpen rolled out a beautiful story about one of the seven sacred mountains of Tyrol.


Local language and Local song.  There is a strong connection to the language, history and music of their place.  To know that the yodel we sang was from Tyrol specifically, a place half the size of massachusetts, set my imagination in motion.  What would it be like to create a strong sense of heritage in Southern Vermont ?  How would that feel to grow up in a place that knew about its land, language, history and song ?

Local Food.  Frank, the son of a butcher, could tell you about the local dish that used an upper thigh portion of a juvenile male cow.  The dried sausage meats and cheeses are served for breakfast, or anytime of day really.  The refrigerator was 20% the size of the average U.S. fridge.  These things pointed to a time not so long ago that food was preserved and stored without the need for electricity, made from local animals right there on the valley slopes.