BEC Skills Progression

Pursuing the skills of living with our natural world leads us on a wonderful, challenging, and rewarding journey. In the EC, we consider these skills to be a means of connecting with our world and a way of empowering ourselves within it. From carving to tracking, from plant knowledge to shelter building to fire making, the natural world endlessly invites us to an exciting and powerful relationship with our beautiful, wild, and living home.

Our BEC Skills Progression will lead the Explorers on an Earth Skills Journey, laying firm foundation of craftsmanship, wilderness living, and deep naturalist connection over the course of the Explorers seven years in the BEC. Our aim is for the Explorers to learn to thrive and live with the land while being comfortable in their knowledge that they can gather or create shelter, gather water, create fire, and harvest food. This progression will also build a shared culture and tradition around these skills for parents, mentors and Explorers. The Earth Skills Journey will culminate in two group overnight experiences to mark an end to their time in the BEC.

Our mentors would like to stress that the technical skills of wilderness living are only one part of what we do in our program. Earth Skills are often the canvass for the deeper mentoring and interpersonal group work that emerges on many of our outings. Socio-emotional skills are addressed throughout the program and often as they arise in a groups unique experience. 

Fall #1: The Art of Camouflage

The Art of Camouflage starts with one of the most quintessential Explorer’s Club games: Hide! Through many rounds of hiding with fellow Explorers, we will learn how to blend into our surroundings utilizing shape, size, color, light, shadow, movement, and sound. We also learn how to break up our image using intersecting lines to literally disappear into the landscape. We will train our naturalist's eyes toward a skill which many animals have mastered. We’ll learn directly from our local teachers as we consider outline and pattern and ways to blend in seamlessly with our surroundings.

This understanding help us get to know our land and the plants and animals that live here. After some practice, we can be as quiet, stealthy, and aware as a bobcat! Be prepared for some foundational Explorers games that will help us on this journey.

Spring #1: The Art of Harvest: Plants

The abundance of spring brings a wilderness of young plants, ripe berries, lush flowers, and everything that eats them. Young birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians are everywhere this time of year, and they are all dependent on the plants. We, too, can join this wild rumpus if and only if we truly know the plants. Plants can feed you, heal you, warm you, help you, or harm you depending on how you relate to them. For this skill, expect an adventure into the plant world and the discovery of some big allies!

Fall #2: The Art of Navigation

ation is an essential skill to master when exploring. Whether you are out for a day or a week, on or off the trail, far away or close to home, knowing where you are andwhere you are going is essential. Eventually the Explorers will be backpacking, and having a good grasp on basic map and compass skills can make the difference between a great backcountry trip and a challenging one.

But what happens when your map gets wet? Or your compass breaks? The skill of navigating without these aids is a practice in tracking the land and learning to use other tools. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia used Songlines - detailed stories of the land - to navigate hundreds of miles across the desert. The Art of Navigation will lead us on great adventures and safely back again.

Spring #2: The Art of Tracking & Bird Language

Tracking is perhaps one of the oldest skills known to humanity. Learning the Art of Tracking is akin to learning a visual language of infinite subtlety. Join us for a season of immersion into the world of reading the landscape for tracks and signs of a variety of wildlife. We will begin with a brief introduction to some basic tracking skills and etiquette, then we will jump right into the local landscape to find tracks and signs of previous passerbys.

When the boys become well versed in this skill they can begin to use the landscape as their living source of history and information and the birds as their eyes and ears in the forest. What are the birds telling us that we can’t see? What does the land want us to know? What does it have to teach? Explorers should bring a small pocket notebook and a writing tool to record some of their discoveries.

Fall #3: The Art of Shelter Building & Cold Weather Survival

In humid climates such as western Washington, our landscape tends to stay damp and cool most of the year. We'll spend our third fall season cultivating the knowledge and experience to stay warm and dry in any weather. Our mentors often refer to this as "thriving in our environment."

Our Explorers will build both inner and outer resiliency strategies to deal with prolonged exposure to cold temperatures and wet environments. Our goal is for them to feel a sense of confidence in knowing that they can be comfortable in any type of weather. We'll also take some time to learn the basics of building a temporary survival shelter. 

Spring #3: The Art of Shelter Building II

Many of us know how to build forts, and some can even say they’ve built primitive shelters. However, the art of building a truly weatherproof earth shelter is one that benefits from guidance and group practice. It’s also a lot of fun!

As Tom Brown Jr. wrote, "The point of survival living or 'earth living' is not to abandon the modern world, but to live more fully within it. Good shelter not only becomes a home and a place to stay warm and dry but offers a sense of permanence and firm foundation for life as well as comfort and security." One of the greatest joys in life is sleeping in your own earth shelter. We'll practice gathering and constructing with the abundant shelter materials the fall season provides, remembering to learn from the squirrels and the birds as they prepare their shelters for the coming winter.

Fall #4: The Art of Carving I

This season we will begin our Art of Carving Earth Skills journey. This skill is a privilege. A knife is a very important and powerful tool, and we will begin the journey with a focus primarily on knife safety and some basic carving techniques. These skills will culminate in the ability to carve a number of fascinating implements as we use this Earth Skill over the coming seasons. Every Explorer must watch the knife safety and usage video before participating. If your Explorer does not have a knife already, he'll need to come with his own. We have a number of suggestions for his first knife in this Introduction Letter to the Carving Journey.

Spring #4: The Art of Carving II
For our fourth spring season we'll continue our Art of Carving making sure to keep in mind that Slow is Fast and Fast is Slow. We'll start by revisiting our knife safety culture and practice some of the basic carving techniques we learned in the fall. Hopefully with some focus and lots of trial and error the Explorers will craft a full utensil set that they can use on our summer campouts! Every Explorer should rewatch the knife safety and usage video before participating.

Fall #5: The Art of Wilderness Travel

This season we'll spend some time during each outing working on one the vital hard skills an expeditionary team needs fo
r wilderness travel. All too often we find ourselves trying to learn these skills while out backpacking which can be 

daunting when the group is already tired and hungry. Becoming proficient in these skills before we head out will improve our overall experience. Together we will consider and learn how to: maintain and use water purification systems; set up and care for tarp shelters and tents; navigate and orienteer with a compass and topographical map and setting up a safe and sanitary backcountry kitchen while use our stoves.

Spring #6: The Art & Skill of Fire (Construction, Maintenance, Ethics, & Culture)

Here's a secret we learn in Explorers Club: there is only one fire. This one fire is everywhere and in everything around us. The Art and Skill of Fire starts with learning how to build a good flame that lasts long and stays where you intend it. We'll find out which plants pass flame well and which don't, we'll use our knives to make tinder, and we'll put our skills to the test with a challenge or two. Explorers should bring their knives and awareness for this season.

Harnessing fire is easier said than done. This skill requires the ethical harvest of the kit materials, the proper shaping and crafting of the tools, and the patience and practice of form and technique. There is a great deal of responsibility and safety involved with this skill. When fire is used as a tool we can create warmth, purify water, cook, make tools and building materials, regulate landscape, and create a space for conversation and processing. Using fire as a weapon, we can kill, devastate landscapes, squander materials, and injure ourselves. The gift of fire comes with reverence, appreciation, and respect for it.

Fall/Spring #6: The Art of Surviving

Our seventh fall season together will be spent as both a refresher and a test of all that we have learned on our BEC Skills Progression. T
he focus will be based around short-term survival in the woods - getting by for a few days rather than intensive wilderness living skills.

With a strong foundation in the Art of Carving and an introduction to survival with Shelter Building we will begin our journey into Fire by Friction.

This is a challenging skill - one that takes much discipline and draws from all the skills we work on in Explorers Club, from tracking which woods are the best for making our kits to making precise cuts with a knife. We will also need to utilize our practice and skill from the Art of Fire in the last spring

Fall/Spring #7: The Art of Thriving

The Art of Thriving begins with understanding that we cannot dominate our land, we can only live with it. In our final BEC season the Explorers will begin to learn how to live off and with the land rather than just surviving in it. 

We'll practice making cordage and salves, along with harvesting new kinds of foods. During the process we'll gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural history of our landscape that will guide our decision-making as we wander the wilderness. We can learn to take comfort in the fact that the land is our ally and has everything we need.

Fire by Friction is a long journey, one that will take many seasons to master. The process starts with creating a coal that is produced through friction as the wooden spindle whirls against the fireboard. The motion of the spindle drops hot powder through a notch in the fireboard. The coal is then dropped onto the tinder or nest and is blown into a flame. Harnessing fire is easier said than done. This skill requires the ethical harvest of the kit materials, the proper shaping and crafting of the tools, and the patience and practice of form and technique.

Although the hard skills of thriving are essential for wilderness living, just as important are the ways we interact and communicate with our peers and wilderness community. We’ll also spend some time in our last season focusing on the socio-emotional skills of thriving. Taking time to work on our expeditionary behavior, interpersonal and leaderships skills, attitude, patience, and mindset can make or break a thriving experience and can also teach us a lot about working within our local communities back in the frontcountry. Through team-building activities and scenarios we’ll experiment with some of the most effective tools and strategies the mentors have to offer.

BEC Graduation: Overnight Group Experience and Transition into Four Shields Program