by Merilee Bradford
Quail Springs Onsite Program Coordinator, and Permaculture Farmer
The Wilderness Awareness School is a 8 shields based school in the Northwest that focuses on connecting people to the natural world, community and self through a variety of programs for all ages. For many years now the Wilderness Awareness’s adult program, called The Anake Outdoor School, has been taking a two week winter trip to visit Quail Springs and learn about permaculture and work along side our community.
Having first visited Quail Springs as an Anake student six years ago, I know first hand what a special trip coming to Quail Springs is for the Anake community. I remember well how the experience of traveling together as a group brought us all much closer together and seemed to distill us down to our true gifts and spirits. Being together in this valley was crucial to that awakening. The sun, the land, the stories, the farm and the community were all huge parts of the experience of being held by this place.
In the 5 years following that first visit I became core program staff at Wilderness Awareness School, and was honored to be a part of the teaching team on a few of the Anake visits to Quail Springs. During those wonderful visits I had the opportunity to watch that process of transformation happen for individuals in the group and the community as a whole. This year, after working for the last 9 months at Quail Springs, something even more unique to my experience of this trip came about for me. For the first time I got to witness this trip from the other side. As a Quail Springs staff I got to witness the intricate weave of the two programs coming together as I helped hold the basket that welcomed this class into our canyon.
I’m not sure I can adequately express what it feels like to prepare Quail Springs in expectation for the Anake class. The anticipation with which we all wait for them feels like tending spaces and cooking food for a big family Thanksgiving with long lost relatives expected, or the joy and care of nesting in anticipation of a birth of some kind! When the whole class of over 40 folks arrived this year, the land instantly felt like it was sparkling with aliveness and joy, much more akin to a reunion than the reality of meeting this large group of people, the majority of them for the first time!
As always these students jumped right into service projects and activities like natural building, tanning sheep hides, and doing restoration work on our watershed. They quickly made us feel like we were the ones being held this week!
Because of this unique bond we have with the Wilderness Awareness School, having them here feels much less like running a program and more like blending our passions and inspirations together. All of us at Quail Springs feel deep nourishment from not only watching these students connect with the land here, step into sharing circles, get their hands dirty in projects, and absorb deep and powerful stories from some of our own community and mentors, but by also getting to do the same right along side of them.
It’s easy to see the growth of our communities’ cultures as the experience deepens and gets richer. For several years now we have been holding a gifting ceremony with the Anake class that is one of those areas where you can tangibly see the growth of tradition and culture evolve in a group of people. Students and residents alike spend weeks and months in advance preparing and making gifts for each other to exchange during this visit and each gift is presented with its own unique story and journey from the hearts of those who created them. It was so beautiful and powerful to experience such reciprocity and love in acknowledging each other’s gifts, and I don’t just mean the material things, but rather the work that each organization is doing that brings people together and the aliveness that each individual brings to this place!
Paul Swenson, one of the founders of Quail Springs, and Mark Tollefson, director at Fairview Gardens and former director of Wilderness Youth Project and longtime Quail Springs family member, came out with their children to join us in holding this year’s class. They inevitably made us all feel more held on this land. With their stories and connection to this land, deep gratitude and grounded sense of the sacred in everything, as well as the addition of multiple generations with their children here, students and staff alike were moved and inspired to connect deeper in their own way to the natural world and themselves. We were inspired, nurtured and grounded by having that time to connect with Paul and Mark, two special men of our community.
Walking up our watershed in the creek bed this year, with Paul teaching us songs and sharing stories along the way, I was suddenly struck by a powerful image of this year’s Anake class. We often talk about our hopes and desires to bring the salmon back to this watershed and our spring, for that cycle to restore itself as we restore our waterways. Watching a line of incredibly alive and deeply connected people thread their way up our creek, feet in the water, it suddenly hit me, these people are our salmon! Salmon is the totem species of the Northwest in so many ways, the lifeblood of that place, the larder that is at the heart of the Northwest cycle. These Anake students exemplify that lifeblood as they return to our watershed from the Northwest each year, giving of their hearts and energy to nourish this place, our people and this land. The cycles of regeneration are already returning each year and nourishing the future of Quail Springs in more ways than we could ever dream. Thank you Anake.