We assigned car and tent groups so as to disrupt the boys’ ability to form cliques. We intended it to be an interruption of their stories about who they do and don’t get along with. On our way to the site we received a phone call from park headquarters telling us the road to our campsite was closed. Upon arrival to the parking lot, we could sense that the group had the energy and enthusiasm to take on the challenge of carrying the essential gear along the 2.3 mile trail (rather than stay at a smaller, campsite next to the parking lot). G, our cross-country athlete, and I got to the site ahead of everyone and set up one of the large tents before anyone else arrived. The next boys arrived, cooperatively set up the other tent, and settled in pretty quickly too. We lit a fire, which boiled the water for our pasta dinner, with pesto, tomato sauce, parmesan cheese, and bacon bits. Since we hadn't yet trekked in the breakfast, lunch, or firewood for the next day, I hiked back at 10pm to get another load from the parking lot. By 11:30pm, I arrived back at camp to a silent sleeping group, which had recently calmed down from a hot cocoa-fueled, rowdy, energetic night of banter.
When the boys woke up at 6:15am, our campsite was foggy and moist - we were inside a cloud. After breakfast, everyone cleaned their bowls, mugs, and spoons, we circled up, talked about the land we were on, it's history, the native people who tended it and were removed from it. The boys showed their wisdom and care as they reflected on the injustice of the situation we found ourselves in. Then we headed out on a walk. We found an open, flat area to circle up again and J led a beautiful Thanksgiving address he learned from the Mohawk tradition, of peacemaking to all the beings in our world. The boys were engaged and only slightly fidgity toward the end. Next we played an exciting, friendly game of capture the flag. Every boy (and leader) played hard and had tons of fun.
We headed back to camp and J went to the car for another load of food and firewood. The rain came down, so we huddled inside a cramped tent, where the pull to taunt and bicker was strong. We played some games, but there was much resistance and little enthusiasm. The boys’ morale was low. After a conflict-heavy hour or so, the rain let up and we ate lunch, then some boys played football and others drew, talked, face painted with ash, or napped.
Second half of the trip (by J):
I returned to camp at about 3pm from my expedition to the car to get the rest of the food for the weekend and some additional firewood. We spent the late afternoon dividing into groups and coming back together. A and I offered some activities and took input from the boys about how they wanted to spend the next three hours. Among the activities were another game of capture the flag and a heated game of tag football, as well as a hiking excursion and a primitive fire-making demo. We had a mixed-bag of success with these activities, as the capture the flag game was cut short due to some rock-throwing that got out of hand, while the fire-making demo and practice drew unanimous interest and exposed the group to some primitive skills that we will build on for the years to come. D, who had never built a fire before, got to build his first kindling tipi, some got to practice making tinder bundles, and a few got to try their hand at bow-drill friction fire as well as flint and magnesium fire-starting techniques. The hike was fun and full of laughter.
We made a transition from afternoon to evening by coming together and offering the boys an opportunity to do a 30-minute solo sit. As we were circled up to present the solo, the sun broke through the fog for the first time on our trip. It was a beautiful moment and a serious morale-booster to see the light on each others’ faces and feel the warmth of the sun! A led us in a gratitude circle, then he took the boys to their sit-spots while I got dinner started. As expected, the solo proved to be a powerful experience for some of the boys, while others were bored and preoccupied with their thoughts and feelings. They were all thrilled to come back to a burrito bar with hot cheesy rice and beans and a full spread of toppings. As the sun set, we enjoyed the delicious meal together and lit the fire for the evening, which really grounded the group.
Around the fire that night we had a very meaningful peak experience together, which included a presentation from our Elder J as well as our ancestor shares. As darkness fell, Elder J shared the RIGHT code of conduct from his years as a facilitator in the Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend. He explained that Respect, Intelligence, Gallantry, Honor, and Truth were key principles and could act as a handrail to guide ones’ behavior and choices in life. The boys paid close attention and were very respectful while Elder J spoke, which was really sweet to see. This set the tone and a strong container of listening for our ancestor share, which followed directly.
We all took turns sharing about the ancestor we had chosen to focus on. The boys listened closely and asked each other great questions about each other’s ancestors. Once the sharing was over, there was a very quiet and reverent feeling in the group, a precious moment that was a great reward for all of the hard work the weekend.
In the morning, we had breakfast and broke down camp without a hitch. Luckily, the weather had held enough to allow Elder J to drive his van to the site, so we packed everything in the van and hiked back to the trailhead. The walk back was relaxed and friendly, with boys making spontaneous bird calls across the canyon to each other. We made great time driving back to Berkeley, and the rest is history.
Throughout the trip, the boys were respectful about: the fire, knives, sacred moments (for lack of a better word), cleaning up, Leave No Trace, and animal life. It’s the interpersonal relationships where they have the most challenge. This is to be expected at their age, when they’re coming into more autonomy, and are testing boundaries, while their hormones and social pressures are increasing rapidly.
Our plan for the next session (or sessions) is to engage with restorative justice and conflict-resolution. We live in a society full of conflict, harmful words, images, and systems. It only makes sense that these boys would inherit these challenges. We look forward to working with them to do a better job than the generations who’ve come before them.
We end this long summary email with gratitude to all the parents for lending gear, helping with ancestor assignment, and all the unseen support you give to us, each other, and these boys. Also, infinite gratitude to our Elder J who helped us out a ton, every step of the way.
Leaders A & J