The Lingering Cry of the Coyote
How “Adventures Family Outings” taught young and old to learn to love the call of the wild
Coyote Adventures Family Outings was a community- based program in Western Maryland for children and their parents which guided the participants to embrace the natural world with their hearts and minds at the same time.
The activity took place over five years until the original group of children “aged out” as they became more involved in school and sports programs, etc. The intention of Coyote Adventures, however, was to provide for the children a foundation for connecting deeply with the wild – in hopes that this experience would inform their view of creation and decisions they would make for its care for years to come.
By having parents take part in the adventures along with their children, the hope was that these forays into the woods and fields and streams would be a focal point of special sharing between young and old that would evolve into a cherished memory.
The concept of Coyote Adventures was devised, developed, and co- lead by three adults – Margie Hartman, Bill Wrights and yours truly. Margie and Bill had young children in their families for whom they felt an opportunity of this kind would be valuable for their development. And I have always considered myself an outdoor educator. The program was based on the holistic model of outdoor learning advanced by the nationally recognized Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, Washington, founded by Jon Young. This model imaginatively pulls together outdoor discovery, storytelling, journaling, art, music, environmental science, nature games, and survival skills into an exciting seamless whole that mingles all the senses.
An important goal of Coyote Adventures was to introduce the children and parents involved to a variety of beautiful readily accessible natural settings in Western Maryland. These locations included the Rocky Gap State Park Wildlands, the Rocky Run education area (near the Rocky Gap camping area), the Serenity Trail behind Allegany College, Constitution Park, a mountain behind a family farm, Dan’s Mountain State Park, New Germany State Park, Dan’s Rock, Monroe Run in the Savage River State Forest, the Pleasant Valley Recreation area in Garrett County operated by the University of Maryland Extension Service, and the C&O Canal National Park recreation and camping area near the Paw Paw tunnel.
Coyote Adventures took place year-round and initially met twice per month. Later, sessions moved to meeting once per month due to competing activities the children and parents were part of. A typical day’s program began by gathering and reviewing safety rules. Leaders reinforced that all cell phones must remain turned off (except during emergency) then. The group at this time was usually led in chanting “MetaKuye Oyasin” which means, in Lakota, “all my relatives”. This phrase was spoken to emphasize that the plants and creatures of the natural world should be considered as equal and related to humans – not as objects “below.”
Following this, the group would walk to a selected location and sit in a circle. Once seated, the leader would softly and slowly beat a Native American drum in the heartbeat rhythm to bring about a sense of calm to busy nervous minds. The children and parents were allowed to play the drum as well. After this, the leader would tell a Native American story holding up the “story stone”. When the story was finished, the group engaged in one of the many nature games found in Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children. The games were a real favorite of the children. This was usually followed by a snack or lunch.
When snack or lunch period was over, there would be a nature discovery activity. This could be as part of a stroll through the woods or, many times, exploring a stream. The approach of the program was not “show and tell” by leaders, but rather to let the children and parents find things that caught their attention, that excited them, and then the leaders would ask questions about the discovery that would lead the participants to formulate their own understanding of what they found and how it might function in ecosystem. This “mentoring”, inductive, process is essential to the Wilderness Awareness School’s approach and brings about greater sense of self-reliance and deeper wilderness connection. The teaching “leave it as we found it” was emphasized throughout. No one was allowed to take anything they found away from its natural setting.
Sometimes, during this period, Bill Wrights would show the children how to light a fire using flint and steel. Frequently he would bring his deer steaks or potato slices to be cooked over the fire. This was very popular with the group! Upon completion of the discovery activity, the children and parents were sometimes asked to find a “sit spot” by themselves (within sight of the leaders). During this time, participants would write observations in their journals or draw what piqued their interest at the sit spot or during the day. When back at the circle again, each person would share, if they wished, what they journaled with the others, holding up the “story stone.”
The last part of the day would usually consist of asking the children which activities they liked the best and what they would like to do the next time. Also, the group was asked what parts of the routine could have been done better or what they would like to add.
The group would often be dismissed with everyone saying “MetaKuye Oyasin” as we would be on our way as an honoring gesture to the wild relatives that we encountered during the time we shared together.
All throughout the years of the program, the enthusiasm of the children was wonderful and palpable! Perhaps one day – in the not so distant future – we can hear the cry of the coyote once again.
Special thanks to Margie Hartman and Bill Wrights for their cooperation and contributions to this article. Look for more “outdoor adventures” from Jack Slocomb in coming issues of Allegany Magazine.