Celebrating 10 Years of Nature Connection!


Click Photo:  Earthroots’s 39 acre property, Big Oak Canyon was purchased mid-2013 thanks to the generosity of our community.  We look forward to tending this land for generations to come. Photo: Silverado Creek at Big Oak Canyon

Earthroots is a non-profit 501(c)3 education  organization dedicated to  cultivating a sense of care and connection between people and the natural world.

Earthroots inspires life-long dedication to environmental stewardship & community through deep nature connection mentoring.

In our creative learning environments, Earthroots participants gain a better understanding of how all of life is connected.  They experience how our actions influence the world around us. With this understanding, we hope that individuals then make choices in their daily lives to improve the health of the earth, themselves and each other.

We offer classes, workshops & lectures year round for toddlers, homeschoolers, teens, adults, private and public schools, scout groups and summer camps. Outdoor classrooms include local organic farms, gardens, wilderness parks, green kitchens, beaches, and creeks. These programs are an exploration of our natural world and extends into our connection with all things. Orange County programs meet at new locations each week, ranging from San Clemente to Huntington Beach and east into the Santa Ana Mountains. Each year, we also travel out of our region for family camping trips & adventures.

We build trust and confidence through adventurous challenges and by enjoying the peaceful abundance of the natural world. Some of our favorite seasonal projects include starting, growing and eating from our garden; harvesting acorns, practicing survival skills; weaving with natural fibers; identifying marine tidepool creatures; identifying and eating edible plants in our local wilderness areas; following and identifying animal tracks; understanding bird language; building with natural materials, creating a journal documenting our discoveries; and finding places to be quiet in nature.

We adapt our classes to the interests of our students and allow the spontaneity of the day to guide us. Small groups allow for deeper and more powerful experiences in nature. For the children’s classes, parents are welcome to participate or to drop off. In most situations, younger siblings may accompany parents during class.

Earthroots is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization. We welcome your referrals on grants that support getting more kids outdoors, smiling and muddy from head to toe!

P.O. Box 504
Trabuco Canyon, CA 92678

(949) 709-5777

…. Earthroots is making a big difference in our lives. Brian is responding so well to the experiential learning. He loves being outdoors and enjoys all the hands on activities. I have watched him bring home rocks from Earthroots and sort them by color, add, subtract and divide them. It is amazing. Just one day a week at Earthroots has allowed him to “connect the dots” on all his other learning experiences. Keep up the good work.

-Todd S, January 2009


Jon Young for Earthroots from Rev. Sandy Moore on Vimeo.

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Pine Needle Tea Party!

We recently we had our first, of hopefully many, tea parties in Forest Kindergarten class. It was the idea of one of our Instructors, Stacey Anderson, who this summer attended a Forest School training where she was inspired to bring back what she learned. Another teacher at the training hosts tea parties throughout the year, culminating in a graduation celebration where the class dresses up and goes out to enjoy a meal at a local restaurant. Imagine that, a room full of 3-6 year olds out to eat. Thankfully they have practiced their manners at Forest Kindergarten.


Tea parties are an opportunity for children to cultivate calmness and respectful manners while gathered around a table.  It can form a bridge between Forest Kindergarten class and activities we do in everyday life.  At our first tea party we had the children practice sitting with their bottoms on the picnic benches, backs straight, elbows off the table, and hands folded in their laps – requests that are not easy for a group of excited 3-6 year olds!  In Monday’s class, Stacey, modeled being a good host, while I modeled being a pleasant guest.  We practiced our ‘please’s, ‘thank you’s, and asked to be ‘excused’ when done.  We also made our first attempts at being calm and quiet around the table.  In our Tuesday class, Director, Jodi Levine-Wright, gave instructions in her most proper British accent, mimicking her dear Aunt Rose. When Jodi was a child, her Aunt Rose was aghast when she and her brothers strayed from their manners at the table.  We continued on for the rest of the party speaking in accents, which added an unexpected element of fun!

12 2 webChildren are included in the preparation of the tea.

How we made Pine Needle Tea:
1. Instructors harvested fresh pine needles to bring to class (harvest where you have permission, away from polluted areas and avoid potentially harmful species*).
2. Early in our day we had the children help remove the brown papery sheaths on the bottoms of the needle clusters, and pinch the needles in halves. Getting kids involved in as many steps as possible brings more depth to the experience.12112245_10153251610262075_3122652767215588818_n (1)
3. Children took turns adding their pine needles to a big jar of water, which we left in the sun. We discussed what the sun was doing to the pine needles, the benefits of drinking pine needle tea, and that it is a local, wild food that has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years. Later that day during our exploration time, we kept an eye out for pine trees and were excited to notice so many!
6. When it was time to serve the tea, we added a touch of honey and poured the strained tea into each cup… so long as each child was showing good manners : )

The children did beautifully and the pine needle tea was a hit.  We are excited to learn about and use other local, wild plants that grow in our area including rose hips, horehound, and nettle as the seasons progress.  As the weather gets cooler we may also make pine needle tea again, but this time mixed with a little hot cocoa!  As the children learn to display excellent manners and calmness at the tea parties, our hope is to allow them to eventually take turns being the host!  We had a fun time together at our first intentional gathering around the table.  We look forward to seeing how the children grow as we continue to have more tea parties throughout the year.  You can find out more about pine needle tea here* including which species of pine needles are safe to use and what the health benefits are. Enjoy!

Nikki Hieb
Forest Kindergarten Instructor
Earthroots Field School

12079623_10153251660277075_8708678032132665202_n (1)

Thank you Karen Graham and Claudia Boden for sewing our table cloths, and Michelle Watts for donating the cups, bowls and spoons that we use every week. Our classes are held by many loving hands.

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Cooking with Acorns

Coast Live Oak AcornsMy favorite trails are littered with acorns from the recent big winds. This incredibly nutritious food has been feeding native people of our region for thousands of years, and is used today by a wide spectrum of cultures.  After reading this blog, I hope that you will feel inspired to cook up a recipe with this local wild edible, take a walk in your local parks and spend time taking in the beauty of nature… and perhaps join me to gather acorns at Big Oak Canyon.

Leaching out the Tannic Acid
An adult friend told me that she remembers hearing as a child that acorns were edible, so she cracked one open, popped it in her mouth and to this day remembers the awfully bitter taste before spitting it out. Our local Coast Live Oak acorns contain high levels of tannic acid that need to be washed out before consuming or they can make you feel sick.

One of my mentors, Jon Young tells a story of how he learned from his elders to leach the tannic acid out of acorns. First, crack the hard shells with a stone, save the inner acorn meat, and toss the hard shells. Put the acorn meat into a basket woven tight enough that the acorns would not fall through the holes, and loose enough that the water could flow through easily. He then set the basket in the creek where the current flowed strong enough that it would wash the acorns, and gentle enough that once secured with stones, the basket would not be swept away. The basket of acorns was left in the creek overnight. The acorn pieces were checked in the morning, and if still tasted bitter, were set in the creek to be washed again. They were finished leaching when the nuts did not taste bitter.

Ground acornsIn our classes, we use the same concept, but with a modern twist. Students remove the hard shells by first cracking them with a stone and separating out the inner acorn meat. They take out any acorn weevils (which are edible!), dark or moldy inner acorn meat and toss that aside, leaving only the lighter fresh smelling acorn meat for consumption. The acorns are then ground with a mortar and pestle until only small pieces remain. Keep in mind, the smaller the pieces, the faster the leaching process. Grinding acorns this way takes a lot of effort, and is great for group activities.

When I’m leaching acorns at home, I fill a blender half way with water, put the de-shelled acorns in the water and blend on high until the pieces are broken up. Some may call this cheating, but hey, it gets my family and I eating acorns! I then leach and strain as described below.

To wash out the tannic acid, we use a kitchen strainer with a cloth laid on top of it to hold the acorn pieces. We then rinse them under flowing tap water while stirring the acorn meal with our hands to make sure all pieces get washed. Another method is to put the acorn meal inside a nut milk bag instead of using the strainer/cloth. The nut milk bag works best for younger kids so that they don’t spill out any hard earned acorn pieces while rinsing. Try both, see what works best for you!

You will notice that the first wash leaves the water looking milky. This is good! Repeat washing until the water comes out clear and the nut pieces do not taste bitter. This step could take up to 30 minutes or more of constant rinsing, stirring and squeezing. Don’t give up!

Once leached, the sky is the limit on how you use these delicious nuts. Jacque Nuñez, a local Acjachemen educator teaches about Wi-wish. Wi-wish is a traditional dish of ground acorns, similar to porridge. I look forward to one day cooking it the old way, in a tightly woven basket filled with water and boiled with fire-heated stones.

Here’s what our classes are cooking:
Earthroots Acorn Pancakes
1 cup acorn meal or acorn flour
1 cup of your favorite flour (corn, amaranth, wheat, garbanzo bean, rice etc)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs (vegan option: ½ tsp flax meal + 2 tbsp water)
¼ cup coconut oil or ghee
½ cup honey
2 cups water or any milk

1. Mix dry ingredients first.
2. Add wet ingredients and mix together thoroughly  (Note: the secret to keeping pancake batter from getting lumpy is to be sure to add all the wet ingredients first, mix thoroughly, then add dry ingredients)
3.  Adjust consistency by adding a little more water/milk or a little more flour if it’s too thick or thin.  Pancake batter should be thin enough to pour, but not runny.
4.  Cook on oiled grill.
5.  Top with Maple Syrup or prickly pear jam

Benefits of Acorns
1. They store well – you can keep them all year long. Adding acorns to your diet makes “eating local” more successful since you will have a good storage of nuts to supplement the seasonal ebb and flow of your garden harvest.
2. Acorns are full of vitamins and minerals.
3. They are a great source of protein and complex carbohydrates.
4. They are 100% local.

Harvesting Acorns
– As with all wild harvested plants, make sure you are harvesting out of harms way from pollution, run off and places where pesticides or other toxins are used.
– Select acorns with intact shells, no holes and no mold. Holes are distinct signs that an acorn weevil has taken residency. If you find acorns with holes, crack one open and see what’s inside.
– Remember to harvest in appropriately designated areas (OC Parks and CA State parks while great places to explore nature are off limits to gathering of any kind) and only take what you need. Leave the rest for the animals who depend on acorns as their food source.

Get to know acorn this season by joining us at Big Oak Canyon, Earthroots 39 acre property in Silverado Canyon where we teach ethical wild harvesting along with sustainable living and nature connection skills. Kids young and old will be harvesting acorns along with many other activities November 7, 2015. We hope you will join us.

Happy Harvesting!
Jodi Levine-Wright

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2015 Mid-Year Report

Thank you for being a part of Earthroots Field School! 2015 has been full of transformative classes, workshops, and camps for people of all ages. In this 2015 Mid-Year Report, we are excited to share a glimpse of those programs with you. We will also give you a look into what we have planned for the rest of 2015 and into 2016. Come, take a walk with us through the first half of adventure this year

2015 Mid-Year Report

Earthroots is a non-profit 501(c)3 education organization dedicated to cultivating a sense of care and connection between people and the natural world.

Earthroots vision is to create a world where people of all ages, abilities, cultures and affiliations understand how our actions influence the world around us and with this understanding are inspired to make choices that improve the health of the earth, themselves, and each other.

PrimitiveSkills-Web-25Bringing ancient skills to life by lashing split feathers onto a hand-made arrow. Photo by Lindsay Kliewer

Since its founding in 2005, Earthroots has grown both programmatically and structurally to enable the organization to serve an ever broadening range of local residents including school children, families, universities, and businesses. This growth and organizational stability has further allowed Earthroots to purchase and conserve a beautiful 39-acre property in Orange County, known as Big Oak Canyon.

In the first half of this year, program participants have logged a total of over 9,700 hours in nature.  The Children and Nature Network talks about the “nature deficit” crisis that many children experience today; Earthroots provides opportunities to increase time spent in nature and reduce or eliminate this deficit. Participants include local residents of Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Santa Ana and other local cities. Additionally, participants travel from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, and Santa Clara counties.

January through July 2015
Days of programming: 130 days
Individuals served: 685 people
Ages of participants: 0-86 years old
Hours of participation in field trips to wilderness parks, beaches, organic farms & gardens: 8670 hours in nature
Hours of participation in on-campus, outdoor field trips: 1144 hours in nature, on campus

Eco-Literacy on Campus is a weekly program for grades 2-8 held at a local elementary school. Now in its 5th year, the school has become a true demonstration site for sustainable living practices. Teachers, students, volunteers and administrators actively engage in growing fruit and vegetables, harvesting rainwater, composting lunch waste, recycling, minimizing single use containers and restoring native habitat. Earthroots instructors teach our unique grade appropriate Eco-Literacy curriculum to 75-100 students each week during the school year.

Forest Kindergarten and Homeschool Field Programs participants meet for 5 hours one day a week exploring wilderness parks, organic gardens and beaches. Each student has spent up to 80 hours of outdoor program time so far this year, mentored by Earthroots instructors. These children, ages 3 -12, often along with their parents, gain confidence in nature, physical strength, camaraderie with their peers and build a true community of families connected with nature. 38 children and 20 parents were served.

Service Learning Projects at Big Oak Canyon have expanded to now include youth groups. Over 120 school-aged children, parents and teachers, and 50 corporate volunteers experienced ecological restoration through hands-on service work at Big Oak Canyon during the first half of this year. Projects have included harvesting white sage seeds for our seed bank which will later be used for habitat restoration, removing non-native grasses, vines and trees, spreading mulch, building a shade structure and installing a hand washing sink. The transformations are incredible, thank you for your efforts!

IMG_3352First grade students from the Journey School are exploring Earthroots’ 39-acre property, Big Oak Canyon. Highlights of this field trip included participating in ecological restoration by making and tossing seed balls, learning about Earthroots 200-year plan to conserve onsite resources for 7 generations and hiking up the hills.
Photo by Jodi Levine-Wright

Summer Camps now include programs stretching from the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains to the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Cooking in Nature Camps brought nutrition to the forefront for 25 students ages 3-14. Participants learned to prepare new meals using local, organic ingredients while cooking in a sun oven, camping stove and over a camp fire. Surfing and Nature Skills Camps gave 20 students ages 8-15 confidence in the ocean learning a new adventure sport while bringing awareness to our connection with the health of the sea.

High Sierra Expedition Trip is our newest adventure program, serving graduates of our Family Backpacking Training and those with previous backpacking experience. Three families adventured to the John Muir Wilderness this summer for a 5-day backpacking trip, led by Earthroots instructors.

Instructor Training is one of the little known specialties of Earthroots. Each year, we facilitate deep nature connection practices for adults who become leaders both in our children’s programs and in the broader community. Training is guided through weekly mentorship by seasoned staff and involves inner personal development, group management and outdoor skills education. In the first half of this year, Earthroots trained 2 instructors.

Gratitude Day was the first event of its kind held at Big Oak Canyon, honoring Earthroots’ growing community of donors. Attendees toured the property to see the land and hear the vision for what is to come. Special guest and ecological designer, Art Ludwig, presented how Earthroots’ design and stewardship of Big Oak Canyon is impacting the region beyond the visible “education programs”, pushing the edges of what it means to be truly sustainable in our time, from food to buildings, water and waste. There were 40 attendees at this year’s Gratitude Day. We hope to see you there next year!

BOC_GratitudeDay_RestorationSiteRestoration Manager, Daniel Francis describes the newly installed rock creek bed at Big Oak Canyon to Gratitude Day attendees. Photo by Rebecca Primm

GOALS FOR 2015-2016
As we look forward to the remainder of 2015 and into 2016, we are excited to host the first of many public workshops at Big Oak Canyon. Mark your calendars, as we have a full-day event on November 7, 2015 entitled: Wilderness Awareness Workshops. This event will bring together experts on ecology and ancestral survival arts to teach hands-on workshops with participants of all ages.

With the help of volunteers and staff, we aim to complete the habitat restoration project funded by the Earth Island Institute, which began in 2013. This project has brought together hundreds of volunteers to transform a once degraded area of Big Oak Canyon into a vibrant native ecosystem. This Fall, we welcome you to experience this beautiful transformation by joining in on the efforts November 5, 2015. Activities will include watershed restoration, saving native plant seeds, making seed balls and planting native shrubs along the newly installed stone creek bed.

We know from personal experience, as well as from case studies on the subject, that time in nature supports social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical development, creativity and problem solving skills, enhances concentration and lessens Attention Deficit Disorder behaviors. In addition to our regular programs, we look forward to launching a new program at Big Oak Canyon in 2016 for 15 underserved youth to include multiple field trips focusing on ecological awareness, empowerment and ancestral survival arts.

IMG_9982Forest Kindergarten instructor and students still themselves to enjoy a family of deer moving through their outdoor classroom. Photo by Sarah Beck

Thank you for being a part of Earthroots!

Jodi Levine-Wright, Executive Director

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Beck Family Backcountry Adventure

Written by Sarah Beck, mom, guest blogger & long time Earthroots participant.

When my husband suggested a backpacking trip with our two and four year old kids this summer I was hesitant. I love camping and being outside with my family; but car camping is an endeavor to say the least. The amount of work, gear, and planning it takes to simply get out the door can be incredibly overwhelming. And now my husband was proposing that we pack both kids and all of our gear up a mountain for an overnighter? I honestly wondered if it was possible.


Beck Family geared up for the big hike. Photo by Erin Lutrick 

Layla, our four year old daughter is moving into her second year of the Forest Kindergarten program through Earthroots Field School. We LOVE it. Oddly enough, even though my husband is an outdoor enthusiast, he has questioned my choice to enroll our kids in Forest Kindergarten. “It is too expensive” and “It takes too much time” are some of his basic arguments for why we should maybe not do it. I agree. It does cost money and it is almost a full days commitment. And much like his proposed backpacking trip, Forest Kindergarten requires forethought, gear and planning. The thing is, I wouldn’t provide my kids with 5-6 hours of weekly consecutive outdoor time if it were not for Earthroots. I wouldn’t teach them about our local ecology or how to take the time to really enjoy being out in the wild on a regular basis. If not for Forest Kindergarten, connection to wilderness would be something my kids would see a few times a year versus once a week. There is huge value in this.
So, there we were, my husband hesitant about Earthroots and me hesitant about backpacking. Jodi’s blog post about backpacking came at the perfect time. I was incredibly nervous about packing our kids up a mountain and there it was, 5 Tips to Backpacking with Children.

I read it to my husband after our kids went to sleep one evening.  It created a platform for discussing how best to plan our adventure.

Tip one: Keep the mileage short. We both took this to heart. We determined that I would likely be carrying my 2-year-old son on my back, my husband would carry the majority of our gear and our 4-year-old daughter would hike on her own. We both wondered if she could really do it. We decided that 2 miles should be our maximum hiking distance.

Tip two: Allow plenty of time for exploring in the woods. This was amazing advice. We live in such a busy world where we are constantly rushing and ushering our children to the next event or errand. Kids like to take their time to observe and wonder about the world and it is so rare that we allow them the opportunity to go at their pace. We agreed that in order for the trip to be a success for our kids that we had to allow them to take the lead.

Snack time on the trail! Photo Jesse Beck

Tip three: Bring food that is varied, nutrient-dense, and fun.  My husband and I really struggled with this one. What food should we bring? What would we make for dinner? What kind of snacks would be best? So this tip was incredibly helpful for us as we packed and picked foods for the kids. While we did pack nutrient-dense snacks we also packed a few surprise treats that we don’t normally eat as a fun surprise to keep the kids motivated. This worked great!

Tip five: Positivity is key. This was easy advice to follow. We were away from our regular life, outside in the mountains, and away from the stress of our normal life. We worked really hard to encourage our daughter so that she felt confident about her ability to hike 2 miles up a mountain.

So we packed our things, headed up to the Eastern Sierras, met up with our friends who have a 20 month old and an almost 6 year old and started hiking up the mountain.  I think perhaps a 6th tip would be to: Be prepared for the unexpected.  There are some major fires happening in the Western Sierras right now and air quality was incredibly smoky.  We had to choose a new location further south for our hike to avoid the smoke.

11951944_10205955285655906_4621070751974330540_nSarah’s 4 year old crossing her first creek by herself. Photo Sarah & Jesse Beck

The minute we hit the trail it was evident how much Earthroots has impacted our kids, particularly four year old Layla. My husband noticed and immediately commented on how natural our daughter appeared on the trail. She was tuned in to the plants and talked about them; she looked for scat from animals and informed us. She asked questions about what animals lived in the area. She noted the creek and trail and discussed our destination. The trail was about 2 miles long, rocky, and steep. We heeded Jodi’s advice and stopped a lot. We followed the lead of the children allowing them to determine the pace. Our daughter insisted that she carry her own backpack with her own water and snacks. It took just over four hours to make it to our destination, but the destination was a huge reward. We found a beautiful campsite next to a lake, caught fish for breakfast and dinner, built a fire, used the outdoors as our bathroom, enjoyed “camp food”, and experienced the richness of the wilderness through our children’s eyes. We enjoyed a morning adventure where we explored the lake and the area around it and did more fishing. (The fishing and cooking of the fish was Layla’s favorite part of the adventure). Our hike home was downhill and steep, the kids led the pace and rocked! My husband mentioned many times during the trip that he now saw the value of Earthroots and the lessons that Forest Kindergarten conveys. Our children’s natural understanding and comfort outdoors is directly influenced by Earthroots.

11949420_10205955295056141_6984540389028449791_nFresh fish with Jesse & the kids. Photo by Sarah Beck

I think we underestimate the ability of children and as parents often opt out of experiences simply because the idea of doing things out of the ordinary with children can be overwhelming. While I was initially hesitant, our first backpacking experience was an amazing. Through our experience my husband and I both learned lessons and changed perspectives. I opened up to the idea of overnight backpacking as a family and my husband saw first hand the value and impact of the Earthroots experience.

Earthroots is offering a Family Backpacking Training series that begins in September. Check out the program and experience the awesome combination of family backpacking and Earthroots Field School!

Maybe we’ll see you there, we intend to do a lot more backpacking in the future!!

-The Becks

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5 Tips to Backpacking with Children


Earthroots founding director Jodi Levine-Wright with her daughter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

A lot has happened since my last blog update… Earthroots purchased 39-acre Big Oak Canyon, I had a baby, our program offerings have expanded and our staff has grown.

Having now graduated two years of
participants in Earthroots Family Backpacking Training Series, it is a proven success.  Yes, we are taking kids of all ages (with their parents) into the wild to experience being fully plugged into nature! The outcomes are incredible.

Just returning home from my first backcountry trip with my family (including my one year old daughter) I can tell you that it was one of the most challenging things we have done together, and also one of the most rewarding. I give a huge thumbs up to everyone who takes their kids backpacking, it is a big undertaking.


Gone fishing! Photo by Jeannie Lee

So why rough it?
One of the most satisfying elements of spending time in the backcountry is connecting with oneself, family and travel companions without the distraction of cell phones, computers and cars. Where we live, fully unplugging from technology is nearly impossible, yet completely enjoyable! Being fully present with those around us is what life is all about, right? Additional rewards of plugging into the wild include being surrounded by mind blowing landscapes, pristine lakes to swim in, new sights and sounds, fresh air and moments of deep relaxation. Totally worth everything it takes to get there. Read on for an inside scoop to make your next backpacking trip a success.




5 Tips for Backpacking with Children
by Jeannie Lee and Jodi Levine-Wright


Earthroots Family Backpacking Training Series                 Photo by Shelly Mead

1. Keep the mileage low (2-3 miles per day) and plan on an hour per mile. Hiking at elevation and with weight is much more strenuous than hiking around your local hills. Before hitting the trail, we planned on hiking 5 miles that first day. After a few steps with a weighted pack (the toddler, a bear canister full of food, water, rain gear, diapers!! and miscellaneous gear), it was pretty clear we would be stopping at the alternative site just 2 miles in. Thank goodness for planning ahead with options! We ended up keeping that site as our basecamp for three nights and going on day excursions from there. It was a total departure from our plans, but was exactly what we needed.

2. Allow plenty of time for exploring in the woods. That’s why we make the effort to get into the woods in the first place! Kids need downtime and playtime. They will also make incredible discoveries with their innate curiosity and keen eyes.


Taking it all in, Cottonwood Lakes.                        Photo by Jeannie Lee

3. Keep children’s backpack weights low (if you want them to want to do it again). Jeannie’s 7-year old carried 2.5 liters of water, snacks, raincoat, warm hat, down vest, whistle and whatever rocks and sticks he’d collected along the way. Yes, the grown-up gets to carry everything else.

4. Bring food that is varied, nutrient-dense, and fun.  Cheese, carrots and shredded cabbage pack well, as do seeds, nuts and dried fruit. But no need to stick to “trail food”, Pita Pizzas were a massive hit! (We will share that recipe soon!)

5. Positivity is key. Expect the unexpected and go with what is. Between weather, elevation, weighted packs, and new challenges, your itinerary may not unfold the way you had originally planned. Keeping a positive attitude will go a long way to making the trip enjoyable and encourage interest in future backcountry excursions for the whole family.


Earthroots Family Backpacking Training Series

Want to know more? Join  Earthroots Family Backpacking Training series starting September 19 – you’ll learn everything else you need to know and taste a backpacking meal every hike! This series meets once a month for 8 months and includes 2 backcountry trips to get you and your family ready for adventures to come.

See you out there!
Jodi Levine-Wright

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Birds of Big Oak Canyon

On December 19, 2011, a group of Earthroots mentors noticed an owl kill site with evidence of two owls. There were feathers from an owl not often seen in our region, the Long Eared Owl. Nearby, a pellet from a Great Horned Owl was found. One of the Long Eared Owl’s talon was found inside a Great Horned Owl pellet.

This story excites birders.

Evan recently shared this story with Stephen Shunk (Author, Peterson’s Guide to Woodpeckers) and Gillian Martin (Southern California Bluebird Club) who were on a tour of Big Oak Canyon with focused interest on cavities as bird habitat. Cavities are holes in dead standing trees, also known as snags or wildlife trees. Big Oak has many wildlife trees with cavities in use by birds, reptiles, mammals and insects.

One gift that came out of our walk was learning the importance of cavities as habitat. The second gift was making progress on Big Oak Canyon’s Bird List. Third gift was their suggestion to have volunteer birders come once a month to contribute to our bird list by having regular Bird Counts. This documentation will be used to help Earthroots monitor  the birds and their important habitat at Big Oak Canyon. There were many other gifts!

This is what Stephen heard or saw during our walk October 14, 2012.

Vaux’s Swift
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Hutton’s Vireo
Western Scrub-Jay
Common Raven
Oak Titmouse
Tree Swallow
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
California Thrasher
California Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Dark-eyed Junco
Lesser Goldfinch

And from the photos, we can now add:
Long Eared Owl
Great Horned Owl

Previously recorded birds include:
Red Shoulder Hawk
Red Tail Hawk
Western Screech Owl

Interested birders are welcome to sign up for a monthly bird count starting Spring 2013!

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Stories from the Kalahari Part 5: Springhare for Breakfast

Guma & Xigao making rope. Some of you may know this plant as “Mother-in-law’s Tongue”. It grows wild in the Kalahari and is ideal for making rope. Back at home, I often see it as an indoor ornamental. Do you have some growing in your home?

Part 1: Stories from the Kalahari
Part 2: Language
Part 3: Living Locally
Part 4: Fashion & Function


One day we had to make a lot of rope in hopes to catch a Springhare. We made enough rope for 6 traps which we set around an area with many active Springhare burrows.  To make enough rope, we sat on the sand and used sticks to strip the green fleshy parts of a freshly harvested long pointed leaf until the long fibers were exposed and separated. Xigao and Guma were turning the fibers into cordage by twisting and rolling it on their thighs with their legs stretched out straight. This technique of rolling your hand on your thighs with the fibers folded in half and pushing two forward, pulling one back makes strong rope relatively quickly, and works for many plant fibers, even our southern California Yucca.

I was handing Xigao the fibers our group had worked while sitting next to him. Our feet were touching while we worked. I looked over and smiled to see that the outline of our feet were the same size. For those of you reading this who know me, you know I am small. I wear a women’s size 6 shoe and am 4’10”. Xigao is in his 40’s and the only difference in our feet that stood out to me was that his soles are thicker. Years of walking barefoot on desert sand may even do that to mine. Only one way to find out.

Setting the trap: Xigao ties a simple noose on a long stick laid across the top of an active Springhare burrow.

Once the trap is set and sticks are place to hold the rope in place, grass is used to camouflage it.

Once we had enough rope, we spread out searching for active Springhare burrows.  The sun was setting and we needed to set the traps before nightfall. We were looking for burrows that had been used recently, and whose freshest tracks went in, and not out. The underground maze of a Springhare has many entrances and exits and in order to catch one with limited rope, site selection is key. We set 6 traps on 6 active burrows, hoping that by the next morning we would have at least one Springhare to share as a meal.

Xigao used his walking stick for yet another tool: Springhare Trap. He laid it down across the top of the hole and used it to stablize the trap. For the other 5 traps, we used branches found laying on the ground nearby. When we ran out of rope, we were done.
After setting the traps, we headed back to get some sleep. In the morning, we came out at first light to check the traps. At each trap, I could feel the adrenaline building as Xigao and Guma knelt down to gently pull on the rope. With each of the first five burrows, the rope came up without any resistance, empty.  On the 6th trap, you could see once approaching the burrow, that the rope was taut against the branch. Xigao stood behind the trap and gently lifted up. There was movement and we could see the Springhare. Xigao used body language and pointed at it’s tracks in the sand to show us how the Springhare tried to leave it’s burrow in the early morning and got caught with the rope around it’s neck. Sensing danger, it turned around quickly and raced back into it’s burrow,   but was trapped.  It rested there until we came, not able to move more than the length of it’s rope.

This next section describes how the Springhare was killed and prepared for eating. Read at your own discretion.

Xigao & John Michael Musselman with the Springhare, walking to prepare the cooking fire.

Xigao slowly reached for the rope, pulled up the Springhare and firmly held it by the fur behind it’s neck, like a cat holds her kittens. We admired it’s beautiful fur, long tail and big feet.  Xigao held his walking stick firmly in one hand, the Springhare in the other and with a quick and solid blow between the eyes and nose, the Springhare went limp.  A quiet gratitude was said for the life that would soon give us nourishment.

We then set out to gather dried branches and grasses nearby to start a cooking fire. The Springhare was pit roasted on the spot and shared amongst us all. It was tender and delicious. I am so grateful for that opportunity, as it really helped me appreciate the connections between plant, animal, human, fire and community.

As Xigao & Guma cooked the Springhare we watched and helped keep the fire going by gathering small sticks & branches. John Michael Musselman, of the Human Nature School in red, to the right, Matt Kirk of Kauai Nature School, standing behind Matt is Tom Kelleher of Work Fit Play Fit.

Being able to learn a new tool and put it into practice for survival is an empowering experience. Guma and Xigao are living wisdom keepers, practicing their traditional knowledge and teaching others for the benefit of us all.

Part 6: Coming Soon

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Stories from the Kalahari Part 4: Fashion & Function

Part 1: Stories from the Kalahari
Part 2: Language
Part 3: Living Locally
Part 5: Springhare for Breakfast

On a walk through the Kalahari. We were joined by men, women elders, teens and children.

I really like the outfits the women wear in the Kalahari. Reallylike them. I asked one of the women there 3 times if she would trade clothes with me.  I wanted to bring home her leather skirt with ostrich egg shell beads. Each day I wore a different, increasingly special shirt that I brought from home or pair of pants to up the anti, showing her what I was willing to trade on the spot.

Her response every day  was translated by Neeltjie the same way, “I like the colors, but the fabric is too thin and will tear”.  My cotton shirts & pants would not hold up walking through the sharp branches and thorns of the Kalahari for very long.  After going to visit the village, one women’s outfit was given to our group to pass along to a friend of hers living where we were headed next.  I was holding it, I couldn’t resist.  I tried it on.  It fit perfectly!  It felt amazing. The heavy leather was protective yet soft. It had a unique smell that fit with the place we were, and immediately made me feel like I blended into the landscape of the Kalahari. I felt the courage of the antelope who wore the skin before, running through the desert, hoofs on sand. I imagined the taste of dry aromatic leaves it ate, I thought about the hunt, the tanning process, and the elements that went into making this time tested functional fashion. I thought about the ostrich egg being shaped into beads, the fiber used to string each one onto the skirt and the hands that created the pattern. Everything came from walking distance of this very spot I was standing in.

Jodi Levine wearing functional fashion in the Kalahari Desert.

I am determined to get a skirt like that one day even if I have to make it myself, from start to finish. The sage scrub of our local wilderness would be a perfect trial grounds for a leather skirt of this style. The skirt was two “apron-like” panels that tied around the waist. One tied in front, covering the back, the other tied in back, covering the front. The top tied around the neck and back, like a string bikini. Some of the women also wore cape-like pieces that they used to shade their upper bodies and some women carried babies on their backs with pieces of hide as well. The top had been mended several times, patched tears and extensions added to the leather ties. I wonder how many women had worn this, and for how many years?

Don’t be surprised if next time you see me, I’m wearing something like this.

Coming soon: Part 5

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Stories from the Kalahari Part 3: Living Locally

Part 1: Stories from the Kalahari
Part 2: Language
Part 4: Fashion & Function
Part 5: Springhare for Breakfast

I was born, raised and am living in Orange County California, home to over 3 million people spread out over 800 square miles with almost 4000 people living per square mile. The Kalahari Desert is over 350,000 square miles with less than 10 people per square mile. For this reason alone, my time in the Kalahari was literally, a “breath of fresh air”.

Back at home, the weather is amazing, it is a food grower’s paradise… but because of the tight quarters and vast expanse of impermeable surfaces, most of our food, clothing, tools and building materials travel thousands of miles before they reach us.  The  impact of this long distance lifestyle takes its toll by creating pollution, destroying ecosystems and threatening native cultures around the world.

We learned that everything you need is in walking distance.

For the Bushmen who have been living the old way in their territorial homeland for 70,000 years or more (interesting article on ancient Kalahari Ritual Site), cars are not necessary. Grocery stores are not necessary, produce is not flown in from around the world, there are no plastic packages keeping processed food fresh on the refrigerated shelves, no disposable bags with carryout lunch, no electronic music, and no need for the latest style of name brand clothing made by people on the other side of the world. For those living the old ways, their ecological impact is regenerated each year as seasonal rains and growth patterns repeat. Food is gathered and hunted. What cannot be eaten is used for tools, clothing, or goes back to the earth. Musical instruments are made out of what grows nearby. Huts are traditionally built with grass harvested within walking distance. Clothing is made from the skins of the animals and dyed with plants that were once food for those very animals. Water falls from the sky and is gathered from water holes and carried in empty ostrich egg shells. Children are cared for by their parents, grandparents, siblings, aunties & uncles. Everyone is responsible for teaching the next generation how to survive, how to take care of themselves and the earth, how to live in community and how to care for each other in their traditional ways.  This is community resiliency at it’s finest. The Bushmen have been doing this for a very long time.  Only successful strategies are continued, practices that do not use energy in it’s most efficient manner are forgotten over time.  Their collective wisdom is something to be sought after.

Kalahari Wild Cucumber

Kalahari Cucumber: tastes like a cucumber, has spiky skin! We harvested this delicious & juicy wild snack on a walk through the desert.

Back at home, there is a growing trend to support locally grown food, locally sourced non-toxic building materials, rain water harvesting, water reuse practices and backyard gardens.  How would it be to spend just one day only consuming things that were grown in walking distance? Where would our food come from? How would we get to work? What work would be meaningful? What would it be like to do that for a week? A month? A year? A lifetime? We have a long way to go before we reach the level of sustainability and community resiliency as the Bushmen, but I see a pathway emerging that balances the best of modern and ancient.

In the Kalahari, I saw a group of people living in a way that I had, until now, only imagined. It was not perfect and untouched by the complexities of modern life, but it was beautiful and gives me hope that we, too, can learn how to live more deeply connected to what gives us life.

Live Local Challenge
Is it possible in the modern world to “live locally”?
For 3 days last year, I ate only what grew in my backyard garden, what I harvested locally from the wild or traded with friends who did the same.  It was delicious, nutritious and entertaining! I really needed my friends to help me make it happen.  My bounty of lemons, parsley, eggs and chard got old after the third meal : )  This year I want to do it again, for longer.
Once Big Oak Canyon is established as a home base for Earthroots, food and water systems will be in place to support many people living locally and we hope to demonstrate how empowering it can be to live locally. The people I met in the Kalahari are partially responsible for that inspiration.
Will you join us in the experiment of living locally?

Want to give it a try? If your gardens are not yet producing, you may decide to plant your food now, and in 3-4 months start the challenge. If you don’t know your local wild edibles, find someone who does! Sign up for a local wild edibles class or reach out to an elder in your community who carries local plant wisdom.

How long can you eat only what you and others in your neighborhood harvest within walking distance? What about water? Will you decide to start during the rainy season so that you can drink what falls from the sky? Keep us posted on your experiences by replying here.

Part 4: Fashion & Function

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