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Tending the wild, tending ourselves

Tending the wild, tending ourselves


by David Wolbrecht

Despite an unseasonal cold snap, I was excited to get my bundled hands dirty. It was land stewardship day, and, not quite knowing what to expect, our Anake class huddled around a roaring fire listening to a poetic story by the school’s land manager, Andy Franjevic. I was eager to get going and sweat, but Andy started his talk by inviting us to slow down to the speed of the land, to imagine the geologic and glacial influences that literally shaped Linne Doran, the name for Wilderness Awareness School’s campus. Not what I was expecting, but… (deep breath)

Eyes closed and envisioning the near-mile of ice that once covered the spot where I sat, I felt my mood and energy shift. With Andy’s invitation, I immediately became more relaxed, more contemplative, more connected, and I sensed a similar shift in the rest of my Anake class. For a subsequent two hours, whose duration simultaneously felt shorter yet fuller than two hours could contain, Andy recounted a portion of the natural and cultural history of the Snoqualmie Valley, Duvall, and Linne Doran. We learned how the native peoples of this land, the Snoqualmie and Skykomish, among others, had actively cared for the land upon which we now stood, had been doing so for countless generations, and, indeed, still do to this day.

During his sharing, Andy demonstrated that he was the holder of the two hundred year vision for the school’s land, a vision that resides only in the dynamic forms of ideas and speech. To look ahead two hundred years with appropriate respect and humility requires a thorough grasp of the previous two hundred, and it was this period of time that Andy emphasized in his story that morning. Sprinkling in anecdotes from historians and anthropologists, Andy shared a sliver of the complex wild-tending that the first peoples had enacted repeatedly during each seasonal rounding. This gave us a glimpse of how humans had lived in productive reciprocity with the land for thousands of years.

I admit, I was enraptured by Andy’s story of this place. I figured it was because I am a Pacific Northwest local and have a keen interest in the cultural and natural history of this place in which I grew up. However, after reflecting on the story with some classmates, it seemed that most were similarly captivated.

It was with this sense of historically contextualized humility that we transitioned into actively caring for Linne Doran. We split up into our learning groups, and each were led to their group’s site on the land. Throughout the cold and clear day, my group selected specific locations a few serviceberry shrubs, dug their holes, and transplanted them from the school’s plant nursery. Our group was led by one of our apprentices, Brock, who shared that his learning group had tended this same clearing during his time in Anake. And Brock’s learning group, two years prior, was led by an apprentice who had also tended the same clearing. In this way, my group became part of a tradition within the Anake program.

Surrounded by towering big leaf maple, western hemlock, douglas fir, and western red cedar trees, I couldn’t help but feel humbled and honored to be a part of a developing lineage of wild-tending naturalists. Although my part in this land’s care is as of yet quite small, I nonetheless feel gladdened that my hard work will undoubtedly feed the resident deer, perhaps some towhee, and, hopefully, a budding naturalist who, like me, grew up relatively disconnected from the natural world. If, in picking that wild serviceberry, tasting its sweetness, and wondering about the plant that produced it, that human’s relationship to the natural world has even a slight shift towards connectedness, then my work on stewardship day will have served the noble purpose of helping rekindle the awareness of humanity’s intimate reliance upon more-than-human nature.

In reflecting on that day of land tending, in which we helped shape the future experience of human and non-human animals for (hopefully) generations, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. I’ve included an excerpt from her poem, In Blackwater Woods, which I feel captures some of what I learned that day:

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

 


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To be lost is the first step in being found

Aidless Navigation

We began the day by getting lost. Well…not exactly. We began the day by discovering how lost we could get. Each of us stood alone on the edge of a forest path, looking into the dense and unchanging expanse of Douglas fir trees, sword ferns, and salmonberry bushes. We each walked 100 paces straight into the woods. Then, we turned around and walked straight back to the path.

But not exactly. While some of us did return to the place where we started, many of us did not.

Walking in a straight line, it turns out, is not easy. Most people have a dominant foot, and this causes them to walk in an arc. When it is overcast, as it so often is here, it can throw off your sense of direction. And, in many reforested landscapes, everywhere looks the same.

Eventually, we all found our way back to the path, and then we learned some techniques for aidless navigation; that is, finding your way without a topo map and compass. Navigating by landforms, trailblazing and leaving markers, and using celestial bodies are among the ways you can orient yourself on the landscape. Another method is story lining.

Many indigenous cultures code maps into stories, with notable landforms serving as important events or characters in the story. These “big stories” not only help people navigate the landscape, they also provide a schematic of reality into which people can fit their lives, and so feel a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. These stories reveal themselves in layers, and give instructions and wisdom on many practical, social, and spiritual aspects of a person’s life.  We broke up into our clans, set with the task of creating a story line on the land, which we would then give to another group to follow.

My clan chose a character and a starting point, and then we walked down the path and observed notable land features. We tried work these features into the plot of the story. As we worked, I felt frustrated and miserable. The story was not big enough. It didn’t ask or answer profound human questions. It didn’t have mythic layers of cause and effect. And everyone had different ideas.

After trying to participate for about twenty minutes, I confessed my frustration to my clan. I told them that the activity was not engaging my creative process and I did not feel connected to the story we had been crafting. And I didn’t know how to fix that. Everyone listened to me and appreciated my honesty. They didn’t try to fix the situation. They allowed me to be frustrated and unsatisfied. And I was grateful.

In twenty minutes, we didn’t create a multi-dimensional mythology upon which to base my life purpose, yearly rituals, map of my landscape, and initiation into different archetypal phases of life. Instead I learned a little more about my relationship with perfection. I learned about how difficult it can be to do creative work in a group. I learned that my clan is willing to support and respect me when our group process isn’t working for me. And I gained a whole bunch of respect for the cultures that wrote big stories, and the time it must have taken them to do so.

 

*For further reading on story lines, check out Spell of the Sensuous by David Abrams and Stealing Benefacio’s Roses by Martín Prechtel*


We’re a Golden Teddy favorite for kids and families!

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Thank you for voting for us!

ParentMap, the award-winning parenting magazine and website, has surveyed its readers on the best businesses and resources for kids and families in the Puget Sound. We were voted as:

2014 GOLDEN TEDDY AWARD WINNER for nature/environmental camp

for the 4th YEAR IN A ROW!

We were also a finalist for Best Overnight Camp for the second year in a row!

We still have some weeks with space in these award winning camps!

Click here for more information.

Thanks to everyone for your votes and your continued support!

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Walking Confidently

Walking Confidently

Drew Duckworth

What a journey the past nine months has been! It seems to have flown by, yet it is wild to look back and think about all that was packed into the year. As I pack up my car to return to the East Coast, I look forward to the reflection time I will have with the long hours on the road. So much has happened, is happening, and (I trust) will happen because of the experiences I had at the Anake Outdoor School and I am grateful for the lessons, challenges, and opportunities provided through the experience as well.

I have already been asked many times, “What did you get from the program?” I find myself struggling to simplify my response into an answer any unassuming questioner might be able to grasp. With how diverse the course was I found it impossible to specialize and develop expert skills in every core area. It did, however, open many doors and provide glimpses into them along with advice on how to navigate the path that unfolded beyond my beginners’ nearsightedness. Even with my lack of expertise in most areas, I still recognize the immense growth I have accumulated in all areas of our studies. So how can I sum all that up in an understandable answer?

The truth is I gained so much from the course, both tangible and intangible. I learned many new primitive and survival skills, practiced communication and leadership techniques, engaged in a supportive community, witnessed growth in myself and others, experienced rites of passage, and so much more. With all that I am walking away with, I would have to say the most fulfilling, and also the easiest way to sum it all up and easily answer that loaded question, is the strong sense of belonging I now have.

Of all the plants, trees, mammals, birds, and landscapes I interacted with these past nine months, the one specie I came to know and understand most deeply was myself. No matter what landscape I may be in, what animals are around me, or how the pace of life is moving, I will always be the one constant, and being able to have awareness of that I will be able to ground myself in any familiar or unfamiliar environment.

With all the doors that are now open, I am in the process of reviewing which ones I really am interested in stepping through. Is it tracking or bird language I really want to immerse myself in? What Core Routines were the most powerful for me and how do I incorporate them into my life moving forward? There are many questions and the answers are unfolding at different speeds.

As I stay aware of the questions, answers, and uncertainties I have, I know I can rely on the sense of belonging I have come to recognize in myself as I move forward. Anake gave me the experience and tools to develop this understanding and with it I am able to walk confidently into whatever the next steps may bring.

 

 


Torin’s Story

Dear Friend of Wilderness Awareness School,

Recently I came across a story that stopped me in my tracks – a story that would not have been possible without the support of compassionate donors.

At the age of seven, Torin was diagnosed with a high grade malignant brain tumor. The treatment he received at Seattle Children’s Hospital saved his life, but also took a toll. When he finished radiation and chemotherapy he was unable to walk independently and struggled with chronic fatigue. Throughout the rest of the spring and into the summer, one of the goals he worked toward was to be able to attend Wilderness Awareness camp as he had in the past.

He was beautifully accommodated by the staff, volunteers and other children. When the walking proved to be too much and the kids voiced that they did not want their group to split up, the staff suggested a wagon for Torin which the group decorated with leaves and branches.

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After months of hospital walls, Torin was surrounded by trees.  The beeping of vital sign monitors was replaced by birds.

Not only was Torin included, he received a generous scholarship which helped with a budget stretched thin by the months of my being unable to work as I cared for him.

Torin continues to look forward to Wilderness Awareness Camp every summer. Each year he walks farther, participates more in the games, and makes new friends through team building exercises that help each child see themselves as members of a strong and vital community.  

I’m no different than parents of kids who have not had a medicalized childhood.  We see the value in getting them away from technology screens and confined spaces and into the natural world. Wilderness Awareness School makes that goal so much easier to attain.

—       Lisa Petke, mother of Torin

I am touched on many different levels by this story – the healing power of nature; how nature is a great equalizer that encourages inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity; how nature is the perfect context for mentoring and learning; how Torin would not have been able to have this experience without the support of compassionate donors.

Time in nature is not only greatly beneficial for kids like Torin, but for ALL kids.

Ingwe, our co-founder, had a dream that kids of all ages would have the opportunity to develop a strong connection to the natural world. In his honor, the proceeds of our spring Get Outside campaign will go to the Ingwe Memorial Scholarship Fund.

For our spring Get Outside Campaign, we are excited to offer

two ways to Grow your Gift!

donate

Portrait---at-Ellen's_webGlendora Trescher, a spry 95-year-old, has been a loyal and passionate supporter of the school’s mission for over 12 years. She wants to inspire NEWpeople to discover the joy of giving to such a wonderful vision.

Glendora is offering a matching gift of up to $10,000 for all NEW donors!

Every dollar you give will be matched by Glendora!

 

TSF_GiveBig_logo_DATE_BLKA second way to grow your gift is to join us on May 6th for giveBIG, The Seattle Foundation’s one-day event where all gifts will be stretched matched.

Please mark your calendars for May 6th!

Last year we gave over $75,000 in scholarships. Please join Glendora for a matching gift or join us on May 6th for giveBIG and help make Ingwe’s dream come to life.

With Gratitude,

Warren Moon
Executive Director
Wilderness Awareness School

 

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Eastside Walkabout

Eastside Walkabout

 By: Drew Duckworth

            The reality of our end of the year survival trip seems to sink in a little more with each day we get closer to it. At the beginning of the year it was easy to put off and justify any worry with noting how much preparation, practice, and skill development I would have throughout the school year. Now, as we head over to the East side of the Cascades for a class field trip with just over a month left before the survival trip it is hard to put the worry aside and is a great time to push my edges and see how I respond in a mock survival situation.

With former Anake Instructor, Lindsay Huettman, joining us our class split into passion-based learning groups for the week. About a third of the class, myself included, joined Lindsay who was leading an overnight mock survival walkabout on the land. Our plan was to go light, focus on specific edges each of us decided to push, eat off the land, practice our survival skills, and hike a loop through the canyon and back to base camp.

Before we set out with our light loads on our backs and harvesting bag around our shoulders, we circled up to set our intentions for the walkabout. Common themes of survival trip prep, eating off the land, pushing edges of minimal food and enduring the cold without shelter echoed throughout the group. Along with these themes, each individual seemed to have an even deeper, personal reason for choosing this activity for their weekly immersion. My intention, knowing I will be leaving the WAS community after graduation in June, was to mark this week and commit to a full and deep immersion in the Anake program and culture in my remaining one and a half months.

As we started out up canyon, Lindsay’s knowledge of the wild edibles shined through and we all began filling our harvesting bags with nettle leaves, grass stalks, mustard leaves, salmon berry flowers, and much more. A real treat came at our first water filling break when a few members of our group found the stream filled with crayfish. Efficient in their harvesting they collected fourteen, enough for each member of our group to enjoy one at our mealtime. As our stomachs shrank, our pace slowed and we eased into our campsite along the creek just as the clouds above began to threaten rain.

After a short rest it was back to work, this time setting up our bedding site and shelter for the night. We opted for debris beds and set off collecting endless amounts of debris that never seemed to amount to enough for thorough protection from the conduction of the ground and possible condensation from above. After another short rest we split up for the last of our foraging for our dinner stew.

Half of us went up to harvest bitter roots while the other half stayed back around camp for nearby nettles and a protein surprise. As we hiked up, we flushed a turkey from her nest and reveled in what a wonderful, uplifting spirit a turkey would bring to a group in a survival situation. After an ethically challenging conversation we left the seven eggs and turkey behind and continued on our search of roots. Upon returning back, we learned the other group had an encounter with another wild animal, a gopher snake. It was a nice surprise to return to a protein packed addition to our stew for the evening.

As we sat around the fire cooking our day’s harvest we had an opportunity to reflect on the day. I was surprised with how survival does not need to be a miserable experience to get through. Rather, I experienced a joyful day with (mostly) high spirits.  It was incredibly satisfying and empowering to walk through the landscape and know what plants are edible and to take it a step further and actually eat those plants. After expressing our gratefulness for the plants that would sustain us through the night and for the hike back to camp the next day we enjoyed our stew as we passed the pot around. Enjoying my first meal from the land I relaxed as the hot liquid warmed my body and soul and my worries of survival week slowly drifted off.


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My Anake Tribe

My Anake Tribe

By Luke Kantola

The Anake class traveled to the Eastside of the Cascade Mountains earlier this month. I was having a hard time motivating myself and I wasn’t particularly excited about the trip for a variety of reasons: the Eastside is windy and I can’t stand wind, I had recently been there, I wanted some time for self-care and some time to read a book. The list goes on.

However, I did end up going with the group. We left in the rain and drove up through the clouds until we emerged on top of Snoqualmie pass. The rest of the drive left the dampness behind and the effect of the Cascade’s rain shadow was striking to all those who had never experienced it before.

This trip was very focused around passion-based exploration. Some of our group went wolf tracking while another group went on a walkabout and lived off of wild edibles for a day. I chose to explore some of the different wilderness areas around the Eastside with no particular goal largely because I felt like I needed to rest.

The trip was a powerful experience for many involved. The wolf-tracking group found fresh wolf sign and trailed the pack for hours. They even found an elk kill that was less than a few days old! I was admittedly jealous of their experience when they got back with plaster castings of the massive wolf paw prints.

The wild edible group had a powerful energy about them that is pretty commonly felt in this community when people go through challenging experiences. They were tired and some even a little cranky upon return, but the deeper effect was that of personal growth and seeing that was really inspirational.

My experience wasn’t as powerful as my classmates on this trip. Part of that was what I chose to participate in and part of it was chance. I feel good to be in a group of people where I want to support the growth of individuals even if I am not benefiting myself. It’s almost impossible not to feel this way with the ubiquitous reciprocity of love and support the group offers one another.

Anake isn’t a walk in the park. It isn’t easy to get up at 4 am to try and find that owl that won’t stop calling outside. It isn’t easy to walk out to my sit spot when it’s pouring rain. None of these things are required, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. The hardest thing about Anake for me isn’t the class time, but the times when I am comfortable and need to face discomfort in order to learn.    Luckily, on the Eastside trip there were a group of 30 other strong individuals that led by example and showed me that you get out of Anake what you put in. I came back with an altered perspective and I feel rejuvenated from my time spent with my Anake tribe.


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Spring Approaches

Spring Approaches

By Luke Kantola

Each year, I slowly mourn summer as it creeps into fall, and fall into winter. The days grow shorter and the weather grows more hostile. The leaves fall and the birds fly South unwilling to participate in what is to come. When I was younger, say ten or twelve, I would bask in the ability to stay inside during this season. I would build forts with tiny slits so that I could view the T.V. or I would build massive structures with every Lego piece that I owned. If I grew bored I would press my face against the window and feel the coldness of the rain as it ran down the outside of the glass. At some point, in the time between then and now, something shifted. I no longer feel comfortable allowing my days to slip away in front of a screen or distracted by toys. Winter has gotten harder since life has grown more serious.

This past summer was one of the best I have ever experienced. I spent almost every night of it under the stars and I was constantly exploring. When winter finally arrived in Washington I remember feeling trapped in the limited hours of daylight. I blamed it on the latitude until I returned to California and found the sun was setting at almost the same time. After fully experiencing summer there was nothing to do but fully feel the effect of winter. At first it was difficult. I felt my days were just blackness punctuated with periods of overcast skies, but it gradually became the new normal. The stillness of winter penetrated so deeply that I eventually forgot the sense of loss that arrived when the leaves fell. As the days kept passing my memories of summer were more and more obscured by time.

It wasn’t until the first buds started showing on the elderberry and the first flowers hung down from the salmonberry that I remembered what we lose every fall. The birds are returning to the land here at Wilderness Awareness School and they are singing again. The leaves that initially helped me to identify so many of the species of plants and trees are also budding and returning to life. I see that spring is a time of remembering as life washes over this land like the return of a seasonal tide.

Winter is a hard time in the natural world. Food sources are sparse, and the sun doesn’t offer as much warmth. Birds sleep with barely enough heat to survive each night; spooking a bird from its roost during a cold night might be fatal for the animal. As my connection to the natural world has grown throughout this past year it is only natural to feel the effects of the seasons more strongly than before. Winter is more real to me than it has ever been, but it’s harshness allows the bird song and flowering of plants to emphasize that the earth continues to insist on life. I am seeing my world through a clearer lens; one that is more compassionate for the hardship that the winter brings to nature and one that is more appreciative of the relative ease that comes with the sunny seasons.


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Gifts for California

Gifts for California

By Luke Kantola

One of our assignments this winter was to craft gifts for the community we would be visiting during the annual trip to California. Honestly, it wasn’t something I was giving much thought to. I had too much going on in my own life to be creating gifts for a group of people I had never met. I felt slightly uncomfortable voicing that sentiment though. I know how potent heartfelt gifts are in the process of human connection. I wasn’t that person though. At the time, I didn’t knit. I don’t particularly enjoy basketry. What kind of trinket could I produce and offer? It just wasn’t my place. Someone else would do it.

A fellow Anake was over one night and we were lamenting about how we had little to do and a game of chess would be the perfect way to engage our minds. I had been playing chess almost every day over winter break with my mom, and we had even gotten a phone app that would let us play even though we weren’t together anymore. I searched chessboards online and found them to be more expensive than I had expected.

In classic Wilderness Awareness School fashion we started filling the time not with an actual game of chess but a detailed plan of how we would construct our own board. There is an inherent beauty in creating a chessboard. The wood is organized into a very simple pattern that then facilitates the expression of human intellect: sometimes playful, sometimes agonizing, and potentially elegant.

At some point the community we were to visit in California, Quail Springs, came up and the passion for woodworking and chess easily melded into our assignment to make a gift for them. It was hardly more than a cerebral fantasy at this point and we only had a single weekend before the trip began. We felt a sense of co-creation with the community at Quail Springs as if the board’s story would only be introduced by our construction of it. The real story of this chessboard would be fleshed out in the movement of the pieces across its squares — over the years the board would come to life. The excitement was there. We were motivated to be the gift givers.

The project’s execution seemed possible given the plan we had drafted, but it wasn’t easy. We wanted to use materials that were all harvested from the land here at school. We started with a big cedar round that we wanted to embed the squares of the board into, but we were quickly deterred by a more experienced woodworker who demonstrated how brittle cedar is in the form of a round by lightly smacking a smaller cedar round and having it practically shatter in his hand.

We scrambled to find a new plan and ended up buying local wood at the last minute. The baseboard was a beautiful alder with a live edge and it would be inlayed with a rich walnut and a glossy maple. No dyes were needed. The wood was going to provide the contrast in color. If it wasn’t for one of the community members here at Wilderness Awareness School we never would have been able to complete the project. His expertise with woodworking and help with different tools accommodated our initial failed plan.

Astonishingly we had a completed project by the late hours of the final evening. Our classmates had been recruited to carve pieces for the board and without the help of the entire class creating the chess set would have been impossible. We even had a few students knit a beautiful bag to keep the pieces in.

Giving the gift to Quail Springs was the real treat. They had given us an amazing experience over the course of our stay there and treated all of us with heartwarming hospitality. All of a sudden it felt like anything less than what we were offering wouldn’t have accurately expressed our gratitude to the people we had met there. I was honored to be a part of presenting the final project which was such a team effort. I usually am not the type of person to put the time into a gift like this, but it was the infectious generosity of my friend who suggested we make the board not for ourselves but for the community in California that opened me up to the experience of giving.

 


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A Life in Transition

A Life in Transition

Drew Duckworth

 

I remember back to our Opening Week at Linne Doran when we were creating our group culture and being introduced to Anake and one of our instructors stated, “You will not be the same person in June (at graduation) as you are right now.”  Initially triggering fear and excitement, this statement has stuck with me throughout the year and was reverberating loudly in my head before our Spring Break.

A few times throughout the year I have felt that there is something missing from Anake.  Whether it is that we could go deeper into specific lessons, learn more skills, or introduce more subjects I often found myself reflecting on these thoughts with no action.  When I recognized the need for Rites of Passage, and it being a passion of mine and a subject in which I have previous experience and training, I could not just sit by and let the opportunity pass.

There is a strong aspect to Anake of protecting your learning journey and individualizing your experience, which leads to unique experiences in each class of Anakes.  With these in place, along with the platform that has been created for students to add their contributions to the learning experience, I felt it was important for me, and for the class, to offer a Wilderness Rite of Passage based off of the traditional Vision Quest model for my classmates that wished to participate.

Over Spring Break the ten of us (8 Questers, 2 facilitators) began the first stage of the process with Severance as we headed East, over the Cascades, to what would be our Quest site and home for the next week.  As we introduced ourselves to the land around us, shared our intentions, and offered prayers, I realized how a lot of the work we were learning and doing throughout the year directly correlated to this experience.  Using the Thanksgiving Address, Walking in a Sacred Manner, Sense Meditations, Sit Spot, and so many more practices were easily and habitually transferred over to the Quest experience.

Through these practices and our councils in camp, the Questers found their solo sites and prepared for the next phase of the process, the Threshold.  For three days and nights, alone in their site without food, they integrated themselves into the local environment, forged relationships with the world around them, made sacrifices and offerings, and listened intently for their calling, gift, and/or “Vision.”

As they returned with their glowing smiles and clear eyes, they ventured confidently into the third and final stage of Incorporation.  During this time, they shared their stories, joined in the revelry of other humans, and prepared for the return to Anake, Wilderness Awareness School, Duvall, and the other communities they are a part of.  As we finished our final council and said our goodbyes to the land, there was a sad and happy feeling throughout the group along with an overall readiness to integrate our experiences, lessons, and full selves into our communities.

Less than a week after our return, there was a storytelling council on the land in Malalo for the Questers to share their stories with the larger community.  A beautiful gathering of people included Anakes (present and former), apprentices, instructors, other WAS community members, and elders that were all there to hear these stories, support the Questers with their integration, and be inspired.  Through this council, our close-knit circle of ten broke its barriers and was held within the larger community of which we are now more prepared to serve.

By marking this stage in our lives through this Quest, I have acknowledged that there is something different about where I am now than where I was back in September.  I now fully understand what my instructor meant by her statement during our opening week.  Anake provides the framework for individuals to make powerful changes in their lives.  This transition occurs throughout the nine months involved in the program, the community, and the personal growth.  For me, there is no longer fear that surrounds that statement, rather a sense of relief and joy, knowing that I was searching for that change in my life, and grateful for the shift that Anake has gifted me.