My Sono-Ma: "Tracking" in Ragle Ranch’s Wild Space


“Point your body towards the sun.  Then, get your nose as close to the ground as you can,” instructs Sono-Ma friend and “sacred survivalism” guru Karla Gormely.  All three children immediately drop to their bellies onto the muddy path.  I cringe thinking I should have put Bryles in rain pants before we hit the trail, but I am in awe of how intensely interested the children appear.

“What do you see?” asks Karla.  The children remain silent.  “I see lots of circles, lines, and some bike tracks,” offers Phelan.  “Good,” says Karla.  “Now, what about animal footprints?  Do you see any tracks that you know?”  “Doggy paws!” says Phelan jumping up excitedly. “Can I draw it, mommy?”

Karla obliges his request by pulling out notebooks for her two kids.  She then offers her own observation notebook to Bryles so he can also try his hand at documenting the tracks he finds.

Soon all three children are silent again, intently working on drawing the different tracks they can identify.   While Bryles can wield a felting needle, card wool, bake bread, and use a hammer and saw, he’s rarely picked up a pencil or practiced drawing things he’s observed.  I glance over his shoulder to watch what he creates.

“Draw what you see,” directs Karla adding, “Don’t just draw something the way you think it should look.  Try to capture what is really before you.”  Bryles first follows along by drawing three small circles and one large circle.  The circles are in something of a linear fashion, but I can see he is feeling out the shapes of the dog paw.  His second drawing, again of the dog paw, includes circles but this time they more truly mirror the arrangement of the shapes on the ground.  As he is able to coordinate his hand and eye, his excitement grows.  “Let’s go find more!” he says to friend Phelan.

Soon, he’s on his third drawing – now of a horse shoe print.  His shape is spot on, and he’s detailing out things like nail impressions.

We hike on and Karla and I marvel at the children searching for other signs of animals in Ragle Ranch Park.  “Is that a bunny trail?” the children ask each other as they follow a tiny path leading through dried grass to a thicket of bushes.  They peak under the thicket, but don’t see a bunny.   However, they are most happy to move on to another search.  Stomping through mud puddles, swinging from low branches, and pausing at marshy spots to search for frogs, they seem to make endless exciting discoveries.  “Hey guys!  Come see this!” they shout back and forth, pausing only to take a short reverent glance at images like this creek scene:

“Isn’t this great?” I say to Karla as we follow the children weaving on and off the trail of Ragle’s 157 acres of woodlands, marshland and segments of the Atescedero Creek.   We both consider ourselves nature lovers, and while I can’t yet build a debris hut for shelter or find as many medicinal plants as Karla, I do believe that nature makes an incredible classroom and healing space.   We try to meet up to get the kids together for outside play and “gathering” as often as possible.   Together with our kids we’ve collected elderberries to make tincture syrups, lichens and moss for building fairy houses or dying wool, and we’ve picked blackberries for cobblers, pies, smoothies and more!

Ragle Ranch

You, too, can get your family outdoors.  Here follows a list of local parks and programs.  Also included is a list of books and on-line resources for connecting kids and nature.


Sonoma County’s regional parks offer great diversion for outdoor enthusiasts, with parks such as Ragle Ranch offering open-ended, nature spaces that encourage free play for young children and adults alike!

For more information on Ragle Park, please read our earlier My Sono-Ma story: Exploring Ragle Ranch Regional Park & Wild Spaces in Sebastopol California

We also enjoy climbing through the rocks and creek at Santa Rosa City’s Brush Creek Trail.  Read about our adventures here.

Local Programs

The “Buckeye Gathering” in Forestville, CA offers an incredible, local opportunity to learn wilderness skills as a whole family.  This week long event offers workshops for adults and a kid’s camp ages 5 (for children of attending adult guardians). Camp coordinators say, “What we offer has not always been known as ‘Primitive Skills’, ‘Traditional Arts’ ‘Wilderness Survival’ or ‘Earth Living’. At one time it was simply LIFE.”

Buckeye Gathering

Peter Bergen and Michelle Sauceda recently started “Outside In Nature” a children’s “Deep Nature Connection” program at Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma.  Two families from our Waldorf school enrolled their boys in the program.  These kids are practicing primitive skills such as creating fire with friction and how to build debris shelters.  They also get plenty of “dirt time” or “unstructured time in structured container” of the program’s “invisible school” model.  Read more about these inspiring ideas and models here.

Outside In Nature
707 225 2404


1.)  “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle” by Richard Louv

“The immediacy of Richard Louv’s message in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder galvanized an international movement to reconnect children with nature. Now, in The Nature Principle, Louv reaches even further with a powerful call to action for the rest of us. Richard Louv makes a convincing case that through a nature-balanced existence—driven by sound economic, social, and environmental solutions—the human race can and will thrive.” (via

2.)  “Coyote’s Guide“…by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown

“This is good medicine for nature deficit disorder. Coyote’s Guide should become the essential resource for anyone who wants to revive their sense of kinship with nature but needs some help. . .” Richard Louv, author of the national bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, and chairman of the Children and Nature Network. (via 

3.)  Animal Tracking Basics by Jon Young

“This how-to book teaches the basics of being a successful tracker – explaining what to look for to find or identify an animal and how to develop an essential environmental awareness. Also describes aging tracks and sign, understanding ecology and mapping, keeping field notes, using track tools, and making casts. “ (via


1.)  “Let’s Get Outside” & Children and Nature Network:

2.)  Wilderness Awareness School:

3.)  Forest Kindergartens at Waldorf Schools (e.g. Saratoga Springs Waldorf School)

4.)  Mother Earth School (outdoor education led by trained Waldorf Teachers in Oregon)

5.)  Tom Brown Jr. Tracker School


2 Responses

  1. Erin Brickner

    Posted: February 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm |

    It makes me so happy to read your article cause it brings back so many happy memories of my children and I going out to find nature. We love all the wonderful treasures and magic. I take my children from summer school out every day for walks when I am teaching during the ESY session. I teach children with moderate to severe disabilities with my Waldorf training and am currently enrolled online to get my Masters In Special education. I am going through empty nest syndrome right now cause my babies have flown the nest. I think this is what they are supposed to do but it is still hard when you miss them. Love & Light-Erin

  2. Karla

    Posted: February 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm |

    “Seek the Wilderness for there you will find peace” ~Tom Brown Jr.
    One of my favorite qotes!

    Holly, we all had such a great time that day! And when we got home the children were peacefull and quiet and cooperative! We are hoping to get out at least every weekend for more wilderness adventures and start working on our bowdrills again. And in March, Phelan’s teacher has asked me to help plan a tracking adventure for his whole class. :)
    Much love, Karla


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