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Cultivating a New Generation of Leaders

Fifeteen years ago I had the opportunity and honor to plant a Tree of Peace with Chief Jake Swamp at Linne Doran. The tree is a Thuja plicata, Western Red Cedar, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Western Red Cedars grow with what’s called a central leader. A couple of years ago I was asked to come and take a look at the tree and its health. When you approach The Tree of Peace it looks much like any fifteen year-old Western Red Cedar would, that is until you’ve positioned yourself close enough to reach your hand into its canopy, pull the branches aside and notice something undeniably unique: it seems to be growing as many leaders as it can.

Now nearly every week my son Leo walks past the Tree of Peace on his way to Foxes. Leo has an innate sensitivity to life. Not much gets by him. He’s attuned, in the true sense of the word, receptive to and aware of the life around him. When Leo first arrived at Roots and Wings two years ago it took him three and a half days with me there before he was comfortable being on his own with the group. However it didn’t take him long afterward to sense into Wilderness Awareness School being a place where his sensitivity wasn’t only acknowledged and welcomed, but seen as something to inspire and cultivate.

Two years later, Leo is now a “Fox” and he is expressing his true self in the world, freely and wholeheartedly! It’s truly awesome to witness.


He has a sense of belonging to a tribe that allows him to naturally challenge himself, take risks and follow his passions. Now that same kid who was tentative to leave me and join the group wants to sleep with his tribe overnight in the woods leaving me to “sleep at home or wherever you want Papa, I’m fine either way.”

I believe all of our children are born with a unique sensitivity to life. It’s our job as their parents to treat that as sacred and to find places in the world where their unique sensitivities can become integrated, resilient, adaptable and fully expressed. Wilderness Awareness School is such a place.

Our people and planet desperately need new leaders who stem from a deep connectivity and holistic sensitivity to themselves and the natural world. It’s undeniable that Wilderness Awareness School is cultivating this new generation of leaders, who like Leo are connected to themselves, to the people in their communities and the wilderness around them.

It’s no surprise to me that The Tree of Peace on Linne Doran is uniquely and vigorously producing so many leaders from one stem; for me it’s a clear sign that Wilderness Awareness School is quite literally, and successfully, creating the conditions for many leaders to grow.

Editor’s Note: As a scholarship recipient, Leo is one of the next generation of nature-connected leaders your donations are helping to grow. Your support is an amazing gift that will ripple far beyond their family.