Mountain to the Sea Wilderness Camp: Where Girls and Women Learn About Nature

As our bare feet slide through warm sand, Diana Totten and Aurora Studebaker take me on a short and simple version of their Mountain to the Sea Wilderness Camp. “Hold your arms out wide,” Totten says. “Look.” That stretch between your arms is where everyone should be looking, she says. Being aware of what occurs at the periphery of normal sight is the beginning of owl vision, a way of viewing the world that she and Studebaker will be teaching both girls and women at a series of camps this summer.


Totten demonstrating owl vision to girls at last year’s camp. [Photo from Mountain to Sea website]

Being barefoot is another thing that will be encouraged at the camps, Totten explains. It helps slow people down, she says. When she was a child, Totten remembers racing all over the woods at first scaring away all the wildlife. Her native grandmother told her to remove her shoes so she would slow down and not scare the animals. “It puts you in touch with the earth, too,” she explains.

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Diana Totten tells about her childhood in the woods.

As we walk, Studebaker slips her hand into bushes breaking off small sticks and gathering soft, dry vegetation. Both she and Totten point out small tracks–a lizard, a bird, a dog. Totten gathers raspberry leaves for a tea.

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Aurora Studebaker building a fire without matches or a lighter.

Then on the riverbar, Studebaker squats with a block of wood and a bow-like contraption that she uses to start fires.

She rubs the tip of a smooth t-shaped peg on her face to gather a little oil then folds small leaves between the peg and a hole in a wooden block. She sets a small stone under the block and begins to rotate the peg by “sawing” it with the cord of the “bow.” In just a minute or two, smoke begins to rise from the hole.

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Soon the wood dust is smoldering. Last summer, she says, all the girls at their camp choose to start a fire without matches as a way to show their parents what they had learned.

Fire (1 of 1)She lifts the hot wood dust onto a nest of grass and dry mosses.Fire3 (1 of 1)

She puffs air at the bundle.

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Within minutes she has a small fire going.fire7 (1 of 1)

As raspberry leaf tea brews in a small pot, the two talk about a grant they received from the Humboldt Area Foundation that allowed them to buy backpacks and other needed equipment for their camps. But, they say, they still need to raise more money. They have a fundraiser planned for May 14th. They plan to demonstrate fire building and have a tracker there to teach some basics. There will be a silent auction and live music. (See more here.) Everyone, Totten says, is welcome.

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The Mountain to the Sea Wilderness Camp also has three camps scheduled for this summer. The poster below has details. Signup here.

MTTS Summer Schedule 2016 (1)

Before we leave, Studebaker and Totten make sure the fire is out, the ashes covered with dirt and the rock ring taken apart. They want to leave no trace we’ve been there. But, they tell me, they hope to build a fire in the girls and women who come to their camp and leave a trace of the wilderness on their souls.



  • This is such a great way of deverting minds back to where they need to be. I hope folks see this as a great idea, also. I plan on supporting this project and I hope others will.

  • LeAnna Carson-Hansen

    I agree with you Bob. Sounds like a wonderful learning experience for the gals that area able to attend.

  • Wish I was younger.reminds me of.girl scouts.this sounds awsome.and very important!!

  • Wish it could be available to boys, too

  • Ernie Branscomb

    I support Diana and Aurora in thier work with kids. If I joined in, I would have to wear my deerskin mocasins, because my feet are just too sissy.

    Up until the late 60’s the kids of Southern Humboldt used to almost live in the hills and streams playing “Indian”. We would sneak up on deer and other animals, just to see who could get the closest. In the winter we would catch salmon with our bare (bear?) hands. ( it was quite illegal, even then) we learned that animals are easier to sneak up on in the rain.

    On the long summer days we would dive in the river spearing sucker fish, or go fossil hunting in one of the many fossil banks around Garberviille. We would hike out the old pack trail to Harris with our 22 cal rifles and eat robins and quail that we would cook on small camp fires. We started them with magnifying glasses, or waxed matches.

    I am still amazed by the people that trip on the cracks in the sidewalks downtown. Wow…

    Diana and Aurora are doing one of the greatest things that can ever be done for our modern kids. I know what they are missing.

    • Sounds like you grew up as a kid should.i agree with you.i love being a girl scout,I use what I learned everyday!!I still when I travel take a bag full of survival stuff,my kids used to think I was nuts.water,blankets,flashlight,matches lighter,paper,flares,socks,etc.i still do,you just never know

      • Loved being a boy scout although there was the para-military aspect. But a little ganja took care of that! Good luck to the girls and this wonderful outdoor education program.

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