In Her Own Words: Yari Studies Sustainable Cultures in Northern India

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to travel to India for an entire month! I had  an amazing experience that I will never forget. I traveled through the company Putney Student Travel. This program focused on learning about sustainable development and the culture of Ladakh. We started our trip in the capital, New Delhi. When I got out of the airport the first thing I noticed was the intense heat of New Delhi’s summer air followed by the honking noises of cars and buses. Our trip to the hotel it was a terrifying but interesting ride. The streets had no lanes, so every car honked and pushed their way in. Outside through the window I saw people sleeping in the streets, praying, and there were piles of trash in every corner.

Our stay in New Delhi was brief as we departed for Leh in the region of Ladakh on the next day. Ladakh is situated in the northern part of India, in the Himalayas. The people of Ladakh are known as Ladakhis and speak the unique Ladakhi language. They do not have the typical Indian features as their ancestors are from Tibet. Therefore their main religion is Buddhism instead of Muslim or Hindu like most of India. The transition between a bustling city to peaceful beautiful mountains is mind boggling. Religion is just one way in which Ladakh is different than New Delhi. The two places can’t be any more different. Ladakh is surrounded by beautiful mountains, houses that spread out in the countryside with lush green fields between them. Ladakhi people are very kind, happy, and not materialistic. Their main source of income is growing barley and different types of vegetables. They have very sustainable methods that they have been using for hundred and hundreds of years. Such methods include using cow dung and human feces as fertilizer, and they build little canals that transports the melting glacier water to their crops.

In recent years the Ladakhi culture has been disturbed by western influences. When this first culture shock hit them, around the 1970s, the Ladakhi people thought of themselves as inferior and that their methods of living were backwards. Since then this region has been turning away from their culture. Sometimes the government even helps diminish the preservation of the culture, by providing subsidized foods that are not traditional to the culture; diesel fuel, which is extremely polluting; and chemically produced fertilizers that deplete the soil. The whole region seems like it is under construction. I would see old mud houses next to cement houses that were painted in bright colors. It seems though that the Ladakhi people are now understanding the consequences of these very visible and negative changes. There is more trash in their villages, the soil is not rich, and people are becoming sicker due to the changes in diet. Our job was to find out as much information as we could on these topics. We interviewed the local people and we met with non- government officials. What I got out of this learning experience is how the rest of the world can mimic the lifestyle of the Ladakhi people. They live in a sustainable way that has little impact on our environment.

Not only did I gain so much knowledge from this experience but the relationships that I made during this trip were incredible. I had the opportunity to stay in a school with kids my age, and they were the nicest and happiest people that I have ever met. They like to live happily and, unlike American teenagers, they don’t complain about doing chores and homework. I noticed that they confronted each situation that faced them it with a smile. For instance, when the tap water stop working and we had to carry buckets after buckets of water from the head pump to the kitchen. They made a game out of it, competing as to who could carry the most buckets. Or when they had dance parties. They moved like no one was seeing them, and truly they didn’t care if they looked silly. They just liked to have a good time. I learned valuable lessons from them, and made wonderful friendships that I will cherish, and I hope one day I can see them again. 

This month long adventure not only taught me about the culture and the environment, but it also taught me a little bit about myself. After this I have a sense of direction. I know that I want to travel and learn about environmental issues while still being engaged with the local cultures. I want to thank CCL for exposing me to different environmental problems here in the U.S. They have prepared me for this journey. I started out learning about lakes in Wisconsin, to wetlands in New Orleans. Without that exposure I would not have had the interest or courage to travel across the world.

Homeward Bound

It has been a long three weeks, yet at the same time, it seemed like we were just pulling away from Elawa farms.  Today was a great full day.  Even before breakfast, some of us went to one of the university’s practice fields and ran.  After a great meal, we met with someone who explained the process of getting a higher education, especially as a high school student.  Many of the students were able to get an introduction to the process they will be going through if they want to continue on with school.

  After that, we were met with two members of the urban forestry department, and learned about the importance of considering forest within an urban environment.  Then, we broke up into groups and got a chance to try some of the things that they do while on the job.  One group was able to go and try some techniques that foresters use to manage landscaping.  Everyone got a chance to use lopers and saws in order to trim a willow bush and some verbatium.  This was great fun, as we were able to monitor our progress right away.  The other group got a chance to work with a different forester and explore some fun things that they do within their jobs.  We once again put on harnesses and helmets for climbing, but this time it was in trees.  We learned about the importance of tree climbing and then how to properly do it.  It was great to watch everyone climb, especially being surrounded by buildings and curious students.  The groups got an opportunity to switch, as to experience both things.


After lunch, we went to work in the university’s greenhouse, which was a great experience.  It was mostly manual labor, but a great introduction to locally grown and harvested foods.  It was a hot afternoon, so the group cooled off in downtown Stevens Point at a local fountain before dinner, where we went into town and ate at a local New york style pizza place.  Of course, we couldn’t have pizza without ice cream, so we spent a considerable amount of time in the quaint downtown area.  Afterwards, we went back to UWSP’s nature preserve and had a wrap up activity, where we discussed some of the things we learned.  Also, everyone was put into one large green bandana group to signify our completion of the summer experience with CCL/  It was a beautiful evening and a great time for reflection.  We are so proud of everyone, and the trip home tomorrow will be bittersweet.


PARENTS: Please be at Elewa Farm in Lake Forest, IL at 4:30 pm tomorrow afternoon in order to meet the bus and pick up your child.  I’m sure you are all excited to hear about their wonderful trips.  We look forward to seeing all of you again tomorrow. 



Au revoir to Lake Superior

We woke up to another beautiful day on the south shores of Lake Superior with travel on our minds.  We all had a great breakfast, which we were able to share with the admissions counselors at Northland college.  They fielded questions and really exemplified the warm nature of the student body.  It was a wonderful way to depart the school.  After loading up the bus, we took a scenic drive down highway 51 to Tomahawk, WI, where we stopped at Treehaven, an auxiliary branch of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

  Everyone had a great lunch overlooking some of the rolling hills of central Wisconsin.  Treehaven is a natural resource and forestry center, with a focus on experimental, hands-on learning.  We were given a presentation regarding the health and development of the 1,400 acre plot of land.  This lead into a discussion on how biodiversity is all intertwined.  We talked about the importance of deer management through natural predation, particularly by the Timber Wolf.  It was a really in-depth look at how human have impacted the entire chain within an ecosystem.  After the talk, we met with a current student at UWSP who introduced us to radio telemetry.  Everyone split up into groups and actually used the instrumentation to find a radio collar hidden on the property.  It was a great activity to release some energy before getting back on the bus and heading further south to the main campus of UWSP.

We got to the school around dinner time, and after packing everything into rooms, we explored campus a little before dinner.  After dinner, the group traveled to the Schmeeckle preserve, a piece of land owned by the school, where we were able to use an outdoor amphitheater.  There, we discussed our stewardship projects and some of the intricasies involved.  We were joined by a former CCL student, who gave his personal experience about his project and what he learned from the entire process.  We then did some group processing, where we brainstormed some ideas for help and coordination pertaining to the projects.  It was a great use of time, as it gave some good insight into how the projects should be run.  Overall, it was a great day for the group and we’re looking forward to learned about forestry tomorrow at the university. 

Learning about radio telemerty first hand.

Releasing Painted turtles at Treehaven.

The blue crew presenting their ideas about stewardship.

On and around the lake

It’s amazing to realize that today has been only the second day at Northland College, and also our last – the past two days have been full of such fun adventures and we’ve also learned quite a bit of new and interesting information here. This morning started with a yum, locally sourced breakfast of eggs and pancakes in the college cafeteria. We headed out early on a 40 minute drive to the town of Bayfield, WI, destined for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. We boarded a ferry in Bayfield and about an hour out on to Lake Superior we landed on Stockton Island.

            On Stockton Island we were met by two National Park Service Rangers, Stu and Leigh. They guided us around the trails of the island and told us about the local ecology of the northern hemlock forest. We also talked about how climate change affects theApostle Islands; Stu and others predict that by the year 2100 the islands will be covered in oak savannahs – an ecosystem, as Alex told us, that persists in warmer climate zones. We learned other things from Stu, including the 4 major forces of life on the planet – gravity, weak and strong nuclear energy, and electromagnetic energy – which Emmanuel was able to just explain back to me. After our trail hikes we had bagged lunches on the beach, and had an opportunity to play in the sand and let all the information sink in.

            After spending the good part of the day on Stockton Island, we took the ferry back to Bayfield where we had pizza for dinner, then ice cream cones from a local candy shop! Then it was back in the vans for a drive to the Pinehurst Inn, a bed and breakfast in Bayfield. We met the owner of the inn, Steve Sandstorm, who runs the inn with his wife, and he showed us around. What was really special about the Pinehurst Inn was that it is one of the most sustainable overnight-stay locations in the state of Wisconsin.

            To be sustainable is “to provide for the current generation and still maintain resources for future generations,” as Jordan sees it. The Pinehurst Inn practices sustainability in a number of ways, including by sourcing their food locally and always using food that’s in season by freezing summer produce to use in the winter. This was Julia’s favorite part about what Steve talked to us about. Another way is by using solar panels and geothermal energy to heat the space and water in one of the buildings. Surrounding the buildings are native plants, so that less fertilizer and petroleum is used to maintain lawn grass. One of the last things Steve showed us was his biodiesel system. He collects grease from local restaurants and through a simple yet tedious process he converts the grease into fuel to use in his car. We were all amazed that this could be done, and Willy was especially interested, as he has talked to me before about diesel engines and how to make them less polluting. It was great to learn about all of the things that we could do to make our lifestyles more in balance with the natural environment, and also to consider how integrated our lives are with natural systems.

            We’ve been making a lot of connections here in Ashland and throughout our time in the northwoods, and realizing our role in the environment up here and our communities back home. As Stu told us today, Chief Seattle said: “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. ” These are words we think about more and more as we realize how connected we are with the natural environment.

We leave Ashland tomorrow for Steven’s Point, WI, and making connections will continue!

Making funny faces on the ferry to Stockton Island

National Park Service Ranger, Stu, tells us about the electromagnetic field around the earth.

Devyn wades in the clear Lake Superior after lunch.

Junior Rangers, Leslye and Julia

We sit at a small rain garden outside one of the buildings of the Pinehurst Inn.

North to Lake Superior

This morning was a bit bittersweet, as we departed our home for the past week, Camp Manito-wish.  Under low cloud cover, we headed north towards Lake Superior and our eventual destination, Ashland,WI.  We arrived at Northland College and were greeted with sunshine and our guide for our time here, Jake.  After finding rooms in the dorms, we ate a quick lunch and prepared for the day. 

We were treated by an interpretive talk discussing the history of Lake Superior.  In full voyageur attire, our guides described the life of the first European settlers to the area.  Once we learned about the fascinating history of the voyageur (or French fur trapper), we piled into vans and headed down to Maslowski beach, at the head of Chequamegon Bay.  There, we unloaded replica voyageur canoes and learned the ins and outs of paddling a 38 foot boat.  Before we pushed off into the choppy lake, we all took a pinch of kinicinic, and in traditional fashion, gave thanks to the water we were about to paddle on.  It was a unique way of recreating and respecting long practiced culture.  We then pushed off into the lake, and had to face a strong head wind.  Everyone had to stay in rhythm with the first man in the canoe in order to go straight.  This took some practice, but both boats handled the waves very well after a short while.  We paddled into Fish creek slough, and there docked up in order to discuss some of the natural history of the area.  Jake gave us a great perspective on some of the differences between the slough and some of the other habitats we had already seen on the trip.  Will was quick to point out the differences between the slough and a bog.  We were able to see some unique flora and fauna indigenous to the area, including a Blue-winged teal and some Arrowhead, a plant that needs a high water quality to grow.  It was a great day to be on the water, and an even better way to experience the powers ofLake Superior.

After a little break for soccer, we ate dinner and loaded up in the vans once again.  This time, we took a bit of a drive to the Bad River Indian reservation, where we were able to go on a gorgeous piece of private land right on Lake Superior.  Waverly beach, as it is so aptly named, is the home to a tribal elder named Joe Rose.  There, we saw a few different traditional houses, including a teepee and a wigwam.  We then got a chance to hang out on the beach, which had a beautiful panoramic view of the lake.  To the west, we could see the Bayfield peninsula, and to the east the Porcupine Mountains, where we were backpacking just a few short days ago.  Everyone got a chance to look at cool rocks.  Finally, Joe showed up and graced everyone with his knowledge and understanding of Ojibwa lore.  Everyone asked questions, which he happily answered with stories and traditions.  Julia asked about the different kinds of rocks, and so he explained the story of the Grandfather stones.  He also told an interesting prophecy, which has been passed down for thousands of years and rang true still today.  It was amazing hearing such wisdom and guidance, all while standing beneath a breathtaking sunset.  It was an experience few will forget. 

Tomorrow, we look forward to exploring more of the area and seeing what other adventures are in store. 

Our guides Jake and Allen tell us about the history and culture  of French and Native furtrappers on Lake Superior.

This canoe fit 8, the other fit 12!

Storeytelling from tribal elder Joe Rose.

Leaving Camp Manito-wish

After a restful evening back from trail, everyone woke up today full of energy and ready for a big day on the high ropes. We went to breakfast and then the group went to get fitted in harnesses – these fit around our legs and waist and made so that we could safely climb to the tree tops and be secured with a rope. Leslye admits she was scared on our way over to the high ropes course, but after conquering her fear on several obstacles she felt proud and thought it turned out to be an awesome day.

The group split into our pine and oak groups. The pines went to the “pamper pole” first, which involved climbing a pole 34 feet to the top! Once standing on top, the students set goals of jumping off the pole and hitting a bell that was hanging near it. Everyone of the pines made the climb! And mostly everyone jumped off to ring the bell. Meanwhile, the oaks battled each other on top of the “catwalk,” a horizontal log 27 feet in the air on top of which two students tried to knock each other off with noodles. Willy battled Alex, Emmanuel battled Kala, and Steven battled Julia – the former of each group coming out the victor by knocking the noodle out of the others’ hands. This wasn’t as easy a feat as it sounds, as Steven told us later. Another obstacle was “the incline.” This was a 50 foot climb to the top of a wooden structure. One of the groups was challenged in the “crate escape” to work together in building a structure with crates 21 levels high. The difficult part of this challenge was that someone had to be on the top of the tower the entire time in order to keep stacking the milk crates.  The group ended up making a stack 19 crates high, one off the record for this camp season.  It was a great morning with lots of personal growth.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with us after lunch, so we had to find some different ways to work together in groups.  After some brief reflection time, we broke up into our three bandana groups and participated in an activity called “Eggs in Space”.  Each group took the afternoon to create a device which would allow for a safe drop of a egg from a height of one story.  The groups were given materials such as balloons, plastic bags, cups, pipe cleaners, and clothes pins to construct an appropriate apparatus.  After much trial and error, the eggs were dropped.  When all was said and done, the blue group and the yellow group came away with eggs intact.  It was a great exercise in teamwork, patience, and creativity. 

We had a delicious dinner of chili and then participated in one last group activity with the Manito-wish staff.  Pete led us in a group discussion which was a great way to end the week.  It also allowed us to understand our peers on a deeper level.  Once again, great thanks goes out to the staff at Manito-wish for a wonderful week.

We head off toNorthland College early in the morning, and everyone is looking forward to a change of scenery and a different focus.  It’s hard to believe we’re closing in on the end!


Alex climbs to the top of the “pamper pole”


Charlotte jumping to ring the bell!

Students belay for their peer on the pole.

Karla climbs 50 feeet to the top!

Rosy gets ready to go.

The “crate escape.”

3 Days in the Porcupine Mountains.

The Porcupine Mountains are located at the top of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the southern shore of Lake Superior. It’s a State Park and designated Wilderness area, which basically means that it is more primitive and there are more opportunities for solitude.  For most kids it was their first time backpacking let alone camping, so excitement was high. We separated into our 3 bandana groups and were each assigned a trip leader from Camp Manitowish. The trip leaders are very experienced and certified in wilderness safety so we knew we where in good care.     

We drove an hour and half north to the trail head knowing that we might be expecting a chance of rain. We went prepared with full rain gear and extra clothes just in case. And luckily we did, throughout our five mile hike to our campsites we were constantly teased with dark clouds and a chatter of thunder.  Just when we thought we were in the clear the winds picked up, the skies darkened and the rain came down in sheets.  We quickly pulled together as teams and set up our rain tarps that we learned how to put up the day before. We stayed dry and cooked dinner as the rain came down well into the night.

We awoke to rays of sunshine filling our tents and warming our sleeping bags. Time for breakfast and to the hit the trail. We set our compasses for Lake Superior.  As one camper, Kala put it, “It’s not running, but walking with a purpose.”  We wanted the kids to use their skills and their leadership. To make this happen the counselors and the trip leaders took step back and let the kids do the leading.

Although muddy, the trail was dotted with many beautiful vistas and waterfalls. It was about six miles to Lake Superior. And what a site when we came to its shores, we tried to imagine the the Native Americans thinking this was the end of the world or the French thinking this was an ocean.  That night we camped on the shores of Lake Superior and watched the sun fade into the lake on the longest day of the year, and later that night fell asleep to the rhythm of its waves crashing on the rocks.  

 Today we hiked out and returned to camp just in time for lunch. Tonight we celebrated with an ice cream social and hot showers. All the kids agreed that it was an experience of a life time and will never forget their memories of 3 days in the Porcupine Mountains.


  Kala, Alex and Julia cooking up some good times.


Willy, Sebastian, Devyn and Charlote holding down camp.


Our View from camp!


Steven, Rosy, Leslye, Emmanuel, Will and Big Will


Not a bad Sunset.


What Inspires Me

At the end of the first week of the CCL Summer Experience, when we were about to leave the wonderful North Lakeland Discovery Center and its inspirational staff, we asked the students about what inspires them. Their answers clearly demonstrate the caring, reflective nature of these special individuals. Here are some of their thoughts:

To see someone doing something good to keep something like the Earth healthy.

The ocean. I like the idea that something so beautiful contains so many magnificent creatures I like the ocean because it surprises you all the time.

The main thing is not giving up. When I see people achieving their goals and dreams it encourages and inspires me to keep on  going no matter how hard things may get.I never thought I would love nature as much as I do now.

To see something that someone did not give up on.

Everything around me inspires me.

The desire to learn, the ability to dream big, the acknowledgement of the Earth as one, living, breathing entity and the belief in one’s self.

Being part of nature. For example, kayaking. When I sit so low in the water I feel like I am inside an environment. Or sitting quietly and letting nature take its course.

I am inspired when I can be part of the process of someone learning and growing.

Nature inspires me because it shows us that we are not the only ones living on this earth and we have to share it.

People inspire me… I like people who do not give up on their dreams.

Trees. They have branches that have died but alot more that are alive. I picture those as options. Branches that have died are not smart choices and the ones that are alive represent smart choices. The tree grows big and strong and has a great heart, they inspire me.

People who persevere even through really hard times in life. People who don’t worry when someone says something to try to stop them from reaching their dreams.

To see amazing things that you wouldn’t normally see. To visit fantastic places. To hear and give speeches to bring back healthy environments.

Just being here and trying new things.

The north woods.

Being alive!

The counselors, staff at North Lakeland and I agree that what inspires us is these students!


Off to the Porcupine Mountains

This morning the group set off to start their trail hike in the Porcupine Mountains. “The Porkies” are a small mountain range in the upper peninsula of Michigan, along Lake Superior. Most of yesterday was spent learning skills that would help us on trail, like how to tie knots and how to build fires. After dinner we gathered all of our gear with the Camp Manitowish staff, including day packs, food, and cooking utensils. Everyone was working hard to prepare for the next 3 days on trail, and this morning they were very excited!  Very much of the trail experience will be lead by the students, so you can ask yours what they cooked for their groups when they come home! Everyone is doing great, and we’ll get back on the blog with updates and pictures when they return to Camp Manitowish at the end of the week.

Leaders in the making

Everyone woke up on the second day of Camp Manitowish refreshed and ready for a productive day.  We had a delicious breakfast, and then started right away with our group activities.  We once again broke up into our two previous groups of pines and oaks, and began working on team building activities.  Each group took some of the principles that they had already learned and put them to use in completing set challenges.  The Pines group did things like saving a civilization from a hazardous waste spill using serving spoons.  Their goal was to get as much “money” from the government for things like saving individuals and collecting bombs (represented by live mouse traps).  They also worked together on a tarp activity where they had to get a tennis ball within the correct numbered holes (see pictures for a better explanation).  It was really fun to see Karla helping out with this group, even when she was limited to a bench.  Pete, the instructor, said the group used methods he had never seen before, showing just how intuitive this group really is.  The Oak group participated in low ropes challenges, and were tested in a variety of ways.  Their patience was tested, but overall their group dynamic allowed for them to complete all of the given challenges. 

After getting back together into one large group, we learned some nature skills from one of the camp directors, Mark.  He taught some very basic skills that can be applied to any type of environment, ranging from the middle of the woods to walking down a city block.  He taught the kids a sense of awareness within any given area, as well as how to properly chronicle observations.  After the program, each student had a chance to go and test these practices outside, while noting things like the weather, different sounds, and any animal and plant sightings they had.  Mark gave everyone the lasting message of being observant and looking closely at your surroundings, because the closer you look, the more you can see. 

After a delicious lunch, we proceeded to more low rope challenges.  The Oaks spent all afternoon on one challenge, but it provided to be well worth it.  “Traffic Jam” was quite the headache, but after much persistence and teamwork, they were finally able to conquer to challenge.  It was great to see the group work through their frustration and achieve their goal.  It was also wonderful to see the students using different methods to try to decipher the problem.  Alyanna used pinecones to mimic the position of people, which ultimately helped in figuring out the puzzle. The Pines did a few challenges, which included getting everyone over the Nitro Crossing.  Jordan was particularly good at this given his long legs and ability to manipulate the rope for the benefit of his teammates.  They also participated in a maze activity, where they needed to rely on directions and trusting themselves to get out.  It’s hard when you’re blindfolded! 

We got a chance to take a break before dinner, where we played frisbee, tossed the football, and played some 3 on 3 basketball.  It was a great way to use some energy after a long day.  After dinner, it was time for the Challenge Olympics, where the Oaks and Pines were pitted against one another in a battle of teamwork, leadership, and fun.  Each team participated in the same 3 activities, and were given an opportunity to grade themselves on how well they worked together, planned, and completed each challenge.   It was a real joy to see them put the skills they had been working on all day to the test, and do so successfully.  Everyone had a lot of fun, and ultimately learned quite a bit from the days activities.  We will be using everything we learned when we go out on trail tomorrow, which will be a great way for the students to showcase their talents.  Everyone is getting excited for the trip to the Porcupine Mountains! 

Willy taking notes on the natural world around him.

Team Oak handling a traffic jam.

Leslye conquering the maze.

Competing in the Skills Olympics!