On Stands Now
February 2024

Questa  •  Red River  •  Cerro  •  Costilla  •  Amalia  •  Lama  •  San Cristobal

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Courtesy Photo Joel practices the art of coal stimulation to produce maximum heat

“Bowling” as Illustrated by Mr. Spencer and his Wilderness Class

Recently, I was invited to Mr. Spencer’s Wilderness Class to witness a class of students learn the art of bowl-making, “Wilderness Style.” I showed up to his shop classroom to be welcomed by a group of enthusiastic middle school students. The first thing I noticed was 14 split sticks with a small piece of wood stuck into the center and both ends tied with some weird looking green string. I asked Jaylee what in the world were those branches used for? Her reply baffled me, she told me they were tongs for grabbing coals out of a fire pit which they use to make bowls out of pieces of juniper or pine wood stock. The green string is yucca strands woven together to make the string that supports the tong ends. At this point Mr. Spencer split up the class into several-person teams. One would cut wood for the fire, another would split the wood into kindling, the next would tend the fire making coals, and another would gather up all the tools and paraphernalia like tongs, juniper wood blanks, and… soda straws? The straws part really threw me. Mr. Spencer invited everyone outside, and the students assumed their duties.Quickly a fire is going, Alya and Izzy are sawing away, keeping the fire fed. It takes a lot of coals to make fourteen bowls.

As soon as a bed of coals appeared Mr. Spencer gave a demonstration of how to use the tongs to pick up coals and put them on the wood blank. He reminded everyone to put the coals where you wanted to create the hole. At this point he gave a few pointers for students to keep from burning themselves or putting holes in their clothing. Joel, Hector, and Lukas were the first group to begin the process, which I refer to as bowling. They took Mr. Spencer’s advice to heart and safely retrieved a few coals from the bottom of the firepit with a set of tongs they had made. Each student went about positioning some coals on their juniper wood blanks, holding them with their tongs as a straw is used to blow air directly on the coals which made them glow. They all started by blowing as hard as they could throw this tiny straw, and I thought they might blow their cheeks out. After a few minutes of this and trying not to pass out from being dizzy, it was suggested they try not to blow so hard. They got the same result and no dizziness. Mr. Spencer says this type of learning makes a lasting impression on a student. After the coals burn up or lose their glow it can be returned to the fire to get recharged. At that point the students used a small rock to break off all the charred wood from the juniper blank. Aha, a hole is started. Get some more charcoal and continue the process until it fits your needs. I came away from that class realizing that Wilderness Skills are more advanced than just camping!