The 11 Year Old Who Can Light a Fire Quicker Than Your Dad

March 15, 2020 - By Adrian Iacovino

Meet Lexa, a kid with a sweet tooth, a snuggly demeanour and the skills to light a fire quicker than your dad. She’s 11 and has been going to the Pine Project’s Outdoor School for 6 years. Every Thursday, she takes a bus to our advanced program, Adventure Out, to sink into the place where she truly feels herself.  

We caught her by the Credit River, with muddy bare feet and a clever grin. She had just finished cleaning off the natural face paint she’d made earlier that day as part of a game. When asked why she liked to hang out in the woods and get dirty she replied that she feels different. “I feel more connected when I’m out here than when I’m at school. People at school are focused on video games and sports. I get to actually learn about nature. And those people don’t care about the small details… like the patterns of snails.” 

Lexa was convinced to go to the Pine Project’s Red Wolf Overnight Camp because it’s like doing her favourite day of the week for an entire week, and she gets to have a sleepover every night with her friends. Her first year, she told us, she was really excited to learn “how to build shelters, name plants, go on adventures, and hang out with other Pine people”. 

“Sure you are afraid that you are going to miss your parents. And you do! But you make it through and it gets so much better. And the 2nd year it gets easier too,” said Lexa when asked about missing home. She can’t wait to go back for a 3rd summer.

Red Wolf’s programs are designed to support all kids to feel prepared and safe to try new experiences. One morning after watching the oldest campers head out with their counsellors on an overnight expedition bringing minimal camping gear, Lexa and her friend, Iris, were inspired to try a suitable challenge for themselves. They chose to build a shelter and then sleep in it. With help from staff, they found a safe spot and got to work. Even though they admitted to being scared, at dusk the two went out with a lighter, some tools and food. Lexa told us why she intentionally left her sleeping bag behind, “I didn’t want to hide [from the elements], I wanted to experience something different.” That was Lexa’s first year at Red Wolf. 

Lexa recounted how the evening unfolded: “It was frightening at night when we woke up with the fear of getting rained on. Iris and I were both scared, but supported each other.” The next day, Lexa and Iris told their story to the entire camp, inspiring other campers to challenge themselves and try new things. 

Lexa left that year feeling more confident: “It makes me feel like I can do anything. I feel different. I’m not sure people notice a change, but I think that they probably do.” 

That was a fragment from a week of playing games, crafting, hanging out by the lake, and making friends. Between connecting with the itch of bug bites, the loons singing, and the beautiful property, kids are supported by caring outdoorsy staff that are trained in the art of building relationships between people and the natural world through self-competence skills like:

  1. Camping Skills (shelters, fire, cooking, water for drinking, swimming, and canoeing)
  2. Exploring, hiking, and discerning wild edible and hazardous plants
  3. Crafting with natural material (wood carving, bark containers, burnt bowls)  

When asked what she learned at Red Wolf, Lexa replied, “I learned not to be afraid.” Next time Lexa goes to Red Wolf she plans on doing another sleep out, but this time she won’t bring a lighter. We expect that in a few years, Iris and Lexa will be some of our most skilled and experienced 15/16 year olds heading out on an extended backcountry canoe trip. And a couple of years after that, they’ll be some of the Pine Project’s most resilient staff teaching the next generation to fall in love with nature and feel like they too can do anything.