Coyote Trails is a camp where adults can learn as much as kids.

Coyote Trails has all the arts, crafts, hikes and fun games you would expect from a summer camp, but it goes beyond that, into building self-confidence through learning primitive living and survival skills and reconnecting with the rhythms of nature.

Running six weekly sessions in the Cascade foothills above Ashland starting Tuesday, the camp teaches kids and adults how to make fire without matches, find drinking water in leaves, build a cozy shelter out of sticks and brush — and achieve its tongue-in-cheek goal of "no child left inside."

"It was a time of connection with my sons that I know is not possible in everyday life," says parent Jesse Biesanz of Talent, who did the camp himself, occasionally sharing adventures with his children. "It was a pretty intense experience. I came away changed — more grounded, centered, more confident about stepping outside the bounds of civilization."

The camp, headquartered in Bend and operating each summer at Earth Teach Forest Park on Dead Indian Memorial Road, teaches students to slow down from from their fast-paced, hi-tech, indoors lifestyles and open their awareness to the rhythms of nature — and the fact that we have a natural place in it.

In learning the art of tracking, says instructor Rebecca Moergen, "it's like putting on glasses that let you see nature. You learn to walk quietly and use your peripheral vision. You gather clues. You learn the different bird calls so you know the cry of alarm of a stellar jay. You get to know the natural world again."

The acid test of a summer camp, of course, is whether the kids are happy — or sad — to go home. For Laura Roll of Ashland, her son Shea "got a sense of community and understanding of how to survive in nature "¦ and what birds are saying to him. He also had fun and games — and he didn't want to come home."

Students do storytelling, sculpture, painting, journaling and silent movement. But above all, they shift out of observer mode (as in television, game boys, computers) into a deeper level of awareness and involvement that "brings you back into balance, focusing on the positive, on community, on the chickadee landing on the bill of your hat," says director Joe Kreuzman. "Miraculous things happen. You come to see survival in nature not as a struggle or anything to fear,"

The program is aimed at curing the bad habits of civilized life — such as knowing more about the animals of Africa (from TV) than the ones living around us — and instilling a positive belief in the beauty, wisdom and importance of nature that will last a lifetime, Kreuzman says.

"It's a beautifully run program, family-oriented," says Roll. "It's about finding your place in the web of nature, not just having fun and games, although they do have those. It's about interconnectedness with nature, and it's profound."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at