Inviting young people to take a leadership role in directing their education while cultivating a deeper relationship with the more than human world.

White Ash Learning Cooperative aims to offer young people the opportunity to derive their education from self-chosen activities and experiences.

In everyday language people tend to equate education with schooling, which leads one to think of education as something that is done to students by teachers. Teachers educate and students become educated. Teachers give an education and students receive this gift.

Self-Directed Education is a whole-life, freedom-based process.

Successful facilitation requires a deep appreciation for informal, spontaneous, emergent learning processes that are as natural as learning to walk and talk.

An abundance of resources are available to deepen understanding of this educational approach:

Place Based Learning is interwoven with the history, people, and cultures of this land.

For many thousands of years prior to colonial settlers arriving in this region, members of the Penobscot nation and other nations maintained relationship with the land where we now teach and live. Wabanaki people reside throughout what is currently known as mid coast Maine. This land is their land, still. Acknowledging historical traumas that contributed to the establishment of the United States, reducing the ongoing harms of colonization and human supremacy, and striving towards reparation are all components of our work.

Sharing the skills we have learned is a responsibility we take seriously. Many of these skills come from ancient wisdom and native technologies that have been preserved in the face of centuries of oppression and genocide. We are committed to deepening our relationship with the teachings we share, the lineages they come from, and the mentors who practice them.

The wilder Others never signed any treaties. Bison and redwood never said yes to eradication. The rivers never said yes to dams, nor did the salmon leaping to return home. The forest-topped mountain never agreed to be split open and hauled away. Grassland did not freely offer itself to Monsanto’s alfalfa, corn or soy. It’s all unceded land. All uncede-able.

— Thus spoke the Muse, or the wild Earth, or whomever breathed those words as if longing for acknowledgement. Recorded by Geneen Marie Haugen.

Animas Valley Institute: Soulcentric Development

The model of human development introduced in Nature and the Human Soul: Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World (New World Library, 2008) invites thinking in new ways about stages of life. The Eco-Soulcentric Developmental Wheel is a model of what the stages of human life can look like if we mature in resonance with both nature (“eco”) and soul — when we are in a continuous process of maturation throughout the lifespan. The timing of the transitions between eco-soulcentric stages is independent of chronological age and social role and, for the most part, independent of biological and cognitive development. An individual doesn’t pass from one stage to the next just because they reach a certain age, obtain a specific social status, or experience hormonal changes.

In an eco-soulcentric community, it’s not considered better—either for the individual or society—for a person to be in a later stage than an earlier stage. Every stage provides fulfillment for the individual and an invaluable gift to the community when a person is in a healthy version of that stage. The only way to cooperate with the process of maturation is to embrace fully the stage one is in (and its tasks). Loving the stage you’re in, is necessary to eventually leave it.

The structure and components of our programming are informed by this theory of human development, and aim to offer participants a variety of opportunities to engage with tasks of developmental stages.

8 Shields Mentoring: Rebuilding Nature-Connected Communities

Over the past 30 years, 8 Shields has developed training pathways that support mentors and leaders to change individual lives, and entire communities, in becoming more connected. This model incorporates traditional mentoring and deep nature connection practices, fully supported through our neurological, emotional, and physical connection to the natural world. 8 Shields offers many online learning programs.

The intention is to re-awaken these attributes in people, and in turn, help heal the widespread disconnection with nature and loss of connective cultures worldwide.

Art of Mentoring: Vermont Wilderness School

The Vermont Art of Mentoring is a five-day experiential training with concurrent programs for all ages in nature connection, intergenerational mentoring, and creating a living culture of awareness. Deep in all of our roots, there are stories of ancestors living in healthy, regenerative communities—villages where people of all ages were in ongoing relationship with the land, each other, and themselves. Art of Mentoring is designed to help us remember these old ways of awareness and mentoring and learn to apply them to our modern communities. We highly recommend attending this program with your family!

Joana Macy’s Work that Reconnects addresses issues of the nuclear age, the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and postmodern science. In the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, this work helps people transform despair and apathy into constructive, collaborative action. It brings a new way of seeing the world as our larger living body. Learn more about the Work that Reconnects Network.

“Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to this world. Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to nuclear war, none is so great as the deadening of our response.”

Mentoring Team

Caitlin Horigan

Program Director

Wilderness First Responder, Certified Forest Therapy Guide, BA Psychology, Graduate Certificate in Ecopsychology

Caitlin Horigan has been a mentor in a wide variety of settings in numerous countries for more than 18 years. She is an advocate of self-directed education and anti-oppression changework. Her teaching weaves together Joanna Macy’s The Work that Reconnects and Bill Plotkin’s Wild Mind model with expeditions, naturalist skills, and nature connection practices.

Caitlin has facilitated both day and residential place-based nature connection programming in the nonprofit sector, public and private schools, summer and after-school programs throughout the unceded territories of Wabanaki and Abenaki people.

She is on a journey of deepening relationship with the more than human world and connecting with her ancestral lineages. Her introduction to tracking, bird language, plant medicine, friction fire, shelter building, scout skills, homesteading and off grid living began when she worked for the Maine Primitive Skills School in 2014. Caitlin is a Wilderness First Responder, certified in CPR, and pursuing a Recreational Maine Guide license. 

In 2018 she began the multi year Wild Mind Training Program with Animas Valley Institute and in 2019 she completed a graduate certificate in Ecopsychology through Pacifica Graduate Institute. She has also participated in Helping the Butterfly Hatch, a mentorship program for facilitators of Self Directed Education. She recently began an interdisciplinary graduate program at UMaine in Peace and Reconciliation Studies. She is also a certified Forest Therapy Guide. Caitlin is committed to increasing the accessibility of programs she offers and continues to explore how to thrive in a capitalist system while creating a post-capitalist future.

When she is not working Caitlin enjoys exploring the woods, following animal trails, making medicine, foraging food, creating art, running barefoot, practicing yoga, and dancing.

Areas of facilitation experience include: herbal medicine making, fermentation, wildcrafting, tree & plant id, seed saving, campfire cooking, water safety and purification, hide tanning, canoe skills, expedition planning + preparation, wilderness first aid, shelter building, friction fire, wood craft & carving, cordage, basketry, nature journaling, scout, tracking & trailing, bird language, permaculture design courses, storytelling, personal myth, rites of passage, ceremony & ritual, decolonization, anti-oppression changework, self-directed learning, democratic process, non violent communication, consensus decision making, transformative justice, authentic movement, Internal Family Systems, The Work that Reconnects, and Social Presencing Theater.

Additionally, she is an E-RYT 200 and RYT 500 yoga teacher with over 1000 hours of teaching experience. You can view her yoga and healing arts website at and resume here. Click here to contact Caitlin.

Moriah Helms

Communications Director

Wilderness First Responder, BA Spanish, Middlebury College

I have lived most of my life in the bio-region of so-called New England and currently live on Penobscot territory in midcoast Maine. The daughter of a woodworker and a Waldorf educator, I spent my Vermont childhood climbing trees and traipsing through fields while receiving a Waldorf education. I understand the deep value of unstructured outdoor learning, experiential learning, and nurturing young people’s innate creativity.

I believe in learning and practicing in community— not just because it feels nicer than doing things alone, but because it’s necessary. I believe that the growing of a post-capitalist world must be accessible, collective, and adaptable. I am committed to dismantling hierarchy and am very excited to be working with White Ash Learning in this collaborative learning environment! I love making beautiful and ephemeral wild art, crafting with wood, wool and other natural materials, foraging, singing together, and outdoor cooking.

I also teach an online class for adults: Sowing Post Capitalist Seeds, in which we explore the origins of capitalism and white supremacy, and work on creating alternatives in our lives and communities. Click here to contact Moriah. Photo by Heather Daniels Pusey.

Jason Millis Chandler

Wilderness First Responder, Maine Master Naturalist
Registered Maine Guide, BA Philosophy, Vassar College

I grew up following my imagination in cliffy spruce woods, roaming tide pools in rocky sandy shores, kayaking in my father’s hand-built boats, marveling at the sky, role-playing in games and on stage, seeking acclaim where I could find it, and sometimes obeying my mother and picking sweet peas and strawberries in the garden above a peninsular harbor in Small Point, ME. I learned inextricably from a young age that all life on earth is both completely amazing and in danger due to our human actions. As soon as I could, I got out of school and walked from Maine to Georgia on a footpath popular even in the gruesome yet budding 21st century. I found myself soon back in classrooms at the dream-realm of Vassar college and studying abroad in Tibetan communities, reveling as an outsider in language and old culture, glimpsing some of the faces of active genocide. Sickened by grief on my return, and emboldened by the practices of living outdoors, I sought life outside of the U.S. for some perspective that might help me, help us. I lived as a student, outdoor educator and Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia for two years. I taught at Chewonki. I led teenagers on expeditions along the coast of present Wabanaki land, to the mountains on foot, and into northern Maine and Quebec in that magnificent indigenous technology the canoe. Then, somehow lost and wild and longing, I met Caitlin Thurrell and she asked me for a walk in the woods. I gave her a bowl carved of Apple wood. After nine years of study and the practice of farming, she was returning to Ladakh in the Himalayas to live. She said she was going alone. I wanted more than anything to be with her, and through some grace she finally said yes. We split our lives now between a small village there through a gorge above the Indus named Dar, where we help grow barley and wheat and take sheep and goats to the mountains, and coastal Maine where we have recently made a small cedar and straw and clay cabin we call home. Receiving and remembering such incredible gifts in life, I want to pass the best I can along to the coming generations, knowing that all we can do is prepare and practice for the unknown. Click here to contact Jason.

Caitlin Thurrell

Wilderness First Responder, BA Human Ecology, College of the Atlantic

I grew up a little queer in queer family among the foothills and waters of central New Hampshire, Abenaki Territory, mostly inside of doors and books. Only at last I turned outward to bring attention to rest (as it does still) in the greater-than-human world of root, leaf, and flower, track and skin and hollow bone. When I was eighteen I left high school and worked hard, supported by my parents, to earn money to travel to India.

The experiences of those ten months changed and opened many things in my mind and heart, including a beginning of my own journey understanding interdependence, suffering, whiteness, colonization, and capitalism, and also a deep hope that humans can live a different way, bringing more beauty and less harm. In the spring of that year I spent one month in Ladakh, returning then to the US with powerful desire to go back someday with more ability to be useful. Following this wish I left Brown University for the island called Mount Desert in English, Wabanaki Territory, to study Human Ecology, weave apprenticeship in sustainable agriculture with field natural history, art making, and wisdom-tradition philosophy. Finding work then as farmer and educator on a peninsula called Chewonki in corruption of its original name, I was given the office of Sunrise and came to love the mudflats and salt marshes, spartina and mink tracks in heavy clay. After these nine years training, I began to feel prepared.

Jason and I met and fell in love that year, traveled down the Kennebec River from its headwaters to the sea, and then continued our journey to the Northern Himalaya. Through volunteer teaching at the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) we met Chondol and came home with her to her village of Tar in Sham, western Ladakh, where apricot trees bloom in springtime over two-thousand-year-old fields of barley. In this village of thirteen households and many elders the strength and labor of our young bodies felt helpful, and we could learn some of the labors and songs of making life in this high altitude desert.

Now we have built a small house together in Wabanaki Territory, downeast of Ellsworth, and are making an effort to live ethically in and between these places, in good respectful relationship with community and land.

So far in my life I have served as reader and writer, quiet woods-walker, farmer (apprentice, journey person, and practitioner), teacher of soils, wood, forests, mountains, and waters, cooking on fires, and song. I strive to be a mindful student of solitude and death.

I love dancing and making art with natural materials, song, human and draft powered grain, vegetable, and medicine cultivation, and silent mountain sitting practices of attention. Being with young people out of doors, playing or working or sitting quietly watching and learning brings great joy and hope. Click here to contact Caitlin.

Gabrielle McSherry (she/her, they/them)

Wilderness First Aid, BFA Sculpture, Literary Arts Concentration in Gender, Sexuality, and Race
Rhode Island School of Design

Gabrielle has taught and worked with the young ones in the arts and outdoors both in the U.S. and abroad. They have been farming, connecting with plant medicine, hanging out with goats, and climbing trees for the last six years. Gabrielle enjoys holding space for young people’s curiosity, imagination, and creativity and deeply values doing this work in alignment with self-directed education models, anti-racism, de-colonization, and anti-oppression work. Gabrielle has been actively and intentionally engaging in trauma healing and believes that their relationship with the woods has helped build deeper levels of consciousness and connection about themselves and their heart. Click here to contact Gabrielle.

“Young people are the next generation and it is vital to take care of them and encourage loving connection with that which surrounds them, feeds them, helps them breath, and is apart of them.”

Audrey Burns (she/her, they/them)

Wilderness First Responder, BS Natural Resources, Green Building & Community Design Minor, University of Vermont

Audrey was born and raised by a carpenter and a potter on the salty shores of Wampanoag land, so called Buzzards Bay in southeastern Massachusetts. Swimming, catching crabs, skateboarding, and fort building filled her young years. Their love for the woods drew them to study the earth at the University of Vermont and work as a canoe instructor in the northern forest.  Seeking change, expansion, adventure and the big sky, Audrey packed up and moved to the northern Rockies to build and maintain trails with hand tools in the Forest Service wilderness. After spending a year as an Outward Bound instructor/science curriculum facilitator and four more as a backcountry ranger in remote districts of Yellowstone National Park, Audrey was called back to the place where the north woods meet the ocean. They are excited to share their skills and wildness with the young people being grown in this place.

Leigh Seeleman

Wilderness First Responder, BA Environmental Studies, Biology Concentration, University of Pennsylvania

I grew up on Lenni-Lenape land with my parents and grandparents who joined me in wandering up brooks, marveling at crickets, lightning bugs, chickadee, black eyed susan and dandelion.  My love for the wild and my grief for environmental destruction led me to the concrete jungle of Philadelphia and the tropical forests of Costa Rica and Nicaragua to study environmental science.

While living in Philadelphia I supported students to connect with nature through teaching in a variety of settings including on a sailboat with Philadelphia CitySail, with Philadelphia Outward Bound, Girl’s Leadership Camp, Environmental Education Camp, and in classrooms and afterschool programs.  I also began to study and play at creative movement, song and music-making, wilderness awareness, women’s blood mysteries, rites of passage guiding, urban farming, herbalism, dreaming practices, massage therapy and healing arts. Participating in Niyonu Spann’s Beyond Diversity 101 curriculum gave me tools for the ongoing life-work of uprooting systematic oppression and taking actions toward creating a culture of equity.

I enjoy tending plants, weaving story, poems, performance art, song, music and dance, praising the wild ones in nature and giving my heart to the story of collective liberation. I love creating spaces for young people to be free, curious and connected with the wild within and around. I have a professional healing arts practice in the midcoast area and Philadelphia offering massage, bodywork, energy healing, mentoring & dreamwork. Click here to contact Leigh.

Julia Tredeau

Wilderness First Aid, Art and Environmental Science, University of New Hampshire

Raised in Southern New Hampshire, Julia moved to Maine 3 years ago after living in Boston, then Worcester, Massachusetts during her 20’s. During that time, they were an active community organizer working under the umbrella of Climate Justice. She found work as a carpenter, a seasonal apple farm worker, and occasionally on a local ski hill.  They learned the art of weaving at the Saori Worcester Weaving Studio. She loves sharing her loom with people, encouraging them to use it as a form of meditation and expression.  She has a chronic injury in her wrists that fuels her inspiration to make the outdoors and the art of weaving accessible to people with physical and developmental challenges. They also completed The Wildwood Path, a 9 month journey of growing and deepening personal nature connection and wilderness skills. Julia is a substitute mentor, assists with the never ending list of administrative tasks, and sometimes fills in as carpenter when we need her! Click here to contact Julia.

Mev Grover

Wilderness First Aid, Certificate in Permaculture Design, Certified Sawyer

Mev grew up with hands and feet in the mud of the tidal wetlands of traditional Abenaki land known as Scarborough, Maine, studying hermit crabs and watching the cycles of the tides and moon. This deep connection with nature fostered a lifelong curiosity with all forms of the natural world, from fungi and lichens to ever shifting weather patterns. They soak up information about nature through podcasts, songs, books, and stories, and delight in sharing what they find with others. Mev has spent much of their adult life tending plants and working with the earth through gardening, farming, landscaping, and trail crew, and has spent many hours exploring woods and streams with the children in their life. They bring diverse experience from working with Meeting House Herb Farm, Local Sprouts Cooperative, and the Beehive Design Collective. They nurture a creative practice of visual art, theatre, and song. They seek to unweave their own capitalist and white supremacist conditioning, and re-weave social patterns of deep listening, accountability, and mutualism.

Mentors in Training

Sedum Jackson

Wilderness First Aid, Maine Trans Net Coordinator

Sedum Jackson is 21 and currently resides in Bangor. They were raised on potlucks and knitting circles in Augusta. Sedum spends most of their days working with transgender teenagers through MaineTransNet Youth, foraging, caring for their two tortoises named Nettle and Isabella, gardening, and listening to an ever growing amount of audio books. They are a founding member of the Greater Bangor Housing Coalition, a member of Mindful Queer Collective, and a Common Ground Country Fair area coordinator. They believe that building strong connections to the earth can better connect us to our communities and ourselves. Sedum is incredibly excited to join the White Ash Learning community!

Armonie Cohen-Solal

Wilderness First Aid, Senior at The Ecology Learning Center

Armonie Cohen-Solal has been attending the Ecology Learning Center, a place-based education high school in Unity, as well as taking college courses in psychology through UMaine. Prior to going to school, she had been unschooled and has participated in many self-directed nature-based programs. Almost eighteen, she is working her way from participant to future staff. She plays the fiddle and has been singing since she could make noise, and sings whenever she gets the chance, including while rowing and sailing on Belfast Bay. She is very excited to join the mentoring team!

Shanti Das

Wilderness First Responder, Sophomore at Warren Wilson College, Outdoor Leadership and Music

Shanti was raised at the Sachidananda Ashram – Yogaville and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, which are intentional communities that value meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices. She recently completed her freshman year at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She is double majoring in outdoor leadership and music, while also working on the outdoor programs crew that runs wilderness programs for the student body. Shanti also enjoys singing, songwriting, aerial silks, acting, knitting, dance, interdisciplinary arts, gardening, and exploring all of nature’s wonders. Shanti is very excited to sing songs with new friends and is looking forward to meeting you at day camp!

Solomon Medintz

Wilderness First Aid, BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, University of Michigan

Solomon Medintz is thrilled to be joining White Ash and the Nature Immersion program for summer camp. He was a counselor at the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset for three seasons, and has dearly missed playing and learning with children in the natural world.

Solomon is new to mid-coast Maine. He grew up in Brooklyn, NY, Lenape land, simultaneously feeling very at home in a big city and aware that things he could not yet name were very wrong. Until two months ago, he had been living in Ann Arbor, MI, Anishunaabeg and Wyandot territory, where he graduated from the University of Michigan and did various food service and political organizing work. He moved to Maine to apprentice for Jason Chandler and Caitlin Thurrell on their land project, where he has continued his journey thinking about how we build our communities, and started many many more.

Solomon is a lover of spontaneous play—songs, stories, games, etc.—and a believer in meeting people where they are at. Some of the things that bring him the most joy are discovering and sharing music, pick-up sports, and cooking. Solomon strives to practice curiosity, and find the balance between setting and being flexible with boundaries.


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