“Finn would stop on occasion, in what I mistook for moments of hesitation, and I’d ask if he’d lost it. “No, I’ve still got it here,” was the response nearly every time. He was following the trail of a mountain lion, with apparent ease, weaving through the savannah of sagebrush and juniper. For a quarter-mile he was the lead tracker, pointing out fresh scrapes and discerning the cat we were following from the big male and the female with a kitten that constantly interwove our trail. “Nope, that one’s bigger, it’s the male.” Or “nope, that track’s older, see the different texture?”
The conditions were challenging, a coarse granitic sand left few details, the sun was high and behind us offering precious few shadows to catch our eye, and the tracks were at least a day and a half old. But he was uncanny in his ability to stay on the trail. Occasionally he’d lose it, and in my best Brian McConnell impersonation, I’d ask him where his last track was (and every single time, he knew where it was – no easy task), or which opening he’d take if he were a cougar. Upon reflection, I think that his main advantage was his height – see, he’s only 3 1/2’ tall. He’s also just a week into his sixth year. (on this earth?)
The comings and goings of multiple trails of at least 4 different lions had me fairly certain that a cache was near, and sure enough, our trail eventually disappeared underneath the largest juniper on the hillside, and a pair of cached mule deer carcasses and a latrine was our reward. A glimpse into a very private place of a very secretive animal.
While Finn’s stature may have helped slightly with his angle of vision, his true advantage was that his brain is not old and atrophying like mine. That day on the trail, watching him work, I thought of the often-used analogy that compares tracking to learning to read a new language. We know that children of this age are sponges, brains full of neurons yearning to be connected in novel patterns, and it only makes sense that this language, the language of animal movement, should come with such ease.”
Carol And Stacy: Mark, Over the years we have watched and admired how you and Katie are raising your son Finn with such admiration and connection to nature. Did you know when Katie was pregnant that this would be how you chose to raise your child or did it naturally just happen?
Mark: We didn’t have all the details worked out in any kind of master plan, but we’ve always felt our best in the outdoors, and we definitely knew that we wanted Finn to have this same connection to nature and wild spaces that we have. But we did agree that before we even had the conversation about having a child that we had to have the space and the lifestyle ready that would allow a kid to thrive with open space around him. For us that turned out to be a little homestead on a dead-end road that backs up to a public forest, and a self-employed career that allows us the flexibility to travel and spend more time with him than just evenings and weekends.
Carol and Stacy: Can you share with us how your way of “schooling” Finn evolved.
Mark: Again, no master plan here, we’re just kind of winging it year by year with what feels right to us, and watching how and where he seems to thrive. Currently, we're doing a bit of a hybrid approach to school. He attends an outdoor nature school when we're home, but we've been leaving for 3-4 month trips each winter, and we homeschool (I guess "world school" is a term now…we don’t get hung up too much on the definitions) while on the road. He's just in kindergarten now, so it's pretty easy for us to stay ahead of the curriculum at this point. That may change down the road, but for now, it seems like a good balance. If there’s any philosophy to our educational system, it’s that we’re just constantly learning. Every moment is a learning moment, for all of us, and we just try to role model the wonder and enjoyment of discovery of new things. So far he’s taking to it well, I think. And of course, we take every opportunity to find social outlets with other kids. This is one of the most important things at his age, and we have plans to be even more strategic about this in coming years, and maybe try to find more structured learning groups while traveling.
But here’s the real secret, the reason we think he’s turning out to be such an amazing little human…we don’t veg out on TV. Sure we watch movies occasionally, but everything we watch we try to walk away smarter afterwards. No drivel, no fluff, no Disney B.S. Your brain craves what you feed it, so you have to be conscious and thoughtful about what you feed it.
Carol and Stacy: What's it like managing a farm, an on-the-road business, and homeschooling?
Mark: It’s definitely challenging. There’s a reason that most people’s lifestyles fit the normal mold. And there’s no judgment here whatsoever, it’s just that what we call “normal” exists because we’ve, as a society, filtered out the challenges wherever we could, so we end up with steady jobs, working for an employer, our kids going to school offsite in large groups. It’s a very efficient way to organize a community. We just think that it’s more interesting and more fun to go a different route.
That different route, however, took years of developing a business, and years of fixing up a dilapidated farm and rundown house. And then to organize and coordinate work, school, and everything else while on the road, it’s definitely exhausting. But the rewards are huge too, so the exhaustion and frustrations usually balance out with the cultural, ecological, and educational experiences we encounter.
We’ve been able to rent our house out while we travel on the big trips, which offset the costs of travel and helps make it all possible. We’ve built the house into a pretty nice space, tried to make all our systems as simple as possible, and most importantly, we charge cheap rent since there is farm duty required. We also live in a place where there are a lot of people who value farming and food production, and there are a lot of people that are seeking out the farm experience.
Carol and Stacy: Do you and Katie have any specific travel dreams as a family that you want to make sure take place in the future with Finn?
Mark: Africa is very high on our list. Big megafauna is a huge draw for all of us, and Finn has seen a lot of nature documentaries about Africa, and it’s always the first place he says when we ask him to dream big. The Galapagos would be cool, too. Katie’s requirement is warm water to swim in, and mine is high mammal diversity, especially big carnivores, so we’re trying to search for places that fit both of those bills.
Carol and Stacy: During your travels have you met a lot of new friends and some that you now call family?
Mark: Absolutely. Though in the past, we’ve often bounced around a lot, three to four days at a camp, then moving on to the next. We also enjoy being in the remote and wild places of the earth, which by definition, don’t have as many people. So it’s often fewer people we’re interacting with, but usually, those people we find in the remote corners of the earth are also seeking wilderness, and therefore are usually pretty cool folks. In coming years though, we’ll be landing in spots that have more community, to make sure that Finn is getting exposed to cultures and social scenes as well.
Carol and Stacy: We believe that our audience would love to hear about your farm life, would you please share a bit about that?
Mark: We’ve got a small herd, 4-6 animals, of dairy goats that Katie milks and makes cheese and yogurt. Nothing commercial, just family use and sharing with friends. They’re a breed called Nigerian Dwarf, and they’re small and easy to handle, but have excellent milk. We’ve also got some old apple trees that we’ve inherited with the land, and over the past eight years, we’ve been planting every square inch with other edible fruits and nuts. We’re trying to maximize food production and create a little oasis (I avoid the term permaculture since it’s so fraught with misconceptions and nebulous definitions, but that’s the general idea) for our human footprint, but also invite in, and manage wild animals and increase biodiversity and abundance at the same time. Wild ecosystems and biodiversity around the world are struggling mightily right now, and we’re doing our best on our little plot of land to help turn that around.
We forage mushrooms, berries, nettles, and as many other wild edibles from the land as we can, and we hunt (or rather, we carry a bow around the woods), track, and explore the wild corners of our mountain. We also put a big emphasis on food preservation in our lifestyle and work hard spring through fall to can, dry, pickle, and preserve as much abundance from the land as we possibly can.
More About Mark and Katie:
Katie is the brains of the operation, the one who had the vision to study GIS, build her own business, and make a reality of cartography, storytelling, and data management for conservation groups.
Mark can lift heavy things, though not as well as he used to. He also helps the business with the storytelling, writing, project management, and communications.
We feel incredibly fortunate that the organizations we most want to work for, the ones that are working hard to save our planet’s wild places and its diversity, are now seeking us out. More often than not, we get to spend our workdays following our hearts and passions, which, in our minds, should be the intent of any business endeavor.
Together Carol and Stacy provide intentional conscious parenting interviews, book reviews, articles parenting printables, books, journals, planners, and more! Sign up to stay connected and receive free conscious parenting gifts.