top of page
Hawk Circle Wilderness Education Director Ricardo Sierra
Ricardo Leads a Discussion on Wilderness Education
Ricardo Sierra sits with his son Javier
Ricardo Sierra shares some tips on working with Stone Tools
Trista Haggerty and Javier Sierra Enjoying a Winter Afternoon
Ricardo Sierra and the Landry Timber Frame Barn
Ricardo Sierra in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lone Pine
Craig Boynton and Ricardo Sierra
Ricardo Sierra at his TedxTalk

I thought I'd share my journey in long form, if you will, so dive in if you dare!

I'm originally from California, (Sacramento) and lived there until I was nine.   My mom moved my sister, brother and me to upstate New York in 1973, and we lived in a Camphill community which is part of a Rudolph Steiner inspired movement to instill soulful work caring for developmentally disabled adults in a village setting.   (Yes, they were all about sustainability before it was cool!)


I was just a kid, so we just ran around outside and played all the time in the gardens, farms, woods and fields around this village.  It was a great experience and we had a lot of freedom to explore and create that was powerful and formative.  


I also went to a Waldorf School, first at the Sacramento Waldorf School, and then the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, until eighth grade.  (I was in the first graduating 8th Grade class from that school.)   The artistic focus, nature and hands on curriculum was vital to my development as a human being and for my potential, and while I know I drove my teachers absolutely insane, I learned a lot, and hopefully, some of them are proud of what I have done with some of their skills that they shared with me decades ago.   Many are gone now, but I am still trying to put them all to good use.


Along the way, as I turned from being a kid to a young adult, I saw that we were poisoning our air, our water, our soil, and paving the wild places. We were fighting wars and building a nuclear arsenal that just seemed completely idiotic.   I thought 'maybe it's just me and it really does make sense to do this stuff this way' but I had my doubts.    


I spent a few years with the California Conservation Corps, and learned how to clear streams of logjams for salmon spawning grounds in the coastal mountains, build trails with the Backcountry Trails program, and grew and planted native plants to revegetate the sand dunes around San Luis Obispo.   I spent time in wilderness areas, planting thousands of trees after wild fires, and I worked to help the earth and nature.   I learned to adopt their motto "Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions" and excel in that environment.    I also began to find my own soul's voice in the wilderness, where I discovered Tom Brown, Jr, Carlos Castenada, Sun Bear, Black Elk and so many other powerful teachers and visionaries.    


It was in the Southern Sierras, north of Lone Pine, in September 1984, that I had a deep awakening.  I was hiking with the rest of the trail crew out of those mountains, for the end of our trail building season, and I was the last one out.  I made my way reluctantly down the switchbacks, descending hundreds of feet through pure rushing streams, rounded boulders, craggy ancient trees and snow covered slopes.   I watched the sunlight fading across the Owens Valley on the White Mountains, and it was so beautiful, I just felt my heart break wide open.


I knew right then, that I would work to protect this natural world from the effects of this crazy 'civilization', and to bring people closer to the natural world.   I knew that I would do this, even though I had no idea what it actually meant.    I made this deep promise, and then trudged through the dust back into camp, and into society.


After that experience, I went to my first class with Tom Brown, Jr. in New Jersey, (November, 1984).   That also blew my mind, because I got so many skills and ways of seeing the world, the land, the trees/plants, and even myself, through a deep understanding that came from direct contact with nature and the earth.   It was an awakening of a different kind, and it was very, very hard returning home from this program and to leave the group of students whose lives had all changed from our time together.   


The short version of this part of the story is that I worked on my skills every day, and I eventually became an instructor at the Tracker School and also taught workshops for adults and kids, and started my own summer camp in 1989, which I called Hawk Circle, after the song by Will Ackerman and my own 'hawk medicine'.   I started with a passion and vision, and about $20 in flyers, and my camp was started.  It has been held every summer since.


In 1999 I moved the camp to it's current location in Cherry Valley, after meeting my wife Trista and the arrival of my son Javier.   We found 200 acres of land surrounded by hundreds of other acres of woods, fields and wetlands, where we can wander, gather, explore and learn about the wilderness and learn earth skills.   At this point, I began to work on planning year round programs as well as offer school group programs for classes, private groups, business retreats, and workshops.   It's been a slow, steady process of running programs and also to grow both our small community, a farm and our educational experiences to become a year round effort.


At the same time as I was doing these things, I realized that Instructor Training was key to the success both of Hawk Circle as well as almost all other programs around us.   Students who were campers became participants in our semester or apprenticeship programs, and then began working as staff in our summer camps, school group programs and after school classes, and their training was crucial to the transformative effects we were seeing in terms of how our participants grew and changed.   Jeff Eckhouse and I began piloting the Earth Skills Correspondence Course with our long term staff, and shared with them the principles of mastery of some of the most basic skills, so they could be proficient in almost any activity they might do in any program, with almost any age student.   Learning these principles and doing the skills helped them have the confidence to teach adults, as well as difficult groups, and this has become a foundational piece of our trainings and intensives.


We also wanted to create a place where our surroundings matched our programs in terms of quality and depth, so we started learning to timberframe, and have built many cabins, woodsheds, and workshop spaces using our new skills.   I was taught by my friend Craig Boynton, who learned the craft from Tim Berube and Jack Sobon.   It's been a tremendous gift and honor to work with heirloom chisels and tools the old way, and craft buildings that will outlive us all, and we do occasionally build for families and organizations, too.   It's hard, honest work but it holds our values, so we keep it going!


It was in the spring of 2013 that I also began working on The Wolverine Way Summit on Nature Connection.   I knew that just running Hawk Circle on the scale that we have been working was not enough to create the change we need to get our community and culture to a place where we could prevent extinction and environmental collapse.   I also knew that we as a human community, need more leaders, more connection, more opportunities to discover their own inner gifts and strengths, and the wilderness encounters were key to this kind of awakening. 


I interviewed 29 speakers on nature connection, people with decades of experience working with the natural world, as educators, writers, researchers, advocates, conservation, musicians, herbalists, trackers, wilderness skills instructors and more, to find out what they were seeing, what skills they were using that were helping, and how their message and stories might help us all to understand what we can do to turn this ship around, so to speak.  I offered this all free to anyone who wanted to connect to what this vision is about.


The Summit helped me see clearly that I needed to begin moving from directing youth programs to 'training the teachers' to become 'Forest Educators', to support them in their daily work with our youngest generation.    

I did a Tedx Talk about a concept I call 'The Natural Advantage' and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done, as I was out of my nature element (I am better around a campfire!) but you can decide for yourself how I did by watching it HERE.

We built a new Retreat Center called Eagle House, with timber framing, natural clay plasters and lots of other beautiful details to create a healing space where teachers and leaders can come to learn and grow.   The Forest Educator Trainings are the next step to taking real action in getting more kids and adults outside and getting the benefits of the natural world.

bottom of page