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DANE NELSON

Founder/Executive Director

They/Them or He/Him

Redwood Valley, California

CSUN, CSLA, College of the Redwoods

Bachelor of Culinary Arts

Wilderness First Responder an Backcountry Guide

My STORY

What types of outdoor experiences inspired you into an interest in nature and nature based education?

I grew up on a 120 acre parcel of mountain forest and was allowed to wander on my own into the woods starting around 9. I was camping by myself by 10. My father would take me on backpacking trips into Desolation Wilderness, the Trinity Alps etc. My uncle was a whitewater guide and fisherman and brought me on to help and guide when I was 17.

 

Have you ever had a “close call” in nature whether with an animal or with the environment?

Many… too many to count. I Have been chased by a mother bear for getting between her and her cub. I was treed by a Coyote when I was 9 for almost 6 hours. My dog and I were stalked by a mountain lion the second time I went camping by myself. I’ve been bit by black widows, I was almost struck by lightning… and I once dislocated my shoulder 12 miles into the backcountry while glissading...just before almost drowning in a raging snowmelt river. I’ve been face to face with almost every dangerous animal CA has to offer. So I've had a few.

 

How many countries/states/national parks have you traveled to?

I have visited 9 countries (primarily Central America and Southeast Asia), 28 States, more national parks than I can count.

 

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I enjoy knowing that if I can connect with a student, engage them in a story, make them laugh… then it’s possible that something I say or do during our time together will make a positive change to the way they think. That they will grow to become better humans who then create a better earth.

 

Do you believe that what we do is contributing to saving our environment or our species and if so how?

Yes absolutely. I know that the key to saving the environment is to make sure that people have a relationship with it beyond “look but don’t touch”. I believe that people who experience reciprocity with natural spaces connect more deeply to their resources and are more thoughtful about the choices they make as consumers. Hopefully changing from pure consumer to steward.

 

Describe your relationship with nature and how it has changed over your life.

Growing up in nature I took it for granted. I hated hiking with my father. For him it was about exercise and healing a severe injury incurred in the military. It was boring for me. When I started learning about nature as our species' birthplace, and our relationship with it, I started to think of my time in nature as scavenger hunt… who’s track is that? Where does it go? What could I make from the resources here? How would my presence benefit this place? But it was truly learning friction fire that changed everything for me. The ability to make fire, elemental, necessary, completely free modernity and made only from things in my environment… I connected with all the people that came before me. I could feel my ancestors cry out in celebration with my first coal and fire. I feel that each time a student does the same.

 

What environment have you spent the most time in or which do you enjoy the most?

I spend most of my time in Pacific Northwest forests. Some alpine mountains. I have enjoyed the jungle the most.


Which environment would you like to spend more time in?

The desert. I don’t really understand it yet and I want to. People connect to the dessert in a special way that i have not seen with other environments. I’d like to experience that.

 

If you had ten tools to take with you alone into the wilderness what would they be? 

  1. Knife

  2. Axe

  3. Folding Saw

  4. 40x40 tarp

  5. Fishing Line and Hooks

  6. Bow and Arrows

  7. Scotch Eyed Auger

  8. Folding Shovel

  9. Gill Net

  10. Sat Phon

BIOGRAPHY

Dane grew up deep in the mountains of Mendocino County in Northern California. Though through their childhood they dreamt only of leaving their rural town to experience the city, the people, the culture of other places, as an adult they felt pulled gently back to the steep hillsides, cool streams, and towering Redwoods of their youth. They began their journey as an outdoor leader by guiding whitewater rafting trips down Cache Creek, the American, and the Klamath. They attended summer camp every year starting at 8 and eventually became the youngest program staff member of their camp ever at 16. They studied music and theater in Los Angeles from 2002 until 2004, and toured the US with two different punk bands writing and recording their life’s work finally in 2011. In 2010 Dane joined a company called Trackers Earth that focused on teaching kids what they called at the time “primitive skills”. An unfortunate misnomer as many modern cultures still use these technologies functionally in their everyday lives. When they started with Trackers as an instructor they saw about 40 kids per week, after 6 years the company was serving almost 1000 students/families per week in the summer. Dane was a significant part of that growth and eventually became a director with the company. In 2016 Dane realized that the student body being served was predominantly affluent students from a specific demographic and suffered a critical crisis of conscience. Paired with other changes in the company that felt unhealthy… Dane decided to leave and set out on their own. They established Black Oak Wilderness School in 2017 and has led the company to pending non-profit status serving a student body of over 650 students all from various cultural and economical demographics. They are proud that as a queer established and run organization that many LBGTQIA+ teens from different cultures find confidence, resilience, and power in themselves through the work of BOWS.