GIFTS “Accepting nature’s gift of the seasons is like opening brightly colored packages loosely tied with crinkled ribbons”.

In 2009 my dear friend Julie gave me a gift that keeps on giving, for my birthday. It offers me the wisdom, inspiration, advice, joy, and thoughtfulness anyone like me needs. It’s a daily reminder of our friendship and the fact that we are all doing the best we can with what we currently have at our disposal.

The gift of snow, in an otherwise arid environment, blanketing an otherwise naked landscape.

I’ve given others this same gift over the years, and know that its daily inspiration offers them their own motivation to keep going, no matter the challenge, small or large.

The gift of camping in remote locations, void of noise and filled with starlit skies.

Some gifts keep on giving, and this book is one that will keep giving me the “peace and understanding” I need, until my final day.

At Journeys Out Yonder, there’s no such thing as bad weather. On this day, April 1, 2021, I awoke to another gloriously sunny, blue-sky day here in Boulder, Colorado. It’s easy for me to say this, in a location that gets over 300 days of sunshine. In all the places I’ve lived, with weather that keeps many indoors, I’ve embraced the heat, sun, rain, wind, snow, sleet, and cold. As a human, I have all the comforts necessary to keep myself comfortable, regardless of the weather.


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Without Walls

There’s a popular quote often said by nature preschool and forest kindergarten teachers, when asked about whether or not children who have been diagnosed with ADHD can “handle” being outdoors. It goes like this, “Kids don’t bounce off the walls when there are no walls.”

Today, during School JOY, my kids bounced along the trail, scaled tall trees, swung in hammocks, built a mouse village, sat peacefully at their sit-spot.

The behaviors attributed to ADHD only occur when children are confined to indoor spaces. Set them free to explore the outdoors, and watch them thrive!

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I’ll premise my upcoming statements on the fact that I’ve successfully maneuvered through 8 years of primary school, 4 years of high school, 5 years of undergraduate work (two degrees), 2 years of graduate school, and over 70 additional credits of college classes required to maintain my Colorado Teaching License. I’ve taught in traditional and non-traditional education settings for over 30 years. I currently run my own nature and place-based education program.

I’m going to make some statements below, which will be relatable for some and un-relatable to others.

Consider this my TED-talk.

1. School districts all over the country are grappling with HOW TO EDUCATE CHILDREN when the upcoming school year begins.

Here goes:




Nugget #4: IGNORANCE IS A CHOICE – it’s the only “unlearning” that really happens.

2. I often describe my philosophy of a great learning environment to colleagues, families, friends and siblings (4 of whom are parents, and 1 who isn’t). Not once has anyone disagreed with me.

Here it goes:

A child is sitting on a 3-legged stool. One leg represents home. One leg represents “school”. One leg represents community. Without stability and cooperation among all three legs, the child falls.

3. I read a lot of non-fiction, related to science, education and human development. I also read a lot of fiction, related to adventure and fantasy. Currently, I’m reading a book my sister Mercy Burton Russell gifted me back in May, titled “Christina: Twins Born as Light”. It’s non-fiction. I’m relating A LOT to what the author Bernadette is sharing in chapter “10: Critical analysis of our times”. This chapter made it so clear to me why Mercy was so eager to gift me this book.

Here’s why:

Along with everything else Bernadette writes in this chapter, these sentences stand out AS BRIGHT AS LIGHT for me: “The conditioning and standardisation of the next generation begins, at the latest, when these children start school. Instead of following their inner intelligence (the natural “highware” [as opposed to hardware], as it were), children and young people unconsciously learn to adapt to an ARTIFICIAL EGO and a PROGRAM DETERMINED BY OTHERS.”

Here’s good news:




Don’t let anyone fool you that your child will be LESS without an institutionalized education. Your child will, and always will be, MORE because they have you and their community.

What they currently may not have is a school that offers what I know is what they need, and what Bernadette wrote so precisely.


1. Recognize and use their abilities and gifts.

2. Become self-responsible and self-determined individuals.

3. Are full of an unencumbered joy for life, spontaneous, curious and enthusiastic.

4. Are in harmony of body, mind and soul.

5. Find appropriate loving care.

6. Learn by doing.

INSIST ON THIS! This is your time, parents!


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My life has been full of changes – new jobs with new colleagues, new places in new landscapes, and new friends bringing new relationships. I don’t regret making any of them, and find it useful to reflect on the challenges I’ve faced through these changes, and the growths I’ve made as a result.  

In the summer of 2013 I was living in Carbondale, Colorado, having recently sold my Glenwood Springs home and 3/4 of my belongings to move into a rented tiny home. Within a week of my move, I went in for my second shoulder surgery. A month after my surgery I visited family in Boulder, and took a stroll along the Pearl Street Mall. It was then that I met Bill Keyes, with his typewriter. Bill is the Poem Guy. He was sitting in a chair, his 1917 manual Corona typewriter in front of him, with a sign reading, “Poems While You Wait”. 

I was intrigued. The Pearl Street Mall is filled with a variety of artistic-types, exposing their skills and talents, for everyone’s benefit. Bill offered to write, and type, me a poem of my choosing. All I had to do is give him a few words of inspiration. Words that spoke of myself. He’d take those words and use his craft to write me a poem. 

Here are the words I gave him, “Peace, Love, Joy, Purpose”. I adopted them after reading a book, the title of which I currently can’t recall. 

Here is the poem Bill wrote for me, using those words. His poem captures my very essence, inside and out, in my work, play, travel and relationships.  


SIMPLE INGREDIENTS                                                                                                                                         FOR A GOURM  ET M  EAL

kids are naturally inclined toward buddha smiles

given the opportunity

most of them recognize happiness

most of em want to be loved

most of em just need to be reminded

th world inside them

is smarter then the one outside

peace and love

are natural

but in a world of conflict and confusion

they are so easily trampled

so sprouts don’t grow

pavement takes the garden

and it becomes a rebellious thing

to be yourself

at peace


strong in how it is you can provide

something of joy

and love

the ease of your very nature.

– Bill Keyes




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Sometimes, people are more important than place

I’ve been waking up each morning, later and later.

I’ve been staying up at night, later and later.

My search for the perfect place, becomes more elusive.

My memories of the perfect face, becomes more clear.

Today, I received a video from a parent of a former student that brought me to three important realizations:

1 – The career I’ve been creating brings love of place into the lives of people – children.

2 – The career I’ve been perfecting, people – children come first, and the love of place doesn’t matter as much without the people who love and cherish it along with me.

3 – The career I profit from the most combines people – children and the love of place.

I received a video this morning, from a parent of one child I left behind as I sought a career in a new place. It was the first morning in over a month that I woke up excited – with purpose. The video taught me that people – children are what my life’s purpose is, and a love of place is less without those who make it so special.


I’m coming back to Boulder, to be with the people – children who matter. 

12:23:19 O&About group photo.jpeg

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Family Nature Scavenger Hunt



Red Clover.jpgMuch can be discovered by wandering through back yards, streets, woods, and streams of the places where we live. Exploring new and yet-to-be discovered places with family and friends, building forts, creating tiny villages, hunting and gathering, and imitating a wild animal makes life fun and exciting. Building strong relationships and becoming empowered are natural outcomes of journeys taken out yonder, alone or with others.


Amsterdam bridge.jpg

The world can be a scary place, but it is less so as we become more familiar with our surroundings. As we do so, we begin to appreciate and love the places where we live. They, in turn, become places we take care of for ourselves and, more importantly, for others to enjoy. Journeys Out Yonder connects people with the places they call home, through play and exploration. JOY is the result of feeling connected to the place you love.

Woods Hole Bird in flight.JPG

Use my Nature Scavenger Hunt with your family, to discover the wonders of nature right in your back yard and your neighborhood. Discover the flora and fauna who call your home theirs too!


Directions: Search to find each of the items listed below. If the item has the word “collect” next to it, you may put the item into your bag. If the item has the word “photograph” next to it, take a photo of it so you will have proof that you located the item during your hunt. 

  1. One (1) blade of grass longer than your index finger (collect)
  2. Two (2) different leaves found on the ground (collect)
  3.  Twigs with the shape of the letters Y, l, T, L, F, E, and S (collect)
  4. Moss (photograph)
  5. Signs of a spider or a spider itself (photograph)
  6. An ant hill (photograph)
  7. Plant growing in a manmade structure (photograph)
  8. Insect on a plant (photograph)
  9. Signs of birds, or birds themselves (photograph)
  10. Signs of a reptile, or the reptile themselves (photograph)
  11. Signs of mice, squirrels or other small rodent themselves (photograph)
  12. Signs of large mammals or mammals themselves (photograph)
  13. Two (2) different types of seeds (collect)
  14. One (1) colorful flower (collect)
  15. Two (2) different kinds of trees (photograph)
  16. Three (3) rocks shaped like hearts (collect)
  17. One (1) rock with white, red, green and grey coloring (collect).
  18. One (1) walking stick, as high as your belly button and as thick around as your wrist (collect).
  19. A live/fallen tree trunk/branch with the patterns of beetles under the bark (photo).
  20. Frog eggs in a pond. (photograph)


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Spending Time Outdoors with Children

Children are out of school for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, due to the health threats posed by the Covid-19 virus, sweeping the world. I’m here to prove to you that it’s okay! Your children won’t forget anything crucial that they’ve already learned, and the world already provides them with the materials they need to keep learning.

Why do I know this? Due to a medical issue, I didn’t attend school in 4th grade. My mom and dad didn’t make me do any school work, except read, work on puzzles, create art, garden, and play. I read every day, for at least 4 hours, and spent the other 4 doing the rest. Then, in 5th grade, I was one of 15 kids who attended an “Open Classroom”. Our teacher, Mr. Dube (Doo-Bee), didn’t create any curriculum or lead any lessons. He provided us with traditional classroom materials and non-traditional materials, like wood, hammers, nails, two-burner hot plate, pots and pans, Cuisenaire Rods, screws and screwdrivers, and any other materials we needed to complete a project we wanted to do. I learned a lot that year, left to my own devices and interests. I became a self-directed learner that year, and it has stuck with me through my bachelors and masters studies in Education.

I’ve enjoyed observing families out and about, walking the dirt streets, playing with their pets in the parks, and biking and walking on the path along the river. Many town governments have closed the playgrounds, but that doesn’t mean children can’t play outdoors. All over the world, there are outdoor enthusiasts, and taking this time to enjoy your natural environment with your children is optimal. Even if you don’t enjoy the outdoors, your child will benefit from it.

Enjoy this special time you have with your children. The less you force them to engage in activities as adults do, the more fun they and you will have, indoors and outdoors.
Wear the recommended protective wear, and get out there and have some fun!

I am offering ONE tip for those adults who want to spend time outdoors with children:

Children who can walk should be the leaders on their outdoor experience.

Before you go for a walk with a child, know the behaviors and mindsets of children. They aren’t the same as adults. If you need to go out for a walk to get exercise, leave your children at home with your partner. If you’re single, find a trusting adult who has a clean bill of health to watch them while you do what you need to do for yourself.

Photo Gallery of my time spent with children outdoors.

To understand why and how you should engage with your children outdoors, here are some facts about children. As you read through them, see if you can match the photos from my gallery, to the facts below. 

STAY OFF OF YOUR PHONE WHEN YOU’RE OUTDOORS WITH CHILDREN. But do document your experience with children using videos and photographs.              Take candid photos, rather than interrupting the natural flow of their outdoor play.

a. Children walk slowly, looking at the ground and taking their time to observe. 

Resist saying, “Hurry up”, “Come on”, “You’ve spent enough time doing that”. You’ll thwart their enjoyment by making the experience about you, not about them. This is where conflicts arise between you and your child, when they are rushed and unable to pursue their own interests.

b. Children are more capable than you may imagine. 

Resist doing things for them that they have already mastered for themselves. This takes patience on your part, to let them struggle in order to succeed without you! A sage reminder: if I child is in the process of learning self-care skills, they will need your assistance, encouragement and praise. While they are learning to master a new skill (putting on all of their winter clothing, for example) they will need the support of adults, and even their peers who have mastered the same skill.

It is never okay to deny the support they are asking you for, as you will then create a lack of trust they have for you, stifle the important practice of asking for help, possibly thwart their need to practice persistence, and ultimately thwart their ability to succeed in order to continue learning new skills. 

c. Children want you to get excited about what they’re excited about, and to notice what they notice.

Resist bringing your cell phone with you to talk with someone. Use it to take photos/videos of your child while they are discovering the small wonders.

d. Children love to explore the unknown.

Resist going on excursions that are familiar, or that are manicured and inert. Go with your child to discover new, wild, overgrown patches of grass, ditches, stream and riverbeds. Climb over walls, follow unknown paths, peak under bushes, and turn over rocks!

e. Children live in a world of fantasy and make-believe.

Resist using instructional language around any child. Practice tapping into your own imagination by creating fantasy creatures and worlds. Play along with them as they talk to imaginary friends. You want to teach your child, but they want to learn on their own terms too! You don’t have to be an expert in plant and animal identification. Let them be the experts, by letting them name the animals and plants they find.

f. Children need to learn how to manage risk.

Resist EVER saying, “Be careful!”. It means nothing, and only sets a child on edge, wondering what they need to watch out for. With patience and direct verbal and sometimes physical support, allow children to run, jump, climb, throw rocks, sword fight with sticks, tumble, and rumble! Use specific language to help them learn to climb – “Use your hands to reach and grab, and your feet to support your body”. If a child can’t reach high enough to climb onto something, they’re not ready to get up onto it yet.

g. Children need to learn how to identify and avoid hazards.

Again, resist saying “Be careful”. Use direct language. I ask this question when I want them to consider the danger in what they’re doing, “Could you get squished and die if you ….?” Let them think about their answer. Be patient. If their answer is yes, you’ve done your job, and you’ve taught them a valuable life skill they will be able to use forever.

Here’s an example:
If we keep our knees above the water line, do you think we’ll fall down and get swept down river and under the water? Let’s try it.

Clear and simple. Remember the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons? Too much talk and all they hear is “Blah, blah, blah…

h. MODEL the behavior you want to see in your children.

Resist telling them how you want them to be. Resist being the parent who fits this saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”. And, especially when exploring the outdoors, resist giving false testimony about what will happen if they do something you don’t necessarily considrer “safe”. The last thing I want is to put a tragic idea into a child’s head. Show them how to observe, be amazed, have fun, be physically active, by first being that yourselves. Be silly, get muddy!

i. Children don’t mind inclement weather.

Resist avoiding the outdoors because you think, “The weather’s not good”. Weather is warm, cloudy, rainy, snowy, windy, etc. Those aren’t bad words, they’re reality. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just a poor attitude and bad choice of clothing. Children’s bodies are built for moving, and when they’re outdoors they maintain a warm body temperature due to their high metabolism. Adults, on the other hand, generally have slower metabolisms, which often causes us to get colder, faster. Prepare yourselves, and get outside in all types of weather, remember to dress appropriately. This means covering up when it’s cold, and when it’s hot and sunny! Where hats and gloves/mittens. The hands and feet get cold first, and wearing a hat, and plenty of clothing around the torso, will help you stay warm while you watch your child play.

j. Children love to create using nature. 

Resist the idea that you need to spend money for children to be creative. The natural world offers an enormous amount of “loose parts”, which can be used for building forts, making faerie homes, nature bracelets, decorating bikes, and so on. Sometimes, just a role of tape, a bag of sidewalk chalk, or some string is all you need.



I found my niche as an outdoor educator as a teenage camp counselor, in the mid-70’s. From 1984 until 2011, I have taught in a variety of educational and recreational settings. I incorporated my knowledge and experience in outdoor education to each venue. In the mid 2010’s I left public education behind, to explore nature-based early childhood education. I received my Masters in Education from Antioch University New England, in Educating for Sustainability. I’ve landed just where I belong, doing what I love, traveling slowly, practicing patience, discovering the small wonders of the world, (most notably small people), and following rather than leading children on outdoor adventures.

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KIDS WANTED for Nature School Adventures September 2020 – May 2021

5:17 Oliver at diverged trail

We have spots available at

Journeys Out Yonder

in our

Nature and Forest School Program


  • Eating healthy snacks
  • Keeping hydrated
  • Going on Adventures on foot and bike
  • Visiting libraries
  • Climbing trees and bouldering
  • Getting dirty and wet
  • Observing and imitating animals
  • Delving into Fantasy Play
  • Using and Making Maps and Following Paths
  • Investigating Small Worlds
  • Gathering cool stuff, for who knows what!
  • Turning strangers into friends
  • Learning to manage risk and avoid hazards
  • Inventing things we love to do
  • Breaking out into song and dance
  • Making art with found objects
  • Asking questions and seeking answers by talking with people and reading books.

  If your child would prefer to spend most of their day outdoors, call us!

Mary Russell, Owner/Director    970-618-1450


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Compassion Kindergarten Camp

“We’re all just walking each other home”. Ram Dass

I’m recreating my vision for JOY. By the end of August I’ll be starting Compassion Kindergarten Camp for children who live in the Frasier Meadows community and who seek an outdoor, place-based program for their kindergarteners.

I’ll pick your children (5 maximum) up from their school, and we’ll walk home, taking the long, adventurous route. Or, we’ll end up at the Meadows Branch Library, where you’ll pick them up there.

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Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The American Dream: get a college degree and a high paying job. Meet the love of your life, get married, buy a house, have some kids, and retire young enough to enjoy your grandchildren and travel the world….

I think I believed in that dream until I hit 30, when I had that degree in education plus a teaching license under my belt, but was more interested in wandering the country working at odd jobs in order to support my addiction to adventure. Now, at 52, I am still dreaming of all the places I’ll go, and all the people I’ll meet. I’ve started my own blog, Journeys Out Yonder, with the goal of telling others about the great places and people I’ve met on my road trips.

But, backing up a bit, I did dabble in the marriage and home ownership realm of the American Dream. Soon to turn 40, I felt it was time to go big! I had been living in little, above-the-garage, apartments, trailers, rented rooms, and even in the boiler room of Forest Service housing, exchanging a day of work per week for a free room. As I was turning 40, I met a man who fell in love with me pretty hard, and quickly. Within 6 months I was taking the leap. I had the best wedding EVER! On top of Arrowhead ski area, wearing an elegant boiled wool skirt and coat from Geiger, I married a man who was into me enough to wear ski boots and ski down the mountain after our wedding vows. We played house for a few years, buying one and fixing it up to his liking. To “his liking”….this is where bigger was getting really bad, for me. Our life centered around “his liking”, which was in the line of bigger is better. He wanted children. I didn’t. He spent thousands of dollars on big TV’s, big trucks, and big vacations. I spent money on good, healthy food. I volunteered in local schools, and started an after-school program for local youth. I taught avalanche safety courses, cross country and downhill skiing, in exchange for services and products. My time was spent exchanging my gifts with others, benefiting from their skills and becoming empowered by sharing my own. I wasn’t making more money, personally, but I was creating deep friendships and was developing a deep love and appreciation for the new community I had moved to with my husband.

Free to ski in elegance and beauty
Free to ski in elegance and beauty

The bigger house, TV, trucks and vacations didn’t make a difference to me during my marriage. I was scared to leave, because I now wasn’t so sure I could support myself, and didn’t know where I would go. I lost my mojo! Me, the life-long adventurer, was stuck. I made one phone call, to a friend back in Colorado, and immediately found my groove again.

When I took off, and left him to fend for myself. I found a job and a small cabin in the woods outside of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. My two cats and I lived peacefully, and simply.

Then, realizing the money I’d saved for years was burning a hole in my bank account, and it was time to prove I’d “made it”, I started looking for a house to buy. I was still in the mindset that bigger is better. I had moved into a full-time teaching job, which would continue to pay more each year, including getting a masters degree, and I still had the dream of meeting the man of my dreams who would share in the cost of my home. I bought that dream house in January of 2008. It was everything I’d dreamed of in a home. A couple months before the current economic downturn, my school district discovered an error they made in my contracted salary. My salary was reduced, making it more important for me to get my masters degree to increase my salaray. Five years later I had that degree, but had resigned from my teaching job, and I was still paying my mortgage alone. Bigger wasn’t better, for long!

A place to call my own.
A place to call my own.

The big job teaching in a public school conflicted with my own beliefs and training in education. I started my masters degree, and the more I learned about equity in education, the more I lost my love for teaching. The abundant paperwork and regimented system of teaching, to get students to perform well on standardized tests, overshadowed my love for sharing the joy of learning. Bigger scores aren’t always better.

Smaller is simpler, for me. I’ve cleared away my clutter, and am on a new journey to create a new American Dream, which is to follow my own dreams. They are creating a Tiny Home Village, making “MY Ski Skirts”, leading “Journey’s Out Yonder”, and spreading great advice with my “Quote Roll-Ups”. These are my skills and my passions, unique to me.

Calligraphy quotes on scrap lamination strips…great thoughts on reused plastic…beauty and ideas in one.
Calligraphy quotes on scrap lamination strips…great thoughts on reused plastic…beauty and ideas in one.

“I start to feel that each step taken is part of an invisible journey for which there is no map and few road signs.” John Francis, “Planet Walker”
“I start to feel that each step taken is part of an invisible journey for which there is no map and few road signs.” John Francis, “Planet Walker”

Small is beautiful. I sold my house recently, and moved into a 240sf bungalow. I’m starting over, with less. I gave away or sold (for barely anything) more than half of my possessions. The items I gave away to friends are there, in their homes, for me to enjoy when I visit. I haven’t bought anything new for years, preferring to shop at thrift stores for my clothes and the local food coop for food. I need nothing else. The less I own, the freer I feel. I donated all of my teaching materials to the Marble Charter and Ross Montessori Schools.

Small is Beautiful
Small is Beautiful

What dreams are you following?

Are your dreams unique to you?

Do your dreams show off your passions and skills?

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