The Votes are In – The North Face Explore Fund Grant – June 2014

The voting has ended. We have been awarded a $10,000 grant from The North Face #ExploreFund.

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With this funding we will continue our mission to expose our youth to nature.
To find out more about the TNF Explore Fund visit

The results are in! We have been selected to receive a $10,000 grant from The North Face #ExploreFund. Thanks for your support in helping us get more deserving kids exploring outdoors.

To find out more about the TNF Explore Fund visit

Stories from our Board – January 2014

Here is a story from our board member, Lamar Henderson about a wilderness experience from the summer. Enjoy!

As we close the chapter on the 2013 year I am compelled to reflect on all the experiences that made this past year so meaningful for me. One experience that has had a particularly strong impact on my personal growth was a six day, five night “wilderness experience” I took in October to Gold Lake, California. The trip was part of a year long commitment to a Leadership program that I am currently engaged in. The trip was designed to not only bring us closer as cohorts but also allow time and space to explore deeper interpersonal experiences.

On Belay!!


As the trip grew closer I can recall feeling a bit apprehensive as we discussed the details of the trip. We would take a four hour bus ride to the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we would then board a boat that would take us to the Gold Lake Lodge. We would spend two days at the lodge then take a two mile hike to a designated area where we would be trained and then experience the wonders of “rock climbing”. We would be asked to take a seven mile hike with a 1200″ elevation gain to another camp site for a two night, three day “wilderness experience”.

Now, I am a real rookie to hiking but there was something about the term “1200 foot gain” that was making me nervous so I went about the business of researching what exactly a “gain” is and how one would prepare for 1200 feet of it. Like most rookies I did what anybody else would to I googled it. I accessed some interesting information but I needed a more personal touch so I reached out to my dear friend and Sacred Rok family member Katie Lambert (who happens to be a world class rock climber) and posed the 1200 foot gain question to her. Katie being the loving spirit that she is gave me some incredibly ‘deep” advice on how to handle this undertaking she simply said “breathe and take it one step at a time”. Ok, I’ll be a little vulnerable and share this with you my initial response to Katie’s advice was less that enthusiastic. I was even less excited to “rock climb”.

As the date drew I could feel myself getting more anxious, after all I’m no world class athlete and to be honest aside from my brisk 2.5 mile walks with my dog Sallie I felt very unprepared for what was to come.


After a long four hour bus ride we finally arrived at Gold Lake where we boarded flat bottom boats and took the mile or so boat ride to the lodge. It was a beautiful location with rustic cabins surrounded by lush green trees and sweet mountain air. On day two of our trip after a nice breakfast we prepared for rock climbing. We were outfitted with rock climbing shoes a harness (which is another story within itself) and a day pack and headed up the hill. We traveled a little over a mile to an area that had been outfitted for rock climbing. Our instructors (who were wonderful) did a great job of explaining the fundamentals of climbing with a strong emphasis on safety. There were four levels to choose from varying from about 75 feet to over 500 feet and depending on your courage. I chose to first learn to secure others as they made their way up the rocks. I found that with helping others I was able to discover the courage to climb my self. My first choice was the second least difficult climb and guess what, I powered up that rock. I took my new found confidence and used it to power up the second most difficult climb. Then a 600 foot repel, man I was on a roll.

The next day we set out for our seven mile hike into the back country and even though I was still excited about the rock climbing experience I had my concerns. The hike was challenging and recent rain storms had washed away a lot of the dirt along the trail so the first 2.5 to 3.0 miles the trial were really rocky. I was so focused on how much farther we had to hike and the difficulty of the trail that I was not having a good time. But we were blessed with really good guides with the perfect spirit for this journey. If you needed to stop and take a breath, you stopped and of you wanted to forge ahead, well you forged ahead. Somewhere between miles 3 and 4 I was able to connect with the words of advice from my friend Katie; the words that seemed way too simple to be helpful at all but they were exactly what I needed, to “breathe and take it one step at a time”. I put those words to use and began to concentrate on my breathing and I took it one step at a time and you know what, something incredible happened. My eyes, my mind and my heart opened and I began to truly enjoy where I was and what I was doing. I began to notice the view from the elevations; I began to really take in the clean and sweet smell of the plants, flowers and trees that surrounded me. I was finally in “the moment”.


As we continued on our hike I saw some of the most beautiful views that I have ever seen. It was awe inspiring and breath taking and at one point as I stood on top of a ridge high above creation I began to feel overwhelmed with gratitude. I thought to myself “of all the billions of people in the world, how did I get chosen to see this?”I carried this spirit with me over the course of the next few days. I found myself taking moments of quiet reflection as I looked over all creation. I was able to connect with myself like never before. I reached my own personal summit.

Upon my return home I was excited about the trip. I shared funny details with my family and they were excited for me. As time moved further away I found the experience had an even deeper impact on me. Three days after returning to work I was sharing with some coworkers and I found myself getting really emotional and even tearful as I reflected on the boat ride, the rock climbing, the hiking, nature. Even as I share this with you now I feel a little lump in my throat. Once again I am humbled that with all the billions of people in the world “I” was chosen have this experience….and I will never be the same.

Thank you for allowing me to share

Lamar Henderson

“Off Belay”

Newsletter 23 – Dec 2013

Holiday Greetings

As we reach the end of the year, we want to thank all of our supporters for helping us to connect youth with nature. Our newsletters offer an ongoing voice from Ron and the young people he works with, sharing the lessons they learn through our trips and ongoing relationships. These voices offer a powerful testament for the value of their experiences in Yosemite.

Over the next couple of weeks, we also want to take the time to share reflections from some of our Board members about what Sacred Rok means to them. Please keep an eye out for these stories.

Here’s one from Kenji:



This fall, I was on my annual solo backpacking trip in the Sierras. Avoiding the smoke from the Rim Fire in Yosemite, I went to Kings Canyon National Park, exploring the Cloud Canyon area between Colby Pass and Avalanche Pass. There is a moraine that rises about 2,000 feet along the side of the river, which I am sure was created by the glacier that flowed down that canyon. I recognized that these mountains were created over 10 million years ago, and that at least four glacial advances have carved and left their stories on the rock. The moraine represented the cumulative stories of the rocks and boulders that rode down the glaciers following the law of gravity.

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My trail cut a switchback up this moraine, and as I was relating to these thoughts and surroundings, I recognized that with each step I took, I was walking through time – the time it took for that glacial accumulation to be made. How many human generations are represented even in each small step that I took? Quite humbling, and as I got to the top, standing in the soft light filtered by the pine trees and looking around this documentation of time and forces of nature, I connected to a sense of my place in the universe.



In these newsletters, we have been sharing Sacred Rok’s philosophy of the lessons learned from participating in the ceremonies of nature. We want to encourage you to share any experiences you may have had personally.

This year for the first time we created a calendar using Ron’s photos. We will be sending the calendar to our supporters, and will have a limited number of calendars left. Please email us at if you would like a calendar.

We have also posted our Annual Report on the website, and have a limited number of hard copy reports. Please let us know if you would like one. We look forward to your continued support. As you know, we depend on your donations. We set up a Year End Giving Campaign for those who would like to make a tax-deductible contribution before the end of the year.

Check it out on Facebook at

or on Fundly at

Wishing a joyous holiday season to you and your family and friends, and a peaceful and healthy 2014.



Newsletter 22 – August 2013


We are continuing to build relationships through the art of communication, appreciation and respect. Simply being and being in the moment, these things are showing the way back to the basics. When we say “relationships” at Sacred Rok we mean with all life – air, water, and land. This is the Law for the Real World. When we say “communion with our senses” we mean tuning in and remembering how to feel as well as think. Our experiences continue to help us better understand the word education and commit to the reality of Education Nature’s Way.


We are happy to say with your help we have had many day trips the last spring and camping trips throughout the summer with all our regulars – Merced Probation, Merced Boys and Girls Club, and the Mariposa Middle School. The beauty of these outings is getting to know each other, learning how to work together or let’s say be together, enjoying Yosemite’s ceremony of nature.


With the probation department we’ve taken our Yosemite outings into their classroom, working on a story sharing video from our pictures and video collection over the years. This has amazing potential to express the contrasting worlds of being incarcerated to standing under 1000 foot waterfalls with rainbows, fresh water springs, healthy food and stress free environments – as we experience the transformation of being free to be truly human.



Our Spring day trips set up the opportunity to follow the trail to summer camp in Tuolumne Meadows 8000 feet up the mountain.  In July we had our first camping trip of the summer with the Boys and Girls Club and soon after we hosted our second camping trip with the Mariposa Middle School. We had worked with all of these youth before throughout the last two years but for some this was their first camping trip. This is always a unique and important step not only for Sacred Rok but also for the youth and we do our best to host them in the most nurturing way. In early August we had a group of youth from Green Acres in Sebastopol who spent a few days with us.  This is a new and budding relationship and we look forward to continuing our work with them. Our last trip of the summer season was with the Merced Probation – reinforcing our connections.  All of our trips taught us something about ourselves and furthered our dedication to our vision at Sacred Rok.


As of this summer, it’s been 4 years since we started Sacred Rok.  The lessons we have learned in bringing the youth into nature are profound.  The institutions and the social conditions that form the environment that these young people experience every day contrast to our experiences in Yosemite.

We hope that the experiences of nature promote their human development.  The trees that they smell, the wind that they feel, and the pools in the river that they dip in all become a permanent part of their cumulative life memories — a collection of their being.  As well, we hope that our approach shows them that most of what we learn as humans comes from the inside.  As adults, we are humble facilitators of the connection to the great teacher, nature.


By learning from the inside, I mean that the young people appreciation of nature happens not because we “tell them” but because they resonate to what already exists in the human spirit.  Sacred Rok is a facilitator of this connection.

This lesson, something that I have learned over my many years from my teacher Yosemite when I was 14 – facilitated by the adults around me – is really what I want to share through Sacred Rok.  And, over the past 4 years, I think that our opportunities  – working with Merced foster care, Merced Probation, the Boys and Girls Club, the Planada youth, Native American youth, as well as some groups from outside this area – has reinforced this lesson.   The youth who have participated with us, many of whom have come back repeatedly, have told me so, in so many ways.  I deeply appreciate these experiences, which have, in turn, been my teacher.


Where is the source of education, and what is the adult role in it?  That’s really what it boils down to.  My friend Kenji, who works in so many areas of formal education, tells me that that’s one of the basic debates that goes on in his world of schools in the K-12 world.  Some things for sure need to be explicitly taught – for example, connecting the script to the sounds of a language is basic to learning to read any language.  But many others things need to be constructed through facilitated experience – for example, finding the deep meaning of a poem requires discussion and reflection, and diving into the self – this is hard to teach through drills and worksheets and fill-in-the-bubble approaches.   Students learn by connecting meaning to their self and their spirit, and connecting to the natural world.


At Sacred Rok, nature provides our curriculum and our structure.  Sunrise, sunset, wind and weather guide our activities.  We follow the pace of nature, and this helps the kids to slow down and learn to breathe, walk, and listen to the water and the wind in the trees.  This is not a one shot deal.  These young people come back again and again, and over time we build our trust and strengthen our relationships  that are simply natural.

So through our experiences over the past 4 years, I think we have established the value of respecting the youth to connect in their own way given the chance, the value of providing healthy food, the value of place, and the continuity of learning over time.  It seems as though formal institutions try to acknowledge the importance of learning from the inside, but they struggle with recognizing it fully. What we have shown is that this can be done at a small scale, working to facilitate small groups of youth with some continuity.  When we established Sacred Rok in 2009, we knew that we wanted to support young people with the ceremony of nature.  We had a vision, but we did not have a specific plan.  But we have mapped it out during the last 4 years, demonstrating the feasibility and power of our vision.


So what is our next 5-year plan?  Kenji and Nancy just spent two weeks at camp in Tuolumne and we had a good chance to reflect on our accomplishments and envision our future, surrounded by the signs of nature and reflecting on their meaning.    Here is one reflection we had.  There is a beautiful boulder which sits just across the river from my campsite.  It got here having floated down the canyon carried on top of a glacier thousands of years ago, and was placed here as the glacier melted.  The Tuolumne River is still flowing from the Lyell Glacier that receded but continues to provide the flow of this river, being watched by the boulder.  This celebrates the art of nature.  Through the help of great friends who have given us generous grants and individuals who have contributed by buying our books and photos, we have subsidized trips working with the Merced organizations who are working hard to support these youth.  During the next 5 years, we plan to consolidate these successes further so that the organizations see this as a central part of their own mission, rather than as an add-on subsidized by outsiders.

As we do this, we hope to use our gifts, grants and donations to work toward the establishment of a “place” for Sacred Rok.  Having a specific piece of land owned by Sacred Rok and established as a center for learning is important because the “sense of place” is central to our work.  We see the mountains from which the water for much of California emanates as an essential link for our youths to the land.  Because we want all of our youth touched by Sacred Rok to have a sense of place grounded in nature, a place for them to come and stay to re-connect with the earth, is essential.  We are thus seeking a modest piece of land where we can start growing organic food, staying for gatherings, building fires, and having the time to inspire.  Such a place may be in the foothills on the western or eastern side of the Sierras.


Finally, during the next 5 years, we are hoping to play more of a convening role for organizations that seek to help youth that share our philosophy.  In our work with the various organizations in Merced, we have found like-minded souls within probation, youth organizations, Native American, and foster care organizations.  We also have met many people in school systems throughout California who understand the barren agenda of school reform focused on narrow academic skills and neglecting the nurturing of the human spirit.  We are contemplating the next 5 years as a period where we can develop leadership potential for people within these organizations, and to collaborate in the re-birth of humanity through partnerships with inspirational individuals who are in a position to transform their organizations.  The land we hope to acquire will serve as a center where gatherings of these leaders can occur.

Letters From the Kitchen

Organic tomatoes

As a child my great grandfather grew a garden that supplied food for the table and the many months ahead. Things that didn’t get eaten immediately were jarred, canned and frozen. Jams, salsas, stews and pickled items lined the shelves of the pantries of every member of our family. I remember the crisp cucumbers sprawled across the ground, the prickly merlitons and their weird smell, the stakes of snap peas, the canopy of grape leaves draped across the pecan trees in the back corner, and the hot house with it’s tomatoes and box of potatoes.

The tomatoes were the best with their deep red flesh and the sweet water of the earth. I ate them like apples on occasion or my great grandmother would very gingerly peel and chop them and season with salt, pepper and vinegar. These became one of my favorite things to eat and I had a hard time understanding why many people would say they hated tomatoes.

My great grandfather took pride in his plants and he kept a journal of his garden – what he planted, when he planted, what pests came, what nutrients were needed, when was the frost, when was the drought, home remedies and theories. As I grew up I started to garden myself and I called him or wrote to him often asking advice on what I had growing. My gardens prospered and my tomatoes and peppers were almost as sweet as his.

In the south of Louisiana, especially with a hot house, one can grow tomatoes for most of the year but there are those few months in winter and early spring when this just isn’t possible. Yet, in the stores there would always be tomatoes – their skin an odd, speckled orange red color, their feel a little too firm, and their flesh leaving something to be desired. These were not tomatoes, these were an insult to my paw-paws vine-ripe beauties. They hardly seemed edible yet they were everywhere – in the schools, in restaurants, in the markets, cafeterias, etc. I started to understand why people said they didn’t like tomatoes – if these mushy, tasteless things were what they were eating then there was absolutely no reason to like them.These impostors were/are the result of large scale farming – otherwise known as industrialized farming.

Industrialized farming has done it’s job at supplying “food” for the masses and it’s also done it’s job at homogenizing, monoculturing and taking then richness out of the food. In response to this a great food movement is occurring – hardworking people are pouring their spirits into small scale, organic farming. What comes out of it are fruits and vegetables and meats so rich and full of life that I recall my great grandfather out in his garden with his soil stained hands and his bucket of fresh food.

This is the food that I love and this is the food that Sacred Rok supports. We want the youth and adults we work with to understand this difference and to be nurtured by this food. This is why we largely support local, organic farming practices and try to buy most, if not all of our food from these types of people and places. We are fortunate to have great people like Brenda Ostrum and Mountain Meadow Farms, TD Wiley Farms, the High Country Health Food store in Mariposa, the Sierra Sundance Whole Foods in Mammoth, the Mono Market in Lee Vining and the Manor Market in Bishop – all of these people and places work with local, organic farmers to provide some of the best goods available. In honor of my great grandparents and for the benefit of all Scared Rok will continue it’s vision of creating healthy meals with healthy food.


Letters to the Kitchen 

“Thank you Katie for cooking for us without you I would have been starving. The food was the Best! I’m gonna miss you and your great food.”

“Thank you Katie for supplying us with all the WONDERFUL & DELICIOUS food! Without your great skills at cooking we all would most likely be starving! I appreciate your time getting up and effort you put in for us kids in the BCA program. I hope there will be a next time that we can come camping again and have you cook for us. Your cooking is the best!”

“Thank you Katie for the food and your cooking was good and delicious. It is the best food I have eaten in 5 months.”

“Thank you, the food was great and I really enjoyed breakfast!”

Newsletter 21 – April 2013

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In late January we released our new book, “Letters from Sacred Rok” and in mid-February we  started off our book tour by giving a presentation at the Stanford Alpine Club. On February 21st we were given the opportunity to have a book release event at Heyday Books with founder Malcolm Margolin. Being at Heyday was more than just an honor, it was a validation; when we support each other and show respect it promotes healing and confidence. Malcolm’s introduction of Sacred Rok and myself was an example of that.  In his way of respecting the education I received in nature through rock climbing gave me something I know we all want to give our kids – the power to respect yourself and your uniqueness, your gift to be. Thank you Malcolm and all the people for the great night.


The following weekend Sacred Rok hosted youth from the Merced Boys and Girls Club on our first trip of the year. Many of the youth are returning from last year and some are new comers. It is so nice to see some of the young people from the last year and how they grow. This privilege to be with youth is amazing – it’s an opportunity to have fun visits, share stories and laugh.cascadecollage

We help to bring out the best in each other. So far we have had three trips with them this season, the most recent of which were some of the youngest yet – ages 7 to 12!  These little beings shed the light even more about how precious this life really is.


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A few days after our first trip with Boys and Girls Club we stepped back on the trail with Mr.Garcia and our Probation crew. It felt like we never left, our connection is strong in many ways. These relationships are  based on Respect, recognizing as we enter the natural world we are equal as human beings, this is what I like to call “Higher Education.” Getting back to the basics we keep it real and real simple – for this profound reality – listening to the water and wind, smelling the trees. We learn that wisdom is everywhere in everything.




We have made  a new friend from Merced, Kelly Turner. She works with young girls in the  Merced area through an organization she created called Symple Equazion; she brought up three teenagers a couple of weeks ago. We found ourselves under waterfalls and rainbows, our feet in the ice cold river, looking for Eagles and meandering along. That was a great first day and we look forward to seeing them again.

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March 23rd was our book signing presentation at the Merced Arts and Cultural Center on Main Street. At this gathering all of our board members shared their thoughts and feelings about why they are involved, setting me up for our power point which goes through my life  – starting as a teenager and on into our book.  After, we had a Q&A, this brought us into the realization of how this group of fifty people are creating a circle of like-minded Human Beings wanting the best for our young people – here and everywhere in the world.


To bring it home, Joe Frontella, our new friend and connection to the Juvenile Correction Complex, came up to read these quotes from our young incarcerated people who were on the first probation trip this year:

We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world and the best we can find in our travels is a honest friend.”

Yosemite is life changing and will be an inspiration for the rest of my life.”

When you are motivated and dedicated you can climb any mountain.”

The smallest choices we make now can have a huge impact on us later in life.”

I learned the purpose of nature is to preserve it, so that the future generation can enjoy it.”

“Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places to go and is my gateway in succeeding in life.”

Setting goals like climbing mountains build your character and give you confidence. Setting small goals and achieving them weekly will help you be successful.”

When you go to Yosemite listen for the call of your destiny and when it comes release your plans and follow.”


As always we thank you for your support in working together making our world a better place for all our relations.

Click here for a tax deductible donation through PayPal.


Sacred Rok Food Thoughts from Katie’s Camp Kitchen


Part of my job at Sacred Rok is to provide everyone with the best food I can conjure. This not only means good taste, it also means good for you.

A lot of thought and time go into thinking of recipes, adapting recipes to fit with our mission of better health through nutrition, and what ingedrients will be the most beneficial.

We have a lot of picnics with our youth and this is actually a tricky type of meal to be prepared for. I want to provide something warm, something heathy and something everyone will enjoy. Sure hotdogs are easy but hot dogs are no more than a mouthful of toxins.

A personal favorite that is not only savory but also highly healthy are cabbage rolls.

Cabbage Rolls – makes about 35 small rolls


Two head medium size cabbage

Grass fed beef, or bison

Organic rice

Organic onion – 1 large

Organic Green Onion – 5

Organic Garlic – 5 cloves

salt.pepper, red pepper, parsley


-heavy bottom pot


in a large bowl mix the meat (uncooked), rice (uncooked), chopped onion, chopped garlic, and spice.

wash cabbage and pull off the leaves. many times the center vein is very hard and makes rolling the leaf difficult – I cut these leaves in half – removing the vein- so that rolling is better. you want the leaves to be very pliable.

place anywhere from one to two full tablespoons of meat and rice mix in the center of your leaf and roll up- like an egg roll.

line bottom of pot with leaves – to create a barrier between rolls and bottom

place the rolls side by side in pot – layering up to one inch from the top of pot.

add enough water to cover halfway – about two cups or so

cover and steam on low heat until rice is cooked.

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Your donations help keep us going!

Click here for a tax deductible donation through PayPal.


Our New Book! Letters from Sacred Roksacredrok-cover copy

We are asking for a suggested $20 donation (minimum) plus $5 for shipping and handling – please send a check or money order to PO Box 148 – Yosemite, CA 95389 if you would like a copy or click the donate link above.



Newsletter 20 – January 2013

January 2013 Book Announcement: Letters from Sacred Rok by Ron Kauk

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We are asking for a suggested $20 donation (minimum) plus $5 for shipping and handling – please send a check or money order to PO Box 148 – Yosemite, CA 95389  if you would like a copy or click the link below.

Click here for a tax deductible donation through PayPal.


We are pleased to announce the publication of 107 page book, Letters from Sacred Rok. The book is based on Ron’s newsletters and photos that have appeared on our website, and envisions how we share the story of nature.

In the preface, founding board member Kenji Hakuta recounts his conversation with Ron, from which Sacred Rok originated. At the parking lot of the Tioga Pass Resort, he asked Ron what he was working on, expecting an answer about a new climbing project. “I’m working on my breathing,” Ron said. Sacred Rok is based on this kind of simple ceremony that connects youth to Yosemite.

Letters from Sacred Rok comes from Ron’s intimate connection with nature. It represents what Yosemite has meant to him over the past 40 years as a climber, and now what he hopes to communicate through Sacred Rok. As Ron writes in the book, “Sacred Rok has become a climb of a lifetime.” The book interweaves new photos taken by Ron of Yosemite and the Sacred Rok youth, with more classic pictures from his history as a climber.

This is truly a stunning and beautiful book which we would like to share with all of our supporters. We are asking for a suggested $20 donation (minimum) plus $5 for shipping and handling – please contact us if you would like a copy.

January 2013 Message from the Board Chair

On behalf of the Sacred Rok Board of Directors, we would like to wish you all a happy new year, filled with the joys of nature as we continue to work together. As our book announcement shares, 2013 is off to a good start. Letters from Sacred Rok will be having book release events in Merced and in the Bay Area in the next few months, so please keep an eye out for announcements.

Our Annual Report has also been released and is on our website. We are proud of our accomplishments and look forward to the paths that will lead us in 2013!

Nancy Goodban, Chair

Newsletter 19 – October 2012

October – 2012

Summer came early, you might say, with Tioga Pass opening in late May, which offered a good long time for camping trips up in Tuolumne Meadows.  On one of the trips our elder, Bill Tucker, brought up five Yosemite native young people between 11 and 16 years old. The morning started early.  At first light, we got the fire going.  Bill would walk over to the 6-man REI tent to tell the guys to get up.  It only took saying it once.  It was chilly out.  They all walked out to the fire, some barefoot, some just in a T-shirt, eyes half open.  It’s such a magical time of day, where the idea of waking up is profound with light brushing across the trees, the birds starting to sing, squirrels running around, deer crossing the river.

The morning talk is on.  Having an elder to keep things in perspective was a good and powerful experience.  Kenji, Les James, Bill and I had all met a year or so ago when we wrote about the native language and how to bring back the value and sacredness that comes with it, the connectedness of people.  That idea  came to life in the morning.  At some point in our morning talk about respecting life and how to work together, Bill would say to the youth to go to the river and make your offering to the water, the earth, your family.  Then when Katie said breakfast was ready, Bill would have one of the guys say something about the food, to appreciate it.  The same for dinner.  Always taking a little time to honor life and what gives us life.   This way of being together for our 3-night, 4-day set the stage for everything we did.

I learned a lot about staying true to our pace.  It’s not a race or competition.  Bill kept slowing the guys down, saying “Why are your heads down and walking so fast? You’re missing everything, like that falcon’s nest.”  So we stopped and had a little snack and talked, yet getting to our destination Cathedral Lake anyway with lots of time.

Thinking about time, culture, language is so interesting.  These are things that nature evokes.  I would say it’s written in us, the rhythm of moving, breathing, staying in tune with the heartbeat.  Recognizing the new day, listening to the harmony of nature, watching the sunrise – the youth resonate to these ways of flowing with natural time.

Adjusting to this rhythm first thing in the morning brings me back to a kind of healthiness for our being, you might say, the “being” part of human.  This profound experience was helped by our elder who sees the value and importance of showing our young people how to greet the new day, something good for everyone.  Tucker has always shared this, it’s just part of who he is, and it was an honor for us all to be together.

On another of our trips, Karen Rust, a teacher and counselor from Mariposa, came up again with some of her students.  She offered the following reflections on the trip, which we share with you.

Flow of Friends (by Karen Rust)

Last winter Ron Kauk was able to come down for an assembly at the Mariposa Middle School.  The 8th grade students were invited to experience the wonder of Yosemite through Ron’s stories and slides.  Several of the students seemed magnetized by Ron’s presentation and came up to talk with him afterward.  Ron had said to me that he was open to the idea of building relationships with a small number of local youth over time to see what would happen in its natural flow.  These initial conversations led to these students participating in three separate outings in Yosemite during the late Spring, Summer, and Fall.  Nearly a year has gone by, and these young people have come to know each other and their Yosemite backyard in new and exciting ways. 

A group of five students has been able to spend one day in Yosemite last spring, four days in Tuolumne over the summer, and our last outing in late September on the Merced River.  It was obvious to me on the YARTS bus on the way home from our last day together, that they had thoroughly enjoyed themselves, each other and their place.  We had spent the better part of the day, wandering back and forth across the Merced, only covering about a quarter of a mile stretch of river.  How many hundreds of times have I driven by this spot, and not even given it a glance?   

During the day we ate lunch at the most exquisite granite table, imagining ancient groups like ours sharing food preparation, stories, splashing in the crystal clear water, (even in September in a drought year), eating together, balancing on log crossings, making driftwood art, and seeing a bear in the rocky crevices of the far shore.  Ron Kauk has opened up an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in the present and delight in it.  How can we be totally alive to our senses when we are hurried and worried to death and dullness?  In these little oases of outdoor living, we have been present with each other and our setting. 

The four day stay in Tuolumne was a true highlight of the summer for all of us.  The meals were simple, healthy, and the organic produce and oh so fresh.  As a veteran backpacker and camper for 30 plus years, I am not accustomed to fresh produce at the campsite.  The students were able to help prepare the meals and in one case, the understanding of how to prepare and include vegetables in cooking was life-changing for her.  She said, “You know how we had the chicken meal on our last night and we used Grandma’s recipe plus the veggies; now we add veggies whenever we make it.” Our meal planner and Chef Katie added a key ingredient for healthy, balanced life together.


As a social worker/school counselor, I am increasingly aware of growing numbers of students that experience anxiety and depression.  With the pressure in school to achieve standards, and the financial pressure on the families, it becomes all the more important to maintain a balance of self-care and family play.  Five fourteen year-olds found themselves playing, creating, interacting, and challenging themselves physically beyond their expectations of themselves.  One of the girls stretched herself physically when bouldering and learned, “Even if you doubt that you can do something, try it anyway.  If you tell yourself you can’t do something, make it your mission to prove yourself wrong.”  One of the guys challenged his negative self-perception, “Never doubt yourself and enjoy the moment, even if you think you are insignificant, keep an open mind and you will learn that you are more.”   Thanks to the unique opportunity that these students have had with Sacred Rok, they have more vitality and motivation to explore beyond their borders.  Isn’t that what education is all about? 

 We really want to thank Karen for collaborating with us at Sacred Rok.  Her experience in backpacking and being in the Sierras have put her in a perfect position to bring the kids from Mariposa up here into Yosemite.  These young people are now creating their own slideshow, which will help us learn more about developing long-term relationships and reflecting on our shared experiences. The potential is unlimited to follow education nature’s way.  We thank all of you for your support and donations.  These two trips we shared with you continue to inspire us to continue our original mission – to respect nature and through that to respect ourselves.

Newsletter 18 – June 2012

Staying true to our on-going relationships, two groups of four Boys and Girls Club youth returned to continue enjoying the adventure of being in Yosemite. One group which came first in March for the snow storm decided to wait until the snow melted before braving the elements, and they got to play in Tenaya Creek under Half Dome.

The other group that first came in February enjoyed a day under El Capitan at the river on a sandy beach. For both groups, even after just their second trip, it confirms for me the importance of continued relationships that connect us. We learn from each other every time we get together.

The probation guys also returned twice. Their first trip was spent observing the river along the Lower Merced Canyon.

From there, we went to the top from the backside of a 1,000 foot cliff to consider the perspective of looking back down on the river.

Interestingly enough, we ran across the Yosemite Search and Rescue team taking time to practice their rescue techniques, including Jesse McGahey the climbing ranger. Jesse has been part of our collaboration. He has helped Sacred Rok to join in with the Park Service and the Yosemite Conservancy on some trail work to fix some of the approaches up to popular climbs where erosion has become a problem due to years of a lack of care-taking.

So the following trip found us working in the Cascade Falls area – we put in a few good hours reshaping the trail building steps with rock work so that it would better endure the traffic – the guys worked hard.

It was a great exercise in working together, and that felt good. To top it off, we celebrated by then going down by the river to have a picnic that Katie prepared.

We were also fortunate to have a Mariposa middle school group of five come up.

This came about after being invited to give a presentation back in February where I showed “Return to Balance” and shared stories of my life spent climbing and its symbolic lessons. Their teacher Karen and I talked about arranging a trip to Yosemite in May or June. I didn’t hear from her for a long time and was wondering what might have happened. After months she emailed me saying she was sorry to say the middle school would be closing due to budget cuts and they wouldn’t be able to do the trip. I called her and told her that it wasn’t necessary that the school be involved in getting the youth up here and that we would be happy to fund the trip. She was so happy and thanked us for staying positive. It made me feel good that we at Sacred Rok could say yes.

I must thank everyone for the help you have given Sacred Rok and it’s against-all-odds approach where we feel it’s time to remember what it means to be human and work together for the future of all life. When we say Education Nature’s Way, we really mean it — bringing the young people to one of the most beautiful places on Earth is about inspiration, education, healing and the search for the wisdom of nature and our place as human beings. Nothing lives without water. Yosemite in spring and throughout the year is a display of the beauty and Sacred reality of water.

We feel that ongoing relationships with our young people will help us all to develop together, making better sense of the reality of Nature and to become truly educated into responsible, compassionate, caring human beings! From our experiences it’s interesting to imagine where these ongoing relationships will lead us as we creatively engage in conversations and generate possibilities such as connecting youth to work in the park. I feel that at Sacred Rok, one of our strengths is to grow organically, and so we appreciate hearing from you about what you think, and how you might participate.


Note: The trips with the Boys and Girls Club are funded by a grant from The North Face Explorer Fund and United Way of Merced County. The probation trips are funded through a flexible grant from Clif Bar. The Mariposa middle school trip was funded by your generosity. Thanks for the support!

Newsletter 17 – March 2012

Spring has arrived and with it Sacred Rok is excited to be starting off another year of continued relationships with young people in Yosemite.

Clif Bar

The start of the year found me at the Emeryville headquarters of Clif Bar, participating in their weekly company meeting as the invited guest of their founder, Gary Erickson. Gary and I share a friendship that goes back many years, and interestingly enough, we were born on the same year and day. We are connected in our appreciation for the Sierras and nature in general.

While I went about my life as a climber, Gary has shaped his company on sustainability and respect for nature, so in a way, it was natural for him to be excited about Sacred Rok, and he invited me down to the company to talk about our mission, and to celebrate our collaboration on the new packaging for the Builder Bar, in which he used an image of me.

My visit to Clif Bar showed a good example of what the world of business can be when there is respect for the natural environment, which provided for the business in the first place. The company environment is amazingly happy, a dog-friendly, open space created from natural and recycled materials with exercise and relaxation areas, a child care center, and a great kitchen. Being there I saw what they mean about building a business and brand through their values of commitment to the planet, the community, and their people. Gary has inspired me to consider what is possible with a good collaboration of people who have diverse talents.

I got to continue my conversation with Gary as we drove together north of the Bay Area to St. Helena – Velo Vino – which he and his wife Kit Crawford started. There in the company of a nice gathering, Gary and I did a presentation about our shared adventures and I got to talk about my life as a climber and, again, about Sacred Rok. It was an exciting evening to feel the response and support of many people who could relate to our story. After these two events, Gary and I were talking and we agreed that our theme of the past few days was “What does it mean to be human?” What is the true meaning of education? That’s our commitment, to understand the true meaning of education. Everybody agrees we have to have a good education, but our definition of education needs to be challenged — otherwise why are we polluting the air and water and blowing each other up?

Trips with Young People

Thanks to support from Clif Bar and our other partners including United Way of Merced and North Face Explorer Fund and many individual donors, we have continued to have a steady stream of trips, working with the Boys and Girls Club of Merced and the probation department. In one of the recent trips, four young people came up for the day on the YARTS bus, and Katie and I took them to Cascade Falls for lunch, where one of the boys announced that he could spend all day right there. Just “being” in Yosemite can be as simple as learning to relax and be inspired by the nature and the beauty, stimulating the senses and remembering how to be human.

Boys & Girls Club Februray Trip


Boys & Girls Club March Trip

After Cascade, we stopped at Fern Spring where we looked at the water coming up through the ground and filled up our bottles. How interesting it is to observe how naturally the young people are drawn to the water… I stood marveling at how profoundly powerful the expression of this spring is when we stop to acknowledge the reality of it — this water has been held under the earth and surfaces at the entrance to Yosemite Valley. We stop here not just for the water but to reference the sacred nature of the place. In acknowledging this spring it helps to orient our group to why we are here and what we are doing. From this point it helps harmonize and synchronize ourselves to the surroundings – the river, the trees, the rocks, the breeze, the birds — all of this is the curriculum, the greatest teacher is nature, and my job is to be the facilitator. When the young people reach down to the water and put it on their own face, a connection is being made. And when we recognize the value of water we come to respect and acknowledge it as our life source.

One of the probation youth on another trip up the Yosemite Falls trail – possible in this dry winter — wanted to know how far the trails go, and when I told him that these trails go for hundreds of miles in different directions, he said, “I just wanna keep going.” The way he said that was a really strong expression of his sincerity and the inspiration that he was getting as we went up the trail , and the way that he said it made me feel that we are on the right track.

The Moon and the Sun at the Cookie

Cookie Cliff

As I was preparing to climb up the cliff the other day, I noticed the moon rising over the mountain to the east, but I was still feeling the sun setting in the west. After climbing about 200 feet, I came to a foot-wide ledge, where I turned to face the canyon. I’ve been coming to this cliff – the Cookie – at the entrance of Yosemite since age 15. I know this place well, and call it my sacred space.

This moment was powerful. I felt as though I stood suspended between the moon and the sun on this one-foot ledge on earth, overlooking the flowing river with its own history. This moment signaled to me what I mean by learning, and summarized what the great teacher – the earth – has taught me over time by the feeling of the wind and the sound of the river – it’s all based on learning to develop relationships through appreciation.

Cookie Cliff

I guess not every climber would think these thoughts at the Cookie. Later on at the base of the climb, I mentioned my experience of being between the sun and the moon to two climbers, who appreciated my sentiments but remained mostly excited about their climbing (I can understand that). My thoughts that day go back to my early exposure to the mountains when, as a 14-year old, I was given the opportunity to have three solo days in the midst of a 20-day backpacking trip, giving me the time to observe the stars and the flickering light on the boulders from the campfire. My interpretation of the experience at the Cookie has a very long history, and one that probably goes back to the very fabric of being human. Being in Yosemite as a climber and year-long resident for most of the past 36 years has inspired me to try to understand what it means to be human, and what it means to relate to the privilege of being in this beautiful place. I am still moved, even after all these years, with this sense of wonder.

  • Ron Kauk

Message from the Board Chair

In reflecting on how far we have come since Kenji and my conversation with Ron at Inspiration Point in November of 2008, I am gratified for the generous support of so many – individuals, foundations, corporations — in helping Ron to realize his vision of education nature’s way. Thanks to your support, we have matured as an organization, and have been able to share the wonders and healing power of Yosemite with young people through day trips and camping trips. We have built ongoing relationships with many of these young people through our ability to bring them on multiple trips, and they continue to keep in touch with Ron. Please check out our annual report on our web site if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet!

  • Nancy Goodban

Wassup Sacred Rokers!

Newsletter 16 – Sept/Oct 2011

This has been the season of water.  I can’t ever remember seeing so much water flowing.  And it’s remarkable when you have the time to be in nature and consider what it’s saying.  What does it mean to be human, being born into this world and continuing to age and to grow.

Observing these realities continues to promote my own education – marveling and humbled by the flow of nature, living in the Tuolumne campground all summer long, constantly exposed to these elements – wind, cloud, rain, early morning fires, and observing sunrises with the Tuolumne river flowing just a few hundred feet away.  I’ve been sleeping on the ground in the same spot for the fifth summer in a row.  The trees and the boulder feel closer, like family members next to you, and the respect that I have for them has grown because of this fact of sharing this space, which continues to bring me into the context of sense of place and the indigenous reality that all of us carry in our DNA.


From all these unique spots high in the Sierra the Tuolumne River flows into Hetch Hetchy in one direction, or down the Merced River in the other.  As the water flows down and gets trapped in dams and diverted into canals and aqueducts, its message also gets clogged and lost.  We don’t know what rocks it touched, what canyons it shaped, what waterfalls it created. We are connected by this history, but we have lost its meaning.

Life for me in Yosemite is about migrating with the earth’s rotation.  This summer felt so short because the campground in Tuolumne opened late due to the snow.  Already, the earth’s movement has asserted itself, and the changing season has taken me back down to 2,000 feet in El Portal, where I’m observing the Merced River that continues to drain out the water from the higher country.  I find myself sitting with the fire already going with winter wanting to show up early.


It’s fun to reflect on the past summer and the 12 foster youth that came up to the Tuolumne camp.  It felt really great to be with them, a lot of laughter and visiting and exploring Tuolumne Meadows, and lots of good food prepared by Katie.  It inspires us to come up with a language of what we mean by education nature’s way, and the three years we have been involved with this. In the third year of bringing Merced youths to Yosemite through Sacred Rok, one reflection is this: “What’s wrong with us humans?  Can’t we listen to what these young people are saying?”  My connections with them have been an incredible inspiration to me.

What the Sacred Rok youth are telling me is the power of our “relations.”  I say this in the indigenous sense of the Miwok elders who use the term relations: every act has a relation to the land and to the elements of water, sun, wind, animals, plant life and kin.  At Sacred Rok, our key is to restore the balance and harmony of the relations that have been knocked way off base by our society with its metrics of productivity and accountability and class structure.  It’s almost like the dams that block the flow of the water down the rivers.  We are trying to facilitate the kids coming back up the stream to connect to the life source. Society tries to train the kids to understand, master and manage nature, rather than to educate them to honor and learn from our relations.

Every time a Sacred Rok youth steps into a river, touches a rock, appreciates a sunset, and honors the earth, we are learning from their actions and marveling at the power of that ceremony.  The instructions are written in nature, and we are becoming more literate at deciphering what is written with every passing experience.

In all of this, Yosemite occupies a special place.  Our relations with nature are influenced by the specific spots where the experiences occur, not just at any old spot.  For me as a climber, I consider it a privilege to have had so much time in Yosemite, which influenced the way in which my relations have developed over a very long time.

Our goal is to have continuous relations for the youth from the Merced area to develop, as well, over a very long time.  I came to Yosemite at age 14, and now it’s been 40 years, and I’m still learning how to honor the wisdom of nature.  The goal of Sacred Rok is to continue to learn, connecting Yosemite to Merced, and providing a long-term base for the students with whom relations have developed.  We hope to be a life-long base from which life foundations are formed.

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