Ricardo Sierra was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1964. Some of his strongest memories as a child were the sounds of the Pacific ocean waves crashing on wild beaches, the fragrances of alpine forests and the clear, dryness of the Mohave desert. He taught himself to read when he was five, and he read everything he could get my hands on. Tolkien, the Chronicles of Narnia and many other stories kept him company throughout his childhood.
When he was in first grade, his teachers didn’t like the way he walked up the stairs so his mother found a way to enroll him in the Sacramento Waldorf School. Hi spent a lot of time looking for turtles along the vernal pools along the American River, and enjoying the difference in educational philosophy. His teachers didn’t mind how he walked up stairs as long as he helped turn the compost in the school garden!
When he was a little older, his mom, sister and brother moved to New York, where he then went to the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School. He lived in a very rural area so spent lots and lots of time in the woods, exploring, fishing, wandering and learning. He didn’t know what he was doing half of the time, but it was usually really fun just being out there!
Ricardo loved basketball and was the manager of his team throughout the high school years. He even managed the American River College team in college! Following those years Ricardo spent time working with the California Conservation Corps, planting trees, clearing streams for salmon spawning, building trails and re-planting dune environments. He was chosen to be a part of the Backcountry Trails Program, and the experiences he had there, in the Golden Trout Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, the Shasta-Trinity Alps, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Inyo National Forest and Lava Beds National Monument changed him, forged him, and guided him towards who he is today….
Ricardo attended his first Wilderness School with his trail building earnings ($3.25 per hour, yeah!) and found himself at Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School. Now, in 1984, there was only about 20 students and he had a great time learning and enjoying his journey into nature and native American style survival skills. Frank and Karen Sherwood were teaching there, as well as John Stokes, and his passion for learning was fully ignited! Ricardo spent many of those years studying and practicing with his best friend Craig Boynton, in Massachusetts. Buckskin, drummaking, hogans and lots of exploring and teaching. Those days are jewels in his memory.
Over the next eight years, he attended many courses at the Tracker School, including the first Philosophy Class, on of the first Scout Classes, and the Ten Day Winter Intensive. He did a ton of practicing skills in between classes and started teaching at the Hawthorne Valley Farm Camp in Harlemville, NY. He spent about three summers there and loved seeing how the young students responded to learning about nature and survival. About the same time Ricardo started to think about creating his own camp and was given the opportunity to be an assistant instructor at the Tracker School for a little over a year, and helped out there for many classes. The class size had swelled to 45-50 students, which seemed huge in the Pine Barrens Primitive Camp Area!
In 1989, Ricardo started a small, one week camp, that he called Hawk Circle. Yeah, the one, the only, the original! There were many campers who had been in his previous camps, and he had a blast teaching and learning and growing out there in the woods. The camp was off the ground….
Ricardo’s experiences working in between camps and teaching and training times included window washing, restaurant cooking, organic produce manager, construction and carpentry, painting, wood cutting, landscaping, working with emotionally disturbed youth, environmental education instructor and graphic design. All of these jobs helped him in different ways when he finally got his camp rolling and growing.
1996-97 was an intense year for Ricardo. He met Trista over near Cherry Valley, and had Javier on the way. To say that children change your life is perhaps the biggest understatement ever! Ricardo bought the Hawk Circle property, and moved the camp. Simon Mayer, Chris Marx, Joshua Kaufman, Frank Grindrod and Matt Burr all helped with the move and with turning his new farmhouse and lands into a camp. They built the camp, changed the garage into an infirmary, installed a new septic system, drilled a well, made camp showers and put in our basic parking lot. It took a lot of late nights and intense focus, sort of like building a survival shelter in the face of an oncoming storm. But they managed and somehow, it came together.
In 2000 Ricardo and Trista built a house on the property and moved in July with his entire family. Matthew and Jesse, Trista’s children, had a new little brother Javi, and his special needs brought us together in many ways. Being on the same land as the camp helped Trista to be more involved in the camp community, and Ricardo was able to see the whole family more. However, switching schools and moving is never easy on kids, so it really took a while to have everyone settle in.
Around that time, Ricardo and his instructors piloting the first Instructor Training Program, which led to the creation of the Hawk Circle Earth Skills Correspondence Course. There were a lot of instructors to train, and they also began a residential training program too. It was exciting to see how learning the fundamentals of wilderness skills helped his instructors feel amazingly solid in their knowledge and their storytelling and confidence in their sharing with students and participants.
Ricardo and his instructors have taught a lot of people since and promises there is more to share, but will save that for telling around a campfire.
Visit Ricardo’s site here