NCOAE Recommends

The Quintessential Backcountry Expedition Road Trip Playlist

By Stephen Mullaney March 15, 2024

NCOAE Recommends

You’ve probably passed us on the highway. We’re the weirdos with heads bobbing, playing air guitar and dashboard keyboard, shouting lyrics at the windshield, grinning from ear to ear on our way to the places that make us happy — the backcountry places where people go to play, challenge themselves, and connect with wilderness .

Once while sitting at a dead stop in a traffic jam, a woman hand-crank motioned me to roll down my window. She leaned out her window asked what I was listening to that made me ignore our current, static lack of movement.

Smiling guys sitting in the back of a van playing guitar on a road trip

Jack Drag! That was my shouted response over the Indie Pop music blaring from my speakers.

Music moves us, literally and figuratively; it becomes the soundtrack of our lives that most of us only realize when we look back decades later.

Working in the outdoor education sector of the outdoor industry means traveling. Sometimes you find yourself on a desert highway, traveling alone to meet your group, gas pedal depressed deep into the car’s carpet, speakers distorting because they can’t handle the volume. You stare out the window into the beautiful brown and green landscape, listening to your favorite band as the lead singer’s voice cracks through the air like a peal of thunder. And then you smile, knowing that at the end of the road you’ll be taking people into (more…)

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Engaging Teens in the Outdoors

By Stephen Mullaney May 17, 2021

NCOAE Recommends

Getting your child or teen to look up from their smartphone, put down their Xbox controllers, or step away from the TV can be a chore — and that’s just when you’re calling them to dinner.

Mention taking a walk around the block or joining the family on a picnic a local park and witness the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

If you look at our nation’s history since the end of World War II, you see that service men and women returned to the United States and began to grow families. These households scrimped and saved to purchase such luxuries as high-fidelity stereo systems, black and white television sets, and a second car. Most of these new items enabled folks to enjoy life indoors, or drive to the drugstore instead of walking.

Fast forward 75 years and we find that families — and especially teens — have dozens of electronics devices at hand, each able to deliver entertainment from the comfort of their couch or bedroom.

So, how do we as families, let alone as a nation, compete with all these shiny handheld toys and devices, and get our kids out of the house and into the outdoors? When I was young, I was tossed out of the house early in the morning. I would jump on a skateboard or bike and search out the wild side of urban landscapes.

Not so today. Below, I’ve listed four action verbs that can get the ball rolling toward get kids interested in exiting their indoor surroundings.

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Success is Just Getting Out There: Re-ignite Your Inner Beginner – Part 3

By Stephen Mullaney January 15, 2021

NCOAE Recommends

On a recent early morning bike ride along some local wooded trails, I happen to stumble upon the greatest of beginners: a group of children playing with rocks, moss, and whatever “loose parts” they could lay their hands on. I smile and ride right past them, unwilling to break the spell.

But then I spot the father and we exchange “good mornings,” before I squeeze the brakes on my bike and come to a halt. I know this particular man and he just so happens to be a passionate member of the outdoor- and adventure-based experiential education community. And since I had been musing on how to approach this — the third installment of the NCOAE Re-ignite Your Inner Beginner series — bumping into this man on the bike trail was perfect!  

Scott Schnieder, Senior Lecturer – Department of Health and Exercise Studies — N.C. State University

The father’s name is Scott Schneider, and he’s a well-known senior lecturer of Outdoor Leadership at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He teaches courses in backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, basic canoeing, and challenge course programming, to name a few.

Scott is also a certified American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) guide with a Single Pitch instructor (SPI) designation to his credit, a Leave No Trace (LNT) trainer, Wilderness First Responder (WFR), and an Association of Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) certified challenge course manager.

Grabbing up my phone and turning on the mic, I asked Scott a few questions about staying fresh, excited, and teachable in the field. Here’s what he had to say:

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Running as Exploration? Re-ignite Your Inner Beginner — Part 2

By NCOAE Headquarters January 6, 2021

NCOAE Recommends

Francis Bacon, the Renaissance statesman and philosopher best known for his promotion of the scientific method, is credited with the expression, “Knowledge is power.” But to those of us who prefer to see a world bathed in fresh new adventures, knowledge can actually be a curse.

Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE), we encourage our students to take an adventure first / educational always approach to discovering new experiences; to become beginners at something fresh. Attempting something new promotes a growth mindset. It reminds us to reflect on our education expertise and empathize with those we teach and lead on first-time adventures. And it keeps us from getting stale.

In this, the second installment of the benefits associated with discovering new human-powered outdoor challenges, we’d like to introduce Christine Fantini, who has toiled for years in our industry as a guide and outdoor educator. For a good chunk of her career, Christine was a sailing instructor in Massachusetts, eventually becoming director of sailing programs for the Town of Yarmouth. She helped create OWLS (Outdoors We Learn to Succeed) in Durham, N.C.’s public schools.

Photo: Christine Fantini

In addition, Christine is a certified Kripalu yoga instructor, bringing yoga to children in inner city schools, and she also taught bilingual classes within the Latino community. She has explored the wilderness by hiking, bouldering, climbing, biking, and paddling.

And now, after years of wandering around the woods, exploring off trail, “getting lost” on purpose, and once being lifted off her feet by 90 mph winds on a mountain trek, Christine is igniting her inner beginner by exploring a fresh, new pursuit. This North Carolina-based educator has taken up running as a new means of exploration.

Why running? We asked Christine to explain to us why she would abandon other human-powered outdoor pursuits in which she has had much success in order to run. Here’s what she said:

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Outdoor Activities Getting Stale? Re-ignite Your Inner Beginner

By Stephen Mullaney December 18, 2020

NCOAE Recommends

They say you never forget your first kiss. And while that’s very sweet and sometimes even true, the point I’m going to attempt to make is this:

If you’re an avid surfer, rock climber, or backcountry enthusiast, there are times when you look back on your first epic outdoor adventure. Sometimes it’s with a grin, and sometimes it’s with a grimace.

What we’re going to do in the next couple of posts in this new series here on the NCOAE blog is to ask you to consider rebooting your minds and think back to your initial foray into your favorite human-powered outdoor adventures.

Maybe you remember paddling into your first wave and just lying on the board until the person next to you leans over and says, “Hey, jump to your feet without thinking about it. It’s easy.” And so, you do — and you’re amazed how effortlessly it was. And it’s been 10 seconds and you’re still standing up, riding the foam, wondering where that sense of balance came from.

Same for the time you put on your climbing gear and successfully made your way up a challenging route. Or paddled your kayak straight toward a stretch of angry rapids.

Is it the adrenalin rush that got you hooked on your particular activity in the first place? Was it the ever-pleasant dopamine blast? More important, do you still get that feeling of excitement every time you participate in that activity or has it become routine?

If your answer is in the affirmative, head out and continue to do your thing. However, if the thrill is gone, or greatly reduced, keep reading.

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Using Collective Impact to Forge a Path Forward with Coronavirus

By NCOAE Headquarters May 22, 2020

NCOAE Recommends

Because of the situation with COVID-19, we’ve been thinking a lot lately about the path forward for outdoor and adventure-based programs like the ones we offer here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). Specifically, how do we operate in a day and age where physical distancing is either required or strongly recommended? That’s where Collective Impact may come into play.

The concept of Collective Impact takes into consideration the notion that industry players need to coordinate their efforts and work together in order to create lasting solutions to shared and common societal challenges and problems.

Put simply, collective impact is a structured form of collaboration. The term garnered national recognition in 2011 when it was touted by the White House Council for Community Solutions as a powerful framework for solving social issues. The concept became so popular that “collective impact” was selected as among the top philanthropic “buzzwords” for that year.

With the current conundrum of coronavirus facing our world today, we here at NCOAE are of the opinion that solutions for COVID-19-related issues from any qualified source is worth considering. And, if you or your organization is of the same mind, we would love to hear from you. We can listen to each other’s challenges and maybe we can help each other discover solutions to those problems associated with operating an outdoor and/or adventure-based program in the time of coronavirus.

Since this crisis evolved in mid-February, we have been working up schedules and then reworking them. And, because our work crosses into many sectors — including schools, businesses, and government agencies — and because we deal with multiple states and international borders, we find ourselves dealing with a lot of moving parts.

The good news, of course, is that our staff has evolved to become a finely tuned machine. We’re able to juggle a lot and do it well. But that still leaves us wondering how the greater outdoor and adventure education industry may be grappling with the same or similar challenges as we’re contending with.

As most successful adventurers and explorers do, we set out to do some research. And here is some of what we’ve discovered so far: (more…)

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Here’s the Cold Facts about Canyon Coolers — in Our Opinion

By NCOAE Headquarters March 5, 2020

NCOAE Recommends

Here at The National Center for Outdoor Adventure & Education (NCOAE), we just aren’t all that interested in touting the attributes of the materials and products we use while traversing the worldwide wilderness areas in which we work. But every once in a while, we’ll step back and look at a piece of outdoor gear that’s still holding up well despite its age and we say, “Damn, we’ve been hauling that thing around for longer than we can remember and it’s still working.”

In particular, we’re reminded of the Canyon Coolers that we have stored in various sheds and aboard our fleet of river boats and rafts, and we marvel at how well these coolers keep stuff cold after multiple years of use.

We were attracted to this Flagstaff, Arizona-based manufacturer when we bought up our first Canyon Cooler a number of years back. We were looking for a sturdy product that would hold up to our strenuous schedule of river trips.

(Image © Canyon Coolers / Clara Canyon, LLC)

As background, we run guided trips and outdoor educator courses on a number of rivers, including the Deschutes River in in central Oregon (a major tributary of the Columbia River); the Grande Ronde River in northeastern Oregon (a tributary of the Snake River); tributaries of the Amazon River found in Ecuador; and in many other waterways across the globe.

What we were thinking back then was that we need a bomb-proof cooler that would hold up to the challenges any gear undertakes on one of our outings. But you know what really sold us on Canyon Coolers? It was their attitude.

They stood there, looked us right in the face and said that their stuff would keep ice “on ice” for a mind-blowing 11 days.

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Adventure is Rx for Staying Sane and Serene During the Winter Months

By NCOAE Headquarters January 24, 2020

NCOAE Recommends

Happiness is an inside job. And on the flip side of that coin, depression — a mood disorder — is a condition that also primarily originates from inside our minds. Happiness is an action word. It requires a decision. And happiness does not have to wait.

Take the winter months, for example. If you are an outdoor enthusiast — and we assume you are if you’re perusing our NCOAE website — you know the true meaning of “winter blues.” Often, we find ourselves cooped up inside, postponing our happiness until the spring.

When it’s unbearably cold, windy, and wet outside, many of us feel out of sorts. We’re moody, have no energy, and we’re eager to get outside. Unfavorable weather conditions often put a halt to those plans, or seriously limit our participation.

Doctors have a name for this mental anguish, and it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). We’re not trying to be cute or funny here, because it really is SAD. It’s a form of depression that is directly related to changes in season, usually beginning in the late fall and continuing throughout the winter months.

Doctors put part of the blame on the decrease in sunlight in fall and winter that can disrupt your internal clock. That same lack of sun beams can prompt a drop in serotonin — a chemical in the brain that affects mood. Finally, the seasonal change can increase the production of melatonin  — a hormone that regulates the sleep–wake cycle in the body and plays a big role in sleep patterns.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of SAD may include: (more…)

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7 Tips for Staying Sharp This Winter

By Stephen Mullaney December 24, 2019

NCOAE Recommends

When it comes to staying connected with outdoor activities — even in the dead of winter — the important thing is to dig deep, don’t procrastinate, and most important, remain consistent.

There’s an old expression that I just made up and it goes like this: You can’t stay full on yesterday’s hotdog. What does that mean? It means you can’t depend on memories of your summer wilderness experiences to keep you sharp during these “couch potato” months.

Staying sharp means using the wintertime to take on micro expeditions and stay connected with the outdoors.

Daylight Savings Time, a 9-to-5-job, freezing weather and endless offerings on subscription-based TV are all basic ingredients when you’re preparing a “couch potato.” However, if you are looking to stay fit until next spring, it’s time to come up with a better recipe.

Which is why those of us who hunker inside NCOAE headquarters on a regular basis came up with some excellent tips to keep you at your physical and mental peak during the winter months.

Here are the results of those brainstorming sessions: (more…)

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Give the Gift of Adventure This Holiday Season

By NCOAE Headquarters December 4, 2019

NCOAE Recommends

This, indeed, is the time of year when most of us are spending way too much focus seeking the perfect gift for a loved one. In a mountain climbing analogy, the experience can be compared to ascending a 20,000-foot peak without oxygen. Good luck making a sound decision under those conditions.

But if we were gamblers, which we’re not — we’re very bullish on wilderness risk management — we would bet you’re someone who either loves human-powered outdoor adventures, is looking to go on such an adventure yourself, or knows someone ready for a wilderness or backcountry adventure. Not hedging our bets or anything, but if we’re wrong, why are you perusing this particular blog and this exact blog post?

Anyway, if you’re looking for gift suggestions, what we offer below are a half dozen reasons why you should consider giving the gift of adventure through The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE).

Reason No. 1: An NCOAE Course is actually a gift that gives over and over again. When you give the gift of an Outdoor Educator or a Semester Course or Gap Year Course, it will be appreciated more than once. First, your recipient opens an envelope containing the course details, which we’ll gladly custom design for you (the gift certificate, that is). Nice start! Then the gift recipient finds themselves looking forward to the experience almost every day until their departure. Then there’s the  (more…)

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NCOAE Recommends: Outdoor Films for Thanksgiving Consumption

By NCOAE Headquarters November 4, 2019

NCOAE Recommends

For this year, Halloween is history, Thanksgiving looms in the near future, and Christmas is still far enough away that it doesn’t feel like Christmastime — unless you’ve visited the decorated and well-lighted malls and outlet stores over the last month or so.

Fortunately, when you tire of planning for family visits and turkey dinner with all of the trimmings, you can always set aside an hour or so to get psyched for your next outdoor adventure. And an excellent way to do that is to check out the list below of outdoor themed films that come highly recommended by our own staff here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education.

Dirtbag Movie Poster

These films are guaranteed to provide some respite — and inspiration — for your next human-powered outdoor recreation adventure. Because, while we love and cherish our friends and families, we have an unconditional love affair with everything backcountry and wilderness related. We even argue with our friends about how much more we love the outdoors that they do.

So, we suggest you take a break during the hectic holiday hassle, maybe get together with a few of those above-mentioned friends, and watch one or more of these recommended films. Because there’s just something to be said about outdoor films — the beauty, camaraderie, the suffering, and the humor.  (more…)

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Recommended Reads: Turning the Page on Adventure

By NCOAE Headquarters September 28, 2019

NCOAE Recommends

As another summer draws to a close, your adventures may have come, gone, or never materialized. No matter which one of these is part of your Summer 2019 your story, it’s always nice to stay in the adventure mindset.

That’s why we here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education decided to put together a list of books intended to keep you in a wild and adventurous state of mind. This list is not your average adventure book list. It includes fiction, nonfiction, and some that bend and distort the lines of each genre.

Each book selection features its own element of protagonists — ordinary people finding themselves in wild landscapes for joy, escape, and the quest to push into the unknown. You can read these outdoor-oriented titles on the couch, off the trail, or wherever you find yourself. These adventures are portable, capable of being picked up and read during a break at work, in a snug sleeping bag, or wherever you find yourself with a free minute set aside for adventurous thought.

Here then are a half dozen or so of our favorite adventurous titles for your perusal:  (more…)

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As Traditional Recycling Programs Disappear, NCOAE Seeks Alternatives

By NCOAE Headquarters September 10, 2019

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It’s only been a year and a half since China put a halt to accepting the world’s recyclable waste products, yet the effects are being felt in many countries — and in turn, local municipalities — that are scrambling with the challenge of dealing with their own recyclables, including cans, plastics, papers, and glass.

When laws mandating curbside recycling began sprouting up across the United States in the early 1980s, many Americans balked at the idea of being forced to sort their trash. Decades later, it’s embraced by residents in cities and towns throughout the country. In fact, the entire recycling movement has become as second nature to most folks as breathing.

But in January of last year, China quit importing most foreign recyclables, stating it wanted to address its nation’s own pollution issues. So, when you consider that the United States alone used to send 4,000 shipping containers of recycled goods to China each day, you can see the effect this might have on our recycling habits, especially in locations absent of recycling centers and recycling mills of their own.

As a result, the co-founder and director of operations here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE), Celine Adair, is offering insight and some advice on what each of us can do to curtail the impact of this global event in our personal lives. Specifically, Celine is exploring how the nation’s outdoor, experiential, and adventure-based educators and guides can manage — and thrive — in this new era in the evolution of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

But first some additional background into the severity of the problem. China’s decision has the potential to (more…)

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When It Comes to Program Backpacks, NCOAE Opts for Osprey

By NCOAE Headquarters May 31, 2018

NCOAE Recommends

Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) we’re not very big on endorsing products or brands. In fact, if you were to research our blog all the way back to the first entry at the end of 2013, you probably won’t find more than two or three posts chatting up products that we heartily support (most notably among them, our June 2014 endorsement of Banks Fry-Bake Pan).

But NCOAE is a super big fan — and customer — of Osprey Packs, a company that has been making some of the best expedition-style backpacks available in the outdoor recreation marketplace for the past four and a half decades. In particular, we’ve been hugely pleased with the Escalante 75 +10 backpack and the Kiva 70 +5 backpack — both available for our outdoor programs only.

Osprey Program Backpacks

As an Association for Experiential Education (AEE) accredited provider of guided outdoor trips and training in the realm of outdoor education and training, our organization qualifies for wholesale pricing for 100 or so manufacturers of expedition-style backpacks. But over the years, when it comes to program packs, we continue to work almost exclusively with Osprey. Why? (more…)

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For Emergencies on the Trail — Who You Gonna Call and with What Device?

By Stephen Mullaney May 3, 2018

NCOAE Recommends

The ideal time to consider the best communications options for your backcountry trip is not after you’ve arrived at the trailhead, only to discover you can’t get a signal on your smartphone.

Ensuring you have a reliable means of reaching the outside world — especially during a backcountry incident or emergency — is an item on your checklist that should come way before you’ve parked the car, struggled into your backpacks and are a half-mile down the trail.

Cellphones with sketchy service might be acceptable for a quick four-hour hike within a populated area, but what are your choices should you be heading out on a multi-day adventure in a desolate wilderness area or a national park?

Possessing a reliable device when you need to communicate with people outside the immediate group of hikers accompanying you is a must. Because when it becomes necessary to communicate with search and rescue professionals, things probably aren’t going as smoothly as you had hoped.

And that’s when you want the best user-friendly device you can afford. Here at The National Center for Outdoor Adventure & Education (NCOAE), we recommend you become familiar with two or more communications systems you might want to carry with you into the backcountry.

Below are several suggestions from which to choose, keeping in mind that the choices you make — especially in an emergency situation — can make a (more…)

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How to Find Your Perfect Outdoor Partner

By NCOAE Headquarters March 27, 2018

NCOAE Recommends

It stands to reason that the success or failure of any non-solo outdoor adventure depends to a great degree on the person or people accompanying you. As a result, and long before you head out the door on your next adventure, you’ll want to ensure you don’t select a partner who can quickly turn either a day hike or week-long trek into a peacetime version of the Bataan death march.

In addition to the hardships that accompany many human-powered outdoor recreation adventures, there are issues that should be cleared up before hitting the trail. For instance, there’s a thin line between picking a partner who is a good conversationalist and a motor mouth who is too self-important to pay attention to what’s really going on around the two of you.

Photo © Dylan Siebel (sourced and used with permission from Unsplash)

What we present here is a rundown of what leading outdoor industry publications and journalists have to say about finding the perfect outdoor partner or buddy. In each case, we’ve provided a link to the referring source. That way, you can (more…)

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Tales Told Around the Campfire Highlight a Backcountry Adventure

By Stephen Mullaney February 10, 2017

Backcountry Prep

Crack, pop, pop, hiss. The campfire audibly confirms its presence as a contented audience sits around the pit, absently staring into the infinite colors created by the dancing flames.

When fire restrictions aren’t in place, campfires have always been a centerpiece for backcountry gatherings; a time and place where learning, cooking, impromptu singing, occasional horseplay and long descriptive stories punctuate comfortable stretches of silence.

Campfire Storytelling

But it’s the stories told around a campfire that are often among the most memorable portions of any wilderness outing — especially when one or more participants has some stories to tell and the ability to tell them well.

A few years ago I had the good fortune of leading a group of students on a trip that combined paddling, climbing and hiking. The weather was great for about 10 percent of the trip, which means the other 90 percent tested our resolve. As a result, our itinerary had to (more…)

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Outdoor Adventures from the Couch — Summer 2016 Movie Recommendations

By Office Admin July 9, 2016

NCOAE Recommends

Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education, we go to great lengths to guide our students through a variety of wilderness settings for education and instruction in all things that are adventurous and fun in the outdoors.

But occasionally it’s nice to kick off one’s hiking boots, pull your feet up on a couch or recliner, and watch others attempt awesome climbs, catch epic waves or pedal miles along a fresh dirt road.

So when you find yourself pinned to your living room furniture — for whatever reason — we want to suggest some short films to keep you entertained, moved and inspired for your next real-life adventure. Below we preview some video options:

Groundswell: A small film about making a big stand

Groundswell is a surf film at heart, a piece of art and a story about taking action to save a pristine coastal forest in British Columbia and the aboriginal community that resides lives there. Surfer Dan Malloy is featured in the film. Woodshed’s film catalog is filled with other inspiring films. Check them out.

GROUNDSWELL from Farm League on Vimeo.

The Adventure Dispatch with Sarah Swallow

Sarah Swallow is an adventure (more…)

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Summer 2016 Reading Recommendations From NCOAE

By Office Admin June 2, 2016

NCOAE Recommends

No doubt about it. The wilderness is an absolutely inspiring place to visit. However, we certainly can’t be hanging out in the forests or atop the mountains all the time.

So how do we stay connected and inspired? One excellent way to remain in contact with nature is through books — allowing words to describe an outdoor setting we recognize or dream of visiting. Sometimes it takes stories of adventures gone terribly wrong, followed by survival and then successfully returning to civilization to tell the tale. In other instances, humor guides stories of travel and adventure in surprisingly inspiring ways.

As you’ll see below, the staff here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) has assembled a list of books and stories we make for a great summer reading list — one that can inspire even the most temporarily sedentary reader among us. Included with each recommended read is a suggested pairing — not for beer or wine but a Course or Training offered by NCOAE. (Note: Clicking on any of the book covers below will lead you to that book’s page on

We hope you’ll enjoy these books as much as we have:

Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Snow Child Book CoverThe Alaskan wilderness and homesteading in the 1920s sets the stage for this beautifully written book that explores what is real and what lives in our imagination. An old couple living and trying to thrive in brutal conditions build a child out of snow. When looking out the window the following day the see the snow child is gone, and tracks leads from the spot it was built into the nearby wilderness. Faina (the snow child) is an incredibly strong female character that defies everything you would think about a child living alone in the wilderness. This is a story about beliefs and the transformation of individuals and community. And a bonus is the description of a frigid climate that will keep you cool on the hot nights of summer. Best paired with (more…)

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