W.I.L.D. Mentoring circles


Our Wilderness Immersion and Leadership Development summer program has brought over one hundred young men to the mountains over the past five years. Our trips are fun, rewarding and life-changing, and they combine hard-skills training with accessible practices for tending the heart and soul. The young men who complete W.I.L.D. trips say they feel more self-love, clarity and a vivid sense of gratitude for their lives and their families. When we're out there, the group becomes a temporary community. In the safety of that close-knit bubble, achieving personal growth amidst the monumental beauty of the mountains is the easy part. This September we convene our second cycle of Mentoring Circles to integrate the work of W.I.L.D. into our busy city lives, where the rubber meets the road.


This integration happens through a combination of group outings and solo mentoring sessions between September and May. All of our meetings take place in the beautiful open spaces, mountains and coastlines of Northern California. This gives participants regular pauses from the fast pace of school and screens in order to connect with self and nature. Group outings are opportunities to take deeper dives into valuable practices and skill sets, including:
Fire-making and tending, orienteering, herbal medicine-making, plant identification, natural history, mindfulness, qigong, archery, creating ritual, the way of council, mythology and storytelling, song, woodworking, thanksgiving, knots and traditional crafts.


Mentoring Circles include time with earth-based rituals and ceremonies to allow participants to connect to their own vitality and prepare for their transition towards adulthood. In the face of mammoth challenges in the world around us, this program is our piece of the puzzle of cultural regeneration, healing the human family.

We are picking up the responsibility of renewing rites of passage for youth. The program will support them in hearing their inner truths, finding their voices, and witnessing their gifts so they can walk forward into adulthood as loving leaders with grateful hearts and peaceful minds. We also value and support boys in engaging the gifts of family and community in that process. In the course of the year, we hope to weave strong bonds with everyone involved - including the boys’ families and support systems. In this village model, parents will be invited to meet each other and build unity as a circle of families.

~2019-2020 CALENDAR~

year two

  • September Overnight
    Sat 9/14 10am - Sun 9/15 2pm

  • October Evening Fire

  • November Daylong
    Sunday 11/17 10am-4pm

  • December Evening Fire

  • January Evening Fire

  • February Snow Adventure
    Presidents Day Weekend

    Sat 2/15 8am - Mon 2/17 2pm

  • March Daylong
    Sunday 3/15 10am-4pm

  • April Evening Fire

  • Overnight
    Sat 5/16 10am - Sun 5/17 2pm


  • September Overnight
    Sat 9/7 10am - Sun 9/8 2pm

  • October Evening Fire

  • November Daylong
    Saturday 11/2 10am-4pm

  • December Evening Fire

  • January Snow Adventure
    MLK Weekend

    Sat 1/18 8am - Mon 1/20 2pm

  • February Evening Fire

  • March Daylong
    Saturday 3/14 10am-4pm

  • April Evening Fire

  • May Overnight
    Sat 5/2 10am - Sun 5/3 2pm

***WMC will be scheduled in two phases this year. The bones of the program are set in stone above. Once the circles are enrolled, then the evening fires, solo meetings and parent meetings will be scheduled based on the availability and geographical spread of the group.

~year one or two?~

WILD Mentoring Circles are ideal for young men who have completed at least one of our summer backpacking trips. Generally speaking, Year One is for guys new to the program this year or who have yet to complete a year in the WMC, whereas Year Two is intended for alumni of both summer trips as well as the WMC program. WMC is about relationships and creating an ongoing container of learning and support for young men, so Spencer and Jesse will consider exceptions to these guidelines in service of the collective good. If you aren’t sure which cohort to apply to, please reach out to Jesse@backtoearth.org. Because the calendars for the two groups are different, it’s important that people sign up for the correct cohort.


Group Meetings: We will come together for five group outings. Two overnight camping trips bookend the program in fall and spring; a two-night snow adventure allows for play and learning in the mountains in winter; and three, day-long sessions give us sustained time together to build community and deepen our practices. Locations will be selected for the group's convenience around the Bay Area and Northern California.

Solo Meetings: Each participant will have three individual meetings, one per season, throughout the school-year with either Jesse or Spencer (TBD based on location, pre-existing relationships, etc.). These 60-90 minute sessions will help us to track whatever he wants to share about family, social life, school, extracurriculars, relationships, goals, etc. These sessions will also include elements and practices from group outings and other WILD programs.

Parent Meetings: Parents will have opportunities to get to know each other and the mentors. We believe that maintaining genuine relationships with parents is vital to the village model and supports the mentoring work with participants. This relationship building could take the for of potlucks at the end of day-longs, separate parent meetings to mingle and get a taste of some of the council forms that their sons are learning, or private phone check-ins with mentors.


Wilderness Skills: Nature awareness games, plant identification & foraging wild foods, knot-tying, making and tending fire by friction, knife safety skills, wood-working/carving
Leadership Skills: Group connection, storytelling, gratitude, embodied practices, mindfulness, solitude, ancestry

Wilderness Skills: Tracking, bird language, orienteering with map & compass, natural history of the Sierra Nevada, shelter building, water purification, wild herbal teas
Leadership Skills: Peacemaking, non-violent communication, relationship

Wilderness Skills: Herbal medicine-making, archery
Leadership Skills: Fire ceremony, responsibility, goal-setting, commitments

Fire will be an integral component of the program and will weave into all of the overnights and potentially the day-long meetings as well.


Sliding Scale: $2700 ~ $3200 ~ $3700

Tuition is billed annually. Fees cover all material, transportation and gear costs for all of the meetings. If your family can contribute at the base-level, amazing! If you can give more, you help us to offer scholarships to increase access to the work. We are committed to making this work accessible to everybody who hears the call, regardless of your family's ability to pay the full tuition. Please email Jesse at jesse@backtoearth.org for more information about financial assistance.



Jesse and Spencer bring together over two decades of experience in youth work, wilderness expeditions, outdoor education and ecological awareness and design. They first met in 2016 doing rights of passage work with middle-schoolers. Since then, they have collaborated on nature connection adventures for school groups and worked as co-guides in the W.I.L.D. summer backpacking program. They are thrilled to be joining forces again for Mentoring Circles year two to keep the work alive and vibrant throughout the school year.


Jesse Sachs is a passionate, nature-loving Renaissance man. He has spent hundreds of days backpacking, mountaineering, climbing and paddling - in the Yukon, North Cascades and the wilds of California. He has received extensive training in outdoor education, leadership and wilderness medicine from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). He is a certified Wilderness First Responder and has been trained in desert survival by the Boulder Outdoor Survival School.

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Jesse has also kindled his passion for the natural world through a formal education in ecological design and the arts. He received a Permaculture Design Certificate from Bill Mollison in Australia and later received an MFA in Combined Media from Hunter College in Manhattan. His thesis project at Hunter consisted of a series of urban food-forests, participatory/educational paintings and a gallery exhibition of experimental cartography.

Before starting work with Back to Earth, Jesse spent a year managing Oz Farm in Mendocino, starting an organic CSA program and tending an antique apple orchard, all while honing his skills as an herbalist. His broad experience connecting to and participating in nature serves as the foundation for his work as a guide and mentor. Contact him at jesse@backtoearth.org


Spencer Nielsen grew up in Novato exploring the hills and valleys of Marin County and the wild lands of northern California.  After studying Ecology at UCSD and Environmental Education at UCSC, Spencer began leading youth nature programs in 2005.  He has taken numerous Natural History courses at College of Marin with one of his mentors, Joe Mueller.  He has also studied organic farming and permaculture, the latter of which he teaches at Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas and Sivananda Yoga Farm in Grass Valley.  In addition to consulting and installing gardens for families in Marin, he consults and supports farms internationally.  He completed a Master’s degree through Gaia University in 2012, focusing on nature-based rites of passage in the context of regenerating culture.


Spencer has worked with youth ages 4-18, teaching about nature, gardening/farming, permaculture, and ancestral skills.  He has been working with Vilda for a decade, leading backpacking trips and rites of passage.  Having facilitated rites of passage for youth and adults, through other local schools & organizations - namely Stepping Stones Project and Wilderness Reflections, Spencer is passionate about working with youth as they transition into their teens, bridging the fields of eco-psycology with natural history. Spencer currently works at Credo High School, teaching yoga, chi gong, and personal sustainability to teens. He is a Wilderness First Responder.  


Spencer lives and tends his garden in Fairfax with his wife Bonnie, who also works with food and the environment in Marin.  He is also a lifelong student of herbalism, Ayurveda, yoga, and chi gong - all of which he teaches as well.  Spencer is a passionate musician, who loves to play flute and didjeridoo, especially in his garden or in the wild.  Contact him at elementaln8ture@gmail.com.