W.I.l.d. Mentoring circles


~2018-2019 calendar~

Cohort Schedule

  • Overnight
    Saturday 11/3 10am - Sunday 11/4 2pm

  • Daylong
    Sunday 1/27 10am-4pm

  • Two-Night Snow Adventure
    Sat 2/16 8am - Mon (Pres. Day) 2/18 2pm

  • Daylong
    Saturday 3/16 10am-4pm

  • Overnight
    Saturday 5/18 10am - Sunday 5/19 2pm

Cohort Schedule

  • Overnight
    Saturday 10/27 10am - Sunday 10/28 2pm

  • Daylong
    Sunday 12/9 10am-4pm

  • Two-Night Snow Adventure
    Sat 1/19 8am - Mon (MLK Day) 1/21 2pm

  • Daylong
    Sunday 3/17 10am-4pm

  • Overnight
    Saturday 5/4 10am - Sunday 5/5 2pm

* Locations for all meetings TBD for optimal convenience once cohorts are filled.
** Parent meetings to be scheduled once cohorts are filled.

~Components of the program~


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.

DSC_0232 (1).jpg

Solo Meetings: Each participant will have six individual meetings throughout the 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. Schedule TBD with mentor.

Parent Meetings: Parents will have many opportunities to get to know each other and the mentors. These will include 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. We believe that maintaining genuine relationships with parents is vital to the village model and supports the mentoring work with participants.

~Content Flow: elemental rhythms~

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: $2400 ~ $2900 ~ $3400

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. Regardless of your family's ability to pay the full tuition, please email Jesse at jesse@backtoearth.org if you or your son are interested in the program.

Mentors: jesse sachs and spencer nielsEn


Jesse and Spencer together bring 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 in Mentoring Circles 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.

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.

me half dome.jpg

Before starting work with Back to Earth, he spent a year managing Oz Farm in Mendocino, starting an organic CSA 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 instructor. 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.