Spirit Rising

Tweens are going through so much at once—hormonal shifts, identity questions, self-image insecurities, middle school. Who are they? Where do they belong? How can they contribute? Consumerism is often our society’s only answer.

But older times and older cultures practiced a different, more supported transition from childhood to adolescence: the rite of passage.

Honoring this ancient wisdom, Terra-Forma offers Spirit Rising.

Spirit Rising combines nature, adventure, decision-making, ceremony and community in a series of monthly challenges for a small group of tweens, ages 11 to 13.

Adventures each month—many selected by the tweens as a group—help us prepare for our culminating adventure: a three-day backpacking trip in the Olympic National Forest.

May 2, 3 and 4. May 9, 10 and 11.
Virtual, 7:30 pm. Email for Zoom link.

In Spirit Rising, tweens are mentored to:

  • Stay connected with the Earth. We are outdoors the entire day each month, observing and learning about our environment. We celebrate the change of seasons. We talk about our place on the Earth. Sometimes we sit alone in nature, which tweens often say is peaceful and relaxing.
  • Give back to community: With all the Earth gives us, we’ve got to give back somehow. One of our activities is always a habitat-restoration project.
  • Belong to a community: Do you have regular access to a no-judgment zone where you can get things off your chest? Working through and debriefing challenges (like the low and high ropes courses at Camp Long) can bring up stuff. You are free to share it here. You’re not alone.
  • Listen to the elders: Allies from my community often come help our group. Say we decide as a group that we need knife skills. I’ll call on a friend who makes his own knives and teaches knife-safety classes. You’ll get to look at the knives, learn about them, use them. Adults have journeyed through adolescence and have wisdom to share.
  • Dance to the beat of your own drum. You are an individual with your own thoughts and ideas and the way you like to go about things. Embrace that. Don’t try to be like someone else. What in your heart do you really want? The small decisions you make during a rite of passage are training for big decisions later in life. Mentors, elders and everyone else in your Spirit Rising community affirm that there are many ways to be. Your journey is your own.
  • Act like a kid sometimes: You’re becoming more and more responsible, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up all the free spirit of being a child. Many adults can no longer find that imaginative, playful place. Maybe you’ve noticed. Being silly is still OK, and let’s learn the appropriate times for it.
  • Show your emotions: Life isn’t easy or fair, but it’s also fun and amazing, and you will feel all the ups and all the downs. Let’s learn how to face them now. Spirit Rising mentors lead by example, talking through emotions that come up and showing that tears are OK.
  • Become familiar with ceremony: How can we slow down enough to honor the Earth and the spirit within each other? Ceremony is one way. At times, you’ll be celebrated in front of the community. Embarrassing in the moment, maybe, but it feels good, too. For once it’s not recognition for a performance—it’s recognition for your efforts and for being you.
  • Stay open to the magic of the universe: When you trust in the universe, the goodness of humans, and that nature will provide, things tend to work out. You may encounter something wondrous that you can’t explain, like the time an owl stopped by and hung out with us for an hour. It’s intangible. But this trust is a resource you can call on—like so many other things you’ll take away from Spirit Rising—as you make your way through adolescence.

Terra-Forma restores a crucial element missing in our culture: relationship with self, community, and nature.

If you’ve participated in one of Terra-Forma’s magical summer camps, you already know how much creativity and care goes into the Spirit Rising experience.

If not, here’s what tweens themselves said about Spirit Rising:

“Spirit Rising was a very important coming-of-age experience for me. Having a space to connect with others and nature as you are growing up is profound. Caveman is an amazing role model who I still look up to today.” –Parker

“Spirit Rising was an important part of my teen years, and I’ll always be grateful that I had the opportunity to have a unique rite of passage experience. I found community in people I’d never met and it taught me practical skills, responsibility and finding strength through challenges in a safe and welcoming environment.” –Melia

Ready to accept the call to adventure?

Contact David “Caveman” Friedman

May 2, 3 and 4. May 9, 10 and 11.
Virtual, 7:30 pm. Email for Zoom link.



When is Spirit Rising 2023-24?

Seattle: October to July
Olympia: October to July
Registration opens May 15, 2023 and closes Oct. 1, 2023  

When and where do we meet?

Seattle families meet on the second Saturdays of the month, October to July.

  • Dropoff and pickup are at Licton Springs Park near Northgate [map].
  • Drop off at 9 a.m. Pick up at 5 p.m.
  • From the park, tweens adventure in the groovy Terra-Forma bus.
  • The backpacking trip will be July 17-19.

Olympia families meet on the third Saturdays of the month, October to July.

  • Dropoff and pickup are at Squaxin Park (formerly Priest Point Park) [map].
  • Drop off at 9 a.m. Pick up at 5 p.m.
  • From the park, tweens adventure in the groovy Terra-Forma bus.
  • The backpacking trip will be July 24-26.

What does the program cost?

Seattle: $1900 for the year.
Olympia: $1500 for the year.

The cost includes the campout and the backpacking trip.

If you would like to pay in installments, we will work together to come up with a schedule that fits your budget. Scholarship funds are available. So are other opportunities to offset the cost, such as in-kind contributions or fundraising help.

If you have reservations about the cost, or any other questions, please reach out so that we can discuss options.

What age is Spirit Rising for?

Tweens are 11-13, or turning 11 by March.

The transition from childhood to adolescence is a tumultuous time that is not well supported in our society. Terra-Forma believes tweens deserve better—and tweens do better when they are in relationship with self, community, and nature. In other cultures, rites of passage begin at this age.

My kid isn’t old enough, or isn’t ready yet, but this sounds like an important experience.

Start talking about it occasionally with your child. What small steps can you take now to spark confidence or interest? Would a friend join with you?

Make sure you’re on the Terra-Forma mailing list to find out when registration opens next.

What activities will the group be doing each month?

Spirit Rising always includes the low and high ropes courses at Camp Long, an overnight campout, first-aid training, and a culminating three-day backpacking trip.

The rest of the adventures are selected by the tweens as a group—focused on preparing for the backpacking trip—with guidance from Terra-Forma mentors. Group decision-making is a critical component of Spirit Rising that allows for autonomy, co-creation and leadership.

Here’s a sample from a previous year (not necessarily this year’s adventures):

October: Welcoming ceremony / Low ropes challenge course

November: Visit the farmer’s market, buy food, and prepare a harvest meal together

December: Low-tide exploration at night with campfire and stories / winter solstice ceremony

January: Snowshoeing and sledding

February: Orienteering and archery

March: Ropes course / equinox celebration

April: Habitat restoration and canoeing

May: Overnight campout and first-aid training

June: Backpacking gear introduction / summer solstice celebration

July: Three-day overnight backpacking trip / closing ceremony

What if we can’t make every date?

Tweens will get the most out of the program if families prioritize it. Meeting every month over a year, kids build a deeper relationship with each other and with their mentors.

We do understand that families may need to miss one of the nine sessions, though we cannot refund or prorate the cost of missed sessions. No guarantees, but the group can sometimes accommodate changing a date.

Who leads Spirit Rising?

David “Caveman” Friedman, executive director and naturalist, has run Terra-Forma programs for more than 25 years, including Spirit Rising for 15 years. See his bio.

What if my kid is more into video games than nature?

Spirit Rising is inspired by the classic hero’s journey. Tweens begin by accepting the Call to Adventure. They must cross their own personal Threshold of Ogres, such as indecision, exhaustion and responsibility.

Along the Road of Trials, as they encounter and push through challenges, they Find Allies that often challenge their assumptions or indifference. They experience the Magic Flight, an acute connection with their personal power that releases them from preconceived notions of self.

They cross the Return Threshold to their daily lives as a Master of Two Worlds.

Kind of like all those video games, but in real life.

Ready to accept the call to adventure?

Contact David “Caveman” Friedman