Though Quillwood Academy was officially founded in 2020, I (Eric Garza, Quillwood’s founder and director) trace its origins to a crisp October morning in 2016. For those intrepid souls who enjoy a good origin story, I thought I would share it here.

That morning found me sitting against a pair of mature sugar maples in a Northern Vermont forest looking out across a field. It is dark. My bow and a pair of arrows rest on my lap. I sip hot broth from a thermos to ward off the early morning chill as I wait patiently for the sun to rise. When dawn finally comes I relish the sun’s light, along with the sights, sounds, and smells of the waking forest.

I sit tight for the next couple hours hoping a deer might walk by. No such luck. I eventually stand, stretching my legs to ward off stiffness and cold. I wander for a bit, and while in a grove of beech trees I notice a cluster of mushrooms reaching up from a piece of rotting wood and the mossy ground around it. I would never claim to be a mushroom expert, but I recognize most types that live in my area because I see them over and over again. Yet these mushrooms are unlike any I have ever seen before. Curious, I walk over for a closer look.

Each of the little mushrooms is thin, at most a quarter the diameter of a pencil. Their white stems are no more than 2 inches tall, and their bases are dark in color. None of the stems have a visible cap, though many have tiny nubbins that suggest a cap was once there. Several of the stems have broken off at their bases and are spread over the mossy ground.

I reach down to pick up one of the broken stems, intent on taking it home to identify it. As my fingers touch it, I immediately realize my mistake. Its smooth surface and its stiffness both invite me to rethink what I am seeing. These are not mushrooms at all. They are porcupine quills! I chuckle, amused by my error.

I survey the area. My eyes are drawn to a sturdy branch perhaps 15 feet above me that reaches out from the nearest tree. I sometimes see porcupines browsing on the buds and cambium in beech trees. They are not the most graceful climbers, so I easily imagine one hobbling along the branch, losing its balance, and falling. It lands on its back or side, leaving quills embedded in the ground for me to find. I see no signs of the animal’s demise, so suspect it shook the fall off and hobbled on its away. Porcupines are tough critters.

Quillwood Academy’s name emerges from this experience of finding porcupine quills embedded in that piece of rotting wood. I recount this story here not just to explain this institution’s curious name, but also because the tale carries a potent truth: So often our assumptions and beliefs constrain our ability to make accurate sense of the world around us. Our failure to make accurate sense of things can have profound consequences.

To successfully navigate today’s changing world we must strengthen our sense making capacity and scrutinize our assumptions and beliefs about how the world works, how things came to be the way they are, and what the future holds. We must invite others to scrutinize our assumptions and beliefs too, so we might benefit from their unique perspectives. These undertakings open the door to a deep and profound learning that might well diminish our body of knowledge rather than expand it. We should not fear this diminishment, for it can free us to make better choices than people were capable of in the past.

I founded Quillwood Academy to create a virtual space for exactly this type of learning. If you are intrigued, I invite you to peruse upcoming offerings and sign up for our newsletter. I hope to see you in a Quillwood event soon!

Porcupine quills on a tree stump