Quillwood Academy is a virtual learning space founded by scholar and educator Eric Garza. Quillwood offers a variety of courses, workshops, and practice sessions. Eric also offers customized coaching or mentoring programs for individuals and small groups, and consultations for those who want to explore particular topics. Learn more using the Offerings dropdown menu. If you are curious about Quillwood’s name and history, Eric shares its origin story below:

While I founded Quillwood Academy in August of 2020, its origins reach back to a frosty, mid-October morning in 2016. I arrived on a parcel of land in Northern Vermont well before first light to set up for a morning of bow hunting. I scouted the area a few weeks earlier, and saw several deer trails along the edge of a meadow. I sat back against a pair of mature sugar maples in the morning darkness, looking out over a meadow. My osage flat bow and a pair of hickory arrows tipped with steel broadheads rested on my lap.

When dawn finally came I relished the sights, sounds, and smells of the waking forest. I sat against those maples for a few hours hoping a deer might walk by. No such luck. I eventually wandered into the forest to look for fresh trails and to warm my chilled bones.

In a grove of beech trees I noticed 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 were unlike any I had ever seen before. Curious, I walked over for a closer look.

Each of the little mushrooms was thin, at most a quarter the diameter of a pencil. Their white stems were no more than 2 inches tall. Their bases were dark in color. None of the stems had a visible cap. Several of the stems had broken off at their bases and were strewn over the mossy ground as if someone had stepped on them and kicked them around.

Still perplexed, I resigned myself to taking a few of the stems home to identify them. As I touched one I immediately realized my mistake. Its stiffness and smooth surface invited me to rethink what I was seeing. These were not mushrooms at all! They were porcupine quills! I chuckled at my error. Good one, Garza.

A sturdy branch 15 feet above attracted my attention. It reached out from a nearby beech tree. I sometimes see porcupines browsing on the beech buds and cambium, especially in fall as the animals fatten themselves for Vermont’s long winters. They are not the most graceful climbers, so I easily imagined one hobbling along the branch, losing its balance, and falling. I surmised it must have landed across the piece of wood on its back or side, leaving a mat of embedded quills for me to find. The quills looked fresh, and since I saw no signs of the animal’s demise I suspect it shook the fall off and hobbled on its away. Porcupines are tough critters.

I recount this story not just to explain Quillwood Academy’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. When I first saw that mat of quills embedded in the wood and mossy ground, my brain decided they were mushrooms. I got closer and closer, and still thought mushrooms until their texture snapped me out of that delusion. While that mistake was thankfully harmless, failures to make accurate sense of things can have profound consequences.

To successfully navigate today’s changing world we must strengthen our sense making capacity. Learning to scrutinize our assumptions and beliefs is an integral part of this. We must also learn to accept feedback and even criticism from others, especially when their background and life experience differ from our own. These undertakings open the door to learning, a labor that might well diminish our body of knowledge rather than expand it. We should not fear this diminishment; 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. I invite you to peruse its offerings, and sign up for our email list. I hope to see you in a Quillwood event soon!

porcupine quills on a wooden stump