The Way We Guide

As practitioners of deep nature connection, Spiritual Ecology, myriad awareness and relational modalities, and ancestral skills, we Wildtender guides have committed ourselves to learning from the wild and its many inhabitants. Indeed, we regard wilderness as our primary teacher. Our most important “instruction” comes from modeling an awake, open and curious presence in the wild.

Areas of focus vary, but common to all programs and guides is a foundation in: sensory awareness; relating directly with non-human life; establishing intimate and reciprocal relationships with nature; mirroring of the inner landscape in the outer; sensing into the continuum of human life through ancestral skills practice; cultivating community through reliance upon our fellow participants.

The Founders


Noël Vietor

Noël has been in an ongoing apprenticeship with sacred gardens and wilds of California. Her work and interests are dedicated to helping people relate more meaningfully with the land, themselves and each other. Noël served as the Program Coordinator for the Esalen Institute Farm & Garden in Big Sur from 2010-2015 – organizing its land-based educational programs and practice of Relational Agriculture, rooted in Esalen’s Gestalt lineage. Noël found a deep sense of belonging in the Big Sur wild while hiking the steep trails, learning the history and stories of the place, and experimenting with wild-crafting and homestead arts. Noël is certified with NOLS Wilderness First Aid.

photo by Colin McCarthy

photo by Colin McCarthy

Fletcher Tucker

Fletcher was raised by the foggy redwood ravines, and fragrant chaparral bluffs of the Esselen tribal territory now known as Big Sur, California. Fletcher is an ancestral skills practitioner, Deep Ecology disciple, lifelong student of natural history, devotee of trail-craft and minimalist backpacking, and a multidisciplinary artist (composer/musician, writer, sculptor). An experienced teacher of adults and children, Fletcher ran Big Sur's elementary school garden program from 2011-2016, and also worked for the Esalen Institute's Farm & Garden and its Gazebo Park Pre-School for many years. 

Since 2010 Fletcher has been a student of Gestalt practice in the psycho-emotional lineage of Esalen Institute co-founder Dick Price. Fletcher has studied and participated ceremonially with teachers within indigenous North and South American spiritual traditions. Additionally, he has an ever evolving atavistic relationship with the mythopoetics and Earth-reverent practices of his own northern European ancestors. Fletcher is dedicated to the re-enchantment of the natural world, to the revitalization of place-based living, to the renewal of ancestral states of consciousness, and to dispelling the illusion of separation that inhibits true belonging with the wild.

Fletcher is a NOLS certified Wilderness First Responder.

Read more from Noël and Fletcher in their interview with the Esalen Institute.

Herbal Program Director


Kelsey Barrett

Kelsey is a western clinical herbalist, organic gardener, and traditional food enthusiast. She believes that embracing plants as part of our larger community creates a greater opportunity to reconnect with our health in meaningful ways. 

Kelsey initiated her herbal studies on a pilgrimage to France, gathering wisdom from traditional European medicine masters. She expanded her engagement with the plant world through an apprenticeship in organic farming at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, followed by three years of study in Western Herbalism at the Ohlone Herbal Center in Berkeley. Kelsey served as a Director at Ohlone for three years, and on the core faculty team teaching European and clinical herbalism. Kelsey's herbal and environmental writing has been published in Vogue, Edible East Bay and GOOD Magazine.  She is now based in San Diego and has a private practice across California, counseling students and clients on creating life-changing strategies for wellness. 




Dorothy has been a Gestalt practitioner since 1985. She began her work at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California where she was inspired by the wildness of the land and experienced the way that time spent in nature enhances wellbeing. Dorothy now practices in Santa Cruz, California, and is the co-founder of Tribal Ground Circle, an educational community studying and practicing Gestalt Awareness Practice, Relational Gestalt Practice, and other work evolving from the lineage of Richard Price, gestalt teacher and co-founder of Esalen Institute. Dorothy received her training at Esalen with Richard and Christine Price, and at the Pacific Gestalt Institute in Los Angeles, California, with Lynne Jacobs and Gary Yontef.


Laura Whitney

As a guide, Laura brings decades of experience in group leadership, council, rites of passage and nature-based ceremony. She is a dedicated student of the Wheel of Wholeness and a loyal apprentice to the earth-cherishing practices of Buddhist and indigenous traditions, including the way of pilgrimage and fasting in the wilderness. She holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnographic Film from the University of Southern California (1987), is a certified Council Trainer, and is training to be certified in Holotropic Breathwork. Laura has an enduring passion for consciousness exploration, nature immersion, and sacred activism, working to restore our relationship with ourselves, with each other and with all beings through prayer, silence, ceremony, song, story and deep listening. She has served as President of The Ojai Foundation since 2008.



Ian is a professional photographer, avid adventurer, and Rinzai Zen monk. His journey began in the Green Mountains of Vermont, interpreting the change of seasons through paintings of the natural world, moved overseas where he trained at the Zuigan Sodo in Matsushima, Japan, and continues today in San Francisco, where he works as an outdoor and adventure photographer. He has traveled and camped extensively throughout the U.S. and spent countless hours shooting photos in the backcountry.



Molly Leebove

Molly is devoted to a path of reconciliation in a deeply troubled time. She has been influenced and guided by the land where the mountains meet the sea in Big Sur and the loamy soils of Abekani peoples, most commonly known as Vermont.  Tending food gardens and stewarding the heart-minds of fellow agricultural enthusiasts has been her most long standing discipline. Molly is deeply dedicated to revitalizing a harmonious relationship with earth through her Buddhist practice, grief-work and embodiment activities.

Molly lives in the wild and wonderful city of Detroit, Michigan with a vision for healing of the people and responding to the urgent Earth’s call. Molly is passionate about social identity work, authentic healing and generating unity across difference.  Unity in an age ruled by divide is one of the most radical acts possible. Molly is trained in wilderness first aid.

photo by Ian Momsen

photo by Ian Momsen

Tom Strickland

Tom is an avid hiker, climbing arborist, and deep appreciator of the natural world. He developed a sense of connection to himself and others while exploring rocky Sierra peaks, emerald alpine lakes, and granite bouldered streams. He deepened his earthiest perspective studying and engaging with the coastal hills and cool waters around San Luis Obispo and later stewarding redwood canyons and uplifted marine terraces of Big Sur. Based in Portland, Oregon, Tom is a wilderness field instructor with Evoke Therapy Programs where he facilitates the physical and emotional safety of diverse groups of young people challenging themselves in a range of therapeutic interventions united in the development of technical wilderness skills, appropriate communication, internalized integrity, and self-reliance. Tom is certified with NOLS wilderness first aid.



For the past decade, Emily has managed to spend nearly every summer in the California wilderness as a trail worker, a zen monk, and a backcountry cook. Former Tassajara resident and graduate of the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies Buddhist Chaplaincy program, Emily is interested in bringing wild dharma down from the mountains.  She is currently a Marriage and Family Therapy trainee at Sonoma State University, combining nearly 10 years of formal mindfulness and meditation practice, with wilderness-based youth development programs, hospice work, and Buddhist chaplaincy. She is a long-term Gestalt Awareness practitioner and a NOLS certified Wilderness First Responder. Her three treasures are process, wilderness, and nonjudgemental awareness.