History of the School

We began way back when, in the days when revolution was in the air, when rock and roll was filled with protest and the young were sticking flowers in the gun barrels of National Guardsmen. Even then, the answer to the dilemma of culture was clear:  True revolution would never come about until the children remembered the way to get to adulthood - and the adults to true elderhood - and the elders to honorable death. And none of this would ever come to pass unless I learned the ancient art of birthing myself, and, by definition, others of my species, through rites of passage in wild nature, our true mother home.  - Steven Foster

Roots of the School

The tradition of the School of Lost Borders began in the late 1960’s when Dr. Steven Foster was teaching romantic poetry in the Humanities Depart. at San Francisco State University.  During the infamous strike and riots which occured there, he took a strong political stand on the side of the students, holding classes off campus and encouraging dissent.  He, along with many other faculty members, was subsequently fired.  Steven’s search for deeper meaning, growing fascination with pan-cultural mythology, and desire to create his own rite of initiation drove him into the classroom of nature.

After spending much of a year alone in the deserts of Nevada, he returned with a deep commitment to bring meaningful wilderness rites of passage to the young marking entrance into adulthood.  He met Edward Beggs who ran the youth component of a federally funded Marin Open House, and began an innovative dialogue with Robert Greenway, Tom Pinkson and Vern Muhr.  This led to the first of many youth wilderness rite of passage ceremonies that Steven would guide over the next two years, forming the basis for what is now offered to both youth and adults at the School, and around the world.

In 1973 Steven and Meredith Little met and became partners for an all-night shift at Marin Suicide Prevention Center.  They fell in love, began leading groups together, followed Odysseus to the Greek island of Ithaki, conceived a child, and fostered a dream.  Ten months later they returned to Novato, California and founded the non-profit organization Rites of Passage, Inc. 

With the support of so many who dared to dream with them, they explored the realms of pan-cultural wisdom and how to appropriately create modern initiation rites which addressed the challenges of today’s world.  Significant teachers appeared including Heyemoyosts Storm, Sun Bear, Grandpa Raymond, and Virginia Hine. With Virginia Hine, cultural anthropologist (and god-mother to Meredith) they explored the bare bones of the ceremony that appeared to be shared across cultures and traditions around the world.  They also explored the basic components of ceremony itself, to offer fasters the means to develop and create their own “self-generated ceremonies” within the context of the Vision Fast and their lives.

Yet the very roots of the School’s “tradition” came from the people themselves who dared to follow Steven and Meredith into the desert, stepped across the threshold into a very ancient ceremony, bringing their own diverse spiritualities, ethnic heritage, cultural background, prayers and dreams.  And taught with the stories they told upon returning.  Here Steven and Meredith learned directly from the ceremony, the land itself, and their own annual fasts.

Rites of Passage, Inc., after years of focusing on offering Vision Fast and wilderness rite of passage experiences for youth, began offering the Vision Fast to adults who came asking for meaningful ways to mark the many natural and significant transitions throughout life.  They developed a 2-year training component called the Raccoon Lodge, meeting weekly and participating in the preparation of monthly Vision Fast groups.  From this training component emerged a staff to handle the growing interest and need, including Marilyn Riley, Jack Crimmins, Jennifer Massey, Drew Pratt, and Linda Gregory.

In 1980 Steven authored the first of many books on the subject of their work.  The Book of the Vision Quest was published by Island Press, and continues to this day in a revised form by Simon & Schuster.

In 1981 Steven and Meredith founded the School of Lost Borders, and after carefully giving Rites of Passage, Inc. away to Jennifer Massey and Drew Pratt (later transferred to Mike Bodkin who continues to run his own successful programs) and a committed Board of Directors, took their family and moved closer to the wild lands of their heart in the Eastern Sierra and the high desert.

The name “Lost Borders” comes from a Mary Austin poem entitled The Land of Lost Borders, deriving from the Paiute Native American term for this high and low desert land which stretches eastward beyond the horizon’s vanishing limits.  This land of so many of the School’s original basecamps.

The School of Lost Borders was conceived as the first training facility in the methods and dynamics of pan-cultural passage rites in the wilderness.  Over the next two decades to address the growing demand, exemplary trainees with their own rich experience and backgrounds, were invited to the School as staff.  Originally this consisted of Virginia (Gigi) Coyle, Em North, Joseph Lazenka, and Silvia Talavera.  Today that number has grown, representing a diverse and committed staff and assistant staff with a wide range of background and expertise.

Steven was diagnosed with a degenerative genetic lung disease in 1995.  In 2001 they were unable to continue guiding training programs while also running the expanding School.  They gave the School away to their core staff, who boldly and competently reorganized to maintain the flow and creative growth necessary to address the needs of a culture in increasing turmoil.

One of the last visionary legacies that Steven left behind was inspiring the first International Wilderness Guides Gathering: Integrating Nature and Humanity, held in the Black Forest of Germany in the fall of 2002.  Since then these cross-cultural gatherings have continued in S. Africa (2004), the United Kingdom (2006), and North America (2009).  The next gathering planned for the Ukraine in 2012.

On May 6, 2003, Steven died surrounded by loving family and friends.  His memory, fierce heart, and vision lives on in many people and around the world. 

We do not go into the desert to escape

people but to learn how to find them:
we do not leave them in order to have

nothing more to do with them,
but to find out the way
to do them the most good.

Thomas Merton-