“I can’t learn if you don’t stopyelling,” was the statement, followed up by a frustrated, “If you can’t hit the broadside of a barn, you’re obviously not listening to anything I’ve said!” Not the conversation any of us want to be a part of, yet somehow vaguely familiar to most husbands and wives. Oh, how we long for the good ol’ days when we were actually nice to each other.
The dream is fading. Fall camp utopia, where the early morning sounds of warblers and jays are interrupted only by the occasional lid-lift on the coffee pot as the morning joe brews. Kids are still sound asleep, husband and wife tucked between adjacent willow bushes, peering through binos, hoping to catch an early-morning antler flash in the valley below.
I suppose communication is to blame. Certainly not a lack of love or respect, but simply a learned lack of patience we have for those closest to us. Don’t worry; we all suffer from this failure at some level when it comes to sharing a lifetime of lessons with a spouse (generally a husband trying to teach his wife something in short order). And hence we’re back at square one, no longer speaking to one another and seriously contemplating a solo hunt to fill the freezer. It has to be easier than this.
If this sounds familiar, you need to know you are not alone. Most outdoor couples start off with one individual being a lot more knowledgeable in the field than the other. Getting to an equal playing field is difficult and time consuming. Some couples certainly do better than others.
Let me introduce you to your personal floatation device in the world of women in the field, the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program. This national program grows in popularity and scope every year, and Alaska is no exception. Organized by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, three-day BOW Workshops are held annually in the Interior, Southcentral and Southeast. BOW helps women develop outdoor skills and become more confident by offering a multitude of classes in an encouraging, supportive and no-husband learning environment. BOW classes are small so that participants receive plenty of one-on-one interaction with friendly, supportive, volunteer instructors like me.
Participants are able to choose from a variety of classes such as moose hunting, field dressing, spin- and fly fishing, archery, kayaking, skijoring, canning and smoking fish, wild edible plants, survival, map and compass, outdoor cooking and much more. Classes are hands-on and generally include outdoor time.
Not sold yet? If you can’t teach (or learn from) your spouse when it comes to outdoor activities, what do you think your chances are getting through to your kids? Since most of us adventure-seekers plan to someday take our kids out with us, I can assure you it is easiest when both parents are along. Camping with little ones often requires extra hands, and patience too. One successful trip paves the way for many more, so starting off on the right foot is key.
Without moms involved, dads often wait to take their kids on longer overnight trips until they’re “old enough.” Well meaning, maybe. Imagine, though, a kid that’s been camping and navigating the mud, root wads and campfires since he was 4 versus a 10-year-old new to the outdoors, clinging to an iPhone, searching desperately for service so he can see if anyone responded to his last text. Start to see the problem here?
My experience is mostly with the former, my son being more comfortable outdoors at age 7 than most teenagers I know. There’s no talk of video games (unless his little buddy comes along), only fun exploring and enjoying the surroundings. Oh, sure, there’s still the occasional breakdown, but it passes quickly when given little attention. Our outdoor trips are family-oriented, with everyone pitching in to find that perfect tent spot and get camp set-up. Each person knows the routine and understands that when the work is finished, the play (or relaxation) can begin.
Thinking of buying a camper or a cabin just to get the family outdoors? Many an urban-adventurer has walked this path, only to find a less-than-satisfying intermediate between home and the wild. I regularly think back to when I was young, sleeping in a three-season tent with my dad at minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, thinking I was going to freeze to death as he lay there deeply asleep, snoring and happy as a clam. Amazingly I survived those crazy ice-fishing trips, and I learned a lot. With my own family, now I choose a little warmer mid-winter night’s sleep in a wall tent or arctic oven with a constant heat source, but we still venture out to those crazy places, loving the ever-changing scenery of being mobile.
Finding that peaceful outdoor utopia with the family is easier than you think, especially if you start early. We all grow up with a view of the world our parents so unknowingly allow us to have. Some parents recognize the benefits of wilderness immersion, but many are nervous about taking that first step. Shake it off and get out there.
Ladies new to the outdoors? Check out BOW; it truly is a great way to break the ice. Have young kids? Introduce them to the woods early, let them know it is okay to get dirty and climb trees. Encourage running and yelling, laughing and playing outdoors. Kids really need to explore and express themselves, to imagine a stick is a sword or that swirl of water hides a giant serpent lying just beneath the surface. Teach your kids how to collect dry tinder, and to paddle a canoe. Shoot a BB gun when they still need help holding up the barrel.
Leave apprehension at home, take that first step. Pack right, make sure everyone has their own outdoor and survival gear, encourage imagination. A short spring weekend camping trip can easily turn into a successful summer fishing trip. Before you know it, plans will be in the works for a grand family hunting adventure. Flanked by stunning autumn colors and ripe lowbush cranberries, sipping coffee on the hillside. There is no other place I would rather be, than with my family in the outdoors.
Rebecca Schwanke is the owner of Tuff Kids Outdoors and an instructor for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program. For more information on Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, search ADF&G BOW program for courses and schedules. If you’re ready to take that leap into nature with young kids, search Tuff Kids Outdoors to find waterproof and warm outerwear for the smallest adventure enthusiasts.