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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Giving kids the outdoor experience

There are people who say it is OK to camp without a campfire. I ain't one of them. 
Building a campfire is one of the most important skills you can have out in the frozen woods in winter. 
You need a fire that's as big as the bed of a pickup truck and hot enough to burn wood with mushrooms growing out of it. 
There is only one way to light a fire that hot without five gallons of diesel and a gas-powered fan. 
You have to find pitch, either from an old-growth Sitka spruce or a Douglas fir tree. You might have to hike around quite a while to find enough pitch to build a fire like that, but once you do, it will probably be time to stop and make camp anyway.
I remember the first campfire I ever built. That was up at Krause Bottom on the Elwha River. 
Back then you could walk up there and not see anyone. 
These days it's gotten so crowded nobody goes there anymore.
I remember the elk clattering across the rocks. 
I remember rainbow trout flopping on the same rocks as we pulled them out of the river one after the other. 
I got a "twelve-incher!" 
My dad said I could build a campfire but I could only have one match. Building a campfire with just one wooden match used to be the mark of a woodsman's skill. 
I whittled up a mess of kindling and conveniently forgot what happened next. I doubt I got a fire going with one match.
This happened back in the last century. 
Kids played with matches, knives and other implements of destruction. We caught fish, frogs and snakes. 
We got burned, cut and bit.
These days it seems as if families don't fish anymore. With the expense and legal hassles, why would anyone bother fishing when you just have to turn them loose anyway?
Kids today are raised in a climate-controlled, child-safe world that revolves around the computer, the television and the fridge. Outdoor activities are largely restricted to organized sports.
Many kids today are actually afraid to go out in the woods. And who could blame them? 
They have spent their young lives watching scary TV, where people routinely meet a gruesome end out in the woods in the name of family entertainment. 
No wonder we have a generation of Americans who are oddly desensitized to violence and totally afraid of the dark.
I can think of no better example of our children's aversion to the natural world than the day I was guiding the Puget Sound Anglers' Kids Fishing Derby. It's held at Carrie Blake Park in Sequim every spring. 
I saw young boys screaming when they accidentally touched a fish. 
Those were nice rainbow trout up to eight pounds. I would have hiked across the Olympics to get my hands on a fish like that when I was a kid.
Things are different now. The Dungeness River is closed to fishing most of the year. 
It's no wonder Sequim kids are afraid of fish. They have few opportunities to catch them.
The Puget Sound Anglers' Kids Fishing Derby might be the only chance some of these poor kids have to fish. 
It's financed by a spaghetti dinner at 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, at Carrie Blake Park, 202 N. Blake Ave.
After dinner there is an auction that offers some of the best fishing trips in the Pacific Northwest, including a winter steelhead fishing trip with me.
The proceeds raise the fish for the kids' derby. 
Think of it as nature aversion therapy.

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