I grew up in the woods, but my kids, to date, are having a very different experience. We live in a town/small city and for very simple economic reasons, this is unlikely to change. I can’t pretend this doesn’t bother me, but I try not to make too much fuss.
I’ve recently been putting more effort into getting Cormac (the eldest) outdoors. He is already pretty stoked about fishing (more on that later), but he tends to get… complicated, let’s say, when we get into the woods. I’ve been trying to take him on more walks – emphasis on “walk” – in the woods in the parks around us, but I don’t always do a good job with that. Always, in the back of my mind, I’m trying to remind myself of how I hope woods time will be in the future. I don’t care if it means the same thing to him someday as it means to me, but God forbid it’s meaningless.
This time of year (i.e., archery season), we spend a lot of time at the family farm where I grew up. We headed there this past weekend and instead of trying to kill my first fall turkey Saturday morning, Cormac, his grandpa and I headed up into the woods to squirrel hunt. First I rounded up some ear protection for Cormac and we gave it as thorough a test as I could muster. I even took a trial shot to see if it hurt his ears or scared him, but it didn’t seem to. He said “whoa” and smiled after I took a shot into the hillside.
The real test here was seeing how far we could walk before he started getting fussy. Given the conditions – chilly and windy – he did pretty well. We made it all the way up to the top of the hill (this took about 30 minutes), in the area where I had intended on sitting us down to look for squirrels, before he launched into some serious whining. He said he was hungry (and he probably was), that his legs hurt, etc., so I kneeled down and asked him if wanted to head back to the house. He said “yes,” so I scooped him up, told him we would go home and get something to eat, and started back down the hill (after safely handing my shotgun to dad, of course). He processed this for a minute or so and changed his mind, deciding he wanted to stay out in the woods.
This is one of those parenting moments that it’s impossible to give advice on, but here is what I did: I put him down, made him look at me and talked to him for a minute. I told him that it was ok to go home and get a snack, but that he had to stick to his decisions instead of shifting directions every 5 minutes. We went over this a few times, and he eventually chilled out and we headed on down the hill. Before we got to the house, I had him sit down with me in the woods and look around and listen. He was very patient and pointed a lot of stuff out to me and asked questions. It was one of those fall days that I live for – a steel gray sky with infrequent blue holes, a cold wind, and leaves beginning to fall all around.
It may not sound like it, but just getting him out there, walking in the woods and looking around seems to me to be a really vital step in a positive direction. Cormac – due to age or personality, I don’t know or care, really – can be a little wishy-washy. I hate using that term, because I’m worried it’s going to make me sound like some kind of shitty dad, but it is a good description of his attitude. We’re working on it and making progress. As any woodsman worth his salt will tell you, patience is virtue of paramount importance. And let’s face it – under better conditions, we probably would encountered a lot more squirrels and other wildlife and that would have helped the situation. And hell, I should have packed a little snack for him. Dad-foul.
Later that afternoon, Dad and I took Cormac to a local farm pond to do some fishing. This is a great pond: it is loaded with some huge bluegills. The guy who owns the place, John Wolfe, says that every time he sees us there, usually over the roar of the tractor he is driving at the time: “Oh yeah, great pond for kids. Great pond.” Cormac has been fishing on several occasions now, and his interest is really piquing. This trip was definitely a high point in terms of keeping his attention, as he excitedly reeled in close to a dozen fish before his interest turned to other things, like Grandpa’s tackle box, stumps, the burn pile, what daddy is doing, etc. It’s always a challenge keeping a four year old interested (and we were hindered by the difficulty of putting a tiny garden worm on a hook), but as this video attests, he was pretty stoked. This is from pretty deep into the fishing session, and you can see that he is highly entertained.
Dad and I took turns fishing with him, and while dad was helping him out, I threw some flies. I caught a few bluegills, but no bass. This particular pond has some nice bass in it, but is definitely dominated by bluegills. Mr. Largemouth continues to largely elude me on the fly, except under the most ideal conditions.
We let Cormac hold a lot of fish this time, which is a new thing. In the past, with bluegills, especially, we were always a little cautious because we didn’t want him getting stabbed by one of the spines on the dorsal fin. That shit hurts, after all. To my knowledge he didn’t get poked, so maybe my caution in prior encounters was over zealous. He did drop a lot of fish when they wiggled, but all but one fell right into the water. The one fish that fell on the grass made it back in the water quickly enough, though it was propelled by a kick from Cormac rather than a gentle toss. Crude, but effective, as Richie would say.