Over the weekend I was visiting with my sister and her family and after walking down on the beach we went back to her house to hang out for awhile. I got my bugout bag out of the back of the vehicle and started a fire in her fire pit with my firesteel.
My nephew – aged 10 – watched with interest as I split wood with my knife and then thought it was pretty cool when I managed to light a fire with just a couple of strikes off the firesteel. He said, “Hey Uncle Jarhead. Can I try and light a fire like that?”
Are you serious? Get over here!
First he went in and brought out a couple of knives his father had given him. One folding knife and one fixed blade that was small, but serviceable. We talked about the knives for awhile and then I showed him that he could use his knives in a survival situation if we had to. We split some small wood, started a fire, and cut a figure 4 trap from some small branches that were laying around. The whole time I lectured on topics like shelter, water, trapping small game, and things like that.
We were out there for less than an hour and he finally asked, “How did you learn so much about this stuff?”
I replied, “My father, my uncles, my grandfather, were all outdoorsmen and every time we got together they showed me a little more about being in the wilderness. The Marines showed me some cool stuff and I’ve done a lot of reading and trying out some of the things I found in the books.”
It was very rewarding to me to have a little time with him to show him a few of these basic things. My other nephew – aged 17 – lives in Canada with his mother and his existence is mostly in front of his computer. My heart breaks for him. He’s coming down this summer and I’ve already told him that we’re going to hit the woods for a few days.
Last summer I took him on a hike and I think that was the only “real” thing he did while he was down for two months. Heartbreaking. This summer I’m going to dedicate a little more time and get him engaged in the real world.
But how do you compete against the instant gratification of the Internet? Everything you could possibly want is just a mouse-click away, whereas with hiking and camping it’s a lot of hard work, sweat, dirt, and possible injury if you’re not paying attention.
Let me come back to that thought…
I told my sister I wanted to take her son out with me hiking and camping when our Canadian nephew came down and she thought it sounded like a great idea. He was sitting there and looked interested in the idea, but it’s easy to get caught up in the moment when you’re sitting there still smelling like wood smoke. It might not be so interesting to him in a few months when it’s hot and buggy out.
Now, back to my question about how to engage young people in an activity they find interesting, but are hooked into the ‘Net. How?
When I was around 12 years old my mother, knowing my love for the great outdoors, bought me a backpack. It was one of those with an aluminum frame and it tied down with a string and a flap. The shoulder straps would cut into your shoulders with any weight at all on it and it didn’t have a waist belt.
I was in heaven. Me and that pack covered a lot miles before it finally wore out. My kit was slowly pieced together over a year or more and was constantly evolving. I had a big folding Buck Knife that was the mainstay of my kit, a Boyscout cook set that rattled to beat hell when I hiked, and a sleeping bag that never should have seen 32 degrees, but did on many occasions.
Here’s my idea. These kids have an interest in the wilderness, but no knowledge or equipment when they get there. My brother died eight years ago and my nephew and his mother returned to Canada where she came from.
My sister divorced her husband and he hasn’t spent much time with my younger nephew in a wilderness situation. Her current husband is a hell of a nice guy, but no woodsman. What’s an uncle to do?
It hit me on the way home. I’ll set these boys up with a basic kit and spend time with them over the summer showing them how to use it. After a few campouts I’ll encourage them to spend time out there practicing their skills and improving their knowledge.
Will it work? I don’t know, but it seems to me that if I don’t try nobody else will. And I ain’t gonna give up that easy folks.
My son is going to do some dirt time with me – that’s a given, and I hope I can get my nephews out there as well.
Now imagine that you’re a teenager again and that cool, but kinda hardass, uncle is going to buy you some basic equipment. What would you want in your pack?
I’m going to supply them both with a pack and a knife to start with, but what else would you put in a pack for your younger kin?