A year ago, in late March, I held a snaring clinic for kids in the Delta Junction area. The target was the snowshoe hare. My reasoning: hares are easy to catch and there are a ton of them.
Also, the little white critters can be a valued addition for the table. Every family does not get a moose or caribou for the winter. How special is it for a 10-year-old to contribute to the family larder?
More importantly, it is important for our kids to learn from elders. One need not be 60-plus to be an "elder" to kids. Remember how ancient your 30-year-old math teacher was?
Hosting the snaring clinic was an eye-opener for me. I found almost no one had a pocket knife. I always carried two as a young teenager because I was hard on them and wanted to always have an intact one. My high school friends and I carried a .22 in our trucks when going to school so we could hunt on the way home. I suppose that dates me. These days one would go to jail to be tried as an adult for bringing a firearm or a knife to school.
The bottom line is we, as outdoorsmen, need to teach children to appreciate things outside of the house. We can't expect kids to know what to do on their own. There were no iPhones 20 years ago. That little "ding" on the phone brings instant reward in the way of a message from a friend – or something. In life, and the natural world, instant reward is a rare thing.
Teach young people to be outside of the house and to be aware of the natural world that surrounds them. The phone stays in the house. Take a walk in the woods. One need not go far. What is that sound? Why is the top of the mountain pink? What type of bush is that? What made that track?
The snaring clinic made me cognizant that few kids know what a hare track looks like. I pointed to a track and asked: Beaver? Moose? Wolf? Those were the answers I got. One little girl knew. "White rabbit," she said.
One right answer from a dozen kids is not acceptable. Every boy and girl in Alaska should be able to identify moose, caribou and bunny tracks at minimum. Spruce trees, willows and fireweed should not be mysteries. I don't believe anyone really needs to know how to play "League of Legends."
Most old hunters and fishermen don't know much about video games. They would rather be sitting on a ridge somewhere listening to the coyotes yapping. Or dancing on the ice in a vain attempt to keep their feet warm on a minus-30 ice-fishing trip.
I listened to a guy from Minnesota on the radio today. He was extolling the virtues of being cold. He felt that by being chilled, one not only felt more alive, but also learned to dress for enjoying the winter months. He is right. Experienced outdoors men and women need to spend the time and money it takes to get your kids comfortable outside. Cold isn't a lot of fun if one has crap for gear. It can be made manageable and enjoyable with proper clothing. Teach young people that their body will feel the chill at first and then quickly become acclimated to being a few degrees off from perfect.
Outside the house can be exciting and interesting. Our kids have a teeny gravel hill they slide on almost every day. Minus-30 did not prevent the slide from being used today. A pair of cross-country skis can be had for little or nothing on Craigslist. Snowshoes are a hit (should there ever again be snow…).
You walk your dog in the evening — how about making the effort to walk your children? Don't just carpool, pool the neighborhood kids and give them a nature walk. Make it fun. Take a weekend afternoon, trek into the closest woods, build a campfire and cook some hotdogs and marshmallows. Sit on the porch on a cold winter evening and count the stars.
I am not saying to divorce your children from the new age that is coming. I do think it our duty as the departing generation to communicate some of the values of the previous generation. The wild country as it once was is getting scarce. That makes it more important than ever to teach the coming generation to value what could be lost.
It is our duty to impart the little we have learned. To teach successfully, one needs to make the lessons fun and exciting. We are competing with the "League of Legends" and the "ding" of the iPhone.
John Schandelmeier is a life-long Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.