Father's Day: Outdoor Lessons From our Dads, Uncles and Grandfathers
This week, we asked Washington Trails Association staff if they had learned anything about the outdoors or nature from their fathers, uncles or grandpas.
This week, we asked Washington Trails Association staff if they had learned anything about the outdoors or nature from their fathers, uncles or grandpas. From navigation, respecting nature, and setting a pace—they taught us a lot.
The Outdoors means more than hiking
"When I was growing up, I remember saying goodbye to my father every evening as he left to work the graveyard shift as a security guard at a nearby hospital. He never took me hiking; he never had the time. It was in other ways that my father gently encouraged me to love and appreciate the natural world.
I used to be enamored with my his stories about his life in Vietnam. During the rainy season, he would lash together banana tree leaves and float along his flooded neighborhood streets on a makeshift raft. When he was a captain in the army during the war, he kept a pet squirrel stowed away in an empty ammo pouch on his belt. It would sit on his shoulder during mealtimes and he would feed it little clumps of rice. For a kid who grew up in a gated community of cookie cutter houses in the middle of suburban south Florida, his stories were magical to me. They made me wish for a life of magic, too.
When I call to check up on him nowadays, I can be confident that he is likely doing one of two things -- sitting in front of his sixty gallon fish tank, happily watching his collection of rainbow colored fish weave around each other, or tending to his wild garden of eclectic plants and trees. My mother thinks the garden is hideous. There is no rhyme or reason to what has been planted. Our yard looks vastly different from our neighbors' meticulously manicured lawns, but I know that when my father looks at it he feels only love and sees only beauty.
My father never took me hiking, but he did take me to his memories of banana leaf rafts and pocket pet squirrels, and he taught me how to be kind to and patient with other living things. And now, I can take him hiking instead." — Britt Lê, community partnerships & leadership development coordinator
New Beginnings on the Wild Rogue
"To celebrate my Dad’s recent retirement, he, my girlfriend, our black lab and I took a trip down to the Rogue River Trail in southern Oregon where we completed a twenty-mile section in three days. As he was considering the implications of an end to a long and rewarding career, I was contemplating the possibility of beginning a new position here at WTA, and my girlfriend was preparing for a new stage in her own career. Arriving early in the season, as we did, pretty much guaranteed the entire Rogue River Wilderness to ourselves, and we spent three far-flung days enjoying beautiful weather, sublime scenery, and good company.
We saw a black bear and navigated steep canyon walls colored by spring flowers. As a father and son separated by over 2,000 miles, this time on the trail gave us the much-needed opportunity to escape the distractions of our separate lives and share some of our feelings over the very different, but similarly profound, changes we were about to go through. Those three days brought us all closer together than ever — an experience I'll never forget." — Patrick Myers, annual giving and membership coordinator
practice before you go
"For Father’s Day in 2014, my family bought my stepdad Carl trekking poles so he could keep hiking with us for many many more years, just like he is here with my niece a few years ago on Mount Lemmon in Tucson, AZ. Carl has encouraged me in my outdoor interests since we met when I was in 5th grade. When I was struggling in middle school, Carl was the one who suggested I attend a magical summer camp in Vermont that my stepsiblings loved where I would backpack throughout the summer. He helped me acquire and borrow all my backpacking gear and encouraged me to practice before camp. We backpacked all around my neighborhood up and down hills with pots and pans in my pack. Carl is incredibly encouraging and supportive about my interests and decisions both in the outdoors and as I navigate my career. He’s a super stepdad!" — Jean Bartholomew, outdoor leadership training administration coordinator
I think i want to go hiking again
"I credit both my mom and my dad for instilling a passion for the outdoors in my life from a very young age. We camped, we hiked, and we explored the outdoors throughout points of my childhood. But, I owe it all to my dad for being the one willing to answer the question of “Hey Dad, I think I want to go hiking again. Can you take me?” with an immediate and enthusiastic “Yes, of course!”. That was 12 years ago, and if he hadn’t answered exactly the way he did, I would not be the person I am today. I can’t thank him enough for being willing to hike past Rattlesnake Ledge up to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, a place where a rediscovered a love for our trails, hiking, and our outdoor spaces. When we hike together, he always tells me to hike ahead if he is slowing me down. Yes, I may be a faster hiker than he is, but I will not speed off without him because taking in a beautiful view is much better with the man that helped me get back outside." — Grady Olson, donor services manager
Look Closely, and you can find your way home
"My grandfather was a small town postmaster, but he spent every spare moment wandering their 20 acres of woods or puttering in his shop. I followed him around as often as I was able. As we walked in the woods, he taught me about different kinds of plants, took me to the frog pool each day to watch the tadpoles change, and encouraged me to look for animal tracks. In the shop, he showed me how to build fires in his hand-built barrel stove and helped me create wooden toys using his tools safely. One day as we were taking a woodland stroll, he stopped and said, "OK, you find the way back to the house now." I looked around, completely bewildered. He then proceeded to teach me to look for landmarks and try to find my footprints, listen for sounds (as natural as water, as mundane as traffic), and check the position of the sun in order to orient myself. Assuring me he'd follow, he had me set off into what, to my eight-year-old self, was a vast forest. We found our way back! Years later, as I spent my first summer as a wilderness ranger, I gratefully remembered those lessons. Each time I use a saw to cut a log or a hammer to build a bridge, I know it's his loving instruction behind every project" — Barbara Budd, northwest regional trail coordinator
Sometimes, you need to sit quietly and watch the woods wake up
"Some of my earliest memories walking in the woods are with my dad. In summer we would visit his deer stand and make repairs. In the fall, he'd begin growing a beard. Later in the fall, he'd head out every morning before the sun came up to hunt whitetail deer. It was usually late spring before he'd make a kill and shave off his beard, and we'd have a freezer full of venison for the next year. One winter, I asked to go hunting with him. In the early morning darkness, we hiked through the woods and climbed up into his stand, both bundled up in lots of camouflage and high-visibility orange. It was so peaceful and dark in the stand that I promptly fell asleep. He woke me up after sunrise a few hours later, and we began the hike home. He teased me about snoring and scaring away all the deer. I knew he wasn't upset though, because he never killed a deer until late in the season anyway. He later confessed to me that he never wants to end his season too early, because the best part of hunting is sitting quietly in the forest and watching the woods wake up. And that's the lesson that's stuck with me the most - there's a lot of peace and understanding that comes from sitting quietly in the forest and watching the woods wake up." — Clarissa Allen, youth trail program manager
Respect the dangers, but don't be afraid
"The strongest memories of my childhood are all outdoors. My family took me hiking, skiing, camping and kayaking. I don’t remember learning to love the outdoors, because it was always just a huge part of my life. My father also grew up spending a lot of time outdoors. He was a Boy Scout and has endless stories of his adventures (and misadventures) in the wilderness. I’ve heard those stories my whole life; they almost feel like my own stories. My dad always showed me how to do things for myself, sometimes even when I didn’t want to be shown. I’m so grateful for that now. I feel completely comfortable outdoors, and that’s because my dad and mom always made me comfortable outside. They taught me how to respect the occasional dangers of the natural world, but not to be afraid of them. My parents spent a lot of time backpacking in Washington before I was born. Now I’m hiking many of the same trails I heard stories about growing up." — Jessi Loerch, Washington Trails magazine editor
Finding your Heart's home
I can recite every word of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High by heart. I can do that not only because a feel-good, sing-along song, but also because my dad played it about 1,000 times in my childhood, talking about how it perfectly summed up his transformational experience moving to Wyoming in the summer of 1968. Thirty years later—with countless lessons from my dad on the spiritual power of mountains and valleys and lakes and wildflowers—I had my own transformational experience, discovering the Pacific Northwest was my heart’s home. — Jill Simmons, executive director