When I think back on my childhood, the memories that stand out for me aren’t the days I was stuck inside watching TV or playing video games. My fondest memories are family camping trips, enjoying each others company around a fire or some of the multi-generation road trips I took with my Dad and my Grandpa.
Being that summer is essentially here and school is out for the year, I’m sharing my list of ways that I plan to help my son connect with nature as he grows up. Life moves so fast these days, and unless we start preserving the little things, they will slowly fade away until they are a thing of the past.
These are things that I was proud to learn or experience about nature with my dad, and I hope my son one day shares them with his children.
Spend a Night Under the Stars
I still remember being five or six and heading out to Penticton, BC, with my dad on a hot summer’s day. After a night of sitting around telling stories, we put out the fire and I snuggled up in my sleeping bag. That nostalgic smell of the campfire was still lingering in the air. I lay there with my dad, and I can remember being in absolute awe with the millions of stars lighting up the sky. There were no cell phones, iPods, or any other distractions – just the two of us and the universe.
When I was eight or nine years old my Dad and I went on a fishing trip sponsored by his employer. This fishing derby had all sorts of prizes based on the size of the Salmon you caught. I was so excited by the allure of the competition and had dreams of catching the winning fish.
Unfortunately we never got anything the first day, or the second. On the third day, we finally got something on our line. We fought with this fish for what seemed like an hour, but when we finally got the fish to shore, the poor guy had our hook caught in his cheek, not in his mouth. Being a kid – I didn’t care, I was so excited that we had finally caught something, but my dreams of catching a fish were cut short right then.
My dad, gently removed the hook, and had me put our slithery friend back in the river; we hadn’t caught him ethically. We never wound up catching anything else that trip, and as much as I thought I walked away empty-handed, I actually walked away with something much more valuable; this was the day my dad taught me to respect wildlife.
Don’t Leave a Trace
Setting up camp in a remote place is an amazing experience, but when you leave, the site should be pristine, and the next campers shouldn’t be able to tell that you were ever even there. From the first time we went camping as a kid, we always spent twice as long on our clean up than we did on our setup.
I can remember both my dad and my grandpa running around with a garbage bag cleaning up absolutely any piece of man made material they could find.
I was always in charge of raking dirt over any ashes that remained from our fire. If other’s had left garbage, we would make sure we took care of it as well.
Cleaning up is about respect and preserving our right to enjoy nature as we please.
Plant a Tree
When I was in grade one, my parents were building a house for us to live in. The lot we purchased was in a heavily forested area and needed a lot of tree removal to create the space for our house. I would come to the lot after school with my sister and my dad would man the chain saw and had to remove some of the trees that were preventing us from building our house.
After the house was built, we went away for a weekend to go camping. Little did I know in the back of the truck he had two saplings for every tree we cut down. We spent that afternoon planting these new trees by our campsite.
Since then I’ve had to remove a few trees at my own home, and have made sure to replace them with at least two new trees every time.
When I was five years old we had moved into a new home my Dad had built (a few blocks from the previously mentioned home). We had a large backyard and we were in a heavily forested area. To me, the area felt like I was living in an outdoor playground. While most people’s memories of roasting marshmallows for the first time is out camping somewhere, mine was in own backyard.
We had a little fire, and my neighbour, (who I’m still friends with), came over with hot chocolate (complete with the baby marshmallows). We sat around the fire with sticks our dads had carved and they showed us how to cook the marshmallow just enough so it didn’t burn or melt into the fire. Twenty-nine years later, this roasting technique is still the exact technique I use to get that brown caramelization on every roasted mallow.
Learn to Fish
While I’m not a fishing expert by any means, I don’t think there is a better way to fully immerse yourself in nature. Even though the first time I went fishing was nearly thirty years ago now, I still remember all the little details about that trip. I remember the alarm going off at 4:30 a.m. , my dad patiently sitting there trying to show me how to tie a fishing lure, and even sitting on a log sharing a Nature Valley bar with my dad. Learning to fish, taught me patience, how to relax, and how shut off the outside world and be present with your friends.
How to use a Pocketknife
At seven years old my family went camping with some family friends. There were a few other kids that were a couple years older, and I remember sitting on a little stump watching them carve their own sticks for roasting marshmallows. Until that day, somebody had always just made one for me because I wasn’t old enough to wield a knife.
This day was different though, my dad noticed me wide-eyed watching the older kids and sat down next to me. He brought over a fresh stick and handed me a slightly dulled Swiss Army knife. For the next 15 minutes he explained what each of the tools could do, and showed me how I too could carve my own stick. I was ecstatic – I felt like I was a teenager with my own knife.
I spent the next three days making countless sticks for roasting marshmallows and hot dogs. Truth be told, I don’t think I cooked a single thing with these sticks on this trip. I was far too enamoured with carving sticks for everybody else to waste time making treats.
Swim in a lake – in solitude
If you are anything like me, your childhood has hundreds of memories involving swimming. Public pools, friend’s backyards, beaches, hotels – you name it, I have a memory for it. For me, one memory stands out amongst all of these memories, and it was from a family vacation with my family.
When I was growing up my parents always liked to take us on hikes. Even on vacations we would often set out on interesting hikes. These hikes weren’t always my favourite things to do away on vacation, but this one memory stands out.
After hiking for what seemed like an entire day, the trees opened up and revealed a beautiful glacier fed lake. The water was crystal clear and we were the only people within a few Kilometers.
I didn’t even have thirty seconds to catch my breath before my dad picked up both my sister and me. We screamed as he ran and jumped into the lake with both of us in his arms. My mom got in on the action and came running in right after.
At first we screamed at the ice-cold temperature of the water, but giggling quickly took over. Our clothes may have been completely soaked, but we spent the next hour here, and our family had one of our most intense bonding moments ever.
Thinking about the splashing and giggling, still puts a smile on my face. Do yourself a favour – find a remote lake – and share a similar moment with your family.
How to Build a Fire
Being able to start a fire is one of the most important skills an outdoorsman will master. As a young boy I have many fond memories sitting around the fire with my friends and family. Telling stories, roasting marshmallows and enjoying each other’s company in the flicker of the fire.
Nowadays, getting the fire started is something I look forward to, and I can thank my dad for that. While he didn’t let me run away with fires as kid, he always let me help him while he got ours started. Every time we went out, he would give me a new way to help. Whether it was gathering kindling, building a stick tepee, or putting another log on the fire, he always made me feel like it was the fire we built together.
And while he showed me everything I know about building a fire, he always made sure the fire was completely extinguished and cleaned up before we left the site.
Having respect for the fire was always just as important as starting it.
How to pitch a tent
Another important tool for embracing the great outdoors is being able to properly pitch a tent. Tents come in all shapes and sizes and range in complexity form a simple one-man tent to a tent designed to house a family of 12. While the complicated tents may provide a little more in terms of a luxury experience, my best camping memories involve roughing it in a small three-man tent on fishing trips.
On a typical fishing trip my Dad and I would get up super early and drive for a few hours until we got to our site. The first thing we did, was dig out our tiny little tent. Like a well-oiled machine, we would assemble the poles, hammer in the pegs and raise the walls of our temporary castle in under 15 minutes.
While sleeping under the stars is a great experience, as a kid, being snug in a tiny little tent with your dad is even better.
Tell Ghost Stories
You’d think telling little-boys ghost stories in the middle of the woods would be the worst thing you could do before putting them to bed, but instead of terrorizing us it energized us.
The dads on our trips would each take turns telling a scary story while holding the flashlight under their chin. The light from the fire would flicker off the the body of the storyteller, drawing us deeper and deeper into their story as if they were the only person in the forest. As each story climaxed, all of us kids would scream in horror while we sipped on hot chocolate. Afterwards we would all get shuffled off to bed.
Instead of falling right to sleep, we would pretend to go to sleep, then stay up way past our bedtime making up our own ghost stories.
This was always something I always looked forward to and can’t wait to terrorize my son and his friends when they are a little older.
I hope you enjoyed some of these important experiences I had growing up that helped me connect with nature. I plan on reliving each of them with my son, and hope you do too.