Happy Camper Class
Credit: Kevin Callan

I’m seriously trying not to become a grumpy old man.

I turned 50 a few months back and I’m determined not to sound-off with comments about how things were more difficult when I was growing up. Problem is, kids these days do have it easier — and I’m worried they’re going to suffer because of it.

Case in point: today was Twig Identification Day for my dual-credit students (high school students who go to college to gain a credit). A good majority failed. They complained it was too cold to be outside and stated we should do the test indoors. How frustrating. The coldest it got was -15 degrees Celsius, warming up to a balmy -6 by noon. We lit a fire for brunch and served hot chocolate and tea. I remember writing my twig test in the early 1980s. No one served me a hot drink. But that’s a moot point. The main point is that, at the time, we all wanted to be outside. We craved it. It was the reason we signed up for the program in the first place. I’m thinking the majority of my dual-credit class signed up because they thought it would be easy. The course I teach isn’t easy — but it’s fun. The week before, we were out learning to identify animal tracks and scat. Next week, the class will be required to find their way through the woods with a map and compass. They seemed bored looking at animal tracks and some anxiety is building about next week’s test — that is, walking the woods with some form of “ancient technology.”

Of the 16 students, only three had been in the woods for a full day before. None had been out in the winter for a full day. I think that’s the problem. It’s why some of them wore running shoes, tight blue jeans and came without gloves. They had been warned constantly for three weeks prior to the trip to dress appropriately. But they didn’t listen. It’s because they had yet to have nature kick them in the butt. Now it did. They froze out there. Fingers were numb and toes were stinging by the time the bus picked us up in the afternoon.

Truth be told, not all of them froze. A handful of students welcomed the day, even helped build the fire to get the others warm. Problem is, I never got a chance to focus on those students because I was too busy taking care of the ones that weren’t prepared. That seems to happen a lot. Last year’s class was a good example. I had words with a student who had cheated on a test. To rebel, he told the administration I had “roughed him up” in the hallway. The school video surveillance quickly proved I didn’t go near the kid. By then, though, I had quit my job and decided my time was best spent wandering the woods alone. I guess frustration got the better of me and I gave up. Here’s the catch though. The administration called me back and said they needed my help to deal with an issue back at the school. It seemed the rest of the students, all whom were more upset about that spoiled brat’s behaviour than I was, had refused to leave the school until I returned.

So, there’s still hope for the future of the human species. I’m not denying that. My worry is that they’ll all grow soft and not want to travel the wilderness — simply because they don’t have to. After all, a twig test can easily be done indoors. But it shouldn’t.

In retrospect, I’m thinking of canceling the map and compass next week, to lower the student’s anxiety, and just taking them out for a walk in the woods. It’s hard to justify such a thing when my main job is to teach them to identify animal poop and twigs. But maybe if they have more bush time they’ll actually gain a desire to know more about what they’re seeing out there, or at least have a desire to pass the next test I give. 

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