Words and photos by Jeff Little
"Daaadeeee! Can we go outside?" is a commonly heard phrase in our household. Sometimes my reply is, "Do you know that it's 31 degrees out and sleeting?" The kids honestly don't care. They want to be outside.
It's no wonder. Their mother is a dairy farmer, and works outside year 'round in all manner of hot, cold, rainy, buggy or otherwise unpleasant weather. They ride in the Gator with her to bring in the heifers, spread hay bales in the calf shed and turn wrenches with their uncle in the shop. I take them fishing in conditions that many adults wouldn't handle very well. Cooper and Sawyer may not grow up to be a dairy farmer or an angler, but that love of nature is instilled in them.
I get emails and Facebook messages from fathers who want to involve their kids in their fishing, and feel somewhat uneasy about how it will go. "What's the best kayak for me to take my eight year old fishing?" read one. I felt like replying, "What in the world did you wait so long for?"
Both of my sons were in a backpack carrier for wading trips as soon as they could hold their heads up. They couldn't walk or speak, but their conversations with nature started so early that now they just assume that everyone does what we do. I would wade and cast, catch a fish, show it to Sawyer. He would laugh as it wriggled between my thumb and index finger. I would let it go, and he would chuckle at the departing smallmouth's splash. Before long, I would hold up another fish. He would barely acknowledge it. I would turn my head around to see him intent on grabbing a bright green inchworm hanging down from a thread.
Adults tune out many of nature's beauties because we've seen them before. Kids, especially young kids have an insatiable appetite for new sights, smells, textures and experiences. Walking along a creek bank floods their developing brains with those sensations. My younger son Cooper has an especially strong focus on whatever nuance of nature he comes across. Sometimes it's a marching caterpillar that he transfers from one hand to the other for three hours straight. Sometimes it's a study in hydrodynamics through an on the water laboratory, a dam he made with rocks and sticks.
I suppose that having the wife I do gives the boys and I a hall pass that others don't have. It's more than having a long leash in terms of what I can get away with. Part of her faith in my ability to bring them home safely comes from knowing that I've been hypothermic, pinned a kayak, camped in sub freezing temperatures and learned from each of my mishaps. More importantly, she understands that outside time is a medicine to be taken daily. They come home happier than they were when they left. They certainly end the day happier than if they would have spent the day fighting over the remote.
In terms of fishing, at ages six and eight both know how to sling a bait caster, unhook any fish without large teeth and explain the pattern they used to catch fish. But that's not what it's about. I want it to be about that, as my boastful fatherly pride just displayed. It's about putting them in situations outdoors where they will hopefully find their own fishing, whatever that might be.