I returned early from the Boy Scout campout at Slippery Falls Ranch in Tishomingo, and I’ll have to say that my son and I were disappointed in the experience (at least the part involving Boy Scouts). For example, in order for a scout to carry a pocket knife around, he has to endure a 3 hour class on the subject and prove to the BSA that he can use it. As a child raised in the back woods of Oklahoma, I was using a pocket knife on a regular basis by age 6 and shooting .22 rifles by the time I was 7.
My son Conner has severe asthma. We stayed at my uncle’s home which happened to be only 2 miles away from Slippery Falls Ranch as to alleviate the possibility of having to put him through any breathing treatments. Conner often wakes in the morning wheezing even in the best environments. I am not going to go into all the details of why we left the camp early, but mainly it was because we spent 80% of the day in classes listening to teenage scouts teach classes (or rather read information from a merit badge book) rather than swimming, hunting, fishing, boating, and all the other things that interested Conner about scouting. A good friend of mine was a cub scout as a kid and quit because of the expense, but was shooting a bow at age 7 because of it. The fact is that he was severely bored because of all the regulations that put padding up around the experience of camping, and as a country kid who loves the outdoors (to spite his asthmatic condition) only had free time between 7pm and 10pm.
However, the entire experience taught me something valuable about my relationship with my son: I don’t do enough outdoors stuff with him, and that changed this week.
Boy Scouts of America is probably great if one doesn’t get out much or who lives their lives mostly in urban environments, making camping a special event rather than something done as a family on a regular basis and as part of life. My family and I live on 5 acres in a very heavily forested area, and my kids play outside all the time within earshot of deer, pygmy rattlesnakes and raccoons. I am not criticizing scouting. I am sure it is great for those who needed what it provided, and really all of the tedious classes are to ensure that the BSA are not sued. It is simply not for people who live in the country and who are trained in this kind of life from birth. I may sound like a total redneck here, but it is mainly (as far as I can reason) an opportunity for dads who were not raised with certain traditions of the outdoors to in some cases rely on others to teach their sons those traditions. Quite frankly, I will confess that I have fallen down on the job, but that all ended this week.
We went to my uncle’s house which sits on the back side of Devil’s Den, an abandoned private park. It was abandoned years ago because the sewage from their latrines ran down into Pennington Creek where the town of Tishomingo draws its drinking water. I called my wife who brought the girls down and she and the girls stayed the night with us. The next morning, my cousin Garry, recently retired from 28 years of teaching history and coaching, took my family on a three mile hike through the brush (stopping now and again for breathers and water breaks), around giant granite boulders and dried up creek beds, using a hoe to chop at the poison ivy and possible copperhead snakes as we went. My kids, as they say, “ate it up”, and so did my wife and I. It brought back fond memories of hikes with my dad in that southern Oklahoma bush country.
The greatest and most exciting part of the journey was when we told Garry we would like to go swimming in the creek. He took us through the deep woods to the edge of the creek, and after testing the depth of the water with a stick, we dove in shoes and all, my cell phone safely stowed in my backpack. It was only waist deep at entry into the water, and soon my kids were swimming around, chasing minnows and pulling out little muscle shells and examining them.
We finished our swim, but realized that the place we jumped in would be a difficult if not impossible path to dry land, so we looked for a spot further down the creek for an easier access point. We waded out into Pennington Creek from the little branch we had used as a swimming hole and soon realized that the creek was much deeper here, but the children took it in stride, swimming along easily and laughing when I nearly went under, holding my backpack over my head as not to drown my precious iPhone.
We found another fork in the creek leading to shallower water and a way out, and after quelling the protests of my children wanting to swim all the way up the creek, we started toward dry land, our shoes soaked and squishing in the soft gravelly mud of Pennington Creek. Meagan (my youngest daughter) and Kaylee (my oldest daughter) charged on ahead toward the finger of land that was our pathway back to the house, but shouted (more out of excitement than fear) and pointed: “SNAKE!”. Sitting lazily on the finger of land directly in our path, raising his tapered black head like a cobra, a deadly cottonmouth water moccasin stared us down. I asked Garry to use his hoe, holding the very end of it, to frighten the five foot long reptile away. He did, and after the snake was a few feet away (I could still see it, mind you) he said “Ok, let’s go.” We laughed as we walked up onto the shore.
We all talked about the snake and made jokes about it on the trek back to the house, and Garry said he would get a shoulder holster for the next time he went for his daily walks in the woods. When we got back, we fished for small perch in a pond just outside my uncle’s yard, ate a picnic lunch outside and let our clothes dry on a clothes line in the sun.
I plan to make many more trips to my uncle’s house with my son and daughters. We’ll go swimming in the creek, playing in the woods, and spotting wildlife. Next time we’ll bring our guns and shoot at targets, bring all of our fishing gear and see if we can coax that big catfish out of the pond, and I can teach my son how to make a whistle from a hickory sapling.
I learned a valuable lesson about being a dad this week. I learned that I need to pass down all those things my dad taught me to my kids so that they can one day teach their children about it. In the process I will build a bond with my children that cannot be broken. As parents we could solve a mass of problems in our relationships with our children if we would do things with them, tagging along for the journey as they explore their world rather than being that parent who is so concerned with yelling at them or constant discipline. Discipline has its place, as I am very strict with my children and those boundaries create safety in their lives. However, in my opinion there are not any steps to parenting, but just one holistic path through the woods.