To Be Brave, Take Small Steps and Be Careful

“When you want to do something brave you should take small steps and be careful.”  LS

These are the words that came out of my three year olds mind yesterday at dinner and they struck me as the wisdom one might hear from a wise old sage.  I will never know the origin of these words in her mind nor the thought process that caused them to be uttered.  They are great words of wisdom none-the-less.

She is at the age were she is being asked to be brave when she falls and hurts herself and possibly she gains her bravery a small bit at a time until she stops crying.  She also yesterday gained the confidence to go down the spiral slide by herself.  Possibly this came after a year of small steps to gain the bravery to climb the ladder at the playground and to sit at the top of the slide but not go down. After many small steps she gained the bravery to go down the spiral slide.

She is at the age, parents are told by parenting books, that fear is developing in her mind.  For nearly a year she has been talking to us about her fears.   We as parents are helping her understand her fears and face them.  Possibly through small steps in her mind she is learning to manage her fears.

These are things as adults we may have forgotten.  Nature is a place of many fears for some adults.  As we leave child hood our natural curiosity for nature may wane and we tend to not feel the need to spend much time in nature until that time that nature calls us home.  I do not mean the big “D”, I mean that urge that most people have to get back to nature and enjoy the curiosity and freedom of being out in nature with none of the responsibilities of adulthood.    This is the urge that Robert Service describes in his poem The Call of the Wild.  I suspect that all too often the call of the wild is suppressed for the simple fact that a person has too much happening in life.  Then a person who has been away from nature too long begins to loose the sense of comfort with nature and begins to gain a sense of fear of nature.

This is the point of my daughter’s wisdom in my mind.  To be brave we must sometimes take small steps.  To Come Home to Nature or anything that one has been away from for too long take small steps.

This year, heed the Call of the Wild and warm your soul.  Here is a link to The Call of the Wild by Robert Service.  Enjoy, it is a spectacular journey.

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You Can Never Be Lost If You Have No Place to Be and No Time to Be There

Chilling takes a second meaning.  A splash of water provides relief from warm temperatures and relaxes the mind, which brings us back to the moment.  Photo courtesy of Paul Bojan.

Chilling takes a second meaning. A splash of water provides relief from warm temperatures and relaxes the mind, which brings us back to the moment. Photo courtesy of Paul Bojan.

When on an adventure in nature, it is a wonderful feeling when you realize that you have  stepped out of time.  When you get to the point where you just are.  Sometimes this is called “being in the moment.”

Nearly twenty years ago, as I was reinventing myself, I was going to stretch my comfort zone and go on a three-day solo backpacking trip.  I wanted to go light so on the way I stopped by the army surplus store to pick up a poncho to fashion into a tent.  This was one of my worst nights sleeping in nature.  My inexperience led me to pick a bad site and set up a poor shelter.

The trip though yielded great knowledge.  It was on this trip that I came to understand being in the moment.    The words “you can never be lost if you have no place to be and no time to be there,” came into my mind.  This simple revelation removed quite a bit of fear of being in nature, the fear of getting lost.

Fear is a powerful enemy.  Once I thought I was lost and later found I really was not.  My navigation skills were still rather green and I had been tracking an old trail.  (On Boulder Mountain there are trails that are not traveled as much any more and they have become overgrown.  A bit of a hobby of mine is to track these trails.)  I lost the trail and started to doubt my navigation skills.  At this point I could not make any sense of the map and the land.  Fear and frustration started to creep into my mind.   Fortunately it was getting late in the day.  There was water nearby so I just made a bed and slept for the night. I woke up the next morning looked at the map and realized that I was exactly where I thought I was, however in my tired state the night before I could not see that.  Since I did not feel the pressure of having a place to be or a time to be there, I was able to accept that I am where I am at this moment and was able to work with what was available to me.

Sometimes the way is as bold as can be yet easy to miss if your eyes are busy looking at the map.  Photo Courtesy of Marlene Webb.

Sometimes the way is as bold as can be yet easy to miss if your eyes are busy looking at the map. Photo Courtesy of Marlene Webb.

I use this statement quite frequently when teaching navigation.  The purpose being to allow students to relax about navigation and have fun with it.  When we are not as worried about getting lost, we take our noses out of the map and notice were we are.  This is when we start to appreciate our surroundings and gently slip into being in the moment.  We also realize that where ever we are is where we are supposed to be.

Even if you do have a pick-up time and place for an adventure in nature, frustration about not being able to make the appointment often cripples us and creates more challenges.  If we take the approach of accepting where we are at the moment and work with what we have available we are more likely to see things clearly and make better decisions.

Over time the statement took on a deeper meaning.  I came to realize that the statement was also a metaphor for life.  In life we have places to be – career objectives – and times to  be there – by a certain age.  Though goals are important to help us grow, goals can also keep us from seeing what is right in front of us.  When we take our noses out of the map we have drawn for our lives – whether from our own imagination or from the mores that engulf us – we can begin to appreciate were we are in our lives today and we can realize that we are were we are supposed to be.  Being in tune with our current lives allows us to see what is trying so desperately to get our attention, the person of your dreams the ideal career path or just about anything.

Take your head out of the map, enjoy the moment in nature, enjoy the moment in life, amazing things might happen!

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Campsite Selection Hits Home

Recently there was an article about a boulder that crashed into a home in St. George, Utah.  This struck me as an excellent example of a lesson in campsite selection.

Hiking to a new camp in the desert.

Hiking to a new camp in the desert.
Photo courtesy of Paul Bojan.

When hiking the trail and looking for a “home” for the night we look for a few things.  Water for drinking, cooking and washing is nice.  Wood for fire and shelter is good to have as well.  We pay attention to the weather to determine if we will be challenged by the weather at night.   We look for “wigglies,” which is anything that may squirm into bed with you – whether as small as an ant or large as a bear – for we do not want unwelcome visitors to our little nest.  Finally, but most important of which, we look for “widow makers.”  It is the widow makers that the article brought to mind.

Widow makers are anything that will bring an untimely demise to a spouse – the spouse who is camping.  Boulders rolling off ledges fall into this category.  Likewise falling trees or branches, flash floods and lightning fit into this category.  The lesson is that before making a nest in which to slumber comfortably, look around, look up, look down.  Look with a critical eye.  Look for the newspaper article headlines “Camper Dies in Sleep, Crushed by …”

When I was young in the outdoor education industry I followed the leader.  The school where I worked had a base camp at which there was this great ponderosa pine that made an exquisite location for a nightly nest.  The senior instructors always went to this tree to set up camp and I followed.  We called this tree “the Penthouse.”  I slept snuggly under this tree for many a night until one day I realized that it went absolutely contrary to the most important criteria  of campsite selection.  It was a widow maker.  It was a lightening rod.  It was in the middle of an open field and it was the tallest thing in the vicinity.   Without too much scrutiny, it was easy to discern from the thin strip of bark that was removed in a pattern that spiraled around the trunk from top to bottom that it had indeed been hit by lightening before, probably more than once.  I have never slept under that tree again.  I found that I also sleep better when my mind is not on the things that might kill me at night.

Yes, it is nice to have water and wood and protection from weather and no little insects to bother you in the night.  But, it is critical not to sleep in the position of a widow maker.  Remember it may be easy to react to something when awake, however, when deep in slumber reflexes are significantly hampered and reaction time is somewhat nonexistent.   Make the determination of where to sleep for yourself and do not follow the leader or be cajoled into camping in an unsafe location.  To modify an age old saying, “It is good to look before you sleep.”  Sleep Well.

Shelter Craft Workshop

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The Gift of a Child

Spending time in nature with our children, priceless!

Spending time in nature with our children, priceless!

My daughter knows that when I go to “work” I go to the mountains that are visible from our home.  She occasionally comes to visit me at my office and we go for walks or just lie around looking at nature.  What a great office for our children to visit.  They can pick up pretty much anything they want and look at it and be curious about it as is their nature.  I look forward to the times when she will be able to join me at work not just for a visit but for a day or a week.   To her this is my office.

My daughter also knows I have another office, the one I go to more regularly during the offseason.  This office is wonderful for her as well because she is able to spend more time with me throughout the day.  There has been a good deal of talk lately about my work in the home office as we work hard to get Desert DAWN started.  As I write for the Desert DAWN website, I share with her and my wife the topics of the pages I wrote that day.  She has not yet been introduced to the World Wide Web but she does know that my work involves something called a “website”.

Today, she did one of those magical things that our children do to make us smile and completely forget the last challenging hour.  She went outside, picked up a rock that she had painted and proudly brought it to me with the statement, “here papa, this is for your website.”  How can we resist this offer to help in our work, we can’t.  So here is my daughters contribution to Desert DAWN.  (Though her contribution is far grander than a piece of sandstone she painted, since sharing nature with her as a child is part of the inspiration for starting the school.)

The rock my daughter offered for my website to lend her support to my efforts.

The rock my daughter offered for my website to lend her support to my efforts.

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In The Footsteps of Dave Rust

Through our life’s adventures, we come across a few people that make a difference in the direction we take.  The obvious people are one’s parents or the inspirational professor.  I recently added a new person to my list, Dave Rust.   I was visiting with a friend a few weeks ago who guides horse trips in the Escalante River Basin and on the Aquarius Plateau.  He asked if I had read this book, Dave Rust: a life in the canyons, by Fredrick H. Swanson.  I said “no, never heard of it or him.”  He showed me the book and said I really should read it.  I glanced through it and became instantly engrossed.

It turns out that Dave Rust was one of the first guides in south central Utah and north central Arizona during the early 1900’s.  Additionally, when the tourism industry for this area was getting started and he was poised to get in on the ground floor, he choose to guide in a different manner.  Instead of tourism that is a checklist of sights, which are seen from a tour bus with fifteen minute stops at key points, Dave wanted his clients to gain a deeper understanding of the land and the environment.   Spending hours at an off-the-path location and understanding the geology or ecology of the area was far more important than taking clients to as many locations as possible in a three day sightseeing tour.  In fact,  most of the places Dave went were not accessible by vehicles and his excursions often were measured in weeks instead of days.  His clients were more of the explorer nature than the tourist nature.  This approach provided him and his clients richer and more rewarding experiences that at times developed into life long friendships.

Amazing, as Desert DAWN readies for its first official season, I had stumbled on the person who was leading the type of excursions I started Desert DAWN to lead and he did it in the time frame that I am using for inspiration for the Desert DAWN program.  Needless to say I obtained a copy of the book and excitedly read it.  I realized that I had been and will continue to walk in the footsteps of one of the greatest guides of this area.   I have a new mentor, and a new inspiration in Dave Rust.   Interestingly, some others in my life who I consider  mentors – Dave Wescot and Mike Ryan – have also walked in the footsteps of Dave Rust.

The land that Dave Rust explored was vast covering what is today divided into numerous State Parks, National Forests, National Monuments and National Parks.   The Aquarius Plateau and the Escalante River though are still very much the same.  There is more tourist traffic, because now there are roads.  Interestingly,  the overwhelming majority of this traffic – as in Rust’s day – still does not stray far from the roads.  A few trails have become popular for day hikes, however,  a person can still walk for weeks without meeting another person.  The view points that Dave Rust indicates are still as spectacular.  The cultural history has been added to over the last century.

At the end of the book, Mr. Swanson notes that Dave commented on looking forward to visiting in his hereafter with the guides that he worked with over the years.  It would certainly be amazing to listen to those campfire stories.  I could only hope they would invite me to join their circle, what an honor that would be.


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The “Ten Essentials” of the Wilderness Scout

Portrait of Daniel Boone by Chester Harding 1820. (PD-Art, PD-US 1923)

The wilderness scouts and explorers in the America’s during the 1700’s and 1800’s were a different breed of camper.  The lived from their wits.  They traveled in nature for many months at a time exploring and learning the land – carrying little food or gear and living from the land.  If they had formed the notion of “ten essentials”, then it probably looked quite different than the modern day version.

In the book Daniel Boone – Wilderness Scout, Stewart White wrote, Daniel Boone and a few other men embarked on a journey to “visit the new land.”  Their clothing was primarily buckskin shirts and leggings, their footwear was moccasins.   “They wore leather belts, with the buckles in the rear both to avoid glitter and catching in the brush.  The tomahawk was slung on the right side of the belt.  The bullet or ‘shot’ pouch was swung on a strap over the left shoulder and hung on the right side, the powder horn immediately above it.  The knife was in the belt on the left side.  Each man also carried a small pack containing extras, chiefly powder and lead.  They had little in the way of bedding, no extra clothes, no shelters, almost no food, none of the things we take when we are ‘roughing it’ severely.  The wilderness was to be their home, and from the wilderness they must take all they needed.”  White pp. 51 & 52.

The ten essentials list of these woodsman may have looked something like this:

  1. Knife Craft (Knife handling skills including safety, use and maintenance of a knife.)
  2. Axe Craft (Axe handling skills including safety, use and maintenance of an axe.)
  3. Fire Craft (Fire skills including safety use and maintenance of a fire.)
  4. Bind Craft (Binding skills including making cordage or rope, use and maintenance of cordage or rope, and the use of other materials such as roots and vines for bindings.)
  5. Shelter Craft (Shelter construction skills made from materials found in nature whether used alone or in conjunction with other items that may have been carried.)
  6. Camp Craft (Skills in organizing camp and constructing items for use at camp to make camp comfortable and convenient – and in Boone’s case well hidden.)
  7. Trail Craft (Land travel skills  including navigation, trail safety and trail marking and in Boone’s case for disguising a trail.)
  8. Water Craft (Water travel skills for traveling on waterways, including making water craft, reading the water and swimming.)
  9. Plant Craft (Knowledge of plants and skills for using the plants for food, medicine and utility items.)
  10. Animal Craft ( Knowledge of animals and skills of tracking, stalking, hunting and trapping as well as skills for using the animal for food and utility items.)

Daniel Boone… “was a master of wood craft, able to find his way hundreds of miles through unbroken forest, able to maintain himself alone not merely for a day or a week but for a year or more with or without other resources than his rifle, his tomahawk and his knife; and this in the face of the most wily foes.”  White p. 2.

There is no doubt that they carried a possibles bag with items that they decided were useful to have when traveling in nature.  Their “ten essentials” though were more essential knowledge and skills than essential items.

The modern ten essentials as published by The Mountaineers in 2003, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills,  has a wise list of things to take with you on excursions into nature.

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter

It is worth considering whether you could live happily in nature if for some reason you lost or broke an item or it malfunctioned.   Could you read the land to navigate your way?  Could you make fire and shelter?  Could you take care of medical needs?  True skills in nature comes from knowing  what nature provides and how to use it responsibly.  This was the skill of the early scouts and explorers.  These are the skills that we should all strive for in our outdoor pursuits.  And then put in your possibles bag the items that you feel are useful to have conveniently at hand based on your knowledge and skills.

Consider also whether the modern “ten essentials” might be lacking things that Daniel Boone considered essential.

White, Stewart Edward, Daniel Boone Wilderness Scout, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1922.

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The Advent of Recreational Camping

Recreational camping is a relatively new pastime.  It has only been enjoyed for 150 years.  Recreational camping is to be distinguished from occupational camping or lifestyle camping.  Trappers, hunters, scouts, surveyors, explorers were all occupational campers who did so as part of their job.  Aboriginal people around the world who live in movable homes would be considered to lifestyle campers who did so as their daily way of life.   Occupational campers and lifestyle campers do so because they need to camp, whereas recreational campers do so because they want to camp.

What was it that allowed humans to go from occupational camping to recreational camping?  Well, leisure time is the basic answer.  The theory goes that as technology improves the amount of time needed to perform tasks decreases and thus we have more free time.  It was the Industrial Revolution that ushered in this greater amount of free time for the American populous.   As the American Civil War came to a close, the United States was poised to expand its economy and expand it did.  The industrialist of the late 19th century started building a new America.  For good or bad, in good ways or bad, these industrialist made the United States one of the strongest economies.  And when the smoke finally settled, a middle class began to emerge.  People found themselves with more resources and more time.  By the turn of the century, recreational camping had become a well established past time and the outdoor industry had begun.  The Ford Model T car, which was produced from 1908 through 1927, was the first affordable car that was available to the middle class.  This affordable vehicle opened travel and also camping to a great number of people.   People now had the time, resources and the means to get back in touch with their roots in nature.   Camping and all the mental and physical health benefits that accompanied it had become mainstream.  Read “The American Camp Movement”.

Classic Camping of the 1920's

The automobile opened camping to the general public. By User:Marcia Wright (Own work) [PD 1923], via Wikimedia Commons

The Industrial Revolution had made numerous technologies available to the camping public.  However, the” less is more” and “simpler is better” approach was written about by numerous authors of the day.  These authors went back to the days of occupational camping – the scouts, explorers, surveyors – to draw on the professionals’ wisdom regarding what works.   The authors were rarely impressed by new fangled gadgets and gizmos espoused by the retailers as the latest and greatest for camping expeditions.  Then, as now, these items created more weight on the back rather than providing a significant benefit to the camper.   The literature of the day referred to woodcraft skills as the “essential” that the occupational camper carried along.  The occupational camper knew more and carried less.   Skill with a knife and hatchet were used to replace the pounds of gear that less experienced campers had to carry on their backs.

These early days of recreational camping is what has come to be know of as Classic Camping, where one slept under material made from plant fiber – cotton; wore clothes made from animal fiber – wool; and cooked using found fuel – wood.   Blankets, tarps, knives and hatchets and a few implements for cooking over a fire made up the gear list for the experienced camper.  Knowledge of nature and woodcraft skills were the “10 essentials” of the day.

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“The American Camp Movement”

Consider this statement regarding the current state of society.

If this rings a bell, consider that it was written nearly a century ago.  The Camping Ideal: The New Human Race, Henry Wellington Wack, F.R.G.S., The Redbook Magazine, Department of Eduction 1924.

As humanity progresses forward, human nature does not change – what changes is the devices we have available to address human nature.  We do have choices about which devices we use.  When choosing a device, the one that helps us reach our goals effectively is often the best choice.  When the goal is reconnecting with our roots in nature then simplicity of technology is the most effective.  Simplicity of technology in this case is often found in the technologies based in renewable resources.

Life in nature takes advantage of renewable resources and abundance or scarcity of these resources in the local creates the checks and balances for nature.   The Human Race may be only years or possibly eons away from being forced to return to the Way of Nature – living only from local resources that determine population balances.   As individuals, however, we can choose to live closer to the Way of Nature by using lower technologies and using resources as close to home as possible.  Live Simply, Live Locally.

Read “What is Classic Camping?”

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Welcome to the Desert DAWN Blog

Welcome to the Desert DAWN Blog.  Join us as we discuss matters relating to Classic Camping and Nature Awareness. We define Classic Camping as recreational camping methods used between the 1870’s and 1920’s.  After the American Civil War, people started to … Continue reading

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