If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I believe in things. I believe in cold, clear water. I believe in the healing power of fly fishing for military veterans. I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I also believe kids need to get their lazy video-game-playing asses off the couch and off to camp.
Now, look, I don’t have any kids. I barely remember the names of the kids that I see on a regular basis. Maybe that’s because my brain is filled with all the cool names that I would name my kids that my wife already said “No!” to: Archer, Fletcher, Hunter, Fisher, August, Tecumseh, Wedge, Miller, Parker. Our kids are going to have some damn wiener names, and when they complain I’ll just raise my arms in exasperation and exclaim, “Hey, don’t blame me…!”
But, at the risk of sounding like an after-school special, kids are our future. When I walk into a public meeting for a local fishing organization and realize that, at the ripe ol’ age of 32, I am the youngest person in the room, I wonder if a child born today will have a future that is as strongly connected to the natural world as the folks in that room with me. When I’m in my seventies and retired and teetering around on one good leg, will there be some twenty-something punk-ass who I can turn my crusty eye to and admonish, “Well back in my day fishing with barbs was still legal, until President Trump signed the Forty-Seventh Amendment…!”? Or will I be sputtering such nonsense to myself in an empty room as the President/Vice President/Secretary/Treasurer/Board and also the only member of Stonerollers Unlimited?
These thoughts don’t keep me up at night, but they do make it a bit harder to fall asleep. I hope the generations behind me care as much about this stuff as I do today. E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis tells us that we all have the capacity to do so. Richard Louv has spent the last decade suggesting that we’ve gradually alienated ourselves from the natural world, and that we are poorer for it. As a naturalist educator with Riveredge Nature Center, I watched as students from Milwaukee walked off the buses and into the 400-acre woodlands with looks of apprehension. I fielded questions such as, “Do you have alligators here?” and “Will the deer bite us?” I assured students that wading the Milwaukee River was completely safe. Then I watched as those same students had to be pulled reluctantly from the water after an hour of splashing around, capturing invertebrates in kick nets and having a good time at it. I believe both Wilson and Louv are right.
Children are more likely to know the names of Pokémon than they are local plants and animals. If kids don’t have a relationship with real, living things, what are the chances that they’ll see the value in conserving them?
About this time every year my sister-in-law holds a campaign to raise money to send kids to camp. Every year I donate anonymously under the name of a character from James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. There are a lot of good reasons to send kids to camp—as my friend Steve would say, “It’s character building!”—but getting kids disconnected from WiFi and reconnected with wildlife might be the most critical.
And maybe the day will come when one of these camp kids will walk into a Trout Unlimited meeting, their mind still fresh with a memory of catching their first fish from shore on an early morning behind their cabin. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to sucker that now-grown-up kid into taking a position on the board of directors. Because by that time, I’ll be too old to put up with that kind of shit.
(If you want to help send a kid to camp, click here.)