There are some lessons that only the backcountry and wilderness can teach. Populated trails, designated camping sites and other “marked” adventure spots certainly serve their own purpose. However, I can’t help but think often that our children are learning about nature in a too-controlled environment. Our children are playing on “safe” playgrounds leaving little room for imagination and challenging their bodies and minds through problem solving. Many of our youth are so self-involved that they forget what it means to have to work together with others and be mindful of the environment around them. Because they don’t have to. They live in an instant gratification society.

As an avid outdoor-lover, I can’t help but fantasize about life a hundred years ago when fresh air was the norm instead of something we had to work hard to convince people they needed! Amidst the chaos of life in our current society, it seems freeing and relaxed and all things healthy. The truth is, those people were facing lessons in the wilderness daily (and sometimes they didn’t fare so well!) Those are the lessons we want our kids to know from their own experiences (and hopefully before they learn “the hard way”). We want them to know what it means to have to work together, maybe even for survival.

Let me be clear in stating that the lessons life teaches out in the wilderness are not necessarily cut and dry. That is the beauty of it. However, here are a few that we either have experienced (and so have our kids) or we hope to run into (just for that “free education” they provide!)

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Working in a mosquito-infested spot ©Amelia Mayer

– There is value in knowing what to do when the mosquitoes are so bad you can hardly cook your dinner (and when escaping to the nearest hotel is not an option.)
-> The campfire (and smoke) is your friend and mosquito nets may certainly be worth the extra (very minimal) weight.

– Simple and clear as it may sound to those of us who spend a lot of time encountering wildlife on the trail, moose/bear/cat are animals to be respected and taken seriously.
-> Place food on a bear pole or in a bear box; leave the “smelly stuff” behind (deodorant, lotions, etc.) let animals know you are coming so you don’t surprise them (bear bells, etc.); be aware of your surroundings and your own impact as a hiker/backpacker.

– Campsites don’t always come with a picnic table and fire ring – how can you problem solve and make your own (with minimal harm to the forest?)
-> Sit on logs, bring homemade “sit-upons” for wetter climates, and bring one-pot meals to minimize clean up.

– How do you pack food when you are going to carry it all in on your own backs (and then carry the trash back out)?
-> Careful planning, simple eating, using skills such as fishing for supplementing meals.
– What do you do when your feet get wet?
-> Packing sandals, wearing wool socks, taking time to stop and dry by a fire.

There is a lot to be said about the tasks of simple problem-solving that just seem more pronounced in the wilderness. There is such value in it, in fact, that people are sending their “troubled teens” to ranches and wilderness programs where those lessons are readily available (and paying big bucks to do it!) The hope for those teens and our own families is that those lessons, challenges and problem-solving skills will translate back into life in general.

I am curious what lessons you have seen concretely learned through time in the wilderness, especially by children/youth. Please feel free to share!

From the words of William Wordsworth, “Let Nature be your teacher.”

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Exploring the Alaskan Wilderness at One Year Old ©Amelia Mayer
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