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Doing Nothing Is Really Something: Bring Your Kids Into Nature

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Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children

Tim Hauserman, local guide and author, is disconcerted about kids being too busy and not spending enough time outdoors: 'Our society has decided that it is not safe for kids to be out in the woods doing ‘nothing.’ Instead they need to always be busy…with ballet, soccer, or some other structured program.'

Even we mountain folk, Hauserman admits, 'drag our children from one activity to the next.' So, how do parents find another way to connect with their children, get them outdoors, and teach them how to do ‘nothing’? Why, backpacking, of course.

To aid parents in navigating through this possibly daunting task, Hauserman recently published 'Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children,' an inspirational and humorous guide on getting the little ones geared up and ready to tackle the backcountry. Starting at seven years old (generally), kids can carry some of their belongings and begin to understand the rules of stewardship in nature. For those parents who crave to start the wilderness experience earlier, Hauserman gives sound advice on how to deal with dirty diapers, backpack both parents’ gear and baby, and feed the traveling toddler: 'Breastfeeding can be a very good thing. It is much easier to carry your weight on your, eh, front than on your back.' Hauserman deals with each topic thoroughly and with comic relief (because comic relief is always necessary for parents).

Besides answering the obvious and not so obvious questions – How far should we hike? How do we keep our child engaged on the trail? What do we do if a bear lingers into camp? – this backpacking aficionado does something else I love to see in guides; he includes lists. Turn to page 33 and you’ll find a detailed camping supplies list. Another lists clothing and toiletries, and yet another provides an ideal food inventory. For the bibliophile who would never consider a trip without a book, even a backpacking one where every ounce counts, Hauserman’s appendix suggests reference works plus 'Good Books on the Trail.' Some of these include 'Desert Solitaire,' 'A Walk in the Woods,' 'Into the Wild,' and 'Walden.' Lastly, Hauserman names a variety of backpacking areas in the Sierra plus other regions around the country.

There isn’t anything Hauserman missed in this small guide, well, a small hand lens to look at insects and flowers, perhaps. Besides that, 'Monsters in the Woods' confronts every step with intricate detail. Don’t forget the bug spray, first aid kit, water filter, and playing cards, but more importantly don’t forget each moment your kids discover the wonders of nature, while doing nothing.

Remembering a Hiking Legend

Think about backpacking and one of the first things that may come to mind is the square mosaic design of camping equipment neatly laid out on the cover of Colin Fletcher’s 'Complete Walker' books. Scores of outdoor enthusiasts were trained on this mainstay in camping culture, first published in 1968. Fletcher’s attention to detail surpassed many backpacking guides and his words of inspiration motivated several generations to forget their fears of the wilderness and head into the backcountry. On June 12, 2007, Colin Fletcher died of complications from old age and from injuries suffered during a car accident in 2001. From his obituary in

'Fletcher combined ruminations on wilderness walking with concrete advice, telling readers that hiking is 'very good for sanity,' then reminding them they can lighten their pack by cutting the handle off their toothbrush. 'He brought this idea that you didn’t have to be a nut case to take long solitary walks in the wilderness at a time when a lot of people were really looking for ways to create holistic lives and escape from the craziness of Vietnam and the stresses of the ‘60s,' said Jonathan Dorn, editor-in-chief of Backpacker magazine.

'Fletcher’s career as an outdoor writer started inadvertently in 1958, when he decided to walk from Mexico to Oregon in order to contemplate whether he should marry his then-girlfriend. Six months later, he married and started working on his first book, 'The Thousand-Mile Summer,' which narrated his trip. The marriage only lasted a few weeks, but his writing career spanned generations.'

Rachel Carson and the Sense of Wonder

If Rachel Carson were alive today, she would feel a kindred connection to Tim Hauserman, or at least be praising his efforts for inspiring families to explore the outdoors. Better known for her scientific narrative denouncing DDT, 'Silent Spring,' (published in 1962) Carson was also relentlessly passionate about humans simply facing and appreciating the wonderment of nature. In her book 'The Sense of Wonder,' published posthumously in 1965, Carson documents adventures with her 3-year old grandnephew, Roger, as they explore an area on the coast of Maine. The thoughtful detailed essays and large photos of all things big and small reveal a child’s sense of awe in the face of nature.

In celebrating Colin Fletcher’s life and introducing Hauserman’s new guide to backpacking with children, it seems only fitting to include Rachel Carson’s popular ‘60s photo-illustrated book. Happy 45th anniversary to a legend who has given eco-lits four decades of inspiration and a new generation new eyes to perceive the natural world.

Share this book with a child or buy it for a friend as a classic…Book it!

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February 14, 2019