A family's wild heritage
By Mike Beagle
My 8-year-old daughter and I recently stood at the bottom
of a brushy, 300-foot cliff and talus slope over looking Blue Lake in southern Oregon’s
Sky Lakes Wilderness.
For me it was a short climb. For a little girl much smaller
than me, the hill looked downright colossal.
But I knew something about my daughter that she is only
beginning to learn: her potential.
As a high school teacher and coach over the last 15 years,
I have made some disheartening observations regarding the health and welfare of our
Kids are perhaps the best reflection of America’s culture.
I’ve seen too many kids influenced by too much television. I’ve seen too many kids
hooked by commercials advertising “extra value” meals and flashy technological
advancements to make our lives “easier.” I’ve seen too many kids too eager for
motorized all terrain equipment that can “get us there faster.”
You’ve probably seen the statistics. Obesity is rampant among
American youngsters. Once they’ve learned bad eating and exercise habits as children,
they will likely carry those habits into adulthood.
I don’t need the statistics. I’ve seen it on the faces and
bodies of too many kids.
“C’mon,” I told my little girl. “You can do it!”
She looked dubious. We both remembered all too well a similar
day when she was 4 years old, spent bushwhacking around a nearby wilderness lake.
“This is the worst day of my life!” she protested that day.
I remember holding my laughter and thinking to myself, if only you should be so
So we began scrambling up the hill, pulling ourselves
hand-over-hand, using the thick brush as handholds. I kept her safely right in front
“Step here,” I guided her. “Grab that branch there. There you go!”
It is no coincidence that the “more is better” message that
saturates kids’ lives, correlates with their poor health. The easy way has caused
a disconnection with the natural world, while shortening the potential of their
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that while our kids become
less in control of their own health, they are becoming less in touch with nature.
For my family, getting away from the bustle of life and
commercialism has meant traveling to land that has changed little over the last few
centuries; wilderness. Whether backpacking into the Sky Lakes Wilderness nearby,
tossing a fly into a stream or lake in the Rockies, or pursuing blue grouse with a
shotgun, getting back to the natural world has been a challenge for my two young
children but a confidence booster as well. Though at times it comes under protest,
they know that their comfort zones can always be extended.
American families deserve — no, American families need — places
where they can get away and work hard in healthy exercise. We need wilderness. We need
rivers and lakes, clean and free. It pains me when desk-bound politicians label people
who advocate for wild country and a clean and healthy environment as “extremists.” To
me, there’s nothing more traditional, wholesome and American than a vigorous backcountry
adventure, no matter how small.
I am grateful my father instilled in me at a very young age
an appreciation of natural settings, overcoming obstacles and spirited adventure.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt termed that lifestyle, “the strenuous life.”
My daughter and I were getting a good taste of the strenuous
life as we clawed our way up the hillside. She paused to catch her breath, and I
thought she might balk at climbing further. But when she got her wind back, she
As we reached the top of the cliff to peer down at Blue Lake,
my daughter’s expression said it all. She radiated confidence, vigor and pure joy.
It was an experience that matured her beyond her years.
“Daddy, that was a lot easier than it looked,” she said.
“Can we do it again?”
What a difference four years can make! Looks like I’ll be
sweating in my future, following her lead. We should all be so lucky.
— The preceding is version 3 of Mike
Beagle's article. —
used by permission of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Mike Beagle is a former U.S. Army field artillery
officer, a teacher and a coach. He is Chairman of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
and lives in Oregon’s upper Rogue River Basin.