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What Do You Expect?   


As soon as the canoe hit the water and shot out of my hands, I knew I had made the ultimate blunder of the city person: not being aware of your circumstances.  The Alaskan river was flowing far too fast for a novice canoe paddler and her friend. 

My daughter was fifteen and had spent her years on sailboats, riding horses, driving trucks since ten, and so had little fear of new things: but not her friend.  As the responsible adult, I had blundered in not going slow in this canoeing adventure, and had now sent a terrified young girl down a rampaging river, overgrown with branches sticking way out into the river.  The locals called them sweepers.  They could entangle a passerby and, because of the rushing water, tend to push them under.

Suddenly concerned, I started yelling for help from my boys, who were a few years older and very good athletes; figuring if anyone could swim in this water, they could. If the girls could not keep the canoe in the middle of the stream, it could be disaster in minutes.  My concern then turned to horror as I saw a glimpse of the canoe, which was now hundreds of yards from me, turn sideways in the stream, and dump both girls into the water. 

I could see my daughter, laughing as she came up for air.  Apparently a little embarrassed she could not keep the canoe in the middle of the stream.  What tore at my heart, was the sight, a moment later, of her friend clinging to a large branch, crying for help.  She was terrified.  Not knowing what to do and feeling the water pulling on her legs, trying to pull her under.  All Alaska water is cold, and it doesn’t take long for it to weaken your hold.

Click To Download Then I saw my youngest son dive into the stream and attempt to get across the raging water and save her.  My selfish thought was of the danger he had put himself into.  Within moments, he was swept into the stream.  How he did it, I’ll never know.  He crossed the stream, grabbed her, and pushed her up onto a branch, where she could calm down and we could all figure out how to get her to safety.

That’s how it happens in real life.  One moment you’re excited about being in the woods and having a great time, until you turn around and realize you’re lost.  It’s six pm, you’re wearing a short-sleeve shirt, and you have no map, no compass, no matches.  What a blunder!  On any type of nature adventure, you must insist on habits of the outdoors.  Each trip into the country must have the “ten essentials” in some convenient place on your person. I have been lost several times just walking through woods that were only one mile from a gravel road, yet, they were still thick enough to be confusing 

Our canoe adventure ended luckily enough.  The canoe beached itself on a bar a little farther down, and the boys were then able to paddle back and pick up the girls.  But what if it hadn’t?  As a family, we have learned a lot since those early years, and one of the most important things is to pay attention to the locals.  If the local residents tend to avoid certain areas or use extra caution at certain times of the year, there’s usually a good reason for it.  We also take the “ten essentials” list very seriously.  No one had plans of swimming that day because the water was too cold for pleasure, but we had brought along extra clothing just in case.  On ninety percent of our outings, we never use these items.  But on the other ten percent, they  make all the difference in the world.

 Here they are:

  1. Matches
  2. Fire Starter
  3. Map
  4. Compass
  5. Flashlight (with extra batteries and bulb)
  6. Extra Food
  7. Extra Clothing
  8. Sunglasses
  9. First Aid Kit
  10. Pocket Knife

Parents: Be a parent and set the rules for your children.  You are the one who has the better judgment: use it.

Youth: Submit to the adult requests when you are outdoors: there are many dangers you are not old enough to be aware of.  It is great fun to practice survival skills, and there are many books available to help you.  Don’t be rebellious and think it childish to leave a note saying where you are going, along with other details.  Always be serious about your responsibilities in the woods.



 “Tom Brown’s Guide to Nature and Survival for Children” (Berkley Books, New York, 1989)

 And here’s a website with some more details and background information on the “ten essentials”








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