Outdoor Education

Nurturing a reluctant nature lover

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Owing to the fact that I grew up in family full of nature-loving outdoors enthusiasts, it’s hardly a fluke I turned out so crunchy. 

Before I started kindergarten, my dad took me hiking everywhere and taught me how to camp, backpack, use a compass and fish. The fever struck early and never broke.

Meanwhile, Grandpa Brunsvold let me shadow him all over his ranch, immersing me in the wonderful world of manual labor. Under his insightful tutelage, I experienced the thrill of wrangling horses, mixing cement in a wheelbarrow and squeezing fresh milk out of a warm Guernsey teat.

Grandma Brunsvold was no slouch either. She recruited me to help her maintain a vegetable garden, tap maple trees for syrup, shoot varmints with a .22 rifle and showed me how to use rutabagas for food, fun and fodder.

Grandma and Grandpa Otto were city dwellers, but they owned a lake cabin deep in the woods that I was encouraged to visit every summer. Along with good climbing trees and plenty of trails to explore there was a dock with a small motorboat at my disposal. 

My learning curve was pretty beefy when it came to handling that vessel safely on open water. But I’ll never forget how accomplished I felt when, after suffering through about 300 failed attempts, I finally managed to fire up our medieval outboard and Uncle Fritz let me cut her loose into the great blue beyond.  

What about my younger brother? Where was he during all of this? Well, he was usually cloistered with his comic books and electronic gadgetry somewhere nearby. Hiding from the elements. Avoiding mosquitoes and grasshoppers. Religiously staying out of the dirt. 

“It’s O.K.,” Grandma Brunsvold once reassured me after I expressed contempt. “You can’t blame your brother if he’s not inclined to sweep the barn or go berry picking. He’s just a different sort of animal.”

Thinking about a person as an animal seemed archaic. But the longer I considered this paradox, the more truth I saw. My bro was a hypersensitive creature who needed to be lured out of his cave.

The plan I hatched was devious and brutally effective. I convinced our parents to agree that if I saved up a few hundred bucks for a mountain bike, they would foot the bill for my brother to get one too.

So, a couple months later, we walked into the garage and there it was—a gleaming new Trek 850. My brother followed me pensively down to the river on a shakedown cruise. Everything went smoothly until we hit the first bumpy single track. His front tire snagged a branch, launching him over his handlebars. For a second I thought it was the endgame, but he was beaming when he pulled himself off the ground.

“Wow,” he hooted, brushing the grit off his bloodied elbows. “It hurts like the devil. But holy crap, this is fun!”

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