July 21st, 2015

By Jon Wogen, TBC Board member and printed with permission by the Renville County Register

Continuing our study of a “Free Range Kid”, our kids are still out and about with their “survival gear” and common sense which was derived from prior training and experience in the boondocks.

On one adventure, the group of friends spotted a skunk wandering across a stretch of prairie. They took their BB guns and decided to send the skunk a message that he should be holed up during this time of the day.

On sending a couple of BBs at the black and white “kitty”, the skunk stopped and gave the guys a nasty stare. Then it continued on its way, seemingly undeterred by those kids that were harassing it. So, the guys let fly a few more BBs at the critter. They got a bit too close to the skunk as it was now pretty agitated. Apparently the range of spray by a skunk was underestimated and Bill got some of the vile, oily liquid on his pants leg.

Bill wondered if he should cut the pants leg off at the knee to be able to get de-scented. He whipped out his Boy Scout knife and cut it off with deft and careful strokes of the knife. The tube of denim was left hanging on a tree when the deed was done.

Bill didn’t smell real good but was somewhat tolerable. He scooped up a handful of catnip and rubbed it all over his exposed leg, socks and shoes. That really helped to suppress the odor remaining on his leg. Yes, mint does sometimes help with skunk scent, but made for an interesting scent combo.

The home-made willow fishing poles the boys carried with them on their bikes was really nice to have along. The boys dug worms and grubs from the damp soil near the creek and drifted them through the deeper holes that contained some fish. They caught creek chubs, suckers, and an occasional carp. That provided much fun for the boys. A willow pole, properly cured and stripped of its bark made a formidable fishing weapon that could handle pretty big fish.

At times they saw snapping turtles, leatherback turtles or painted turtles on the bank or in the creek. They enjoyed their company but remained cautious with the leatherbacks and snappers. The painted turtles were fun to play with for a while. Muskrats and mink occasionally visited the small group of explorers. They seemed to not be very friendly though.

Once in a while another group of kids doing the same thing was out in the wild country known as the “Hog’s Back”. The guys would sneak up on them and try to surprise or scare them, but were usually spotted before they could spook the other group of kids.

Digging a tunnel into a hill made of glacial gravel and soil was not a good idea, but the guys had to learn by themselves. Phil was inside the tunnel scooping out the soil and sand when the “cave” collapsed on him. Only his feet stuck out from the pile of sand and soil. All the guys pulled hard and dragged Phil out from the mound. It took a whole canteen of water to flush his eyes of sand and soil so he could enjoy the rest of the day.

Yes, lessons in life are often learned “the hard way”, by experiencing things themselves. Never again would this group of adventurers dig a tunnel into a glacial moraine with gravel in it.

The same can be said for poison ivy. If kids are having fun, who looks at all the weeds? A good scrubbing with creek water and soap helped that problem to be tolerable also. The Scout training and summer camps educated these guys to be independent.

Being upper elementary age, these boys carried knives, hatchet, BB guns, fire-making gear and first aid stuff. They could even pull a fish hook out of a fellow explorer’s finger when they had to. No emergency room visits for these guys. Having Boy and Cub Scout backgrounds made these friends much better prepared to deal with problems in the wild.

Having common sense came easily and when it failed them, lessons were learned. They survived all injuries. They had no cell phones to call Mom to come and help. They learned and carried on without supervision. Independence became their way of life.

And, these guys were trusted by their parents to be somewhat careful and think things through before they did something stupid. They were told to respect private property and to not leave any trace of their having been exploring that particular area.
A “Free-Range Kid” is a self-taught outdoors enthusiast. Observing nature up close and personal allowed these kids to appreciate and be able to identify wild creatures. To know them is to appreciate and want to protect them. They became interested in conservation, hunting and fishing. They liked to experience camping and the night sky as they were out camping in wild places without light pollution. That allowed appreciation of stars and planets, along with northern lights once in a while.

Next week we will present Part Four of Free Range Kids.


Today, Sven quotes Billy Graham: “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”

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