Growing up in southwest Missouri with a father who was raised during the Great Depression and hunted for survival gave me a different perspective.
My father was the eldest of four children and was only 15 years old when my grandfather passed away. As the man of the house, he took on the responsibility of being a provider. He and my uncle hunted rabbits and squirrels and took them to the general store in Cave Springs. They traded their harvest for the groceries my grandmother needed and another box of .22 shells. They would then hunt their way back home, and the game they took on the return trip they ate during the week.
My father was a hardworking, busy man, but he believed I also should learn about nature, even if I didn’t depend on it for everyday survival. When I was about 6 years old, he and I had a fun activity we did together when he had free time. He would take me to the woods at my grandmother’s house, just west of the town of Willard. We would collect small samples of various tree branches. Once in a while, he would even let me use my pocketknife to cut off our newly found treasure.
We took them home where my father had made a chart of painted plywood, marked with the names of the indigenous species of trees. We would study and identify each one and, if it was one we needed, we wired it on the board to fill a square. On the next trip we hunted for the ones we still didn’t have. This was my father’s version of the outdoor classroom.
Being in the woods with my father gave me the best mentoring that a child could have. I often reflect on how different my life would have been had I not had a father like this—a man who respected, appreciated and understood all of nature: the animals, land, air, trees and water that we, just as our ancestors, depend on for survival. He shared with me his close relationship with nature, stressing important things like safety, respect and ethics.
I suppose he recognized early on that I had a strong interest in nature, so he took every opportunity to encourage and cultivate that passion. Perhaps it was his way to prepare me for life from his own experiences. He taught me