About 9 years ago, a woman from the Shelburne Community School asked me if I would consider mentoring a young man who was challenged to adhere to some basic social tenets of the institution. I accepted the challenge and began meeting him once a week during school time. We got to know one another and realized that we shared a common passion, the outdoors.
We would talk at length about things that 14 year olds experience and soon formed a bond, where in the hour we would spend together, he taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life; that my actions could have a significant impact on someone younger. What I said, what I thought about, how I handled my own life, even my deep passion for hunting and fishing, became the central driver of our connection.
Soon I was introduced to his caretakers and found that our relationship took on a new form; that of ice fishing partners. I would work him into my weekly rituals of jigging for panfish, sitting on a pickle bucket out in Shelburne Bay. Sometimes we caught yellow perch, sometimes the nearly translucent rainbow smelt, but every expedition we undertook, I learned more about my purpose in life.
|The Art of Patience|
My strongest desire is to share the world of the hunter, fisher and gatherer with others who might not otherwise consider it. I mentored 7 more young men over the following 8 years and started writing about my outdoor exploits. Soon, I was offered a monthly column in a regional publication, then another. Before long, my passion was bringing me greater rewards than I could have imagined. I decided to start a mentoring program based on the belief that Nature can teach us so many valuable lessons, as well as comfort us in times of stress. I decided to call it “Traditions Outdoor Mentoring.”
Our mission would be to work with at-risk young men who may not have a male role model in their life and teach them outdoor pursuits focusing on respect, empathy and compassion. We took two young men at a time and constructed an outdoor curriculum that encompassed habitat management, species identification, firearms safety, hunter education, animal calling, camouflage, scouting, landowner relations, etc. For more of the lessons we offer, go to our website, Traditions Outdoor Mentoring.org and click on “Curriculum.”
This program often found that young men with ADD or ADHD, anti-social behaviors or anger issues slowly dissolved through the application of time spent outdoors and being mindful of the earth and all its manifestations.
We had one young man, who recently contacted me after 5 years of finishing the program and asked me to be his Best Man in his wedding next summer. He had come to us as a student who had been “rescued” from joining a metropolitan gang in Texas. During a particularly difficult time, his psychiatrist had told us that he was a sociopath and would inevitably wind up in jail. His school counselors, therapist and I refuted his opinion and we continued to work with him. He is now a mature and responsible young man who works several jobs in Rhode Island and cares for his fiancé and 1 year old child.
Another young man came to us wrestling with self-confidence issues and was just trying to find his way through adolescence. He mastered waterfowl hunting, scouting fields for geese, learning decoy sets and became truly an expert at the sport. One day he announced to us that he wanted to serve his country and joined the Marines. He is now serving in Afghanistan. Although I do not like to embrace war as a solution, we are very proud of his desire to serve his country.
|Learning Joy and Responsibility|
Currently, we have a young man in our program that has gone from boastful and angry to a maturing 15 year old that is learning the peaceful art of flyfishing. His casting abilities astound me. What took me 15 years to master; he imitated and reached in less than a month.
While mentoring these young men I recognized that there was a small but growing community of people here in Charlotte, that wanted to be able to connect to their environment on a meaningful level and perhaps even consider that they might want to be responsible for the meat and vegetables that they eat. We began teaching foraging, basic hunting ethics and fishing to those who were curious about where their food came from.
From this idea evolved Sacred Hunter.org, which now incorporates Traditions Outdoor Mentoring and writes several articles a month, sponsors Free Fishing Day, and gives speaking engagements for several outdoor venues like Dead Creek Day in October or the Yankee Sportsman’s Classic in January.
We are currently conducting an online campaign to raise funds for more equipment for our young men. If you have ever felt compelled to contribute to a cause that believes we can all benefit from direct contact with Nature, please visit our website, Facebookpage and make a donation to our campaign at Indiegogo.com.
Thank you for your consideration. Now get outside!