Rocks, sticks, a tree and a good friend

I think I have become a grumpy old fisherman. Actually, I’ve been a fisherman for over 40 years. The grumpy and old part is more recent.
I’m not always grumpy, though. I’m much less grumpy when I’m outdoors. Sometimes I even feel less old when I’m outdoors, though that’s probably just an illusion. I go outdoors to do lots of things. My fishing takes place almost entirely outdoors, though I do tie flies indoors. Aside from six flights of stairs from my parking lot to my office, my hiking also takes place outdoors. So does my hunting and my camping, along with my snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Though I admit my sons have done some canoe-paddling training in a local swimming pool with the Boy Scouts, my own canoeing takes place entirely outdoors.
Now that I’m an adult, these activities also take place with the aid of lots of expensive high-tech equipment: graphite fly rods, and aluminum snowshoes, and canoes made of modern plastics, and Gore-Tex rain gear for all of these adventures. It wasn’t always the case. When I was a kid all I needed to enjoy the outdoors was, um, the outdoors. As long as the outdoors included a tree, or at least a stick. Maybe a rock or two. A small stream or pond was an added bonus. I could spend all day, letting my imagination turn a stream, a stick, a pile of rocks and a good climbing tree into a stream, a stick, a pile of rocks and a good climbing tree. Because, as it turns out, you don’t really need much else to have a lot of fun.
My grumping usually takes place indoors. It doesn’t need any high-tech expensive gear. In fact, if I’m grumping outdoors, it’s probably because it’s raining and I forgot some piece of expensive modern high-tech gear. But mostly what grumpy old fisherman like me grump about is kids these days. Just saying it makes me feel grumpy. Kids these days. We grump that they would rather spend a day inside playing computer games than a day out in the woods.
That’s what us grumpy old people who love the outdoors like to think, anyway. Especially when we are sitting at a desk working, feeling resentful toward those who have the freedom to be outdoors where we want to be, and doubly resentful toward those who could be outdoors and choose to be indoors.
But sometimes we are wrong. Like today. It’s been cold, rainy and windy all afternoon. And my son Peter and his good friend Chris have been outside the entire time playing in the woods. The cold, rainy, windy woods. When my wife confirmed this bit of information, I made her repeat it. It was true. I even went out and checked on it myself. They were out climbing trees, throwing sticks at targets — they called them “javelins” — and hurling rocks. And having a blast.
So you don’t think I am boasting about my child, I will acknowledge that he has spent his share of days inside using the computer. But when he and Chris get together, the outdoors suddenly become the great playground that grumpy old fishermen like me say they are. They disappear into the woods for hours, resurfacing only for food. They have built forts (at both of their houses), swung on vines, climbed trees, camped out, cooked out, dammed streams, caught critters, attracted ticks, pulled off ticks.
Though the list of activities accomplished so far is finite, the possibilities for entertainment are, as clichéd as it sounds, quite endless. And they seem to understand that. No special equipment is needed. Just a few rocks, some sticks, a good climbing tree, and — most importantly — a good friend.

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