Making memories outdoors can be as easy as striking a match

“Outdoors” is self-explanatory: get out of the house. Yes, but how many people actually practice “outdoor” activities? Do you remember the toy you received for Christmas when you were 6 years old? Probably not. I bet you remember the first fish you caught. We remember memories, not things. Souvenirs are cheap and easy to make; the majority are made from scratch from little to nothing.

Family time is the most important of all. In a world with many single-parent families, going out is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life. Outdoor recreation can be expensive or mostly free. It’s as simple as walking the dog…or just a walk, if your household doesn’t have a dog. The key is to make it a family outing, not say “Hey Bobby – take the dog to pee, will you?”

Days are short in Alaska, decent LED headlights are under $10. Take your kids on a backyard expedition to look for leads if nothing else is readily available. Vole tracks and squirrel tracks are usually easy to find.

Install a bird feeder on an outside windowsill. A manger can be as simple as a cut-out shoebox stapled to the threshold. Stores sell potent food for chickadees and redpolls. It is not a requirement. Birds of all kinds will come to dried bread, bacon grease and other household leftovers. Red squirrels, the bane of most bird watchers, will thrive on almost anything and are interesting creatures on their own hook. Magpies quickly learn to tap on the window if you haven’t replenished the food supply. It doesn’t matter what wildlife you attract; it is the fact that you are bringing “new to you” life into your family’s world.

Another inexpensive activity is sledding. Children’s sleds are cheap. A piece of Visqueen or even a large garbage bag will also suffice. All you need is a rock-free slope. There are stores that sell second-hand sporting goods. Second-hand places are also great sources of used skis and ice skates.

A skating rink can be built in the backyard. Clear snow from any flat spot, spray it with a garden hose to seal the ground and let it freeze. Then add a little water every day until you get a smooth surface. Who knows, your home might be home to a future NHL star. Scotty Gomez came from Alaska, after all.

One of the most popular and practical activities is building a fire. A few years ago I took a group of small children out into the woods on a program called Dads Night Out. We went into the trees (it was February) not far away and stopped to make fires. Each child had a single match, some string, and some yarn in a Ziploc bag. They watched a fire-building demonstration, then were sent out to gather materials for their own fire. Every child succeeded. When the fires were all burning happily, we took our headlamps and looked for signs of animals. The boys, aged 6 to 10, then learned to stretch a squirrel snare with their piece of string. These young people have learned to set snares and fires, but what they have built is only a memory.

The only cost of these experiences outside the home is time. And… you don’t have to be 10 to enjoy it. I’m just over 10 and heck, I still have fun doing these things. An outdoor camping trip 20 feet from the back door can be a hoot for kids and adults alike. No tent? It is very good. Dress up as best you can, gather a big pile of spruce branches for a base, and throw a blanket on top. Build a small fire (not too close to the branches), roast some marshmallows, then lie down for a nap. Kids can pretend they’re leading the Iditarod and napping with their team of dogs.

Some 30 minutes of sleep and everyone will be running around the house freezing and jumping into a nice warm bed. Because the camp is right outside the door, the experience remains enjoyable. You’re not building strength here – you’re having fun and creating memories.

The image should be clear. I remember my first ice fishing trip and my first run down a gravel slope on a pair of old cross-country skis. Neither was successful, but both gave me something to build on. Age doesn’t matter. You are building memories – go out and make one that will last.

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