I attended my first Becoming An Outdoors-Woman event at the boy scout camp near Osceola, Missouri in September of 1997. That weekend adventure would become so very important to me because it introduced me to an idea that I hadn’t yet considered…I could enjoy the outdoors independent of my husband!
Until then, I had believed that I could only hunt, fish, or otherwise enjoy outdoor pursuits when he was willing to take me along. And, often, he wasn’t willing. Or I didn’t do things the way he thought they should be done. Sometimes he did things that I didn’t think were ethical.
I’d read about the women’s program, which was started in 1991 at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources. Christine Thomas realized that women were hesitant to get involved in outdoor recreation for those, and similar, reasons. Her program made use of volunteers to teach skills to women in a relaxed atmosphere, alongside other beginners. It became a popular program in many states.
All Missouri residents can receive a free subscription to the excellent magazine, The Missouri Conservationist, and I’d read my Granddaddy’s copy since I was a kid. That’s how I discovered that there was a session near me – and I was willing to try to drive it on my own! The cost was minimal, and I was determined to go.
At first my husband tried to talk me out of it. He could, he said, teach me everything I needed to know…But we both knew he wouldn’t. When I mailed off the check, he forbid me to take the car, deciding that he would drop me off and pick me up afterward. That was OK by me…I didn’t really drive yet anyway.
I Learn Some Skills
At every B.O.W. event, there are a variety of skills to choose from. Some, like Dutch Oven Cooking, fill up fast. I didn’t get all of my first choices, but every class I’ve ever taken was fun, educational, and useful. That first year I learned the basics of tying fishing flies, reloading ammunition, training pointing dogs, firearms safety. And I got to shoot shotguns and black powder rifles! In the dog training class, we got to shoot planted quail over fast-moving, sleek, red Hungarian Vizsla dogs.
At mealtimes, 90 women and a bunch of volunteers would gather in the dining hall for good food, great camaraderie, and entertainment or instruction. At bedtime, we would collapse into the short, low-to-the-ground boy scout bunks and sleep until breakfast time.
Lifelong Lessons and Friendships
There’s something about learning skills that gives a girl confidence. Learning them with other women can lead to friendships that last a lifetime. I bonded with a St. Louis woman over Brittany Spaniels in the dog training class. We had 4 (which is 3 more than any sensible person would have), and Madonna and her husband had 2. We started as pen-pals, and have maintained a friendship ever since.
In 1999 we met up again at the same scout camp for another session. We shared an animal tracking class – my first – and I leaned to use a map and compass, the initial steps to fly fishing, and took another hunting with dogs class. We also shared a cabin, and lots of laughs. Note that the husband thought that once should be enough, so I caught a ride with a woman who was passing through my town on her way to the event. It took a lot of guts for me to contact a stranger and ask for a ride. That might have been the first little step out of my comfort zone.
The beautiful Conception Abbey at Conception, Missouri, was the location for our 3rd B.O.W. session! I caught a ride with 3 women from a nearby town who were going, and we hit it off right away. Madonna and I again shared a room, talking about husbands, Brittanies, and how badly I bruised the underside of my arm in the archery class. I also learned how to hunt turkeys, start a nature journal, and took another fly fishing class. The Benedictine monks, who were mostly silent, were kind and fed us very well.
A Very Big Deal
The 4th, and final B.O.W. event that I attended was at the YMCA facilities at Potosi, Missouri. In September of 2005, I had been divorced for a couple of years, and had driven myself to a different women’s outdoor event in Kansas. (See https://lindabittle.com/driving-reluctantly-part-ii/ for the first part of that story.)
This event was different. I drove to my sister Susan’s to pick her up so that we could meet Madonna and her mom for a group get-together. I truly enjoyed playing Outdoors-Woman with my sister and my friends! Mostly, we went our own ways, getting together at meals to catch up and share stories. Susan did much better in archery than I’d done the year before. And she was brave enough to do the climbing wall and zip-line – something I’ve not ever been brave enough to try!
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
~ Marie Curie
However, I did touch, and then briefly hold, a beautifully marked corn snake during the evening program. Herpetology will never be my favorite thing, but I am trying to get over the fear of snakes that I inherited from Mom. One more step out of my comfort zone!
In the History Forensics class, I learned a bit about archeology and how to look for artifacts. When bad weather cancelled my trail ride, I made some cool jewelry in an arts class. But the truly significant classes were called Reading the Woods (or tracking), and “Spirit of the Wilderness” (or scout skills). They were taught by a young couple who were graduates of Tom Brown Jr.’s The Tracker School. In future posts, I will explain why that was important. For now, I’ll just share these links: