When people ask how I’ve learned so much about the outdoors my answers are usually standard. Steve taught me how to hunt. Dad taught me to fish as soon as I was big enough to hold a pole. He also allowed me to learn to use a blow dart when we lived in the Philippines. If it was anything like letting me ride a water buffalo in a rice paddy when I was four, Mum was not pleased. She took me on a walk each evening to see a neighbor’s pet monkey (common in the Philippines at the time) because I loved the monkey I was never allowed to get too close to. BOW gave me confidence in my kayak and boost in my iffy map and compass skills. Mum and Dad taught me to pick mushrooms, a skill Dad learned from his parents while growing up outside Boston.
Although she died 15 years ago today she’s with me daily. She’s in the garden, where she forced me to be as a child, sometimes with a hand on one hip and the other arm extended to the door, finger pointing. If I was going to eat I was going to help grow the food. Period. “Get out there.” I hated it. Funny how much I love the garden as an adult.
Mum is with me in the raspberry patch whether it be the cultivated berries behind the house, loved by the black bears, or on a backwoods dirt road at camp. “Don’t scream or run if you see a bear,” she said while we were picking blackberries one day. I didn’t scream or run but my aunt did both when she discovered the bear. We laughed about that for a long time.
She’s with me in the kitchen after I’ve spent hours on my knees, picking tiny, ripe, juicy wild strawberries. I have cultivated berries in the garden but it’s not the same. Those tiny wild berries, full of flavor, are best for jam. She taught me well. I’m still biased. Mum taught me to make jam and jelly, how to can green beans, and oh the hours we spent peeling tomatoes before we could put them in jars.
There was never a lesson called Being Comfortable 101, we just were. She was comfortable outdoors no matter how remote she was at the moment. I learned from her to look, listen, feel, smell, taste and sense, not because she gave me lessons but because she led by example. When Dad hid in the bushes along a brook, roaring and shaking the alders, Mum stood on the seat of her ATV to get a better look while her friends gunned it and left. She knew she wasn’t in danger, something about that roar wasn’t right.
Yes, I miss her physical presence. It’s been 15 long years. Her grandchildren are grown. Melissa and I are not the same women she knew back then. Yes, I miss her, sometimes so much it physically hurts, but I’m never without her.