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Before I could walk, my parents put me in a child backpack carrier and explored the outdoors. We climbed down cliffs to reach secluded beaches, hiked into the hidden valleys of the Pacific Northwest, and climbed mountains to camp at alpine lakes. As I grew older, the backpack was occupied by my younger brothers, and I was given the task of carrying my own weight. I learned how to start fires and find clean drinking water, and I mastered the tight roll of my sleeping bag and tent. I felt free, and capable, away from the strict limits of my everyday life. Then, somewhere around my teens, my social life took precedence and I haven’t picked up a backpack in close to two decades.
Now I have a family of my own, and I’m feeling the need to share the wonders of the great outdoors with my daughter. I want to teach her skills that can help her feel self-sufficient and capable in the wild. As if it were fate, an old friend I haven’t seen in years passed my name along to the crew organizing the Women’s REI Campout being held the last weekend in July, in Vernonia, Oregon, about 50 miles northwest of my home in Portland. Luckily for me, I got the invite. Admittedly, I didn’t understand how opportune this was at the time.
Leslie, our REI Outdoor School instructor and guide, stopped occasionally and pointed out edible leaves and berries. Once we received the OK on what we had picked, we tasted our small bounty of tart treats and my mind wandered, thinking about the many hidden foods of the forest. As we reached the end of our 3-mile loop, I felt a little humbled. We walked into the forest as a group of strangers and left with a common bond.
After returning to our idyllic base camp, we snacked and chatted among ourselves. The instructors set up for the fireside sessions, which are an opportunity for the participants to gather around the knowledgeable instructors, experts in their fields, and learn about different skills and equipment. On the itinerary: how to build an emergency shelter, fix a bike flat, pack a backpack, purify water and start a fire. Many of these things I had learned as a child but had long forgotten.