People are buying everything from computer games to tennis shoes to give as presents this holiday season, but I believe the best gift anyone can offer a family member, neighbor or friend won't fit in a box. Looking back, I remember few Christmas gifts that I've given or received, but I clearly remember outdoor adventures I've enjoyed during the holiday seasons.
I grew up on a small farm in the Ozarks. One night, when I was about 10 years old, our neighbor knocked on the door and asked my Dad's permission to coon hunt on the farm. The best thing was that he invited my big brother and me to go with him. Mom and Dad would not have let us go on a school night but, because we were on Christmas vacation, they agreed. I'll never forget the great time we had hiking with flashlights through the fields and woods along Carter Creek.
One of our family holiday traditions is winter trout fishing with flies we've tied ourselves. Years ago, when my son Jay was about 12, his Grandpa Heavin taught him how to tie fishing flies. Every Christmas since, Jay's Christmas packages have contained feathers, yarn, hooks, thread or a new vise. He and his grandpa would then tie flies on Christmas Day. Grandpa Heavin is gone now, but my sons and I cherish many outdoor experiences that he shared with us.
Just last year, my other son, Jeff, and I canoed the Eleven Point River two days after Christmas. It was a marvelous and beautiful experience. A mantle of snow covered the river valley. We spotted seven eagles perched in trees above us and saw three deer come down to the stream for a drink. Some nice trout also approved of our flies. It was one of the best floating trips ever, and it added to our stock of Christmas memories.
How can you make a special outdoor memory? Take time to share your appreciation for nature with someone else, preferably a child. Maybe you could help someone build or put up a bird or squirrel feeder in their yard. Take a winter hike and look for wildlife tracks or go outside after dark and listen for the lonesome calls of owls. A good way to spark children's interest in owling adventures is to have them read--or read to them-- Jane Yolen's book, Owl Moon.
A rabbit, quail or waterfowl hunting trip with you could be someone's most treasured memory of this holiday season. Throughout the year, fishing is always a great way to connect with the outdoors and with one another! Cierra and Chris Morrow can attest to that. Whatever the activity, the time we share outdoors could be the most treasured gift of all.
The Missouri Department of Conservation can help introduce you to the outdoors, or make it easier for you to get someone else involved in outdoor activities.
Conservation Department nature centers are great places to visit. You can hike a nature trail or learn more about the outdoors through their many exhibits and programs. Almost everyone lives within a short drive to a conservation area. Most of these offer hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities. You can find information about Conservation Department activities and areas online, or call a Department office and ask for advice, as well as a free Outdoor Missouri map.
We look forward to helping more families enjoy this special time of year.
John D. Hoskins, Director