What began with two boys handing the Downeast Lakes Land Trust’s Education and Communications Manager, Tanya Rucosky a manifesto of “dangerous skills we would like to learn” developed into a summer-long program featuring serious skills that prepared young people to survive in the woods, or even become Junior Maine Guides.
“Last year, we offered a two-day ‘Introduction to Guiding Course’ for young people,” said Rucosky, “The kids wanted to build on that.” Modeled on the Explorations and Adventures classes which the DLLT has offered for younger children on Tuesday mornings each summer, the Serious Skills Program ran on Thursdays through July and August. Featuring archery, fire-making, map and compass skills, fishing, canoeing, and wild food identification, students learned essential skills which would help them stay warm and well fed while exploring the lakes and forests of the Downeast region.
“I enjoyed the fire making and emergency shelter building the most,” said one enthusiastic participant. “The classes taught me what to do in an emergency situation. I had no idea how to build a shelter if I got lost in the woods. Now I know the darker the shelter is inside, the better it is going to be at keeping me dry. In the fire making class, well I have seen kids using bow drills in the movies, but I didn’t know if a modern day kid could do it. I didn’t get a spark myself but I saw others get sparks.”
“I always thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I tried, and it turns out that I wasn’t half bad,” was a steady refrain from children as they gathered and cooked wild mushrooms, learned to fly cast, shoot bows and run power tools.
“The young teenage years are a time of increasing skill development, and empowerment,” said Rucosky. “It’s important that kids learn to work with potentially dangerous items such as power tools, fire starters and arrows. We provided our groups with a safe and controlled environment in which kids could build both their skills and their confidence as they begin to explore the adult world.”
While the DLLT plans to offer this program again next year, focusing on camp cooking, bass fishing, bow and arrow making and wilderness first aid, Ms. Rucosky says there is one item from the original list that won’t be taught anytime soon. “Hatchet throwing” she said with a laugh, “That skill seems too serious, even for me.”