October 20, 2014

Experience the great outdoors this winter

By Jessie Tobias
Staff Writer
Posted 1/3/12

Last summer, my brother and his fiancée adopted a mixed breed black Lab/border collie puppy to be a companion to their first dog, Fraser. Because Fraser is also a black Lab/border collie, I expected the dogs to have similar personalities. I was surprised to find out just how mistaken I was.

Fraser, the older dog, is a big fan of the outdoors. He loves to run, but most of all he loves just being outside. He enjoys all varieties of weather — the only time he has ever gotten tired of being outside was after a blizzard down in Illinois last winter, where he couldn’t get around because the drifts were too high.

Fisher, the puppy, is more of a people-oriented, happy-to-stay-inside dog. He doesn’t love the outdoors the way Fraser does, and really dislikes any sort of inclement weather. If it rains, if it’s snowing, he wants to be inside.

It could be just an extreme difference in personalities, but what I have taken from Fraser and Fisher’s behavior is that, in order to develop a love of the outdoors, you have to experience the outdoors.

When Jason adopted Fraser in the summer of 2010, he was spending the summer at home and taking summer classes at Delta College in Saginaw. I wasn’t employed at the time, so my job over the summer was keeping track of baby Fras while he was gone. I received lots of help from my two dogs, but to make a long story short, we spent a lot of that summer outside so they could roughhouse and play doggie games to tire Fraser out.

At the end of the summer, when Jason took Fraser north with him for his last semester at Northern Michigan University, he and Fraser continued to spend a lot of time outdoors. Jason took Fraser on long hikes, and before the cold weather moved in they spent time on the beach of Lake Superior. When winter arrived, Fras gained a lot of experience as a snow dog.

When Fisher joined the family, Jason had already moved down to Illinois, where he now lives in a little house with a fenced-in yard. He and his fiancée work full time, and Fisher hasn’t gotten the exposure to the outdoors that Fraser did, although Jason and Meghan take him for walks and let him and Fraser run in a nearby conservation park.

So, what does it all mean? I promise, this column has a point; it’s not just me talking about dogs, although I could most definitely do that for this entire paper.

Many kids these days are more interested in computers and gaming consoles than getting out into the fresh air and running around. Some parents might not try too hard to persuade them to get outside more. I think this is a mistake.

The recent snowfall has brought back a lot of memories from my childhood where my parents bundled me and my brother up in snowsuits, with about five layers of clothing underneath, and sent us out to terrorize the neighborhood. We dug trenches in the snow, we built snowmen, we pushed each other around in our snow saucer — and yes, like true siblings, we pounded the tar out of each other with snowballs.

How is the next generation going to learn to enjoy the outdoors, and to value all of the natural resources they have right in their back yard if they never go out into their back yard?

The obvious answer to that question is, they won’t. They’ll stay glued to their computer and TV screens and won’t even know what they’re missing.

I’m as guilty of this as a lot of people. For most of my college years at Northern, I was a bookworm, spending most of my free time reading or goofing off on the computer. My one saving grace was that I walked back and forth to classes every day, no matter the weather. Although it was a real trial sometimes in winter, especially when the wind was blowing from the direction of the lake, it was good exercise. And on days when the sun was out, the snow was beautiful.

New Year’s resolutions are being thrown around left and right during this time of year, and I hate to add one more to the mix — but winter in Michigan has a lot to offer in terms of recreation. Engaging in activities outdoors is one of the building blocks of learning to value and enjoy the natural resources we might drive past every day.

I’m not advocating extremism. I still think those Polar Bears, the people who get all suited up in their bathing suits to take a dip in icy waters, are nuts. But a little bit of experience in the outdoors can go a long way, and as our kids grow up sharing in our outdoor activities, we are making sure that the forests and lakes of Michigan will have a place in the future.

Even if all you’re doing is going outside to walk the dogs, bundle up as much as you have to and spend some time outside. Enjoy the snow, put some color in your cheeks, breathe the fresh, frigid air... and then go inside and have a cup of cocoa to warm up.

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