There’s a lot of talk about children not spending enough time outside. Frankly, most of it is just talk. I want to see some walk on this issue, and I’m starting with me. No more grumbling about kids rotting inside with video games and potatoes of the couch variety. When I go outside, I’m taking a kid. My own and others.
My “walk” is resulting in simple pleasures. When I hugged my son last night, he smelled like outside. Lafe Gamett smells like that, too. He’s 11. I met him this fall while filming Chinook salmon in central Idaho.
Lafe’s as comfortable in the backcountry as he is in the classroom. That comes from the diligence of his patient parents who shepherd him through hunter education and homework. And that comes from letting him run wild.
“I think it’s important that those of us who live in Idaho and live in the United States know the natural resources we’ve inherited,” says Bart Gamett, Lafe’s dad. “With that understanding comes appreciation, and with appreciation comes the desire to care for them.”
I’m appreciating a rare resource the day I meet Lafe. A few precious Chinook salmon that swim 850 miles from the ocean to Idaho to spawn. It’s an unimaginable journey. The odds stacked against them are great. The odds of me finding one still alive in late fall are even worse, but I find one, and Lafe is there when I do.
“I think it’s really cool how the fish roll around and pat their tails to put the rocks out of their way,” he says.
The Chinook’s fins are threadbare. Body decay is obvious as it slowly rolls in the shallow creek. The rocks below its belly are rubbed clean and covering eggs. Life cycle complete, the salmon is still standing guard on probably the last day of its life.
Lafe’s watching the fish; I’m watching Lafe. His keen eyes study the dynamic scene. I can tell his mind is working on the translation of the moment’s significance.
“This is really important,” Lafe says. “We need fish in order to have our world go around right.”
We need game, too, and Lafe knows it. He went after his first deer last fall. This year it’s elk.
Ten days after watching Chinook, Lafe summits a hill with his dad near their Mackay, Idaho, home. There’s a herd of elk ahead of them. Lafe is sizing them up. Motion behind him changes his plan. There’s another herd coming, and he spies what he’s sure is the lead cow among them.
“It was coming from behind and it stopped,” he says. “I breathed slowly to get my heart rate down and I shot. I didn’t see it fall down, but it didn’t get up.”
He’s doesn’t know how many pounds of meat he harvested, but he’s already made jerky.
Not every animal comes out of the woods with Lafe. Chinook are for watching, and grayling are for releasing as records.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game started tracking catch-and-release fish records in 2016. My name is nowhere on the list, but Lafe’s is. He made the record book in June with the first catch-and-release Arctic grayling—a 10-incher. He was quickly trumped by someone with a larger fish in July, but no matter. A kid made the books, and that kid was Lafe.
“All I had to do was catch it, measure it, and throw it back in,” he says. “It was really cool. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to hold a record for anything.”
A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to live like Lafe, but that’s not your measuring stick. Your actions are. Maybe public land isn’t accessible or doesn’t exist where you are. Maybe the kids you know can’t string a rod or load a rifle. That’s beside the point. There are plenty of other outdoor options, so put your walk to good use and step outside. Take a kid with you when you go. Run the woods and the water with them. It’s good for you and youth.
Kris Millgate is an outdoor journalist based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. See more of her work at tightlinemedia.com.