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Outdoor knowledge passed down through generations

by DENNIS. L. CLAY
Herald Columnist | March 17, 2020 11:54 PM

Life was a blast for a youngster when growing up in the great Columbia Basin of Eastern Washington, this being in the 1950s and 1960s. Dad, Max Clay, was a man of the outdoors and eager to share his knowledge with his friends and family members.

Even unacquainted, men, say camped at a nearby campsite, would wander over to visit. It would be a friendly visit, but there was always a question in the visit which would show me this new friend had a piece to the camping puzzle he couldn’t find. Dad was there to help this man find the missing piece.

Dad wasn’t always correct; he made a mistake from time to time just as any honest man will do. And, indeed, the Columbia Basin was a great place to allow growing space for girls and boys.

The proper wording should be: “The Columbia Basin was a great place for young couples to raise flocks of children.”

Our family started with the basics of outdoor education. Sometimes we had a fire in the backyard and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. This passed into longer camping trips with family and friends.

Two favorite campgrounds were just on or just off the Colville Indian Reservation, on or near the San Poil River. This was beautiful country, in the bottom of a valley ending with the river in the middle.

The campgrounds were small, simply a site large enough to erect a small tent or two, a fire pit and a picnic table.

Camping at these sites allowed Dad to teach me the art of fishing a river while wading wet. We didn’t have waders in those days, so we simply waded in whatever clothing we had on, we waded wet.

There were times when my shortness didn’t allow me to put a foot on the river’s bottom and keep my mouth above water. Dad would put me on his shoulders and follow the river, to a spot where there was water shallow enough for me to wade.

The camping experience would begin well before the first tent-peg was pounded into the ground. Dad would teach knife skills, this being how to sharpen the knife, how to clean and maintain the knife and how to respect the sharpness of the knife.

The San Poil River wasn’t our only place to camp during the 1950s and 1960s. The Columbia Basin is full of campgrounds. Is it possible to travel 20 miles in any direction without hitting a campground? It would be difficult.

Tomorrow: More outdoor skills passed along from Dad.