We had an early snow this year. Though it was just a dusting in my area of the state, as I was sitting in a deer stand one evening watching the gentle flakes settle on the scarce leaves around me, Robert Frost’s first four lines of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” came to mind: “Whose woods these are I think I know/His house is in the village though/He will not see me stopping here/To watch his woods fill up with snow.” Being in the woods this time of year is always a wondrous feeling of reflection and tranquility. How necessary it is for each of us to find a place that gives us such a healthy outlet!
In my first installment of this Outdoor Series in the Spring, Covid-19 was just emerging as a disruptor in our lives. Kansas schools had recently been closed, and in our homes, we were looking for creative ways to identify learning opportunities in spite of not having access to traditional classes. In my family, we found what we were looking for on the trails that course through the nearby woods and along the lakeshore. Over the last 8 months, I have maintained that Kansas affords a rich diversity of experiences designed to promote an appreciation for the outdoors, all of which are forms of learning and growth. Whether it’s a walk in the woods, fishing an urban pond, perusing the gravelly banks of a shallow creek bed, or simply spending time with friends and family at the lake, I hope you have had a chance to get outside either on your own or with others to a world full of wonder and delight. More importantly, I hope what you have discovered out there will draw you back many times in the years to come.
We all have something that pulls us. My youngest son — he is 10 — has developed a passion for chickens over the last two years. He raises the endangered Japanese Yokohama breed, and has had a great deal of success in developing his initial flock of only two birds to nearly 40 in the last 18 months. Watching and helping him learn how to care for these animals has been a remarkable experience. He tends to the daily tasks of feeding, watering, and loving his birds with boundless joy. And although we do not live in a space conducive to having chickens, a very good friend and retired veterinarian nearby allows us access to his farm where my son keeps his flock. Yet another generous Kansan who creates opportunities for others so they may experience the wonders of country living! This relationship has inspired my son to think seriously about becoming a veterinarian himself, and he has already been exploring his post-secondary options accordingly. How fortunate he is to have such a positive role model in his life. As his father, I cannot be more appreciative for the selfless guidance he is receiving.
Not only have we learned a great deal about how to care for chickens, this poultry-raising adventure has taken us to regional competitions specific to poultry and fowl. Additionally, he joined our local 4-H organization, which has allowed him fantastic opportunities to meet other like-minded kids and present his chickens for judging and showmanship competitions. 4-H has been an outstanding outlet for him to also express his creativity in food and craft preparation, hone his hand-eye coordination in shooting sports, as well as explore his passions with poultry at the local and state level. We are exceedingly fortunate to have such a stellar 4-H club locally for him to join. I strongly recommend having a look at your own options for 4-H wherever in the state you live. If you don’t have children who might be interested, go ahead and serve as a volunteer to help kids in your community discover their next outdoor adventure! Please check out www.kansas4-h.org and review the Kansas State Extension Office for more information.
In the last quatrain of Frost’s poem, the poetic voice gently accepts that although “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep/[He] has promises to keep.” We understand that life can be an enduring responsibility, but the pauses, the moments of respite, whether they come as evenings among the oak trees, tending a fishing pole at a farm pond, or feeding your own proverbial chicken flock, make life possible, even beautiful. As Kansans, we know this well, my friends. Please, stay safe. Be well. See you in the country.
Dr. Ty Fredrickson grew up in Kansas and Australia. He is a graduate of Emporia State University, Wichita State University, and Wilkes University where he is an assistant professor. He is a FreeState Electric Cooperative member and a U.S. Navy veteran.