Letter from Rob Mcphee
Child-raising – September 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine
Dear Editors Ed and Martha:
Martha’s earlier essay [April, 1995, edition] on community plans and activities for children and youth — about not being continually negative with them — really struck a chord with me. Somehow the capability of remedying the situation seems to be even more practical, and easier, in a scenic rural setting like yours.
Many suggestions that follow have surely been previously thought about, some considered economically impractical, some probably even implemented, but here are my thoughts provoked by Martha’s stimulating essay.
Generally, I take a rather dim view of tailoring programs around such national organizations as the Boy and Girl scouts. How about instead concentrating on activities focused more on your specific rural environment and trying to involve the adults more, both parents and others.
1) Would the school board keep its eyes out for hiring teachers experienced in (or willing to learn) a variety of outdoor skills? One assumes many would naturally fill the bill as applicants to a rural school district.
2) Salida’s young and old, male and female citizens should include many expert fly-fishermen — a perfect mid-summer activity. Could the school district, civic-minded businesses and individual fishing addicts build a fund to lease fishing rights on the South Arkansas (away from rafters and tourists) from some empathetic rancher? Would the State Wildlife Division help with expertise on improving the leased section of stream for more and bigger trout? How about a fly-tying class for students and adults in the off-season?
3) Hunting prowess and intimate knowledge of firearms should be formally taught both in school and after hours. There is big-game hunting all around, and one wonders if the dry but timbered country east of Salida and north of the river might be relatively undiscovered turkey- and grouse-hunting country. Is there a way to improve this game-bird habitat to increase bird populations? Nurturing the habitat should obviously include organized lynching parties to search out and terminate non-local hunters.
4) How about all kinds of mountaineering training for high-school kids? Trail-building for hikers, bicyclists, snowshoers, and skiers; home economics could include backpack food selections and tips for cooking same, bedding and clothes selection, etc. Could some camping equipment be rented from the school district by students for single trips? Flora and fauna identification, cooperative building of direction and mileage signs, and primitive camping shelters along the trails all could be part of the effort. Of course the program should include training in snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
5) Dressing and butchering techniques for both domestic and wild animals is a logical pursuit in Salida. What better way to provide work for youths who might otherwise be forced to emigrate? The same should apply to taxidermy, weaving, jewelry-making, visual arts, and pottery-making. These opportunities should be part of the school curriculum, or summer school, or at least encouraged by school officials and teachers (carefully assembled over the years to provide expertise in these hobbies and potential vocations). Obviously they should supplement, not replace, basic learning.
6) Could a cooperative sheep-raising sub-community be started wherein the sheep are pastured on the national forest (on a lease from an empathetic bureau concerned with the local community’s economic fortunes). The meat would be butchered and sold mostly in the valley, and the wool used to create a small weaving community? A select committee of Salidans should visit the Ganados de Valley Cooperative in the Chama River Valley of New Mexico, to learn how their co-op was nurtured and grew. Should the same co-op also raise llamas as another source of wool and for use as pack animals?
7) A lost art which furnished me with hours of entertainment as a junior high student was marble-shooting. A level, residential-sized plot should be carefully prepared for same. Use a very dirty, fine sand topping (six inches deep) to allow mudless, quick draining. The clay mixture enables small mounds to be shaped in the ring for placing marbles to be shot at. Could the local jewelry store be persuaded to locate and stock a supply of highly prized agate shooters, or could they be made by local jewelers? Common glass marbles should be a stock item at the local five-and-ten. Girls should be encouraged to participate, physical strength being an unnecessary attribute.
Not mentioned here are such trade vocations as carpentry, plumbing, electric wiring, and automotive repair, which are probably left to more centralized community colleges.
So now you’ve heard from an “expert” urban advisor (who does love everything rural about Central and Western Colorado — and who was a terrible coward never to have relocated).