Monday, August 5, 2013

Becoming an Outdoors Woman

I now know what to do with a bag of Fritos if I get lost in the woods, how a flintlock works, and how an insect spends most of its life. Along with 70 women and 25 instructors, I got close to nature (except for those luxurious 8 hours of sleep in a comfy bed) for a 3-day weekend and survived to laugh about it.

Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) was started in 1991 in Wisconsin and now can be found in 40 states and Canada. The Montana program began in 1994 and allows women to learn about wilderness survival, fly-fishing, native plants, birds, butterflies, Dutch oven cooking, and all sorts of outdoorsy stuff in a safe, nurturing environment.

BOW rules are simple:

1. Be safe.
2. No politics.
3. Have fun.

The male instructors I had stated that teaching women is more enjoyable than teaching men because women don't flex muscles showing off what they think they already know. Women listen and learn.

And I learned a lot in the Lubrecht Forest, a few miles north of Missoula.

The first lesson was Basic Gun Handling. We became familiar with cartridges and calibers, gauges and head stamps, rimfire vs. center fire .  . . The instructors patiently supervised us handing off a rifle: it's easy, but etiquette and safety require a precise ritual that involves checking for ammo and holding the gun in a certain way.

At lunch, my pal Cristina and I suddenly burst out laughing as we realized we were having a heavy conversation about bullets. We seemed to be well on our way to becoming outdoors women.

Speaking of lunch, the food was great at every meal!

The cooks were a happy bunch and supplied us with a nutritious balance of protein, fresh vegetables, and dessert.

The Dutch oven cooking classes shared their results with us at each meal, turning out amazing appetizers such as Mountain Hot Tamale Pie, Mediterranean Spiced Rice with Apricots, and Cheesecake Brownies. The photo here shows instructor Marian Stratton making a last-minute check before the crowd descends.

There was a small dining hall for breakfast, but lunch and dinner were eaten in the covered picnic area. Luckily, it was warm weather. Nobody noticed the cool evenings because there was too much talking and laughing going on, not to mention chewing.

On the last night, I was enjoying my standard selection of one-of-everything when someone asked me if I'd tasted the mountain lion. I stopped chewing. Eh? Turns out it was Wild Game night and all the meat was, well, wild game. Somehow I had overlooked the carefully placed signs (there were so many explanatory signs all over the serving table at each meal, I just started ignoring them). I guess outdoors women don't ask what they're eating, they're just grateful somebody else cooked it.

Oddly, we never did have any fish apart from paddlefish as a simple appetizer. But I participated in Beginning Fly Fishing and really, really liked it. If I'd known how much I was going to enjoy casting and tying flies, I would have signed up for the class that went out on the river the next day, but oh well. I'm bugging folks here in town to take me out on the Boulder River that runs through, so eventually I'll have a real hook to work with instead of a fluffy bit of yarn.

Wilderness Survival was the most practical class. We each received a comprehensive handout and a nifty fluorescent orange whistle (which turned out to be really loud), but instructor Chris Dover was too busy telling stories about her own experiences as a wilderness survivor and search-and-rescue volunteer to bother with them.

But first she gave each of us one match and sent us off without further instruction to gather materials to build a fire that should last 2-3 minutes. Mine lasted maybe 30 seconds. Then she taught us how to build a proper fire, with the best materials and sizes of wood, showing us how fireproof matches worked vs. a magnesium striker. If you happen to be carrying a bag of Fritos, that can help keep the fire going.

There isn't room to tell everything we learned -- you'll have to go to BOW next year; but sign up early for this class since there are repeat students who find Chris an entertaining instructor.

In fact Chris ran out of time to show us how to build shelters. But that morning she had whipped up a couple of demonstration models that would allow a warm night or two of survival. One employed a tarp and the other was put together from materials gathered in the surrounding area. Two items not shown clearly but that are survival kit musts: duct tape and parachute string.

Speaking of shelter, there were 3 choices of accommodation for the weekend: a six-person cabin with a nearby washroom (not shown); areas for tents (Cristina's shown);

and my own choice: the lodge, which provided a two-person room with showers just down the hall, a communal kitchen, and hot coffee in the morning.

The lodge was a bit out of the way of most classes and the dining area, but the walk was serene.

This was my first time at BOW, but there were several women who had attended every session since the Montana program began. This year was the 20th anniversary, filled with much joy and celebration. The instructors gathered for a group photo with the cakes. In the middle of the front row, wearing a pink shirt, is Liz Lodman, who virtually is Montana BOW, and the first contact you will have when you get on the mailing list.

I barely touched the highlights here. One was the simple Sunday morning church service, where 5 of us sang hymns thanking God for his gift of nature.

Our general BOW instruction also included learning about a home in Missoula that is entirely surrounded by native plants, how to handle an injured raptor, what to do if a bear attacks, and how goofy 70 women can be on the last night of a 3-day event. Like I said, you'll have to see for yourself what all happens on a BOW weekend.