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December 2009 cover image Birdwatching at San Bernard River National Wildlife refuge

From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

The picture said it all, or so it seemed. In the center of the photo was a beaming grandfather standing under a sprawling oak tree, surrounded by his 11 kids and grandkids, all bedecked in their outdoor finery. Judging by the smile on their faces and the clusters of birds in front of them, it looked like a successful family outing in a central Texas dove patch.

There was something else, though, in that picture that caught my eye. Everyone in the picture was holding up something for the camera. As I looked closer, I saw that each child and grandchild was proudly waving a hunting license. Well, at least they were all hunting legally, I thought. But, as I read in a letter accompanying the picture from Mr. Al Dusek, the family patriarch, it wasn’t just any hunting license they were holding. You see, Mr. Dusek had purchased lifetime hunting and fishing licenses as a gift for all 11 of his kids and grandkids!

It was clearly a very personal and heartfelt act of generosity on Mr. Dusek’s part. As he said so well, “If you hunt and fish with your kids now, you won’t have to hunt for them later.”

God bless him.

Never before has it been more important to take a child, any child, into the outdoors to expose them to the beauty and bounty of nature. As educators, public health professionals, scientists, conservationists and child advocates have all come to recognize, children who are given ample time to play, explore and recreate outdoors tend to perform better physically, cognitively, emotionally, and mentally than children who don’t have those opportunities. Or, as we like to say at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, those kids become happier, healthier and smarter.

Today’s kids have a myriad of distractions competing for what little leisure time they do have. Electronic games and media are one well-known culprit for why kids don’t spend as much time outside. But there’s another reason for this phenomenon. It is one that each of us can help remedy right now. It is the lack of an experienced outdoor mentor, a family member or close friend, such as Mr. Dusek, who knows how to hunt, fish, camp, canoe, kayak, birdwatch, set up a tent and build a campfire. It is someone who knows one’s way around the woods and waters and who cares enough to impart one’s knowledge and skills to the younger set.

Let’s not forget that December is a time of giving. I hope all of you who read this will give a child you know a meaningful outdoor experience over the holiday season — a trip to a state park, a weekend at the deer lease, a fishing outing at a nearby lake, or maybe an excursion to look at birds in their native habitats. I promise you it will be one of the best holiday gifts you ever give (and likely receive).

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department mission statement:
To manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

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