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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

The little fighter came barreling in at 5:46 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5. When he quit thrashing around long enough for us to get a weight on him, he came in at a whopping 9 pounds, 12 ounces. We knew he was going to be big, but not quite that big.

In Parks and Wildlife parlance and measure, it wasn’t quite a ShareLunker, but it might as well have been. At least that is what I told anyone in close enough proximity to listen. But, as my wife repeatedly admonished me, it wasn’t a fish. It was a child, our very first. A little baby boy, to be exact. His name is Ryland Whitt Smith.

His father is ecstatic.

The prevailing question on my mind right now is how to raise the budding little outdoorsman. He’s certainly a fascinating creature, another characterization that my wife takes some umbrage with. But, alas, such are the sacrifices one makes when teamed up with a mate with a biological bent.

Admittedly, at this stage, his life activities are rather restricted. His sweet mother handles the lion’s share of them. For the record, however, I feel compelled to share that I am handling more than my share of the “poopy diapers,” a phrase I never thought I’d actually write in the pages of this magazine.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I have received an abundance of sage counsel about how to raise young Ryland. The advice has ranged far and wide, from the poignant and personal to the humorous and hilarious. Some have even gone so far as to write him letters marked “Personal and Confidential,” advising him to develop strategies now to avoid at all costs having to sit through my long-winded speeches when he gets older. What are friends for, after all?

Nearly everyone has told me to get him outside early and often, a welcome and much-anticipated obligation for this writer. Give him ample time to go play, explore, meander, wander, discover, learn, experience and express himself in nature, they have suggested. Those with actual experience in such things have counseled me that in no time at all, he’ll be old enough to hunt, fish, camp, hike, bike, kayak, canoe, bird-watch and roast marshmallows by the campfire. I can hardly wait.

Until then, young Ryland, I hope you’ll understand that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make a few promises to you regarding the outdoors. So, here are 10 things we’ll do together by the time you hit the age of 10:

• Catch a bass.
• Watch the bats come out at Bracken Cave.
• Take hunter safety.
• Go on a dove hunt.
• See the dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy.
• Fish for trout in the Laguna Madre.
• Swim in Balmorhea Springs and the Frio River.
• Go see the “Big Tree” at Goose Island.
• Hike up Enchanted Rock.
• Camp out in the Pineywoods.

If you have any more suggestions for how to be a good dad, I’m all ears. And, for Ryland’s (and Dad’s) sake, my list doesn’t have to stop at 10. Thankfully, I have colleagues like Nancy Herron, who writes this month on tips for how to make the most of your time over the holidays with kids in the outdoors. I’ll read up and hope you will, too.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.


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