Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Tell me a story

Hillary and youngest daughter, Susie, fishing on the Green River. Photo courtesy of Hillary Walrath.

By Hillary Walrath

“Mommy, tell me a real story from when you were a kid.”

Recently, my oldest daughter became obsessed with me telling stories before bed. I started with fairy tales of make-believe but one night I was tired and uninspired, so I went with a story about playing in the river in my backyard as a kid. For some reason, that story was her favorite and I am now required to tell her a new “real” story every night. What initially was a quick alternative to getting my kid to sleep around bedtime has become a nightly tradition that has allowed me to dig up treasured memories of my unique childhood and remind me to try my best to raise my children in a similar fashion.

Cheri Jones and kids with an elk she harvested. Photo courtesy Hillary Walrath.

Growing up, I took for granted the way I was raised and, quite honestly, resented it in my teen years. It’s only now, as a parent myself that I realize how truly amazing it was and try my hardest to give my children the same connection to wild things. I believe it’s where my passion for conservation started and I want to make sure my daughters share that same passion.

I shouldn’t be surprised at my daughter’s fascination, it’s the same reaction I get from most people when I explain that I grew up at a remote ranger station in northern Idaho, spending my summers at a lookout and the school year as usually the only girl in a one room school house. Our PE class included cross country skiing and firewood stacking and biology class was a trip behind the school to watch Chinook salmon spawn in Powell creek.

I had a mother who worked full-time for the Forest Service and a father who was a stay at home dad in the winter. The great Lochsa river flowed literally in my back yard. We would drive over 140 miles once a week to stock up on groceries and get out of our isolated community. You could find our small band of “wildlings” riding our bikes, playing in the creek or river, watching helicopters land at the helipad or building forts in the wilderness (usually unsupervised). It was not your typical upbringing, but one I will forever be grateful for.

Hillary multi-tasking as a shade for a snoozing kiddo and fishing. Photo courtesy of Hillary Walrath.

Sometimes I struggle with the fact that I cannot raise my girls like that. We live in town and must drive a bit to escape it. I worry that my girls won’t have the same passion for wild places and creatures like I do. But I think back on what really shaped me as a conservationist, and I don’t think it was completely where I was raised, but rather how.

My mother showed me it was ok to be a woman in a man’s world, but you must be willing to work just as hard. My father taught me that I could hunt, fish and do anything I wanted- being a girl didn’t matter. I still think he was prouder of me the day I was the only student in my class to get 100 percent on my hunter’s safety test than the day I graduated college. Both my parents always encouraged me to pursue my passion, which even at an early age was clearly wildlife biology and conservation.

So, even though I can’t raise my girls exactly how I was, I believe their father and I can instill the same values and try hard to do so. It isn’t the easy route. Getting out and enjoying nature with children requires more logistics, preparation and compromise. But it is worth every extra ounce of effort.

Our daughter who was packed along fishing and hunting the first months of her life, now lets us know when it’s been “too long” since we last went fishing (which is usually less than a week). Our youngest is showing those same inclinations when the first thing she wants to do in the morning is get on her shoes and go outside. I hope that these adventures and lessons ignite that passion for nature and how important it is to protect it. I also hope that one day they can recall these adventures to their children at bedtime and pass it on.

Hillary Walrath is the salinity control coordinator for the Henry’s Fork of the Green River. She lives and works in Wyoming.

By Chris Hunt.