Nature Boy

April 19, at approximately 8:50 a.m., I set out to become an Outdoors Woman.
I never made it.
I drove all the way to Friendly Pines Camp outside Prescott. I brought a sleeping bag. I brought a pocketknife. I brought a long book (a biography of William Tecumseh Sherman). I brought snacks.

I brought it all to the Arizona Wildlife Federation's Becoming an Outdoors Woman Program, a three-day outing "designed primarily for women." This is what the brochure said.

Why would I want to participate in a program designed "primarily" for women? Well, Daddy tried--God knows he tried--to show me how much fun one could have in the world of nature, but there was always something about setting up a tent at midnight during a subzero snowstorm in Yosemite that forced the word "motel" into my brain. Later came Indian Guides, Cub Scouts, Webelos; all pointless tortures.

Since then, my areas of survival expertise have concentrated on things like facile corkscrew technique, advanced thermostat use and basic enjoyment of massage, both shiatsu and deep-muscle.

But now I am fully grown, and, I reckoned, it was time to slip into some kind of sturdy outerwear, put down the snifter and pick up the canteen. Still, I didn't want to dive into nature with one of my mocking, Grizzly Adamsish friends, and there weren't any weekend getaways in Becoming an Outdoors Man. My wife suggested something along the lines of Becoming an Outdoors Sissy; of course I laughed for a full three minutes before kissing her brutally.

So an Outdoors Woman it was to be. And as training to become such a thing, a variety of rugged sessions was offered: Game Calling, Basic Hunting, Survival Skills, Tracking, Fly Fishing and the old standby, Muzzle Loading. I ended up with Fly Fishing, Archery, Canoeing and Venomous Animals, Identification Of. A full dance card.

I pulled in to Friendly Pines, drove past the "Welcome Ladies!" sign and parked in the dust. A friendly chap with a big gut and a name tag that identified him as an "instructor" greeted me, asked if I needed any help getting my stuff to Tewa cabin, my assigned quarters. I said no. But wouldn't you know--we were both in the same cabin!

"Guess they had to put all the guys together," he joshed. "But there's still plenty of bunks left." I lugged my stuff all down a small hill, weaving through women, and made it into the cabin. Gee, plenty of bunks were left. Plenty of top bunks. I had a hard time choosing between a corner spot roughly 16 inches from someone's head or an upper berth next to the communal toilet, which had a slightly ill-hung door that, I guessed, did little to block sound or smell.

I opted for the corner, took a deep breath of mountain cabin air, then strode across the sagging floor, out the door and past tall pines to join my fellow Outdoors Women-to-be for tuna on pita and a piece of fruit.

Fly fishing was my first hurdle.
Twenty-three of us were driven a quarter-mile to a small lake, where they had a pro ready to fill us in for the next four hours. He began to talk, passed around actual flies in formaldehyde, then flies that had been tied so we could see the clever similarities that would fool fish. I was sitting in the shade, and it began to get cold.

Finally, the pro broke out rods and pieces of cord the color of Mountain Dew that we could attach in place of flies. We approached the water and started whipping the thin lines back and forth, getting them stuck in weeds and branches. I saw a lizard run by. A woman said, "This is just like that movie The River Beneath Us." I suggested that she meant A River Runs Through It. But it was kind of like that movie, lines curling delicately through the air as the afternoon sun began to sink on me and 22 women.

It was after the fly fishing that I decided I would rather not become an Outdoors Woman. I got back to my cabin and looked at the metal bunk. It did not look good. I had a sore throat. It was dinnertime, but I wasn't hungry. My schedule said I had a talk called Reflections on Historical Outdoors Women to look forward to after the meal. Then "relaxation and networking."

I didn't want to network, I didn't want to relax, I didn't want to lie in a bunk and listen to other men's farts rip through the darkness. Archery, venomous animals, canoeing; I would do without these things. I would admit defeat. The women could have the outdoors. Who was I kidding?

I rolled up my sleeping bag, stuffed my snacks back into my pack and slunk unseen out to my car as the laughter of 107 women eating lasagna carried from the dining hall and played among the trees.

What to do now?
Drive all the way back to Tempe and watch TV?
No. Maybe the Friendly Pines scene wasn't for me. There was still plenty of nature out there. I could still get something out of this trip; I wasn't a quitter.

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