Visiting The Seven Hills School

I’m visiting The Seven Hills School in Walnut Creek, California this week, speaking on outdoor education, media alternatives, children and nature, and recovery as part of “The Parent Lecture Series” on Thursday night.

On Friday morning, I get to meet with all of the grade school children, hoping to inspire wonder and curiosity as part of the Let Them Be Eaten By Bears Mission.

 

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Release Day For Bears: Southwest Airlines’ “Natural Remedy” + Register Guard Review, Full Text

This month, celebrating today’s release date of the book Let Them Be Eaten By Bears – A Fearless Guide To Taking Our Kids Into The Great Outdoors, Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine has a “Natural Remedy” feature in its magazine.

The editor and staff artist are creative, and the drawings in the print mag are great.  Four key points from the interview are available online:  Here.

Also, full text of Sunday’s Register Guard review of Bears:

Peter Brown Hoffmeister may not be a philosopher but his heart is all in.

The South Eugene High School teacher and co-director of the school’s Integrated Outdoor and Outdoor Student Leadership programs has just published “Let Them Be Eaten By Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids into the Great Outdoors.”

This book is a how-to, a call to action and a lot of fun.

His chapter headings — “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone,” “Chasing Squirrels: Let the Kids Lead,” “God Made Dirt and Dirt Don’t Hurt” — tell the tale.

Hoffmeister will make you a believer. From climbing neighborhood trees with your kids to taking at-risk teens into the wild, getting outside is not just important but essential.

Stay tuned for Hoffmeister’s debut novel, “Graphic the Valley,” due out in July.

 

New Review From Evan McCown, Co-Author of Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature

I’m very grateful for this review:

“In an age where humans desperately need to get out in nature again, Hoffmeister’s practical guidance is a bridge to get us over the gap of our fears and not-knowing. They say ‘the knowing is in the doing’ – Hoffmeister clearly has the knowing, and his sharing of it will help you into your own doing.”

–Evan McGown, co-author of Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature

Click above to check out Jon Young, Evan McCown, and Ellen Haas’ book if you have a minute.

On School Shooters – The Huffington Post Doesn’t Want You To Read This

After the Huffington Post signed me on as a blogger and allowed me to write op-ed pieces on any topic, for two years, ranging from books to sports to reviews to pop culture, something changed in our relationship. It was sudden.
I wrote this piece for Huff Po in late December, 2012.  For some reason, the editors wouldn’t print it. Like every other article I’d written, I submitted the piece on their backstage for signed bloggers, but nothing happened. It didn’t go up on their site. I waited, and it didn’t happen.
A few days went by. Then a week. I contacted the editors, and they didn’t respond.  Then I contacted again, and they let me know that they wouldn’t publish the piece.
I asked why.
No response.
I emailed again.
No response again.
And now they won’t let me write anything at all. I’m off the blogroll.
So I must have touched a nerve. And that made me ask, who’s paying salaries here?
Why is the Huffington Post’s Tech section so popular?
Who is advertising?
Who is vetting content?
What follows is an op-ed article on a piece of the school shooter puzzle. I don’t pretend that this covers everything, but here is a key component from my point of view. And as a current high school teacher and a former troubled teen, I have a strong opinion on the topic.
This is what the Huffington Post doesn’t want its readers to see.
My junior year in high school, I was caught with a loaded, stolen handgun on school property at my school in East Tennessee.  Since the owner of the pistol didn’t want to press charges, I simply forfeited the handgun to the local sheriff’s deputy, then was promptly expelled from the school.  No arrest.  No counseling.  No follow-up.  I was never required to see a psychologist or explain my intentions.  This was 1994, long before the famous shootings at Thurston High School, Columbine, Red Lake, Aurora, Clackamas, and Newtown.
Although I had some loner tendencies, I was also what psychologist call a “failed joiner.”  I tried to fit in at each school I attended.  I tried to be cool, but I usually failed.  I was gun obsessed.  I considered killing myself, but more often I thought about killing others.
I carried a loaded pistol my junior year in high school. I stuffed it in my belt, ready for use.
The next year, I carried a sawed-off shotgun in my backpack.  I liked guns and I had access to them.  But I also carried a sheath-knife.  I was obsessed with weapons of all kind. For a while, I carried a framing hammer.
Thankfully, I never shot or stabbed or bludgeoned anyone.  Although I got in many, many fights, and although I thought about seriously hurting people with the weapons that I carried, I never did. And eventually, with the support of some incredible adults in my life, plus some maturing experiences, I moved past my tendencies toward violence, matured, got back into school, and grew up.  After three high school expulsions, I have now – ironically – become a high school teacher.
As a teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time this past week [December 27, 2012] thinking about the Newtown shooting, school shootings in general, their causes and possible preventions.
It’s scary now to think that I ever had anything in common with school shooters.  I don’t enjoy admitting that.  But I did have a lot in common with them. I was angry, had access to guns, felt ostracized, and didn’t make friends easily. I engaged in violence and wrote about killing people in my notes to peers.
But there is one significant difference between me at 16 and 17 years of age and most high school shooters: I didn’t play violent video games.
As a child, my mother taught me that all video games were “evil.”  That’s the word she used.  And although that word might be a little extreme, I grew up thinking that there was something very, very wrong with pretending on a video screen.  My mother  also called playing video games “wasting your life” and “dumbing yourself down.”  I thought my mother was ridiculous, but her opinions stuck with me anyway.
Thus, when it came to high school, when I was a social failure and very, very angry, I had no practice with on-screen violence.  “Call of Duty” didn’t exist yet, but even if it had, I wouldn’t have played it.  I wouldn’t have practiced putting on body armor and I wouldn’t have shot thousands of people with an AR rifle. I have likewise never practiced “double-tapping” people. I have never walked into a room and killed everyone inside. My students tell me that it’s possible to “pistol whip a prostitute” in Grand Theft Auto, but I haven’t done it.
But Jeff Weise did.  He played thousands of first-person shooter hours before he shot and killed nine people at and near his Red Lake, Minn., school, before killing himself.
And according to neighbors and friends, Clackamas shooter Jacob Tyler Roberts played a lot of video games before he armed himself with a semi-automatic AR-15 and went on a rampage at the Clackamas Town Center in Portland, Oregon last week.
Also, by now, it is common knowledge that Adam Lanza, who murdered 20 children and six women in video-game style, spent many, many hours playing “Call of Duty.”  In essence, Lanza – and all of these shooters – practiced on-screen to prepare for shooting in real-life.
Now I am not anti-video game crusader Jack Thompson.  I’m not suggesting that everyone who plays a video game will act out that video game in reality.  But I am saying that it is very dangerous to allow troubled, angry, teenage boys access to killing practice, even if that access is only virtual killing practice.  The military uses video games to train soldiers to kill, yet we don’t consider “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” training for addicted teenage players? A high school boy who plays that game 30 hours per week isn’t training to kill somebody?
I am not surprised that school shooters love violent video games.  As an angry, troubled teen, I would’ve probably loved to shoot hundreds of people on-screen. That might’ve felt nice.
But now, as a teacher, I worry about my most troubled male students playing games like “Halo 4” and “Assassin’s Creed 3,” bragging about violent actions that they’ve never done in the real world.  A scrawny, angry boy’s who’s failing socially is a scary video game addict.
I was walking behind two teenage boys in the hall at my high school the other day and I heard one talking about slitting someone’s throat.  He said, “I just came up behind him, pulled out my knife so quietly and cut his throat.”
The other boy said, “Yeah, then I killed everyone else in less than, like, 10 seconds. Just slaughtered them.”
I looked at these two boys: Tall and awkward.  Unathletic. I knew that they weren’t tied-in socially, that they both struggled in classes and with peers.  Yet they were capable of incredible and sudden violence on screen.  Together, they could slit throats and shoot everyone.  I asked one of them later, and he said that he played Call of Duty “an average of 40 hours per week, at least.”
Is this what we want angry, adolescent boys to do?  Do we want to give them this practice?  Do we want them to glorify violent actions, to brag about violence in the school’s hallways?  Or even worse, given the perfect equation of frustration + opportunity + practice, do we want them to do as Weise, Roberts, and Lanza did, and act out these fantasies in real life? Do we want them to yell, “I am the shooter” as they enter a crowded mall – as Roberts did? Or dress like video-game shooters – as Lanza and Roberts were – before heading into a murder spree?
Especially with teenage boys, we have to decide what we want them to do, what we want them to love, what we want them to emulate.  Even if they don’t end up shooting people in a school, if they’re practicing car-jackings, knifings, and putting on body-armor as first-person shooters, what are they preparing to do with the rest of their lives? Will these video-game practice sessions make them better husbands or fathers? Will these boys become patient and understanding friends? Better co-workers?
Please support the bill introduced Wednesday by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, directing the National Academy of Sciences to examine whether violent games and programs lead children to act aggressively.  Please lobby with your local representatives as Rockefeller presses the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to expand their studies.
But I have another idea beyond important political action. Something positive to think about:
Get kids outside. Take them out and let them wander around in the woods. Let them canoe across a lake. Let them backpack  through a mountain range. Give them a map and compass assignment. Give frustrated youth an opportunity to challenge themselves in the natural world.
Have you ever heard of a school shooter who’s hobbies are kayaking, rock climbing, and fly-fishing? If that seems absurd – and it does seem absurd to me – we might be onto something.  I don’t think that those hobbies can create a school shooter. There’s just something abut the natural world that defuses anger.
I know this because the outdoors helped saved my life. An outdoor diversion program for troubled teens started the process when I was sixteen. Camping and hiking and climbing helped me mature further as a nineteen and twenty year old. And now, as the director of a high school outdoor program, one of my student leaders said recently that “the outdoor program saves lives.”
That’s not me. That’s nature. Kids need the outdoors.
Help the young people. Get them outside.

If They Have To Write A Disclaimer, Then It’s Going To Be Fun

From the new, typeset copyright page of my forthcoming book, Let Them Be Eaten By Bears:

“Outdoor recreational activities are by their very nature potentially hazardous. All participants in such activities must assume the responsibility for their own actions and safety. If you have any health problems or medical conditions, consult with your physician before undertaking any outdoor activities. The information contained in this guide book cannot replace sound judgment and good decision making, which can help reduce risk exposure, nor does the scope of this book allow for disclosure of all the potential hazards and risks involved in such activities. Learn as much as possible about the outdoor recreational activities in which you participate, prepare for the unexpected, and be cautious. The reward will be a safer and more enjoyable experience.”

“…nor does the scope of this book allow for disclosure of all the potential hazards and risks involved?”

“Prepare for the unexpected”?

I love it.

Let Them Be Eaten By Bears is up for pre-order

Let Them Be Eaten By Bears – A Fearless Guide To Taking Our Kids Into The Great Outdoors (Perigee/Penguin Books) is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Click to check it out.

Go Outside – Break Some Rules

As I explored the Silverbells Boulder field near Saguaro National Park last night, Northwest of Tucson, I found a nasty old mattress that some climber left at the base of a project he was working on.  Normally, I don’t like that.  Nobody should leave a mattress out in the wilderness.  I’ve heard of climbers in Estes Park stashing pads for months.  And climbers at Smith have ratty rope stashes at Morning Glory Wall.  But just as I was about to condemn the offending stranger, I smiled because I realized that his mattress gave me a chance to try a climb I’d wanted to try but couldn’t.

I was exploring and climbing alone, bouldering without a spotter or crashpad, and this one arete route, a V6 on a corner, was calling to me.  But it was slick and awkward, and a fall from the middle or upper left would put a climber on a jumble of broken triangle-shaped rocks.

But my newfound mattress……

I drug it over, draped the mattress, slid, and adjusted.  The padding perfectly covered the two rocks that would break my back or cut me in half if I fell.  So I started climbing.

I only took one fall on that mattress, but I was so, so glad it was there.  I fell lower than I thought on the route, fell and spun, and the cushion protected me from splitting the back of my head open on an even lower and more jagged rock.  I hit the springy mattress with a body-whipping motion, but I was right in the middle of the cushion, my head bounced off of the thick bedding, and I was fine.  No injury at all.

So I was grateful for the stashed pad even though that’s a rule I always follow:  Don’t stash gear in any wild place.  Don’t trash somewhere beautiful.

Using that mattress got me to thinking: Sometimes we outdoor people do break rules. Actually, considering societal norms, we pretty much always break rules.  Don’t go outside in severe weather.  Don’t take kids out.  Always sign a release form.  Always consider risk management.  Or just don’t go.  It’s not worth it.

A few of the rules I’ve broken this week while adventuring alone or with my family in the mountains outside of Tucson:

“Do not climb on the rocks”

“No dogs beyond this point”

“Private Property”

“Never climb alone”

“Look where you put your hands”

“Stay on the trail!”

and

“Keep vehicles on the road”

Of course there are consequences.  I scratched up my arms and legs, and lacerated my thumb exploring an arroyo three days ago.  I also had to hold to my dog down as he snotted and peed himself because he was in so much pain while I pulled cholla spines from his leg, foot, side, tongue, gums, and the roof of his mouth.

And, while adventuring yesterday with my older daughter, my younger daughter (eight-years-old) was stung four times by a bark scorpion.

But at Urgent Care, sitting on the exam table, she said, “I still love this place, even after a scorpion bite.  I’m still having fun.”

So we go outside, we go outside, we go outside.