Editorial: Father and Son Tragedy

I was goIng to wrIte about the need to pass the Conservation Futures advisory vote. Then, as we were going to press, came the news of the death of Spokane residents Otto Vaclavek and his 12-year-old son Max on a hiking and climbing trip near Leavenworth, Washington. I can only begin to fathom what it must be like for their friends and family to have lost not one, but two family members, one a child, to this terrible tragedy.

A scenario played out in my mind. What if you were the father of a young child? At an early age you see yourself in this kid; filled with adventure, curiosity barely limited. You see a chance to pass on something you love about the world, your love of the outdoors. You find that the kid loves the outdoors too, it challenges him. You are enthralled watching your son have experiences in the natural world for the first time. He’s the new, improved version of you, with a chance to have more outdoors skills and a better knowledge of our environment.

You go beyond car-camping to hiking, climbing, and fishing in near-wilderness terrain. You’re helping create an outdoorsman. You are helping yourself comprehend whole worlds of nature taken for granted until you saw them through a young child’s eyes.

Meanwhile your son’s peers are struggling to have a single unmediated experience outside. The vacant lots next door, a ubiquitous fixture in neighborhoods of your youth, are gone. Video games, once so simple they struggled to keep a kid’s attention for ten minutes are now so powerful they keep them glued to a screen for weeks. Fear about physical safety, stranger danger, and the wilderness are keeping kids indoors. They are more likely to be sedentary, eating foods far removed from the natural world and more likely to contract a whole range of life-threatening ailments that begin with diabetes and end with obesity.

I didn’t know the Vaclaveks I don’t know the circumstances of their death. I’m sure some will question the activity that lead to their demise just as they would if my daughter and I were killed on the bicycle that I ride her through town with almost everyday. When I see the joy my daughter gets on a bike, speeding downhill in the open, air it’s hard to imagine love of the outdoors being more life-threatening than life-giving.

p.s. A memorial fund for the Vaclaveks has been set up at STCU.

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