Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 27, 2008

Rules of Outdoors equate to Rules of Life

A younger friend of mine who is currently in the scouting trade asked me recently, “If you were to give outdoor advice to kids, what would you tell them?”

Oh, please don’t throw me into that briar patch, Br’er Fox!

1) Know your directions, so that you’ll know which way to head. Be able to tell which way is north or south, on cloudy days as well as sunny ones, and at night as well as in the daytime. If you don’t know which way to go, stay where you are – if it’s not dangerous – until you do know. That includes keeping a compass in your pocket whenever you’re in the Great Outdoors, land or sea.

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2) Know how to survive, and that should include rudimentary first aid, identifying poisonous snakes and plants, edible plants and berries, or how to keep from freezing in cold weather. Matches in a waterproof container are almost as important as a compass, and having a sharp knife is a must. Cleaning and cooking game can be fun, but it also can save your life.

3) Observe! Watch what is around you, and seek to understand it. Learn to be utterly still, and to control your reactions and breathing. Be a passive part of your environment, before choosing to become an active participant by, let’s say, firing your gun. The killing is the end of the game, not the game itself. Watch!

4) Choose your companions carefully, and hope that your companions have done the same. Bear your share of the load, whether it’s toting a canoe or dragging out a trophy buck. Throw yourself totally into whatever activity is going on, but remember that companionship around the fire that night is of absolute importance.

5) Do Right! One of my outdoor mentors, Mr. J.C., used to say, “We don’t need a whole lot of rules on this island – we just use one: The Do Right Rule. Do Right, and you get to hunt here; do wrong, and you don’t.”  The people who set the seasons, limits and regulations may be complete idiots in your opinion, but that’s the law, just the same. But we’re not talking about just the laws, either. Taking a shot that you know may cripple instead of kill, or throwing back a smaller fish that won’t live in order to string a larger one, ain’t right either.

6) Accept the fact that you are not in charge. There is a Higher Power. Big Robert used to say, “Do what you can when you can, and when you can’t, go fishing!” There’s no thermostat in the Great Outdoors, and no guarantee on the weather, except that if you wait long enough, it is sure to change. Don’t worry about stuff you can’t do anything about. Preparation and Prayer is the key to any successful excursion and the salvation of many an unsuccessful venture. Do it!

Having written those half-dozen Rules right off the top of my head (you could tell, couldn’t you?), I re-read them and realized, these aren’t just Rules for the Outdoors, are they? They work just as well as Rules for Life.

1) Know which direction you are headed in Life. Act, don’t just react. Be sure that your job is what you are Called to do. Don’t confuse a Job with a Career. If someone will pay you to do what you love doing anyway, that’s your Calling!

2) Surviving is more than just having enough money to pay the bills. My favorite poem goes, “He was a very cautious man, he never romped or played; he never fished, or played baseball, or even kissed a maid. And when he up and passed away, insurance was denied: for since he hadn’t ever lived – they claimed he never died!” Don’t concentrate so hard on not dying, that you forget to live.

3) In the Kairos Prison Ministry, our motto is, “Listen, listen, love, love.” Really look at people, and let them talk, resisting the urge to tell them all the wise things you have learned that will undoubtedly help them be better people. Maybe that’s why God gave us two ears, but only one mouth, someone has observed.

4) To quote Big Robert: “It’s the friends and the memories that count.”

5) There’s a framed needlework on the wall here at Brownspur: “Do Right and Fear Not.” I ain’t always obeyed it, but I knew when I was straying.

6) There is a God, and a Savior. Life doesn’t end when you die. Fear not, at least if you have made Proper Arrangements. There is a Heaven, but also a Hell.