Beginning in July 2020, I became a regular contributor to Wisconsin Outdoor News (WON) in "From The Little Cabin In The Woods" column.
This article was published in the WON June 16, 2023, issue.
Last July, I got an email from Steve Hall, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD)
Hunter Education Coordinator, inviting me to participate in the keynote speaker for the 30th Anniversary of the Texas Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program.
“It would be like old times -ehhh? 30 years went by fast -sheesh!” he wrote.
Well, this would come during the first Wisconsin turkey season, my preferred time slot. However, how could I turn down an eloquent invitation like this?
Texas was a very early state to adopt the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program, weekend workshops that introduce women to the outdoors, started as an outreach activity of the UWSP College of Natural Resources in 1991.
Steve Hall teaching turkey calling at Texas BOW.
Sometime in the spring of 1993, I flew down to Austin to help plan an October workshop at Lake Brownwood. On the appointed morning, Steve picked me up at my hotel, for the trip to his office, where I would meet the department director, Andy Sansom. This was followed by lunch with Marilyn Oshman, the owner of a chain of sporting goods stores in Texas, and Sue King, a legend in women’s shotgunning. The purpose of the lunch was for these women to meet me and to buy into the concept of the workshops. When the lunch and all the necessary politicking was over, Director Sansom took me aside.
“What do you want from us?” he asked. I took this to mean he was wondering what snake oil I might be selling.
“I want you to help me put on a safe and fun weekend that introduces women to the outdoors,” I answered. “It will take a lot of effort and equipment. The out-of-pocket costs will be covered by my grants and a small fee the women will pay. If you like what happens, I will give you written permission to use the name and you are free to do the workshops on your own.”
He agreed, with only one request. He wanted mountain biking included in the itinerary. Done and done.
The morning activities had put our plan to tour the 4-H camp at Lake Brownwood off track. The camp is a 2–3-hour drive from Austin.
“Take the state plane,” he offered, as Steve Hall’s jaw almost hit the pavement.
So, we boarded a small plane. I do not know enough about planes to say what kind. This was exciting. These Texas folks were going to be fun to work with. At one point the pilot let me fly the plane. What a hoot! Hopefully, no one from the FAA will read this.
It was a great workshop. The facilities were spectacular. The Texas hospitality was predictably gracious. The instructors were wonderful. On Saturday night, the conservation wardens came with their mobile kitchen and cooked dinner for the group. That was awesome.
Texas Parks and Wildlife has kept up the tradition of excellent workshops for 30 years. Steve and I have become friends. From afar, through Facebook and Christmas letters, we watched each other’s families grow up. From time to time, we have had reason to work on other projects together. It did feel like “old times” when he picked me up in Austin to head back to Lake Brownwood. We laughed over many stories from that original workshop.
As we walked into the opening ceremony for the 30th anniversary, I was nervous. Not about my role in the celebration, however. I was nervous because I signed up for the trailering class. You may recall that last summer, Shannon and I rented pedal kayaks. I have posted those two stories on my website at www.christinethomasoutdoor.com, in case you missed them. This spring, we did indeed purchase kayaks. I will share that story in a future article. We also purchased trailers.
So, during the workshop introductions, during lunch, and during the amazing post-lunch raptor show, after which, I got to hold a magnificent great horned owl, I experienced the anxiety that thousands of women have likely experienced in the many workshops that have happened across North America, in more than 30 years. The “will this be too hard” anxiety. The “can I do this” anxiety. The “will I embarrass myself’ anxiety.
“How have you, the Outdoors-Woman, gotten this far without having pulled a trailer,” one of my classmates asked.
“I am married to “trailer man”, I laughed. He could back a trailer up 100 miles in the mountains, in a snowstorm. I never needed the skill before.”
We met our instructor, Nicole Plowman, Ecosystem Resources Assessment Program technician, for TPWD Coastal Fisheries, in the camp parking lot. She was standing in front of a very large pickup truck, hooked to an enormous trailer. She exuded calm. We covered safety first. We had handouts and checklists. So far, so good.
“You are going to work in pairs for the hands-on part of this,” she explained. Each team will hook up and disconnect the trailer. Then we will take turns backing the truck up to the trailer so that it can be hitched. Finally, each member of the class will need to take the truck and trailer around the parking lot and back the trailer into its original parking spot (between a curb and an even bigger trailer). I will help you with that, by giving you verbal and visual cues.”
By the time my turn came, I had watched about half the class. They all did it. When I stepped up into the cab, I buckled my seatbelt, adjusted my mirrors, and fine-tuned the tilt on the steering wheel. We were not allowed to use the back-up camera. I took a deep breath.
“Remember, go slow, take wide turns, and think about where you want your trailer to go, and how you need to turn the wheel to accomplish that,” Nicole coached. “Take as much time as you need to.”
I inched around the crowded parking lot at a snail’s pace. My turns were slow and wide. Finally, I was back where I started, with the dreaded “back-up-to-park exercise ahead of me. It took me several tries.
At appropriate times. Nicole asked, “What direction do you want your trailer to go? Which way do you need to turn the wheel to accomplish that? Where does your truck need to be (in front of the trailer)?”
I did it! The trailer was pretty darn straight. What a rush! I was clearly not ready to head to the boat landing on a Saturday morning on the July 4th weekend, while 25 of you kibitzed. However, I felt empowered to know I was ready to pick up my kayak and trailer and would likely be able to get it to the little cabin 10 miles away…especially if I took the back roads.
It was wonderful to spend the weekend in Texas. I got to be on the receiving end of the formula that TPWD and many other state agencies across North America have used to empower women to overcome their fears, gain confidence, and become Outdoors-Women.