Inspirational People


One Boy’s Passion for Wilderness Survival Skills

Marco & Jelena Wells

Marco & Jelena Wells

One never knows when an inspirational person will cross one’s path. Today, for me,  it came in the form of Marco Wells, all of 12 years, who visited us in Piha, with his sister Jelena, mother and father Tina and Steve and grandmother Helen from the former republic of Yugoslavia, (who recently attended our wedding a few weeks ago.) From the start, it’s a bit hard to determine who’s the biggest inspiration in this family, whether it’s Helen for starting her journey to New Zealand from eastern Europe years ago, or Marco’s dad who fosters his son’s love of the outdoors and wilderness survival. Then there’s his mother, who gets just as excited as her son, when we got the compass out and starting shooting bearings off the nearby peaks. It could also be his wonderful sister who’s eyes lit up during our day hike, when she looked over the edge of the windy cliff, which dropped a few hundred metres down to the Tasman sea. But this story leads me back to Marco.

A few weeks ago at our wedding, “Grandmother Helen” (we’ve also adopted her as our own), told us about her grandson who “is interested in the out-of-doors”.  Well, when I started talking to Marco today at our home, “interested” was an understatement. Marco is passionate about wilderness skills, wild edibles, feeling the wind, and even a bit of climbing and just being out there. He’s got it in his blood.

Today's Hiking Buddies

Today's Hiking Buddies

My wife and I later wondered aloud, after they had left back for the  Auckland area, what makes one boy passionate about the outdoors and the next, not. I was that boy which started with my romping and winter camping trips around the John F Gile Memorial Forest and Morgan Pond in New Hamsphire. Marco, his dad and I talked about “nature deficit disorder” and, stating the obvious, I mentioned the threat of video games, technology and kid’s lack of nature time.
(Image: L-R:Randy & Amanda Richards, Grandmother Helen, Marco, Yelena, Tina and Steven Wells)

Kare Kare Beach from our Hike Today

Kare Kare Beach from our Hike Today

Not Marco! He’s out back building different types of fires, constructing snares and assembling survival kits in a can. OK, I’m sure he puts his own time on the computer too, but he sure knows quite a few native plants and is working on lots of survival skills. On our walk today he was naming a number of plants and their their uses. He taught me a number of things today, but one stuck in my mind. When collecting and using silver ferns for a emergency shelter, be sure to turn the ferns belly up, otherwise, the tiny seeds, adhered to the bottom sides of the fern, will drop off on you during the night causing irritation and itching. He showed me the tiny seeds. Marco, just so you know, I’ll not forget that.

He brought his backpack to lunch, and before we headed out with the family for our walk around a loop near Kare Kare Beachheads, he pulled out various contents to show me what he’d been assembling for a good survival pack. Just as I was wondering if he’d heard of the SAS survival manual, he pulled a copy out of the top pocket. Hmmm, He’s plugged in.

We talked about his passion and, after my telling a few bear stories, mentioning what I liked and disliked about being a mountain guide and how Outward Bound rubbed off on me.  I also told him how he could start prepping to be in the outdoors a lot, by taking some classes, volunteering to be an assistant in a few years in logistics or even as an assistant instructor when he’s older. I mentioned the importance of first aid training too.

The takeaway for me today? Being reminded of my own passion for being outside. Sometimes writing these blogs, and running MSI from this computer, I don’t get out as much as I’d like to. But, all it takes is an afternoon walk on a bluff above the Tasman Sea with a passionate boy named Marco, to remind me why I do this.

Marco, keep it up, don’t get distracted by the bobbles of society and technology, and don’t forget to read that book I mentioned, “Scrambles Amongst the Alps” by Edward Whymper, and while your at it, check out “The Wilderness World of John Muir“, “My Side of the Mountain“,  maybe even Journal of a Trapper, by Osborne Russell, Desert Solitare by Edward Abby, and in a year or two even Ralph Waldo Emerson and Kurt Hahn. They’ll be touchstones for you during your life in the mountains and wilderness.  To Parents all over, again I recommend Richard Louv’sLast Child in the Woods” . Marco, no need to read that one. You are in the woods!

As a side note: It turns out, according to another hiker we met on the trail today, This was Sir Edmund Hillary’s old stomping ground in his later years. What’s more, there are some dramatic vertical femeroles and caves that he rapped into and explored. As we walked around this place today, I couldn’t help but be inspired by this place and knowing he had played around these cliffs.

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