You are a multitasking wonder woman. You juggle work, family and friends with ease. Your smartphone is your BFF, keeping you super connected via emailing, texting, tweeting and Facebooking. But lately you’re feeling a little disconnected, a little distracted. You catch yourself staring longingly out windows like a bored kid in a classroom, wanting to be outside. There’s a good chance that you’re suffering from nature-deficit disorder.
The latter term was coined by Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle: Reconnecting WithLife in a Virtual Age and Last Child in the Woods. The focus of Louv’s books is that we all need to take time to disconnect with our fast-paced, high-tech lives and reconnect with nature. He calls it getting our necessary recommended dose of vitamin N, aka nature.Louv’s theory is backed by numerous studies that show being out in nature reduces stress while boosting memory, attention span and creativity.
In Japan, whose people are considered to have a work ethic second to none, they even have Forest Therapy. Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist with Tokyo’s Chiba University, believes that because we evolved in nature that this is where our minds and bodies work best. Miyazaki’s Forest Therapy program gets Japanese workers out in nature on a regular basis for overall well-being.
Lucky for Florida women, they don’t have to go to Japan for Forest Therapy. They just have to sign up for the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program. Created in 1990 by Dr. Christine L. Thomas, the University of Wisconsin’s dean of the College of Natural Resources, BOW made its Florida debut in 1995. Today, BOW programs are held throughout the country. Here in the Sunshine State, BOW workshops are offered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“BOW is a hands-on educational program that teaches outdoor skills to women,” says Lynne Hawk, who is the FWC regional hunter safety and BOW coordinator. “I’ve been with the BOW program here in Florida since the beginning. In 1995, I was the basic wilderness survival instructor and then became the state coordinator in 1996. I can truly say that it is a wonderful program for women who want to feel more comfortable in the woods.”
The FWC hosts two BOW workshops a year; one at the Ocala Conservation Center in the Ocala National Forest and another at the Everglades Youth Conservation Camp near West Palm Beach. Typically, the Ocala workshop is held in February with the West Palm Beach one in October. Both locations are rustic, no-frills camp settings with dormitory-style lodgings. Or you can opt to really rough it and sleep out in a tent, either bringing your own or using a provided one. Participants are required to bring their own bedding and towels. And although you can bring your smartphone and other digital devices, be forewarned that reception is poor and there is no Wi-Fi connection at the camps. Remember, ladies, this isn’t a business seminar at the Hilton!
The registration fee is $200 per person, which includes instruction, program materials, use of demonstration equipment, a T-shirt, two nights lodging and meals starting with lunch on Friday through lunch on Sunday. There is a $50 discount if you register at least one month in advance. For those with financial constraints, there is a $100 scholarship available to first-time participants only. In addition to the daily workshops, there are evening activities for those who aren’t tuckered out. These include such activities as wildlife programs, campfire storytelling, night hikes, astronomy, archeology and even a laughter seminar.
“Over the course of the three-day workshops, we offer more than two dozen outdoor-oriented topics,” says Hawk. “On their workshop registration sheets, each participant can pick four activities. Each class is three and a half hours long with a minimum number of students of three and a maximum of 12. We find that’s a good ratio of instructor to students.”
Each workshop is limited to the first 100 applications received with others put on a waiting list in case of a cancellation. Hawk noted that “we always reach that 100 capacity for each workshop.” Although the workshops are open only to women, 18 and older, the instructors are a mix of women and men.
“Our instructors are either FWC employees or volunteers and most have been with the program for a long time,” says Hawk. “They’re not getting paid to do the workshops. They’re doing it because they love the outdoors and want to share that passion with the participants.”
A sampling of workshop topics includes basic wilderness survival, fishing, hunting, canoeing, archery, outdoor cooking and even an introduction to muzzleloaders. Although all women are welcomed, the BOW workshops are specifically designed for beginners.
“Our classes are taught on a basic introductory level. We want women who have never tried these activities to feel comfortable and not intimidated,” says Hawk. “We also don’t want someone with more experience to be bored. But the truth is that we do get women with outdoor experience that come to the workshops to try something new. We’ve never had any complaints, and many come back every year. Our workshops are usually 50 percent first-timers and 50 percent returnees.”
And in addition to learning outdoor skills, BOW participants come away with much more.
“There is a great sense of camaraderie at these workshops,” says Hawk. “Women come for all kinds of reasons, some very personal. They step out of their comfort zones, tackle challenges and overcome fears. We definitely see a transformation in the women from the beginning to the end of a workshop. We like to say that when you become an outdoors woman, you change your life for the better.”
6 Most Popular BOW Classes
Basic Wilderness Survival Skills: Includes instruction on how to avoid being involved in a survival situation and what to do if you are. Skills taught include how to find water and make it drinkable, use a map/compass, find/construct shelters, build/start a fire and pack a survival kit.
Basic Archery Skills:Students learn bow safety, equipment identification/selection, types of bows and their uses, how to shoot and shooting safety.
Outdoor Cooking: Participants learn how to cook over a campfire, in a Dutch oven and on a camp stove. Also taught are the basic requirements for food storage, preparation and cooking in the outdoors. Participants practice their cooking during the class and eat each other’s prepared food.
Introduction To Handgun Shooting: Students learn handgun safety and nomenclature and participate in a live firing exercise. Discussions center on safe handgun handling and storage in the home.
Canoeing/Kayaking Basics: Participants are introduced to the different types and styles of canoes and kayaks. There is instruction in paddles and strokes, equipment, safety and etiquette with hands-on experience on the water.
Introduction To Shooting Sports: Students are introduced to basic types of firearms, nomenclature, marksmanship and firearm safety. There are live firing exercises on the shooting range of various rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders.
Other BOW Topics To Choose From:
Introduction to Panfishing
Introduction to Bass Fishing
Introduction to Fly-Fishing
Basic Camping/Backpacking Skills
Introduction to the Florida Whitetail Deer
Small Game Hunting Basics
Bird Watching Basics
Introduction to Reading the Woods
Basic Personal Safety Skills
Hunter Safety Certification Course
Introduction to Muzzleloaders
Basic Wilderness First Aid
Introduction to Shotgun Shooting & Hunting
Bowhunting Certification Course
Map and Compass Basics
Knot Tying Basics
Introduction to Geocaching & GPS
Water Wonders/Aquatic Ecology Basics
From Participant To Instructor
When Anne Keller discovered the BOW program in 2005, her outdoor activities included hiking and horseback riding. A firefighter/paramedic at the time, Keller also taught CPR, first aid and advanced cardiac life support classes. So when she scanned the list of BOW workshop activities, there was a lot that interested her.
“I thought that the BOW program had a lot to offer, and I was interested in spending more time outdoors,” says Keller. “I’m a big believer in thinking outside the box, so I thought I’d give the BOW a try.”
For Keller, it was an instant attraction right from that very first basic wilderness survival course.
“I just fell in love with all the courses and the whole educational environment,” says Keller. “I just kept coming back year after year. By my second workshop, I became a volunteer instructor’s assistant wherever I was needed. By 2009, I became the lead basic wilderness survival course instructor, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
A couple of years later, Keller created two courses—introduction to wilderness first aid and introduction to geocaching & GPS—and, of course, also became the instructor for those as well.
“I’m a visual learner, so I incorporate that into the basic wilderness survival course,” explains Keller, 55, who retired as a firefighter/paramedic in 2010. “On the first day, I have the participants watch a Discovery Channel video of an Amazon expedition. Participants in the video are divided into two groups, one shown doing all the right things and another doing all the wrong things. It really helps set the stage for the consequences of wilderness survival. With that visual in the BOW participant minds, everyone is much more attentive.”
Once she has the participants’ attention, Keller also likes “to keep things light and use humor to make it a positive experience.” She also likes to “take the topics from demonstrations to hands-on to engage the participants as quickly as possible.” Keller instructs at both the Ocala and West Palm Beach workshops. She travels to them from her home in Tavares in her 18-foot travel trailer. The latter makes it easier to transport all her equipment and serves as her living quarters during a workshop.
“We get all kinds of women in the BOW workshops. Everything from women who have never spent anytime outdoors to those with some experience,” says Keller. “The best part for me as an instructor is seeing how quickly women adapt to the outdoors. At first, they’re a little unsure of themselves. But after about a day and a half, they’ve relaxed and are really enjoying it. Then it’s over and they want to come back next year.”
For Keller, she receives as much as she gives as an instructor.
“Every workshop is a learning experience for me, just like it is for the participants,” she says. “BOW has broadened my life and given me so much. I think any woman who gives it a try will find that BOW will do the same for them.”
She’s AnOutdoors Woman
Ocala resident Linda Fambrough grew up outdoors, but then life got in the way.
“As I kid, I loved to camp out and be outside as much as possible,” says Fambrough, 54.“But then I got busy with my work as a bookkeeper and my family. Then, one day about five years ago, I read an article about the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program. I knew right away that this was for me.”
Fambrough attended her first BOW workshop in the Ocala National Forest in 2009 and has been a regular participant ever since. That first year, she took basic wilderness survival, reading the woods, handgun shooting and outdoor cooking.
“Even though I had always been an outdoors person, I still learned a lot,” says Fambrough. “It’s a great setting and the instructors are fantastic. They are experts and communicate very well with the participants.”
In subsequent workshops, Fambrough re-took some of the courses, particularly outdoor cooking because she says, “I love cooking over a fire.” To her outdoor résumé, she’s added basic archery, hunter safety, outdoor photography, map and compass basics and hunter safety workshops.
“The great thing about the BOW workshops is that you meet people who enjoy the same things that you do,” says Fambrough, whose family now camps together regularly. “It’s a great getaway, you relax, have fun and leave with new friends. You also leave with more knowledge than when you arrived. I tell every woman I know that a BOW workshop is well worth doing.”
Want To Become An Outdoors Woman?
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission