Video Interview with Dylan Tomine on Raising Kids Closer To The Ground
In this interview with Dylan Tomine, we discuss important parenting issues for outdoors-loving families and how we can take little steps to live a life closer to nature. Topics: how little kids and tweens interact differently with nature, what his kids’ favorite activities are, how kids can get comfortable handling wildlife, how to connect kids with the seasons and rhythms of nature, how urban families can connect to nature, how to start foraging with your kids, at what age parents can start connecting their kids to nature and how to enjoy the outdoors in cold or wet weather.
Dylan Tomine is the author of Closer to the Ground, a book chronicling his family’s life close to nature on an island on the west coast of the United States. The book was first published by Patagonia Books in 2012 and was re-published in 2015 in a different format with new text, color pictures and seasonal recipes.
Getting to know Dylan Tomine and the island where he lives
FM: This is Laure for Frog Mom, and I’m here today with Dylan Tomine. Dylan is a fly fisherman. He’s also an author and a conservation advocate. He wrote the book Closer to the Ground. The book was recently updated with different texts and recipes as well. So Dylan, welcome to this Google hangout! I want to know, how you are doing today?
DT: I’m good. We had power outages yesterday. It’s been really stormy here so we are happy we have power, and also, this is the first time I’ve ever done this so I don’t really know how it works but I’ll do my best! I’m sure you’ll do great, so far so good at least. In the book that you wrote — it’s basically like a biography of a year in your life—its divided into four seasons, and you explain how with your family you got really connected to nature and to the island where you live. You live on an island in Puget Sound. Can you describe to the audience how the island looks like? I have no idea what it looks like.
DT: I’ll try to point the camera out the window! People would get seasick if I do that. It’s a small island. It’s about a 35-minute boat ride or ferry ride from Seattle. We’re just off the west coast of Seattle. From the east shore of the island, you can see downtown Seattle with the skyscrapers and the Space Needle and the Great Wheel and all the things that people think about for Seattle. It’s heavily wooded here, with lots of ferns and cedar forests, alder trees and madrones. It’s pretty populated. We’re actually kind of a suburb of Seattle where people just commute by boat and there’s almost 20,000 people who live on this island, so we’re not in the deep woods that’s for sure.
FM: But it does sound like it’s fairly remote even though you say that people commute by boat. It sounds like it’s a different world living on an island and leaving the mainland, which is where you lived before, correct?
DT: Yes, I lived in Seattle for a long time and moved out here. It does feel remote. I find that I go to Seattle less and less as each year goes by. It’s it’s easier to just stay here. We live in a house kind of tucked away in the woods. When I look out of the window, we have neighbors but you just can’t see them.
How little kids and tweens interact differently with nature
FM: That’s just perfect. So now that we know that you live in an island, tell me how old are your children?
DT: In the book, they’re 6 and 3. My daughter Skyla is 6 and my son Weston is 3 in the book. But they are now — it’s hard for me to believe — but they are now 12 and 9.
FM: Oh dear! time has gone by since you first wrote the book. I would love to know how that has changed anything at all in your approach to nature as they grew up as tweens, which they are now. How is it different now than it was then with them connected to nature and closer to the ground?
DT: Well, with little kids I think, things are actually more flexible. It’s easier because the outside, the structure of life hasn’t imposed quit e so much, so it’s easier to run out on a weekday and go fishing. I work for myself from home as a writer, so when I’m tired of writing and the weather is right, it was much easier when they were smaller to just go out and go fishing, to pick mushrooms or whatever. Now, there’s lots of other things that impose on a person’s schedule and so, with their school and homework. Both my kids play organized sports, so in there are other activities, there’s lots of structure and scheduling things that make it a little more complicated.
What are Dylan’s favorite things outdoors
FM: When you do manage to take them out with you, either out on the boat or in the woods, do they have their favorite activities that they like do with you?
DT: Yeah, I think so. You know, they both love to fish and so fishing is always a favorite and it doesn’t really matter what. We fish for salmon a lot of the summer but they’re just as happy to sit on a dock and fish for a little perch or something. 5’32. They both really like fishing. We started doing little more fly fishing last summer when they were old enough to wade around in rivers and deal with the different aspects of fly fishing. We did some of that last summer. But they also like most all of it, I think. We pick oysters and dig clams and we do a lot of different things. They both like to go crabbing because you’re pulling up these big traps from the bottom of the ocean and you never know what’s gonna be in them. Sometimes it’s an octopus, sometimes it’s a giant starfish. One time we had a small shark that wedged itself into the crowd trap, which is usually a giant pain in the butt for me, but for the kids it’s super exciting and fun. They like to do pretty much everything.
How kids can get comfortable with handling wildlife
FM: As you’ve shared all these incredible experiences with your children, it looks like they’re extremely comfortable with the wilderness that surrounds them. They are not afraid of handling animals or even crabs, who most children might be afraid of. It looks like they’re totally fine with it. They are used to nature in that way.
DT: I think there are some techniques involved in how you pick up a crab and they were both very careful learning how to do it. Weston’s still a little bit reluctant. But Skyla is sort of a natural fishing and foraging predator and so from when she was really small, she’d just reach here and there and watched how somebody else did it. Our Dungeness crabs are pretty big and they will you tear up if they get a hold of you. But she’s always been really into handling them and doing so.
FM: Can you show with your hands how big they get?
DT: They’re just — let’s see if I adjust this a little bit. They’re like this with their legs. The shell is sometimes 7.5 inches across the back and with their claws and stuff. It’s a pretty good sized animal and they would put their claws on your finger when they get the chance.
FM: That sounds a bit scary.
DT: But they’re delicious.
How to connect kids with the seasons and rhythms of nature
FM: Of course! So there’s a Dungeness crab recipe in the book. It’s the Christmas one, “Boiled dungeness crab”. It’s in the winter. It’s going to be the season, correct? You are very connected to all the seasons. People usually associate seasons with fruits, to berries, to plants but not too much to animals which is actually something quite incredible in your book. There’s different animals for different seasons.
DT: I think part of my interest in writing the book was was this idea of the rhythm of the seasons and you’re outside looking for food. Our ancestors and certainly the Native Americans who were living here for 10,000 years learned about these rhythms, when it’s best to harvest various shellfish, when it’s safe. A lot of times in the summer months the shellfish can be poisonous– the clams and oysters and so. Some of them have to do it just to survival and then others have to do more fruits and vegetables like you say. It’s about availability. The salmon runs come when they’re headed to their rivers to spawn so we’ll have a push of salmon coming to the Sound here around the island in the summertime. They’ll be in the rivers in the fall but they’re on their way where they are more catchy
How urban families can connect with nature
FM: Okay. You live in this incredible place where there’s actually someone not exact outside your door but not very far. But many families living in cities, they don’t necessary have easy access to either the ocean, the rivers or to the woods. If they were going to inspire their children to live a more sustainable way of life, something similar, what kind of tips would you give to these people who don’t live on an island in Puget Sound?
DT: That’s a great question! What I found with kids is –I have this theory — I think that kids are a lot more in touch with their instincts to find food and I think we all have those instincts. After thousands and thousands of years, they were developed pretty strongly in our psyche of how we survive. But with adults, those instincts are kind of suppressed because we’re used to going to grocery store to get our food. Kids don’t have that long history and so they seem to seem to be more in touch with that idea. I think that introducing the idea of food or finding food is automatically really appealing to kids. There’s been a lot of talk about Nature Deficit Disorder, how do we get our kids outside more because they’re addicted to computers and screens. My experience with this has really been that if you attach food with the idea of going outside, then it becomes this sort of natural treasure hunt and they’re excited to do it, which is a long way of saying that even if you live in a city, that you may not go out and catch salmon or crabs, or dig for clams, but there’s always something to do and it can be as simple as growing carrots in a pot on an an apartment window sill. It can be as simple as that. There’s a lot of foraging that goes on in the urban parks. There is even a guy that runs foraging tours in central park in the middle of Manhattan in New York City. I think there are opportunities all over especially with things like mushrooms and berries which tend to grow in a lot of urban or suburban areas. Even the simple things like just growing some vegetables, radishes or something in a pot or even tomatoes, I just found that that brings the food to what the kids are going to automatically get interested in them.
How to start foraging with kids
FM: That’s a really great advice. I like that you mentioned the guy who was doing foraging journeys in Manhattan because very few people are experts in foraging and they might get scared of going to pick up something that’s potentially poisonous.
DT: You know, I worry about that.
FM: You worry about that too?
DT: Hopefully it’s clear in the book. I’m about as far from an expert as it can get. I mean there’s a lot of this I’m figuring out as we go along way. What’s really hopeful is that foraging is one of those activities that there are a lot of people along the way that will mentor or help you, that are willing to teach. Most of the cities, at least in North America, have a mushroom or mycological society or club and they lead mushroom picking tours and teach you how to tell the difference. There is The Puget Sound Mycological Society here, in the fall during mushroom season, they set up a desk in Seattle, at the University of Washington and you can bring whatever you pick and show it to them and they’ll tell you what’s good to be eaten and what’s not. I think their services like that are in a lot of places. Really I just find that if you let people know that you want to help or that you are interested, somebody will step up and show you how to do these things.
FM: That’s really true that there are people who are willing to help, and share, as you, their passion for what they know and what they really good at.
At what age can you connect kids with nature?
FM: About connecting children with nature, your children are 9 and 12 right now. I was curious as to at what age you started to really show them the fishing or crabbing and picking mushrooms? How early did you start?
DT: I guess I’ll just say that it was at a very very early age because I was mostly motivated by a selfish motivation because these are things I wanted to do and have done for most of my life. So it just seemed the easiest way to keep being able to do them was to bring my kids with me. I had no idea that kids would really take to it the way they did. I feel really lucky about that. I think Skyla has been fishing with me, I started taking her with me when she was about 2 years old. A lot of this is finding the appropriate level of what the activity is. So we wouldn’t go on you know, on 14-hour fishing days in bad weather. I was pretty selective about it when they were small. Of course as you probably know with kids the key is to bring a lot of snacks and so that always makes it easier and more fun. Weston’s been fishing and picking mushrooms and stuff really since he could walk. Certainly as a parent, there’s a lot of fear or worries that go with that. Is the trail too rugged? is he gonna fall down and get hurt? will the boat be making too much movement and they’ll fall overboard? there’s a lot of those things. I’m a worrier by nature so a lot of it has to do with me, and it’s kind of battling myself to let the kids go ahead and experience this. It’s funny when Skyla was first gonna start going out in the boat with me. I think she was about 2, maybe 3. I went to the marine supplies store and I was looking at the different options for life jackets for little kids. There was one that was like $12 and their one that was like a $70 and they looked kind of the same. While I was trying to decide, a woman walked by me and she said: “Get the more expensive one. Your family will never forgive you if you go cheap on your daughter’s life”. So my kids have had very expensive life jackets for their whole lives. I think that the upshot, I don’t know if the one is actually safer than the other, but I will say that the more expensive life jackets are more comfortable. So it’s easier for them to be in them all day.
How to enjoy the outdoors in cold or wet weather
FM: I expected that that would be the case. So you mentioned the cold water and we’re now approaching winter, and it looks like you guys go out pretty much all year round. What about the weather? is that correct? I mean, the weather does not stop you from going out with your kids?
DT: That’s true. As the weather changes, it’s nice, and I tried to talk about this in the book. But it’s really nice for me and I think the kids have these traditions of seasonal activities that you look forward to. And so, wintertime here usually means that there’ll be razor clam digging in the near future. Oftentimes, there’s winter crabbing. There is some winter salmon fishing and those things all only happened during these specific seasons. So about the weather, certainly if it’s a horrible weather we’d rather stay at home and sit on the couch. You can pick your spots. It doesn’t get really cold here in Puget Sound. I rains quite a bit, it’s dark and gloomy a lot. Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to actually go out and do it. But usually, once we do, it feels like it’s worth it. Again like the life-jacket thing, I think having really good quality clothing that’s right for the weather is important for little kids. I think maybe it’s more important for us older people. I know I get cold a lot easier than the kids do. My son went to school this morning I think it was 42° Fahrenheit and he walked out the door wearing shorts and a t-shirt and as you can see, I’m in my little office. I think the kids are a little more immune to it but being wet cold makes anybody miserable and so I think that’s another good investment is having the right equipment.
FM: Very very true.
Where to find Dylan Tomine online
DT: I have a Facebook page, it’s Dylan Tomine author Facebook page. The content is pretty much the same it’s mostly the blog. I post other things there sometimes but the blog, which you can find at Dylantomine.com, I try and update it once or twice a week with just things from fish conservation to food we’re cooking or to the different activities we’re doing. I realize that I’ve been doing it for several years now, it gets a little bit seasonally repetitive, so I’m trying to take different angles at things as we go.
FM Anyway, I want to thank you very much and wish you a good day in Puget sound.
DT: Thank you for your time I appreciate it.