Human power beats horsepower

Ryan M. Taylor


For the Capital Press

I've never been much of motor head. I accept the need for a little motorization to get things done on the ranch, but I generally prefer muscle energy -- mine, my wife's, a horse's, anything that doesn't need diesel or gasoline or grease to do its work.

My mother could see that I wasn't immediately drawn to engines and noise when I was a kid. She also knew there's a lot of winter to try and enjoy when you live in North Dakota. I think that's why she came home with a pair of cross country skis one day when they were clearance priced late in the season. I was only 10 or 12 years old at the time.

A few years later I got a pair of the big Alaska-style snowshoes for Christmas and a backpack trap basket to help me run my trapline for muskrats, mink and beaver. At an early age I learned that my two legs were made for something besides folding up underneath me while playing video games or watching television. I also learned early on that a guy could get somewhere in the winter without jumping in a pickup or getting on a snowmobile or a four-wheeler. I never once got stuck out on the prairie on my skis or snowshoes.

I'm probably blessed with skinny genetics and high metabolism, but even without those genes I don't think childhood obesity would've been a threat when I'd ski or snowshoe a couple miles every day around my trapline.

Kids these days

Looking back, I feel awfully lucky to have been given simple gifts like a pair of long skinny boards to slide on and a couple of sharp sticks to push myself along. I never felt deprived for not having a snowmobile that I could fix and fight with for two hours and ride for one.

My folks never had to push me out the door or peel me away from the glow of a screen or a video game. I learned to enjoy winter, and that's handy when you live where I do. I've always liked the Winter Olympics better than the Summer Olympics because of that early exposure to the sports of my Norwegian ancestors. Now I wonder if I can do the same things, start the same good habits, for my children that my parents did for me. Kids are getting heavier and unhealthier, according to the statistics. In America, the states with the highest rates of childhood obesity are Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia. Maybe it's the climate -- those kids could probably use some snow and a pair of skis.

I'm sure we northern parents, and even Canadians, are raising plenty of overweight kids, too. But we do need to make the most of what we've got. If you've got lots of warm weather, teach the kids to swim. If you're covered in snow for a third of the calendar, put the kids on skis or skates or snowshoes.

Humans were smart enough to invent motorized transportation and the technology of video gaming. Now we just need to be smart enough to get away from our inventions for an hour or two each day.

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