Published February 16, 2022

Outdoor Lessons for the Real World: When the bad thing happens

Written by
Geremy Olson
| The Dakotan
Taking appropriate action when the bad thing happens is what it takes for things to turn out ok. [Photo: Geremy Olson]
Taking appropriate action when the bad thing happens is what it takes for things to turn out ok. [Photo: Geremy Olson]

As I sat in the icehouse catching up with a couple of friends I faintly heard in the distance “dad…Dad…DAd…DAD!” That day I was at an ice fishing retreat with forty plus anglers and about half of them were dads. One of my buddies said, “Someone must have a fish,” and we kept talking. Then we heard this command in a deeper, very stern voice, “GEREMY, GET OUT HERE NOW!”  

Let me pause for a second; partially for dramatic effect, but also I’d like to ask a question. How would you react to your kid yelling at you? The reason I ask is that over the years I’ve been scolded for how my kids talk to me. The reason I bring this up is it’s a pretty important part of this story, not to mention the mindset of the people who have scolded me are the reason I am writing this article and telling the story of my mistakes on this particular day. Well…getting back to the moment…I realized it was one of my sons yelling at me. 

As I looked out the icehouse window, I saw Peter running and pointing to another icehouse as he repeated, “GEREMY, GET OUT HERE NOW!” The first thing that went through my mind was, “Is my permanent icehouse on fire?” As I left the house I was in, I couldn’t see any smoke, so I wondered what was so important. I’d like to say that I ran over to meet Peter about seventy yards away, you know like David Hasselhoff in a Bay Watch episode only bundled up like Nanook of the North. No, the reality is, I clumsily walked fast hoping I didn’t fall flat on my face…again.   

At this point in the story, I still don’t have a clue what is going on and a handful of other people beat me to the house. As I finally made it to the house without falling, Peter gave me the lowdown on what was going on, “Dan tripped in an ice hole and cut his hand bad.” Walking into the not burning ice house, I found my oldest son Dan holding one hand with the other while blood was dripping from both hands. 

As you probably have experienced when something like this happens, there are a variety of reactions from a variety of people. One thing I have learned over the years is you cannot predict how people will react to incidents like this until they happen, and this day was no different. Some people acted as expected and others did not. This isn’t a bad thing, but I bring it up because most people don’t know this reality and it catches them off guard when the “bad thing” happens.  

It was just about then that I started realizing that I had made a few mistakes over the last couple of weeks/years. After sitting Dan down on a chair next to a table (first to look at the wound and second to prevent the six foot five inch, two hundred and fifty pound little boy from falling on me. That would hurt, just say’n). I reached up on the top shelf to grab the first aid kit only to find it was not there. Then I told him to “keep pressure on it” as I went to the truck to find that I hadn’t put a first aid kit in the new truck yet either. I do have the jack, tow strap, jumper cables, matches, and three heating options, just no first aid kit. I headed back to the icehouse about the same time as someone else was getting there with a first aid kit for us to use. I grabbed a box of gauze and opened it up. 

If you are like me, by now in this story you are sarcastically guessing what is going to happen next. If you guessed that the box of gauze was empty, you win a thousand points. If you guessed that most of the other supplies in the first aid kit were empty, then you win ten thousand points. I did find enough supplies to bandage Dan up and send him on his way to the ER with younger brother Peter. For the record, little brothers aren’t known for their overwhelming compassion when it comes to older brothers getting hurt. What I didn’t know is that ER nurses can take the little brother’s side, and yes, there is video documentation.  

Even though we were short on the proper supplies, properly applied band-aids and electrical tape did the job. [Photo: Geremy Olson]

Seven stitches later, let’s get to the point… of this article.  Well, for starters, “prevention is the best medicine”. As a family of anglers we know that you always keep the ice auger blades covered when not in use. That day we had a new auger with the standard cover that’s a pain to put on, so we all were complacent. Yes, the easy-to-use Cold Snap cover we love is on order to put on before the next trip.  

“Be prepared” means so much more than having all the right stuff. (Yes, stocked first aid kits are making their way to the all the places they weren't a week ago.) Being prepared is also about knowing what to do and, as in this case, knowing how to improvise to accomplish the required goal. Here, it was to stop the bleeding, bandage the wound, transport to medical attention, and get back in time for supper. This includes knowing how to calm yourself and others when the bad thing happens. 

“Acting with decisiveness” is another fundamental skill that’s imperative to learn and practice in life and in the outdoors. I am incredibly proud of Peter for his actions that day. He acted with decisiveness when it was needed to stabilize the situation. He was a hair on the excited side because he had never seen a cut that bad before, but he did what was needed to be done and at the appropriate levels. This is why I asked him to take his big brother to the emergency room that day. I knew it was important for Peter to see this situation all the way through. His actions up to that point earned him the responsibility to finish what he had started. 

Most wounds look worse than they really are, and despite Peter thinking the cut was to the bone, Dan only needed 7 stitches. [Photo: Geremy Olson]

Let’s get back to my first question. That day Peter did what he was taught, “act with decisiveness”. Yes, he ordered his dad around. As parents, teachers, and adults we need to understand that when we rigidly hold to rules regardless of context, we not only take away kids’ ability to learn and grow, we teach them that it’s not ok to act when it’s appropriate. This is tragic when action is needed. This is why when the bad thing happens so many people just stand around or worse, freak out.  

I made mistakes that day on the ice that I have to and will remedy. More importantly, I had a valuable outdoor lesson reinforced. That lesson is “responsibility is gained with experience not age.” Peter’s actions that day were an excellent example of this lesson being learned. We all need to remember that it’s important for us to safely allow people to learn how to act with decisiveness in a measured way when appropriate. When we do this, it makes the bad things a whole lot less stressful for everyone involved.   


A prime rib dinner was the prize at the end of Dan and Peter’s adventure that day. [Photo: Geremy Olson]

Geremy Olson grew up in the outdoors. After being burned as a volunteer firefighter, he had to figure out how to teach outdoor skills to his children from a wheelchair while learning to walk. Today he is an inspirational speaker, author, FCA Outdoors ND director, tournament director, video producer, wildfire consultant, and proud father of the owners of Missouri Secrets Tackle & Secrets to Fishing.

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