Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen


Citizen Staff Writer

I went camping once. Kind of. We were a gaggle of Girl Scouts who trooped somewhere strange in Michigan where we hunkered down in a cabin and kept each other up all night.

We also had to retrieve our own water from this rusty red pump with a heavy red handle that swung up and chipped my tooth.

For some reason, that wasn’t much fun.

Especially when I went over to the leader, a 300-plus-pound woman who mandated two treats at each meeting instead of a treat and a drink, to tell her I thought I chipped my tooth.

“Yup,” she said, briefly glancing up from her Twinkie, “you sure did.” She turned back to her Twinkie.

A more recent experience, Arizona Wildlife Federation’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program in the Tonto National Forest, didn’t have Twinkies on the menu.

But I was encouraged to chew on brittlebush leaves, suck saguaro seeds and delight in mesquite flour cookies. Dinner was a wild duck concoction followed by a simmering elk stew.

Although I couldn’t stay for supper, I did imbibe in some of the other intriguing festivities the program had to offer.

Like guns.

“The best safety is between your ears,” lectured Jim Neff, chief instructor and senior training counselor for the National Rifle Association.

He joined gun instructor Lisa Bunch and more than a dozen firearms in front of the program’s NRA Firearms Safety class.

“That thing looks like a Pez dispenser,” one woman said of the magazine that holds ammo for a semi-automatic.

“I picture someone on top of McDonald’s with that gun,” said another of the firearm that holds the magazine.

Christi Bundren, 44, looked at the Pez dispenser, McDonald’s roof topper, rifles, automatics, pistols and revolvers with awe – mixed with wariness.

“I’m afraid of guns,” she said. The Las Vegas resident had trekked to Saguaro Lake Ranch and enrolled in the course to help overcome that fear.

The last time someone offered to help her deal with her fear, she was taken to a firing range yet not forewarned that red-hot casings would discharge from the gun she was using.


Others have enrolled in the program for similar reasons – like going rock climbing to overcome a fear of heights. Some come to network, create bonds or simply enjoy the great outdoors. Participants’ ages have ranged from 18 to 87.

With no laptops, no Internet and no TVs, the great outdoors is about all there is. True, Saguaro Lake Ranch was a little cushier than the program’s usual accommodations, but program coordinator Linda Dightmon promised even the most primitive camps always include indoor plumbing.

“The program shows people how to live and learn and play in the desert,” Dightmon said. “The women are so willing to try anything.”

Like snack on mesquite flour cookies. These and platefuls of other desert delicacies were available at the class taught by Jean Groen and Don Wells.

Authors of the book “Food of the Superstitions,” the duo enlightened a room full of women about medicinal, edible and energy-producing desert plants.

A gargle of brittlebush will sooth sore throats and gums. Saguaro fruit makes for some wicked wine. Wolfberry was the original Viagra.

“Don’t bother with barrel cactus,” Groen said. It’s full of tasteless “glop” that gives folks diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Even with indoor plumbing, this would be worse than a chipped tooth.

But these women, for sure, could handle it.

“This is not girls with bows in their hair,” said Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, who has taught the program’s wildlife photography course several years running.

“It’s not cheesy,” she said. “We’re not doing ‘Kumbaya.’ ”

Instead, the women are renewing old friendships or creating new ones, with boots on their feet and cameras around their necks.

Or they could have sneakers on their feet and guns in their hands.

Or they might even be wearing hiking or riding gear, poised high atop a horse or scaling the nearby mountain range.

Just be sure they ain’t eatin’ no Twinkies.

Ryn Gargulinski is an artist, poet and Tucson Citizen reporter who tried venison once and didn’t like it but wishes she could have stayed for the elk stew. Listen to a preview of her column at 8:10 a.m. Thursdays on KLPX 96.1 FM.

E-mail comments and job leads to rynski@tucsoncitizen.com


To register for a session or more information on Becoming an Outdoors-Woman: www.azwildlife.org/bow.html

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