Women in the outdoors. Not too long ago, the first and last words of that phrase went together like hot chocolate and Brussels sprouts.
Men didn't like women in the outdoors, and most women were fine with that. For men, the feeling might well be summed up by that rugged sportsman Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady":
"Why can't a woman be more like a man? Men are so decent, such regular chaps. Ready to help you through any mishaps. Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum. Why can't a woman be a chum?"
Women of a certain age best summed up their feelings about the outdoors this way: "Ick!" Translation: "I don't sleep on the ground where crawly things are, and I'm not going two days without a shower."
How times have changed. Today women who want to step into the great outdoors have any number of programs available to them that are either specific to a single activity or provide a broad-brush introduction to a backpack full of adventure.
"We've had the fun far too long to ourselves and it's time to share," says Steve Palmer, who organized last year's Women in the Outdoors event at Woodmont Lodge in Washington County.
Two dozen women took the two-day Women in the Outdoors course in Hancock last year. It was sponsored by the Monocacy Valley Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Palmer's Washington County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.
For Barbara and Lynn Kambarn, a mother-daughter team from Salisbury, the weekend was a continuation of their exploration of the outdoors that began when Lynn was a Girl Scout and her mom was a troop leader.
Participants chose from a smorgasbord of offerings: fly-tying and casting, canoeing, turkey calling, camping and firearms safety.
After an hour of lessons, the women took their new skills into the field for testing.
"By taking this course, you don't have to have your husband or boyfriend as a teacher, but once you learn you can join [them] later," says Lynn. "And you can be very confident because the people here know how to teach."
Instructors of everything from fishing to shooting say women students are easier to teach than men.
"Women who would like to get involved in the most elegant of blood sports -- and that's what fly fishing is -- seem to grasp the elements of physics needed to cast," says master casting instructor Philip Krista, who teaches women-only classes in Howard County.
"Men try to muscle everything," he says. "It's awfully hard to get them to master the delicate touch."
If you're thinking about becoming an outdoors woman, here are a few things to keep in mind:
* Some folks were born outdoors, but no one was born with outdoors skills. In other words, everyone has to start somewhere.
Berdette Elaine Zastrow didn't start hunting until age 46. Now 59, she's served as a member of the South Dakota Fish and Game Commission and written a how-to hunting book for women. "If I can do it," she says, "you can, too."
Zastrow adds: "Don't take yourself too seriously. Have a good time and enjoy all experiences -- you are not in competition with anyone."
* Don't be afraid to ask questions; dumb ones don't cost any more than brilliant ones.
* Outdoors skills aren't brain surgery. There's usually more than one way to approach something. Your way may be as good as the bearded guy's. But don't completely dismiss the bearded guy, especially if he's got the keys to the car parked two miles upstream.
* Finally, when it comes to the outdoors, the sky's the limit, so go to it.
And men, we leave you with a thought from Steve Palmer:
"If you're a crusty old sportsman and you fail to realize that women and children are the future of outdoors, then you will die a crusty old sportsman -- alone."
OPEN THE DOOR AND STEP OUTSIDE
If you feel the great outdoors calling, here are a few ways to answer the call:
* The Department of Natural Resources holds "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" classes. For a schedule and more information, call Karina Blizzard at 301-478-2146 or visit www.dnr.state.md.us / wildlife / bow.html.
* The popular "Women in the Outdoors" program at Woodmont Lodge is being held June 8-10. Call Sandra West, 301-293-3500 or Steve Palmer, 301-432-7121. Similar programs in the region are sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Call coordinator Tammy Mowry at 724-284-9201.
* Master casting instructor Philip Krista is offering a "Fly Fishing for Women" class for ages 12 and up from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. July 14. The class is $60 and is held on Warfield Pond in Howard County. Call 410-313-4705 to register.
* Join Chesapeake Women Anglers the second Saturday of each month for "Fish / Lunch / Learn" outings to local waters. Club membership is $25. Buy a Maryland fishing license and trout stamp for $15 (an extra $9 if you want a license to fish in tidal waters like the Chesapeake Bay) and learn to catch rainbow and brown trout. For more details, call Barbara Cooper at 410-661-1869.
* World-class women sailors will be teaching one- and two-day clinics in Annapolis on boat handling, sail handling and short-course racing aboard J / 22 sailboats. The course, offered by watchmaker Rolex, is $120 for two days (June 24 and July 28) and $80 for one. The clinics are being held at the J Port Annapolis facility, 213 Eastern Ave. Contact Sue Mikulski at 410-974-9126.
* Women Aboard is a national organization for women in boating, founded in 1994. The group has an Annapolis chapter and offers periodic activities. For more information, visit www.womenaboard.com, or in Annapolis, contact Marty Ward at Martyw@inter yacht.com.
* Washington Women Outdoors is a 20-year-old organization that teaches women and organizes trips to sharpen skills and get away from it all. Since 1999, it has offered an Outdoor Novice Program. For more information, visit www.washingtonwomen outdoors.org or call 301-864-3070.
* "Women's Guide to Hunting," a 191-page soft-cover book by Berdette Elaine Zastrow ($19.95, Krause Publications) covers everything from clothing and gear to conservation and safety in a nonpreachy way that pokes fun at the author's own missteps.
* "Cathy Beck's Fly Fishing Handbook" (184 pages, $16.95, Lyons Press) is a good place to start regarding gear, gadgets and great streams; written by one of the East's best-known women anglers.
* Dee Taylor. She's one of the smart folks at T.G. Tochterman & Sons, the 85-year-old tackle shop at 1925 Eastern Ave. in Fells Point (410-327-6942). Taylor fishes, she's heard it all and she's funny. Best of all, she's generous with her knowledge.