My job requires that I go outside and play. Friends occasionally take me to task for this flimsy excuse of a profession, but I offer no apologies, assuming their complaints are rooted in friendly jealousy.
It’s more than just fun and games, of course, but at the risk of sounding whiny, I won’t bore you with woeful tales of fishless fishing trips or unfilled deer tags or camping in the rain or hours spent facing a blank computer screen under a looming deadline. An April morning in the quiet turkey woods playing hide-and-seek with an aggressive gobbler or a sun-drenched July afternoon float down Elkhorn Creek casting for smallmouth bass or a midday hike along the Little Shepherd Trail though a kaleidoscope of October foliage are Grade A outside playtimes, even if they do happen to
coincide with work.
A by-product of this pleasant, though sometimes flirting-with-poverty-level professional existence is the gear that comes with the job.
My office is scattered with hiking boots and rucksacks, fly rods and larger arbor reels, tackle bags and boxes, woolen coats and goose-down jackets, backpacks and tents, creels and stringers, spinning reels and bait casters, knives and axes, float tubes and paddles, flipping sticks and fishing line, hundreds of lures, countless flies, a plethora of outdoor-
flavored books (from highbrow literary to basic how-to and where-to), firearms, shot shells, rifle rounds, waders, socks, a portable water filtration kit, caps, hats, a monocular and binoculars, hunting jackets, shell belts, duck calls, camp stoves, raincoats and wet suits, compasses and GPS units. Beyond what’s scattered within sight of my desk are canoes and kayaks, a mountain bike, trolling motors and batteries, more rods, more reels, gun cases and duffels … it’s an
embarrassingly long list.
A few of these pieces—like the 6-weight St. Croix fly rod and reel I bought used at an Arkansas hardware store because I’d seen a guy the previous day fly fishing and thought it looked fun—have become almost talisman-like with the ability to spark memories as vivid as any trout caught or deer tagged.
Some of the gear I rarely use, and a few things I’ve
never used, although all of it I plan to use.
If this seems a conundrum, consider this observation from Horace Kephart in the preface to his 1917 edition of Camping and Woodcraft, which was reissued in 1988:
“Solomon himself knew the heart of man no better than that fine old sportsman who said to me, ‘It isn’t the fellow who’s catching lots of fish and shooting plenty of game that’s having the good time; it’s the chap who’s getting ready to do it.’ ”
It’s true that guys love stuff
and some of us who like to play outdoors tend to edge toward obsessive lunacy when it comes to collecting gear. Why else would we own three down vests and two Arctic parkas in a land where winters rarely serve a weeklong snow, or fill a tackle box with the same model bass plug in 12 different colors, or tie two-dozen No. 10 olive Woolly Buggers when we already have two fly boxes jammed with the tried-and-true
A few years ago, my friend David was planning a February visit to Quebec. I’ve forgotten the details, but he called seeking cold weather clothing advice, erroneously assuming that my having spent numerous mornings in frigid duck blinds and having hunted pheasants on the frozen plains somehow made me an expert in such matters, which I was not. I gladly undertook the project anyway.
Aware that my friend did not spend a great deal of time in foul weather, I settled on the better-too-much-than-not-enough strategy and ultimately recommended the layered approach to include synthetics, wool, down and a waterproof
covering, any of which could or could not have been needed
depending on prevailing weather conditions. After adding suitable footwear (Gore-Tex and Thinsulate-lined boots), headgear and gloves, he departed with enough outerwear for a polar expedition, a sizable luggage pack, and newly acquired
preferred customer status from Cabela’s.
I later ask him about his trip. As it turned out the Canadian weather had been unseasonably warm.
“It was great,” he said. “I didn’t need all the clothes but I liked having them with me.”
Readers may contact Gary Garth at