Loathe the Great Outdoors? This Gear Will Help
"WHEN I TRY to recall my earliest memory of the great outdoors, what comes to mind is a yellow permission slip: a three-page form that would allow me to participate in my elementary school’s field day. This momentous event was to be held an hour north of New York City, where I grew up and where my exposure to flora and fauna had been limited to strolls through Central Park, usually on the way to ballet, piano or math tutoring.
The permission form came with a dire list of warnings and suggested preparations. Since we children would be in proximity to unmown grass and native shrubbery, we were advised to wear light-colored clothing. That way, disease-inducing ticks—presumably waiting to leap onto us from every leaf—would be easier to spot. Pants were to be tucked securely into our socks. And our parents were urged to spray us with bug repellent that had a high enough concentration of DEET to asphyxiate a small mammal.
Field day was a bust. I spent most of it in the on-site lodge, trading lunchbox contents with nature-averse classmates."
As a child in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I spent all my time during warm weather plunking around in the stream down behind the houses on the other side of our road. We would gig frogs, or wade, or swim in the swimming hole, or spot fish. If we were not there, we were catching bees in glass jars, or spying on Swallowtail butterflies. Sometimes we would cross the back fence and wander into the farm fields, there were always snakes, and loads of Walking Sticks, Praying Mantis, Ladybugs, and all sorts of other interesting things. Or we might spend the day picking and eating various vegetables out of the garden. Unless, of course we were shooting each other with arrows, or pummeling each other, wrestling, I like the wrestling the most, well except for the distance contests we boys had, you know what I mean.
Even when young, the family vacations were either camping, trimming/cutting Christmas Trees at the farm, spending a week or two at grandma's ranch, or some other suitably outdoorsy activity. Grandma's was particularly enlightening, each day she would hand me the Winchester Model 1890 slide action .22, and a box of shells, and tell me I could not shoot the horses, or the dogs, or the cats, or the house, or the barn. I was maybe 8, so I suspect a daily retelling of the rules was a good practice. I mostly just shot targets that I made up, or old fence posts, but I shot one hundred rounds or more every day. By the time we moved to Portland, and build a gun range in the basement, I was an accomplished shot.
Even after becoming an adult I spent most of my summer days outdoors. With the family, we spent two decades waterskiing, wake boarding, and swimming off the ski boat. We would anchor up just off East Island in the Willamette River, nearly every day in the summer, take our dinner after skiing/boarding out the kinks, then walk the island spotting various animal tracks, deer, raccoon, coyote, possum, nutria, muskrat, mouse, among many others. Then I would pick blackberries for a nightly pie/cobbler, and we would head home about dark.
I spent years kayaking the Willamette River year around, whether hot summer, or ice crusted winter, 20 miles per day, 200 days per year some years. On a very few years, I was on the river about 300 days/times per year counting both kayaking, and ski boating.
Winters found us oft in the motorhome up at the Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort where after the lifts closed we would snowshoe again spotting tracks, of the local bunnies, big cats, and other creatures.
I don't remember ever using DEET, and only needing sunscreen for a month or two before becoming impervious to the sun. I have been in water so murky I would have sworn I could walk across it, and laid on deserted beaches across from the hubbub of downtown Portland.
I cannot imagine being trapped in a city without the outdoors near, or around me. Concrete, glass, tar macadam, steel, and people, hoards of people is no way to live. People are hell, or so I've heard. I avoid 'em when I can.
I would much rather watch an eponymously named Kingfisher fish for a living, or an Osprey, or Bald Eagle. I have stories. I would rather watch an otter dive under my kayak, investigate me from below before surfacing behind me. I would rather be the curious object for Seals, or Seal Lions while crossing the Gulf of Georgia, or Rosario Strait, then be the curious object for the conformists the downtown calls non-conformist. Ever notice how they all look alike, barely variations on a theme?
A few years back, I was teaching Maddogsson to pheasant hunt, he was a dead eye shot, but only 15. Some days we would only have the most marginal luck. On those days he would spend his time accumulating pockets full of frogs, snakes, and strange insects. I would make him let them go before we left, but I cannot fathom a childhood without the intrigue of finding the next new bug or critter. What can the city offer in exchange? Variations in tar macadam? Striation patterns in concrete?
Odd, but I never met a man in the country carrying a gun I didn't want to talk with, nor a man in the city caring a gun I did. The city is a place of fear, because it is full of people. The country a place of wonder, because it is not.