The (Not So) Great Outdoors

From the Other Side

Ah, that thing so lovingly called “the great outdoors.” It is where many of us find solace and rest, a respite from the rat race and nuttiness of the “real world.”
So hell-bent are some of us to escape to the woods and waters, we let occurrences and incidents that would otherwise bring on a severe cussin’ fit just roll off our shoulders.
Take boat fishing. I grew up in a boat, fishing with my dad, and when I was old enough, he gave me my first boat, which was built by my grandfather. It was wood and about 12-feet long, with a decided twist somewhere toward the middle, so that under propulsion it tended to pull one way or the other, though remarkably the direction changed on apparent whim. Sometimes it would pull to the left, sometimes to the right, defying the laws of physics. Don’t even try to go in reverse: it would simply spin in a circle like a top, the reverse-drag confusing it so much it pretended to be a ballerina figurine on a motorized pedestal. The best I could hope for was to get it into a cove of cypress trees and immediately kill the engine without ending up perched upon a low-hanging limb.
I bought a bass boat years ago. It was 18-feet long and propelled by 150 horses under the white cowling hood, as fine an equine team as any king of some Scandinavian realm. The boat was brown and the shiny gelcoat had apparently committed suicide years before, but it ran well until the horses inside that white cowling stampeded one day on my way home from Lake Fausse Point and the team evaporated with a bang and a plume of white smoke, resulting in the indignation of having to call a neighbor for a tow back to the landing. I sold it not long after that.
Then there’s camping. I quit camping in my early twenties. It wasn’t rough or primitive camping, though my friends and I did set up a tent or two on the lake shore, mostly to hold the ice chests of beer in case some vagabond beer-thief wandered through in the middle of the night. We gathered driftwood to make a fire, wood that was invariably sopping wet and required several gallons of gasoline and one brave soul to light. In retrospect, we should have saved some penny rockets from New Year’s Eve to light the campfire from atop the levee, except those darn things never fly straight and probably would have ended up in one of the tents and burned down the beer coolers.
The movie and advertising depictions of camping are so serene and peaceful; actual camping is a misery on ground so unlevel and bumpy that no sleeping bag is thick enough to provide comfort; the constant going in and out to retrieve a refreshment, a bag of chips or the bug spray so tempts mosquitoes to investigated this new addition to their environs that, by bedtime, there are no mosquitoes outside the tent and several million inside. Back when they used to keep cattle on the levee, an occasional bull would get curious and scare the daylights out of me when it cast a huge, looming shadow from the still-smoking fire against the tent that looked like a minotaur. One fair morning (fair being I was only missing about a third of my blood from the mosquitoes and a minotaur did not trample me to death in the tent) it suddenly occurred to me that I had a perfectly good, comfortable bed at home and that this whole camping business was just stupid, and promptly quit the whole sordid affair.
Eventually I took up creek fishing, and wading with a fly rod. The first thing you need to know about fly rods is that to operate this device you must be part mathematician, part gymnast, part magician and majority rattle-trapping nuts. No sensible person of any decent upbringing would take up the fly rod, plunge into cold water and try to walk across slick, algae-covered rocks or quicksand. Having never claimed to be either sensible or decently upbrought, I continue this practice despite the fact that it exists on the margins of polite society and at the precipice of institutionalization.
In this particular form of insanity, to casual onlookers I appear to be quite an accomplished dancer from the disco era, when in fact, my waving arms, gyrating legs and twisting hips are all the result of trying to stay on my feet when the slab of sandstone I am trying to cross has suddenly turned into some variant of pudding, and my high-dollar, no-slip tread wading shoes chose that moment to resign from my employ. Mostly I manage to keep my feet; sometimes I just give up and take the fall, get up and let my indignation drip from my soaked shorts and fishing shirt along with the creek water. When I’m ready to move again, I find I’ve got another eighty feet of pudding to traverse, and now rather than a disco dancer I look like a sloth crossing an oil spill.
When I finally get in position to cast to a likely fishing spot, one of three things inevitably happens: I miss the spot by twenty feet; I snag my hat and fling it into the spot where I think the fish is; or I am standing on my fly line and it goes about six feet then snaps back and wraps around my head, elbow and somehow my waist pack, four times. To recover from any of these particular indignations, I generally laugh and say something such as, “I bet the fish will like that hat!” or “There must be a snag down there on the bottom!” or “I think that spot twenty feet to the right is holding a whopper!” My fishing partner for the day hears none of this, though, since he is busy landing a five-pounder.
Hiking should be a whole different matter, and granted, it is less unnerving, until I realize that I have hiked a couple miles downhill and now I have to go back uphill an equal distance. By the time I get back to the truck, my legs can barely work the pedals, and I can’t see over the dash because I’ve somehow transformed into a material something like wet clay.
But, like a self-flagellating martyr, I can’t stop myself, and even as I write this, I am dreaming of that first trip to the creek of the season, practicing my dance moves, the crisp bath in creek water, and that grungy, sweaty funkiness at the end of the day that declares to all that I have gone out into the wilds and by thunder, had myself a good time!


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