Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reading Great Words Of Outdoor Writers

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There is a one-word statement that often is spoken following the mention of a famous but deceased outdoor writer’s name. It is blunt, direct and simple: “Who?”

My outdoor education began when I was about 10 years old, and I began my personal subscriptions to Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield—the so-called “Big 3” in the outdoor magazine business.

I read each monthly magazine from cover to cover, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the next issue. Certain writers captured my fancy, forced me to probe my mind, and they made me want to learn more about fishing and hunting.

There were many of them through the mid-1950s and 1960s that helped me develop an awesome interest in outdoor writing. Some of those names have vanished with time as the author passed away, or in some cases, disappeared and was never seen again.

Many were people whose outdoor writings captivated my imagination, and made me dream of far-flung fishing or hunting adventures. My early favorites, should anyone care, were men of great stature in the outdoor writing field at the time.

Men such as: Charlie Askins, Erwin “Joe” Bauer, Havilah Babcock, Fred Bear, Craig Boddington, Nash Buckingham, John Cartier, Homer Circle, Eugene V. Connett III, Jim Corbett, Byron Dalrymple, Frank Dufresne, Ben East, Charlie Elliott, George Bird Evans, John Taintor Foote, Corey Ford, Arnold Gingrich, Roderick Haig-Brown, John Jobson, Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, Tom Kelly, Dana Lamb, Arthur Macdougall, Gordon MacQuarrie, John Madson, Jack O’Connor, Robert Ruark, Archibald Rutledge, Jack Samson, Edmund Ware Smith, Ted Trueblood, Ray Voss and countless others helped, in many ways, to forge Dave Richey’s writing future.

Many, in their later years, came to be personal friends. Some like Corey Ford and Robert Ruark passed away about the time that outdoor writing became an inspiration, but had yet to become an avocation or vocation.

I remember many discussions, in person and by mail, with Bauer, O’Connor and others. Some, like John Madson, were truly great writers, and I have dozens of handwritten and typed letters from Madson. His writing sparkled in a down-home manner.

The late Ben East of Holly, Michigan, was perhaps the finest copy editor I every worked with. Some of these men were more outdoorsman than writer, but the late John O. Cartier, was as good in the field as at his computer or with a red editing pencil.

Ruark, although we never met, touched me with his whimsical “The Old Man & The Boy” book (see my Scoops Books for a copy), which should be required reading for anyone with an interest in fishing and hunting. It is warm, wonderful, filled with homespun wisdom, and Ruark died much too young as the result of far too much strong drink and a defeated liver.

The late Joe Bauer began writing while a game warden in Ohio, and he became most known for his superb outdoor photographs, his many books and his constant parade of feature articles in The Big 3. He was quiet almost to the point of being shy, and was hired to teach writers for Outdoor Life how to shoot great photos. His humble “I don’t know how I do it” was the truth, but after listening to him talk for two hours, me and many other people came away with greater knowledge of taking prize-winning photographs.

Most of the really good writers were reticent about discussing the fame and glory of their work. Others barked and bleated if things didn’t go their way, and still, they did some things that others wanted to learn.

There are many tales of the late Elmer Keith. He was fairly small, wore a big cowboy hat, disliked Jack O’Connor intensely (the reverse was also true), but many are the tales of Keith’s exploits. He somewhat reminded me of a little banty rooster, but if Keith said he could do something, whatever it was could be done.

These men were heroes of a sort to me, and meeting them (most of them), was a high point in my life. I also met Ted Williams, baseball’s last .400 hitter years ago, and I showed no more hero worship for him than for the outdoor writers noted above. I simply admire their skills at their chosen jobs, and in truth, the angling or hunting writers were more real to me than someone like Williams played a childhood game for big bucks.

The point of this discourse is that reading today’s outdoor writers offers a peek into their lives. You can learn from the true outdoor writer, one who spends time in the field, and learn very little from the indoor-outdoor writer, a person who writes about fishing and hunting but never does it.

Fishing and hunting, as we know it, will gradually lose some of its luster in the future and some of it can be seen now as newspapers cut back or eliminate their staff or freelance writers. It will never entirely die out, but people will become more diversified, and parcel ever smaller amounts of time to these pastimes. So, if you love fishing and hunting as I do, read as much about it as possible now.

And offer a word of occasional thanks to those who toil so you can better enjoy the outdoors. Many of my favorite writers are long gone, and one day, some of today’s favorite writers will also be gone, this writer included.

Let these people know you appreciate their efforts. Doing so after they have passed on, as is true with some of those mentioned in tonight’s blog, is a belated attempt to reverse an earlier error of omission. Those writers and photographers who have given so much of their lives to enlighten their readers deserve to be remember once they’ve fished around their last bend. Their likes will never be seen again.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/17 at 08:40 PM
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