Friday, December 26, 2008

big thoughts + a connection

Orkney-- orcs -- the school of sleeping whales,
To those who glimpsed it first,
Hills half-sunk in the sea.

This haiku is from a chapbook of Haiku for the Holy Places by the late, and fabulous, Orkney poet, George Mackay Brown, that I was given as a Christmas present. I honestly can't really say enough about GMB. He was one of very few authors who could write across genres, meaning that as beautiful as his poems are, his short-stories are arguably better. To my mind, his novels got better as he got older --perhaps because he'd learned how to pace himself from the delicate intensity of the poem to the short story and on to the novel. As a crossing place for languages, civilizations, religions, wars, and myths, Orkney was a powerful catalyst for his talent and imagination -- and a place that has become home to me. And I have always loved haiku -- I think it's the lyric efficiency of the genre, of a world in seventeen syllables. And bearing in mind its dedication to the natural world, I have always enjoyed my trips over to Hunting Haiku Daily.

Maybe it's because with winter here, folks are getting suitably reflective on their hunting seasons and on hunting in general. At the beginning of this month, Matt at Sometimes Far Afield put up a great piece on 'if hunting is not necessary to obtain food then why is hunting allowed?'; Holly at NorCal Cazadora also has a thoughtful piece on the paradox of hunting, on what feels like to have hunted successfully, and to have ended a beautiful life; and Mike at Living with Bird Dogs has a succinct observation or two about why reducing the experience of hunting to a numbers game is to do injustice to both the game you are hunting and to hunting itself. Hopefully this pic is as convincing an argument that 'hunting' is as much if not all about the relationship you have with your fierce, rugged hunting dog.

The most recent copy of Sporting Classics magazine (Jan/Feb 2009) arrived at work yesterday. I'll admit that Sporting Classics isn't my normal cup of tea -- too many ads for guns I'll never afford, to shoot at resorts or plantations that probably wouldn't let me run my own dogs, or shoot at game that makes a better rug than it does a sandwich -- but I came across Todd Tanner's 'Wild Heritage' column describing a three-day media event he attended this fall. The highlight of the column, though, was his being party to 'a reunion' -- of Rick Ridegway's reunion with hunting after 45years. Rick Ridgeway is, frankly, a man of mythic proportions in the mountaineering community -- after being the first to climb K2, arguably the world's most dangerous mountain, without supplemental oxygen in 1978. What clicked in my memory, though, was that Rick Ridgeway is the Vice President of Environmental Initiatives for leading outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, and one of the prime-movers behind their Freedom to Roam initiative to restore and maintain wildlife migration corridors.

I love Patagonia. I love their clothes and I love the majority of their politics. But as I became a hunter, I no longer saw myself in their catalogs... that might simply be because whatever chemicals are used to create 'Hunter's Orange' are in fact highly toxic and known to cause cancer in California (who knows!)... but it seemed as though the company had discretely filed away the fact that the reason its founder, Yvon Chouinard, had gone to high, rocky aeries as a teenager and become obsessed with scaling them was because he was first and foremost a falconer -- a hunter. I don't mean to imply deception on their part, just that for them to openly acknowledge the place of hunting in their corporate legacy is perhaps too messy.

Their stance seems like the inverse corollary to something Christina Larson in Washington Monthly wrote back in 2006 about 'an emerging environmental majority': "Americans like green, but they are less fond of greens. And that has been doubly true for outdoorsmen." To me, at least, Patagonia seemed to have forgotten that its environmental sensitivity had first and foremost stemmed from the attuned senses of a man who understood the majesty and beauty and tragedy that comes from a successful hunt, especially one that is the product of a relationship between man and a bird (or dog). And while they have embraced fishing, perhaps other kinds of hunting are simply too bloody or politically complicated.

Nevertheless seeing Rick Ridgeway in Sporting Classics (along with Bill Klyn, Patagonia's fishing marketing manager and coordinator of the World Trout Initiative) is, I hope, an omen for the kinds of productive alliance that Mike, Finspot, Labrat and Matt Mullenix and others discussed in the comments section of his original post. Importantly, though, Todd Tanner also captured Rick's contemplative moment at the end of the day as he held two of the sharp-tails that had been shot that day. (I apologize for the lengthy quote, but I haven't been able to find Tanner's column on-line.)

"On the one side of this peak there's pride and satisfaction and happiness -- all emotions we feel when we're successful in the field. On the other side, a full 180 degrees removed, is the sadness of taking a life, of killing an animal we share a deep connection with; an animal we both respect and admire. It's the contradiction of the hunt, and if we lose our balance, if we stray too far from the point where we can see both directions, we risk losing an important part of ourselves...

In any case, a handful of us had the distinct pleasure of watching a good man reconnect with the landscape, and with himself, on a beautiful Montana afternoon. It was a blessing, pure and simple."

Having said all that, however distant Patagonia has become from those of us who enjoy hunting, we would probably all still benefit from reading Yvon Chouinard's revolutionary essay in the very first Chouinard Equipment catalog from 1974. As he wrote: "Thus, it is the style of the climb, not the attainment of the summit, which is the measure of personal success. Traditionally stated, each of us must consider whether the end is more important than the means."

Our two red-dog ruffians enjoyed a Christmas dinner of grilled quail we hunted back in November. I think it made them antsy to chase birds again. Thanks, too, to Jen for sending on these two pics of their respective majesties.


KKG said...

We should do our best to save Animals and Birds as they also have the right to live in this world just equal to humag being. Animals and Birds Life can be saved easily with our little steps.

Mike Spies said...

Andrew, I appreciate your note on the post on my blog, Living with Bird Dogs. Thanks you.

Re: Patagonia. They make good technical gear for climbing, skiing fishing. I buy and use some of it. But have you ever walked into REI and told them that you are going on an elk hunting trip, and require suitable boots?

Patagonia's marketing really targets the urban professional who is going to travel somewhere, climb something, photograph something, or fish for something, then zip back to the city with a digi-cam filled with images. Working the 'experience' bucket list pretty hard. In other words, the outdoor tourist. This is a lucrative and profitable market. If I was them I would do the same thing, probably...

But I miss the old l.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, Alaska Sleeping Bag company kind of companies. Or maybe I just miss the world as it once was, where hunting was a subject that one didn't need to avoid in polite conversation.

How things have changed.

Andrew Campbell said...

Mike: you are absolutely right in some respects about the outdoor tourist element to Patagonia. I wonder though if the problem/issue is that folks of all different stripes are actually looking for canned experiences -- whether it's a Himalayan peak or a guided hunt, especially one for some kind of funky, exotic species. In that regard, I think Patagonia and Cabelas (or Orvis, for that matter) are much more closely related.

I would also say that, as a former climbing guide and SAR team member, Patagonia's equipment is also designed for folks who will actually work in it.

As for the old-time companies: with due respect for my elders, you may actually remember when Amercrombie & Fitch was an actual outfitting company. And Filson wasn't being run by former Patagonia and Ralph Lauren execs.


Mike Spies said...


You said it better than I could - and I DO remember the Amercrombie & Fitch store in downtown San Francisco where I often went as a much younger man. What a paradise - general sporting gear and clothing on the first floor, fishing on the second floor and the gun room (!!) on the top floor. It felt like the Griffin & Howe store in NYC. I have been to gun rooms around the world, and the A&F gun room in San Francisco doesn't suffer a bit in comparison. But the City has changed a lot.

Patagonia does make very fine gear, as I said, no fault to be found in their products or efforts towards support of conservation. I was referring to their marketing focus. It's a style thing, I guess...

Smart Dogs said...

I mourn the old Eddie Bauer and LL Bean. I have a great old pair of Bean Boots and old broken-in coats from both stores that I treasure -- but now they just offer the same kind of poorly made, urban-outfitter chic crap I could buy anywhere else at the mall.

That is, if I ever actually went to a mall.

Meg said...


your post on Patagonia inspired me to check out their site and, consequently, the Patagonia Blog. As it happens, there's a submission contest on 'adventures in your own backyard,' for those experiences you have close to home. Might be interesting for you to highlight hunting:

Love, Meg

Steve Bodio said...

Just picked up on this thread. Libby used to be manager of mail order when Patagonia was based in Bozeman and of the sixty people working for her MANY were hunters-- not just bird hunters either but one guy who got a sheep, one who hunted cougars with a bow, many "meat" deer hunters. When the front office moved mail order to Reno (and Libby decided not to follow but came down here) it may have -- no, DID-- change.

Yvon still is a supporter of falconry and the Peregrine fund, hunts birds, and fishes. Rick R and Bill Klyn are old climbing buddies of Libby and her first (died on a mountain) husband Harry (biological father of my stepson Jack, Peculiar of Odious and Peculiar blog, who has been hunting since he was 11).

There is a lot of hunting out there-- but I think some people are just refusing to see it.

Now I have to figure out how to get that issue-- nearest store that carries it is 100 miles away!

Chet said...

Mark me down for a YES on Patagonia!
Not only do I backpack, fish and live in my Patagonia, I hunt as well.
Great company from people who not only care about getting up a mountain, but taking care of that mountain while we climb it.
I see where you are coming from, that’s similar to how I feel about Orvis.

Sounds like season has be fruitful!
Merry Christmas by the way!