Monday, July 26, 2010


I have been writing of sorts, but without a story. I supposed I haven’t even been outside much this summer due to disaster. The gulf oil spill ruined good plans for salt-water fishing, and the flood in Nashville ruined the good fishing here until recently, and I haven’t been out much since it has returned. I haven’t written anything because I feel like there is nothing to say. Vegetables are beautiful this year, especially the Tomatoes. I feel as though they are little miracles, and the longer we wait on that deep red, the more satisfying they are. I don’t have that romantic sense about gardening like the other natural pursuits, but nonetheless I am still impressed.

Nostalgia can be a battle, especially when accompanied by a sense of being uprooted and ungrounded. I heard this ass on NPR equating a sense of nostalgia to dissatisfaction with the present. I’m not saying that he’s wrong, but perhaps just heartless and incapable of compassion. I think he’s operating on some faulty assumptions about progress, and also think that he had a shitty childhood, or maybe he was born a thirty three year old. I mostly just dislike him.

I grew up in Michigan, and ever since I left have always been drawn back. My family still has a place on a lake there, and I feel as though I’ve discovered it again.  It’s a place that I always have held close, even when I lived right there. I think that I like it so much because my mother does, and I feel like it is the way in which I most understand and know her. She has so many memories of her mother there, and times with her brother and father, and with my dad. It’s such a large part of her identity. I have my own memories and regrets tied to that water, and its something that I have had to come to grips with over the years of being away. 

And therein lies the truth about nostalgia. It’s a living and breathing part of your identity, not some bullshit nod to the way you think the world use to be (or even how great you think it is now). The lady’s family has the same connection to their piece of land in Holmes County, Mississippi. Its fun to watch because I know how they feel, how much they want to protect it because it is such an important way to tangibly understand what they share as a family.

But what I have learned most about the sentimental is that it can develop into something new. It is dynamic. I have been having so much fun researching how to duck hunt our lake and the adjoining river system this summer, because I love to hunt and because our house is in a flyway and because we have never done it. My relationship to that place is about to change, especially if it works. I suppose it means that I will have a different, more developed relationship with the place and with the collective identity of our experiences there. It feels like that part of my history is bending the rules a little bit to accommodate me. Which, quite frankly, rules. The river that leads into the lake is also a killer steelhead fishery, and there is a native brook trout stream about a half-mile down the road. These are all added bonuses that I never even knew I cared about until I began to appreciate the harvest.

So, the point is that nostalgia and sentimentality are important, especially if it is such a large part of your identity, and its also pretty neat to see those things change and develop with you.

Happy Hunting.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

micah ling.

I just purchased Three Islands by Micah Ling. Its a pretty intersting amalgamation of poetry and exploration of juxtaposed historical characters. I once had an English course with Micah as professor. Hers’ was one of my most memorable courses at University. It felt strangely non-academic, but somehow facilitated some fantastic writing from a handful of the students. I think that the most important take-away was about having something to say. If there is something worth conveying, then the writing just sort of happens. I can’t remember if I came to the realization on my own during the course or if she made a point of it, but craft always follows perspective. It’s the reason for Faulkner’s genius and the existence of high school English teachers.

I remember she never corrected my punctuation, which made me feel pretty good. She did hate the passive voice, I remember, and I’m still pretty lazy about correcting it. To be truthful, I still have to look back at my old grammar handbook that I was forced to purchase five years ago to even realize the difference.

If you want to find someone passionate about what they do, seek out an adjunct professor. I remember one of the greatest feelings I had at school was receiving a paper back from her with no markings until the last page, which just had an A circled in red ink. I am not sure if she was just busy or rushed and didn’t have time to go through the whole thing, but that can make a kid feel pretty stupendous. It was validation for a guy that really wasn’t all that confident yet. I remember that I spent hours and hours pouring over ever sentence and every paragraph the two nights leading up to turning it in, and it wasn’t because I was fascinated with the research or really wanted to learn, but rather, for the first time, I had something to say. Something important, that seemed urgent at the time, the sort of work that made writing feel more like uncovering an artifact that had always been there but no one had ever taken the time to be seen. I entered that essay into the campus literary journal in 2009, and it ended up being my first published work.

I think now of what I want my life to look like in five and ten years. I’ve wondered for a while what book I would choose to write if the opportunity came. I have always wanted to be John Gierach, because I think essays and short stories are so crafty and convey such skill. I guess the novel would be great, but I am not sure that I have the stones for fiction and I’m really not much of a story-teller. More importantly, the question is and should be, what book is your life writing? What do you have to actually say? And I think that I’m ok with ‘I don’t know’ for now.

A review of Three Islands to follow.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

birdnests and circle hooks.

I used the word ‘fleshy’ to describe a fish last night. The Spanish Mackeral flaked off of the smoker and the smells permeated across the yard. It’s a combination of dill weed and salt water that almost brings the ocean home. April offshore trips are perfect. The mornings are cold and it makes you feel more seasoned than you are. The tourists have left, and they will return with the better weather, but for now it feels like the only people here are the ones in on the secret.

The Macks take well and keep you occupied. They are for the smoker, a sort of consolation from the ocean that keeps you fed and relieves the monotony. Beer is God’s consolation for slow fishing. Knots amaze me, as does someone who knows a thing or two about finding and catching the invisible monsters from Earth’s last real wilderness. 

The Pilar was once the world’s most successful offshore sport fishing boat. Hemingway was a successful writer because he was successful at everything else. He didn’t need an imagination; he had already lived it all. He described writing short stories like they had already existed, that all they needed were some words on paper so that others could imagine what he had already accomplished. He didn’t ‘write’ stories, he ‘knew’ stories. I think about what it must have been like on that boat. Imagine the pressure of fishing with a man who believed that the whole world could never really keep up with him. It took a plane crash, a bush fire, and a lifetime long booze binge for the world to finally catch back up.

Captains have an enviable sense of self-reliance. Persistence, accuracy, and faith supplement a concrete belief in systems and cycles. It is Cobia season, and the shit of it is the same as the success: it’s just staring. Staring hard, for hours, looking to find that one brown shark of a fish just close enough for casting. He watches the water, we watch him, like following a guide who has no map. We’re not quite sure what we’re looking for, but this guy seems to think that he does so we might as well shut up and not get left behind.

And it comes together like lightning, and the friends are radioed while the enemy boats are scoffed at. We’ll never know what they caught, but to hell with ‘em while we bask in the ‘fish on.’ You reel in, I’ll keep you fueled with beer and we’ll all meet at the propane fryer to drink too much and fall asleep.

Happy Hunting,


Monday, April 12, 2010

the two in the bush.

We’re lucky to have one of the best urban fly shops in the country here in Tennessee. I find myself just hanging around more often; it’s the one part of the city that doesn’t incubate my nasty little habits. There aren’t any sitting chairs really, but that’s not a terrible thing. I think it is suppose to remind the urban folk to get off of their asses. Urban folks do a lot of running, and its mostly just in a circle, which makes me chuckle a bit, and probably because I’m a means to an end sort of guy. I think that is one reason that a fly shop in the middle of a city is both appropriate and necessary, to remind people like me that there is always something on the end of the line that needs to be stripped in. I don’t think it was designed with that in mind, but nonetheless it holds.

We’re more of a trial by failure pair of anglers, Sam and I. And it’s a process, but little victories keep it moving. The first fish on a new rod is special, a sort of ‘at least the damn thing works’ occurrence. Sam got a new four weight last season, beautiful rod, and he missed six strikes in a row on the Elk the first day he brought it out. I picked it up and switched to a smaller wooly, then landed a respectable ten-inch rainbow in the first five casts. It felt like kissing your best friends sister and then having to tell him that you liked it. At least the damn thing works.

I got my own four-weight this season, and with respect to my own sister, didn’t share it until there was a fish in hand. I suppose I owe him one. Angling is a win some, lose some proposition, and just like hunting, the odds are better when there is someone else around to pick up the slack. When we were trolling for mackerels last summer, I was doubled over barfing up the morning while he made sure we didn’t come home fools. Tiny victories, and maybe we’re even after all.

As for the season, I don’t know that it could improve much more. Life is good. Mean streaks come and go, and the more questions you ask the more you miss the ride. It’s better just to enjoy it. It seems like everyone in my little network of hunting friends is having an amazingswell of spring success. At the Lady’s farm we killed three birds over the Easter holiday. I am not sure how I can tell the story, except to say that two in the hand beats the hell out of one, and that something sure clicked with Alex and the slate call.

It really is beautiful to hunt the wild turkey. I think that Ben Franklin described them as noble, which is hard to argue against. More than any other game animal, the turkey requires a delicate hand and a subtle respect for silence and form. It is a nimble art.  Calling a turkey feels like walking a tight rope, a ‘just enough’ understanding of the razor-thin line between sensuality and violence. And when everything comes together, the early morning taste of tobacco, the whisper of fan feathers dragging across an oak bottom and the smell of gunpowder from a smoking barrel, life if perfect.

photos c/o alex wilson


Friday, March 12, 2010

the inbetween.

It is once again that time of the year that the discussions begin. These are the early nights at the bar spent comparing schedules and making breakable plans for the coming weeks, discussing the whens and the hows and the whos of the upcoming fishing season. Generally, I like to focus on the local rivers and ponds, fishing Tennessee stockers, bass, and bream. This year I want to catch a mess of early season Bream on topwater flies for the freezer. The plan is a season long fish fry, without the ordeal and the mess. Just clean and tender bream fillets in the freezer to indulge at either my leisure or necessity. I got the idea from John Gierach (who figured out most of this stuff in the seventies) and got the beer batter recipe from Langdon Cook. Things are looking up.

I also like to plan a trip or two to the gulf. Usually I can go fish with Sam or Clay in the salt, and Clay and I really want to experience some night fishing with cork and shrimp for speckled trout. Hopefully his brother will show us the ropes (and the lines, and the bait, and the fish…). 

Sam and I went out on what we thought was a great adventure last summer on July fifth. We woke up in a hazy stupor thinking that it was a great day to go trolling about a mile off the beach. The idea was to bag some mackerels by breakfast, but after two hours we were skunked and would have stayed that way had it not been for some very unexpected and creative chumming. Our rods doubled over and we ended up with two great king mackeral, and as soon as mine hit the deck I immediately doubled over with sea-sickness. Trip over.

The in-between season is always refreshing, and mostly because anticipation is sometimes more fun than the real thing. Its when the planners come out, and people like me actually believe that this is the year that they will finally kill that long-beard or get on the water twenty five days. Speaking of water, there’s not nearly enough of it, and what we have is never quite close enough. We are blessed with probably the best tailwater in the southeast, and we never make good enough use of it. I bought a map of the Caney for the first time and it cost me 16 dollars, which says that it might be a little too good. But nonetheless, catching fish is better than not catching fish, even if it means making a few friends that you would rather not have.

Found a great blog today, sparse and to the point. That can only mean that the person responsible spends way more time hunting than writing, which is how it is supposed to be, sort of like a functional woodstove, if you get my dead-drift.

Off to the best sandwich in the city. It’s the best we can do sometimes.

Happy Hunting.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

naked and pure.

Writing, as a profession, is the by far the most disrespected and enviable. The ideal type begins like this: poor middle-aged bastard who chain-smokes and hates people like Anglicans love whiskey, suddenly strikes it rich with a stroke of brilliance that comes from seemingly nowhere but that has, in fact, been there the entire time. I think that writing as a profession attracts the most confused sorts of folks. It’s that everyone wants to be heard, but no one actually likes to write. I don’t believe that I speak to many who say that they love to write. But they all want to be writers. That famous quote, ‘the hardest part about writing is starting and not stopping.’ I’ve always thought that there is one major similarity between real writers and lawyers. Both have an immeasurable capacity to do boring stuff.

There are a ton of issues. That’s both the beauty and the shit of it all. The good news is that there will always be a market, there will always be something to write about, something to interpret or make sense of, and people with perspective and a creative way of conveying that perspective turn into writers. There are things that will never go away, even if the form changes or mediums disappear. People will always listen to music and people will always read. That’s just the plain and simple truth. 

And its patience too. I think a lot of problems that need to be solved have to do with patience. We want right now what took our parents and grandparents 25 years to build. It is the problem of wanting something for nothing, of being an adult. It’s about taking punches and not quitting. About being told no and choosing not to pout and walking back into the fire to make a day of it. And it comes back to how people look at money, like more if it will solve your problems, like money isn’t the problem in itself. Something for nothing.

Because when life is standing before you, naked and pure, take a mental picture. Have  something to wake up for every morning, that one thing, and the world seems to make a little more sense. Try everything, especially when you are young, because youth is (or should be) urgent. But don’t be like Andrew and Jodee’s dog Boston, because he tried the turd in the bushes and got both a mouth and an ear-full. Some things are best indulged while no one is looking.

Just so you know (perhaps you don’t care, and if that is the case, then now is a good time to bounce off of this page to one that more specifically engages your fancy, or you can read a book, someone will appreciate that), I am making changes. I am finding some help to rework the page, and I want to make the content less about me, because I’m the first to admit that no one gives a damn about memoirs and they just come across as pretentious and untrue. Unless you are Nelson Mandella or someone who actually knows something, odds are we don’t care about your life*. A bummer about being born in 1986 is that I don’t know very many people who both survived the depression and fought in a war. Those are the people who know a thing or two about stark-naked life. I would probably read memoirs written by people who fit these criteria.  I will also be posting more often, perhaps even imbedding some extra doo-hickey gadgets that don’t really matter so that I can get more people engaged in reading what I have to say.

Because here is the plan. I want to write, I really like it (in a therapeutic problem solving way, not that I usually enjoy it because that would be contradictory to paragraph 1). Writing is only two things, perspective and craft, and I figure that I have a lifetime to perfect the craft. I figure that if I get an essay collection by the time I’m 70 I’ll be a real-life Norman McLean, and I’ll die content and with the most rods. I can’t help it.

I don’t know if you can tell, but I can’t focus today. I think this is mostly penitence for failing a lot in the past three days, perhaps a shot of self-pity and a questioning of how the hell I got here. Its four eighteen and in thirty minutes I will be either at the bar or finishing a John Gierach essay. On the one hand, craft brew really makes me feel better about myself in a ‘memoir’ sort of way. But the John essay is good, and I have some tobacco that actually tastes like it should, so option two is also a feasible outcome. This has become the question of the day, a day that has produced nothing except tiny victories and mounting defeats.

And the answer to the question is to go fishing.


*I publish this paragraph at the risk of sounding oft-putting, rude, and generally like an asshole. Before you write me off, just know that I'm talking about print memoirs, like augusten burroughs and other worthless work like that. Its just a rant. I'm not writing about LC or NorCal or other who pour their hearts and lives into their online medium, because these are real people with real lives who tell the truth and love to write. That is the best part of an online outdoor community, sharing stories. So please, accept this little post-script and take my writing for what its worth (which is exactly what you paid for it). Thanks. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I have since moved back to Tennessee and have switched focus from whitetails to the beginnings of the growing season, turkeys, and the rod and reel. For turkeys, the goal is simple. I have never taken a bird and am committed to success this March and April. This is all dependent on the strength of my interest in a month, but that is the idea for now.

 A more concrete and immediate affair of interest is the beginning of the spring growing season. One of my goals is to increase my personal involvement with The Lady’s garden, of which I am already down a few points for missing the seed-buying trip. She knows more than me anyhow, so it will probably work out better that way.  The CSA begins in May also, but the signups are now and that at the very least stokes some anticipation. The snow-dustings and soft morning frosts still remind me that it is February, but afternoons feel like they are stretching and waking up for spring.

The fun part is the full freezer in conjunction with the garden. Sam and I went back to the cooler the week after the season closed and spent a good three hours slicing and gathering venison to be processed. The results are firmly packed away Tetris style in three freezers.  Taylor gets to eat all he can until I come get what I need. Hell of a deal for the both of us.

Bought some new fly gear. New rod and reel, we’ll see if I need money or gear in the coming months.  I’m leaning toward keeping it.  Logic says that I’ll get to make money for the rest of my life, and there is a finite amount of fly rods in the world. It would be a shame to let any of them slip out of my grasp. There is a little part in every fly-man that truly believes that whoever dies with the most rods wins.  I can’t help it.

February is usually the doldrums for the hunter/gatherer. Clay got a new bird dog, and hopefully he gets to hunt over him in the final two weeks of quail season in Alabama. Its a beautiful dog with a strong name. I think that most have a certain affinity for hunting dogs. Strange how the relationship changes a bit when utility is added to the equation, but I can't help but look forward to August and doves thinking about how I don't have to run after those damn birds any more. There is nothing more ridiculous that an grown man hurdling sage and stick with shotgun pointed straight in the air in search of downed fowl.  I'm a lanky six foot three and am quite worthless in this capacity, but I will retrieve to hand and I don't eat my own turds. Its all about perspective I suppose. 

In the meantime, I think I'll write some, learn to tie some new fly patterns, and enjoy tobacco that actually tastes like tobacco. Cheap beer, venison steaks, cold hands, and not being stressed about not being in the woods. It isn't all poetic, but I thought this picture was great, even though it is plain. I have some friends who are incredible photographers, and I would love to make some trips with them and hopefully show off some of their work.  Thinking about learning more about bird watching, would love to know where to start. That’s your queue, many thanks. 

Happy Hunting.


Thursday, February 4, 2010


It is raining in the South this week. I suppose that today is Sunday and that means the Alabama Whitetail season is coming to a close in exactly a week and six hours, which is a both saddening and hopeful. I knew this day was coming, and I have been putting this post off because I am nervous about how I want to portray myself and what I have taken this season. The last thing that I wish for the Digest to become is a tally sheet or announcement board. I suppose I just want to be respectful of both the game and others who don’t share the same perspective. I also think that I want the focus to be on the season, on participating with nature.

Sam and I were at his farm two weekends ago with some other friends. The harvest that weekend was beyond anything that I could have anticipated. Each member of the party took an animal, which makes for a memorable weekend no matter what else goes on. Sam is a great hunter, and apparently has some philosopher in his bones. “I like to let the woods just happen. Just be patient and let everything come to you instead of the other way around.” We were still-hunting a creek bed on conceivably the worst day to do it. The ground was frozen and crunched under every step. At the very least we ended up with a quotable morning. That is certainly making a day of it.

This season I had the pleasure of hunting for dove, quail, duck, deer, and pig. I would say that this is my most productive season, but I am not selling anything so we’ll just leave the mechanical language out of it. I have taken two deer, both does, and I could not be happier about it. I took my first Mississippi Whitetail in December, which was a load off of my back. Now I can just enjoy myself over there instead of settling a score. Duck hunting was slow, but I mostly show up for the jokes anyway. I love bird hunting, and if you have never experienced a South Georgia style quail hunt, then dammit I think you should get moving. Doves may have been my favorite, simply because being that close to good friends and shooting three boxes of shells certainly makes a weekend of it. Hay bails be damned, we were the only ones shooting birds out of a group of thirty.

It is nice to wake up in the morning and not be dead tired dragging yourself to the field, or feeling guilty for not doing so. Now I just can’t, and that comes with a strange relief. I suppose that one of the best parts of the fall and winter hunting is honing in on the seasonal aspect of it. It is steady, has its own slow rhythm. Summer is just so distracting. People are all over the place, and even nature moves faster.

I was walking through the woods on Saturday morning and the ground was wet. It was warm and a storm was about to pass through. I climbed the tree and took a little pleasure in the sound that my wet boots made on the steel as I got settled. Sometimes the most insignificant of occurrences lead to mind-crushing self-awareness. I think most people have those moments, where the world pauses and you have that little slip in the space-time continuum to truly love being alive. It is that moment, when your boot squeaks 25 feet up an old planted pine, that the stillness and the smells of the early morning are finally soaked in by your soul. It happened there, at 6:15 in the morning, just when the sleepy sun was reaching through the trees, stretching out the stiffness in its back from its steady rest.

The hardest part of writing this is trying to make everything sound poetic, sound like what it actually is, a matter of life and death. But I don’t really know if that is how I feel about it now. I think that the way of the hunter and the grower and the gatherer is the way that it is supposed to be, and the more you build your life upon those things the less fantastic it becomes. Of course there are days that it all makes sense, that the cosmic alliances become apparent and the gravity of the entire world is made known through one animal taking the life of another. Harvest is a mystery, no matter the season and no matter the pursuit. But sometimes in the end it’s just that things that are spectacular are just plain ordinary, and that is the way that it is supposed to be. The violence doesn’t get to me like it used to, and I certainly have a different sort of gratification than I had four years ago. Now, it is just more satisfying to know that food doesn’t come from a grocery store, and that hunting alone means running the risk of missing the point. Life and death are truly just parts of life, and the more that I learn that the more balanced my perspective becomes, and life grows more satisfying each day. It’s a tight-rope act balancing both gravity and constancy.

So now, I hope that each day I and we can become reconnected with the rhythms of the spring season. My hope is that we can all be blessed with those tiny moments of awareness, and that the harvest from the ground is as plentiful as the harvest of game.

Happy Hunting.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

agonizing and excellent.

I have been spending my time lately thinking about writing. Not actually writing, mind you, but mostly about thinking about it. Granted, good writing cannot happen until the pen touches the pad or the fingers dance on the keys, but I figure that there must be some sort of reflection on the craft every once in a while. I read something interesting by songwriter Chris DuBois. Writers have the gift of perception, the craft can be developed. Perception, though, has a few faces, and that is what makes writing and writers different and worth exploring. 

Part of my meditation on writing and perception dealt with the medium. I have pondered for some time now buying a stack of legal pads and a box of Dixon Ticonderoga #2 yellow pencils and setting about becoming a man that exclusively deals with the handwritten prose. Wendell Berry is my favorite writer. So versatile, and so much to say. He only uses the pen and pad. Something about an expensive machine really cheapens the process. Perhaps its just the rationalization of the the organization and gurgitation of thought that kind of rubs me the wrong way, but then again its probably just the difference between a shovel and a back-hoe.  Tools that perform the same task in different ways.  Or, the difference between a graphite and bamboo rod. The bamboo rod is slower, more delicate, more organic, more calculated, and requires a definitive sense of process and result. The graphite is more of a brute, the result of years of development and error, requiring of the beginning angler only a few hours  on a lake to competently shoot line forty and fifty feet. Its about volume. The legal pad requires for sentiment and nostalgia, two important themes that appear in what I write, along with a delicate hand and a calculated, committed course of thought and narrative. It also requires legible penmanship, something that I lack terribly. I began recently to write in all caps, but soon my careful letters gave way to the same bullshit turkey dusting results as my former lowercase attempt at communication.

Back to the rods. The computer, and the graphite rod, while they are easier and faster, perhaps give me the chance to spill it all to a fast and volumous medium, catching thoughts that normally would fall to the basement of my brain before my hand could record them. I think of my best writing, and it has come in either of two settings , including hybrids of each. The first is when my fingers fly as my mind dumps to the keys. Some of my best work, including published work, has come this way, as if it had already been created. Other examples or descriptions of this setting are journal thoughts that I have sort of stewed and developed for a time, almost as if I have already written them consciously and orally, as if they need recording, not writing.

The other favorite writing has come as a result of the pen and pad. I think of being in Alaska and choosing to sit for two hours to develop a thought. Its more narrative, more descriptive, more careful, more calculated, because once it goes to the paper, it sure as hell isn't coming off. It is both agonizing and excellent.

I would love to hear your thoughts. 





Things I have learned: emailing your ex-girlfriend from the deer-stand produces confusing, if not undesirable results, and no matter how impressed you are with your trophy, coyotes with mange are not welcome in duck camp.

And, you can tell a lot about a man by his boots. I read an article by someone who was billed as some sort of expert backpacker, which I suppose is someone who is just really good at camping. I guess that’s just a weird distinction, because if you can set up a damn tent, not starve, pick up your trash and return uninjured, you’ve pretty much nailed it.

Anyway, he was writing about hiking some famous trail that ends here in the south, and was giving recommendations for the proper apparel. First of all, if you need to go out and purchase a new wardrobe and all new equipment to hike a dirt road, then odds are you should just stay home. What I did learn, however, is that you can somehow purchase the equipment necessary for expert status and peak performance and at the same time consequently abstain from patronizing anything that contains cotton, wool, or leather.

The recommended boots, however, were not boots at all. Instead, my man prefers what he calls a “trail-running” shoe for distance hikes, citing the light-weight as a benefit for distance hikers. I disagree (mostly don’t care, but I suppose I have spent a lot of space writing about this, so lets wrap it up). For me, it’s about soul. Cotton comes from the ground, wool from a sheep, leather from hide, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what the hell a poly-ester is. The definition says something about organic or free fatty acids, and I assume there are multiple of these things (hence ‘poly’), but it might as well be magic. Nylon is my least favorite of these miracles of modern chemistry, so damn slippery, and it always comes in the least natural color that you can imagine, like canary yellow, bright blue, some trendy red and black spandex, etc. You get the point. 

And not to say that I don’t use these materials. I have a polyester jacket that I use as a rain slicker, and it keeps me pretty warm for an Alabama winter, and the point isn’t that these new materials are bad, because they aren’t. I just don’t have any sort of emotional connection to them.  What the natural materials lack in performance they make up in affinity. There is sort of a natural sympathy, a natural history to them. Perhaps because they have been gotten, not created out of thin air, and perhaps because this history not only is imbedded in the object of purchase, but in something much more consequential, like an animal or the ground.

It is also a shame that the trail-runners don’t partake in the experience that is a good pair of boots. I got mine after seeing a friend with the same pair. I bought them used, which suits me. They are no longer manufactured, and I admit to having a sense of pride in that. As far as character, they are all leather uppers that require weekly upkeep, rubber soles that need replacing, gore-tex (the greatest invention that modern chemistry has ever happened upon), cotton laces, and so on. The left boot is missing three of the d-rings that hold the laces, but most of them are still there, so it works. The uppers on the same side were chewed to pieces by the roommates dog, so the padding is mostly gone, but the patch job looks ok, and the satisfaction that comes from fixing something you love more than outweighs the novelty of new ones.  They aren’t pretty anymore, but damn are they handsome.

When I was in Alaska, we decided to hike a 25-mile mountain pass in May. Perfectly rational for college boys from Tennessee, but apparently the run-off from the winter isn’t through until June or July. Along with other mishaps, the pass was still under snow at least knee deep, and in some places waste deep. We hiked through about two miles of this thinking that we could make it to a lake with rainbow trout the size of my thigh. Turns out that was stupid, and it was one of the only times in my life that I felt truly in danger. My boots were there, and the memories from that hike, along with the rest of the trip and ones like it are in imbedded with them. For me, the thought of trail shoes with synthetic nubuck, nylon webbing, airmesh nylon. etc. just doesn’t get me going like leather, cotton, and wool. All of these things were once living, and from my back porch I can point to a sheep, a cow, and a field where cotton can grow. You can touch it. You can connect with it.

You probably don’t give a damn about my boots, and I admit that this is more than a little self-indulgent, but that’s what essays and memoirs are about. That’s what I’m trying to communicate, I think, is the authenticity of finding your identity. Its not an exclusive thing, and I would be the first to say that the way that the world makes sense to me isn’t the way that it makes sense to you, and that makes it all much sweeter. It is about the respectable life, and the “leather identity” isn’t the only one.

For example, whiskey doesn’t have to be expensive, it just needs to be justified. There is something about a man who finds slow pleasure in a glass of working man’s bourbon. What you lose in supposed quality is made up in the peace of mind that your buzz and your wallet are equally healthy. It’s all about finding what you need. After all, a frugal man spends money on the things he loves and nothing else, so long as he can help it. A frugal man knows himself, knows his loves, his strengths, and his needs. Truly, frugality is more about respect for the respectable life: a woman with a good figure, work that is truly needed, and the simplicity of knowing that you and God have reached an understanding.

And it is soul like this that makes me love the South. Good or bad, better or worse, it is a place that knows itself. It has those old wounds, those scratches in the leather, the patch job on the uppers, and it probably needs to be re-soled. But its honest and beautiful, even if sometimes it isn’t pretty.