Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Those hours spent outdoors...

On any given weekday during my high school career you could - on occasion - find me in class, but you would just as likely find me experiencing truancy Nirvana doing one of three things: fishing a farm pond, hunting a woodlot or skulking around a used book store.
It was while skulking around a used book store that I first stumbled across William Tapply's book "Those Hours Spent Outdoors."

I knew, of course, who Tapply was from reading his stories in Field & Stream and Fins and Feathers, yet another great hook-and-bullet magazine that is no longer with us. I even recognized some of the book's essays from originally reading them in said magazines, but it was the introduction to the book that caught me eye, in which Tapply recalls how his father (of Field & Stream's Tap's Tips fame) hung a plaque on young William's bedroom wall.

"It was the last thing I saw at night before I turned out the light, and the first thing I saw in the morning. I memorized what it said on that plaque long before I understood the words. It said:

"Allah does not deduct from the alloted time of man those hours spent in fishing."

The fishing-obsessed high school me thought that story, and the saying (however historically spurious the quote surely is) supremely cool, and for years I looked high and low for a similar plaque, until one day serendipity (with whom I normally have a non-existent relationship) smiled down upon me when I stumbled across this brass plaque in a junk store.

The wording wasn't exactly the same, but the meaning was, so I bought it and hung it over my workbench in the garage.

So when I read last week that William Tapply had died, I first grabbed that same copy of "Those Hours Spent Outdoors" and re-read it. I then grabbed the plaque from the garage, cleared a spot on the wall above my desk and hung it up.I figured if it was good enough for display in the Tapply household then it was good enough for display in mine.

William Tapply was much better known to the world as a mystery writer than he ever was or will be as an outdoors writer, but the news of his passing was, in my mind, a reminder that not only can good writing about hunting and fishing be as literary and as thoughtful as anything out there (and much more so than a helluva lot of it) but also that the type of outdoors writing Tapply represented is becoming increasingly rare.

The word-counts on some of the essays in Tapply's book, which was published in 1988 and discovered by me a year later, would probably have to be Twitterized to get published today. That's just the way it is.

At least that's what they tell me. And if it's true that shrinking magazine feature wells simply reflect the attention span of their audience, then I guess we don't have a helluva lot on our minds any more.


  1. It is a shame, that the writing we were brought up with is slowly but surely disappearing. When most writers, (Yourself perhaps, me for sure.), can't make a living writing, they have to make it some other way, and that I think only allows for the briefest of essays.

    I find myself guilty of abbreviating altogether too frequently for my taste. Time constraints, commitments to others, a keyboard without an "H" key, all occupy time I could be spending refining my writing.

    Oops, gotta go, boss calling...
    Best regards,
    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
    Biology on the Bay: Mangroves

  2. You're right, Albert. And thanks for not pointing out the obvious irony of a blogger (me) who works with (to crib a movie line) single-serving ideas bitching about how writing is getting so perfunctory...

    So many people have so little time, which segues nicely into I've been meaning to add you to my meager blogroll but I've had so little time this summer...

    However, my wife and chilluns go back to school tomorrow so I'm hoping to do some much-needed work on the blog this week.