Thursday, July 23, 2009

Do Not Adjust Your Television...

Or, for that matter, your monitor. Over the next week or three, in between bouts of fishing, I'll be messing around (and that's a very apt description of it) with how the blog looks.

No, the Abbey-readin', scotch-lovin' discontented mallard isn't going anywhere (although I am replacing him and his two dozen friends with new blocks this fall...) but I just don't think the colors are working, I need to add more photographs, I need to figure out those "gadget" things, better ways of putting in links, better ways to respond to comments, update my blogroll, etc, etc,.

In short, over the next few weeks I'm going to figure out all the stuff I should have figured out before I started the blog. Unfortunately, that's a pattern I've followed most of my adult life...

So if it looks strange, please bear with me. And if you have any suggestions - design, technical, editorial or otherwise, please feel free to tell me about it, because I am utterly incompetent when it comes to this stuff.

Monday, July 20, 2009


In his comments on the Field Notes blog, Suburban Bushwacker often ends his thoughts with the tagline "Modern Life is Rubbish."

While some of the more elderly Generation X music fans might recognize that as the title of the second album from British alt-rockers Blur, the Bushwacker assures me the group actually nicked the phrase from a 1980s-era London anti-media graffiti campaign that sought to draw attention to the utter banality of suburban life.

And when I saw this recent story in Oklahoma's largest alternative weekly newspaper that phrase immediately came to mind.

From the story:

"Spring and summer bring a bounty of fresh vegetation to Oklahoma City, and for some locals, that means a free lunch. By doing a little urban foraging for wild plants that grow in backyards, on roadsides and in overgrown fields, local citizens are finding a unique way to save money by harvesting the plants that most people kill as pesky weeds. It's called urban foraging, and although the practice isn't new, it's gaining ground in areas like the Oklahoma City metro."

I find it interesting that in a place as conservative and conventional as my home state of Oklahoma there is a growing number of people who, because they find it increasingly difficult to afford the manufactured products we now call food or they believe our food system is so artificial, so contrived and so unhealthy, that they're making the decision to opt out of it as much as they can.

You know a concept is mainstream when it gets its own "ism" and this latest interest in wild and free food is called "Freeganism." Although the knee-jerk reaction might be to pass it off as the faddish inclinations of a few under-employed hippies (And I say that as someone who possesses some definite redneck hippie proclivities...) don't, because ultimately it's good for hunting and fishing.

Now I don't mean it's necessarily good for the hunting and fishing industry, because unfortunately there's still a lot of room yet for contraction in said industry, including publishing. Just ask any struggling freelancer and I'll.. uhh, I mean, he'll (or she'll) tell you.

The uncomfortable (since I sorta make a half-assed living from it) truth is, I can think of few other sectors of the economy in which the target consumer is presented with as many products that - while cool, neat and snazzy - are completely unnecessary to the fundamental enjoyment of and participation in the activity itself.

And while that bloat may be particularly acute in our industry, it's simply the natural result and reflection of a wider cultural mindset to spend beyond our means on virtually every economic, social and environmental level.

Like modern manufactured food, the modern hunting and fishing "industry" may be tasty and convenient, but (and feel free to disagree here) much of it is not particularly healthy or spiritually rewarding on a personal level and it's certainly not sustainable on an economic level.

That's the bad (well, that and the fact that, since getting paid to write about hunting and fishing is basically just another consumer trinket and as such is as unnecessary and ultimately irrelevant to one's enjoyment of it as all the others, I may be forced to re-think my career options. But I hear Wal-Mart's hiring door-greeters...).

But here's the good: Hunting and fishing, whether larded up with trinkets or parsed down by choice or economic necessity, is at its most fundamental level an instinctual and evolutionary act of self-preservation, self-perpetuation and self-renewal. In a world where feeling happily, stupidly numb is normal. the pursuit of game is a vivid reminder of what it feels like to be alive.

And when, as now, the contrived, socially isolating, spiritually stunting intellectually craven and wholly bullshit world we've ensconced ourselves in starts to unravel a bit, the honest act of killing your food starts to speak to us on a level that our Iphones and Facebook accounts can't.

I know a lot of people will sneeringly discount it as some Fight Club-inspired atavistic wet dream, but as times get tougher and weirder there will be more and more urban, suburban and even rural dwellers who by choice or necessity will be questioning long-held assumptions and rejecting lifestyle choices that are phony and unsustainable.

Now does that mean everyone will suddenly become hunter-gatherers? Of course not, but the more people begin to think about their food instead of taking it for granted, the better for us. The more people decide to take a participatory, interactive approach to food, the better for us.

We kill and catch wild animals for food. There's nothing phony or ambiguous about that simple truth. And in an era in which people increasingly feel that modern life is indeed rubbish, the clarity of that truth will, I hope, resonate with a growing number of disillusioned people.

Will it be enough to save a bunch of phony-baloney industry jobs like mine? Probably not. But I'm getting pretty fat just sitting at this computer, anyway...

Monday, July 13, 2009

I like SpongeBob as much as the next guy, but...

I know it's a cop-out to use a link to your professional (loosely) paid (but not too much) blog as a topic for your personal (unpaid) blog, but in this case I think it warrants mentioning.

When I first thought up the blog description for the Mallard of Discontent (you know, the "random esoterica on hunting, fishing, etc. etc.) I intentionally left out one very important and dear topic - parenthood.

I did this because A. I've heard about all those "mommy blogs" and "daddy blogs" and to be quite honest I'm just not into the saccharin-tinged "isn't that adorable?" tone of many of them and B. I find that a lot of what I write about raising children is pretty good fodder for the Field Notes blog over at Field & Stream. So while I do enjoy blogging for free, I enjoy blogging for profit more, so my parental observations are mostly published over there.

Which brings me to the topic at hand:

A lot of what I post on Field Notes is, by design, a bit silly and irreverent, but sometimes the editors indulge me and let me post stuff that's somewhat personal in nature. Today's post is one such example

My oldest son and I are inveterate creek waders. He absolutely loves getting wet and muddy in pursuit of whatever he can catch in his net. We live close to a state park with a creek, a pond and a river, so he's constantly bugging me to go catch critters, and we do quite often because I consider it essential basic training for his future, training that is, in my opinion, every bit as important as school.

With every minnow he swoops up in a net, with every leopard frog he chases through the grass he's learning something about himself and the world around him, but more importantly, he's exercising his natural curiosity.

Because if there's one defining characteristic of the modern American childhood, it is the deliberate and calculated suppression of a child's natural curiosity and imagination in favor of the corporate-sponsored story and product lines that children are assaulted with virtually every single moment of every single day.

But you know what? They can't reach your child in the middle of a creek. Not yet, anyway. Out there it's just you, him (or her) and whatever story or adventure the two of you decide to make of it.

That my friend(s), is priceless. Figuratively for you and your child. Literally for the corporations that can't profit from it.

It's not often you get a win-win like that. If you have children, take advantage of it. Before it's too late.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cheapskates, Bookshops and Walrus Stench

I am, by both natural inclination and financial necessity a cheap and miserly bastard, although I prefer the condition’s less pejorative and currently trendy nom de plume of “frugal.”

That’s why I drive a truck that’s pushing 160,000 miles, that’s why the computer I’m typing these words on is so old it has a floppy drive (really, it does…), that’s why I hold my nose and haunt the local Wal-Mart after hunting season is over hoping to score a few marked-down boxes of AAs or steel waterfowl loads and that’s why my oldest son, who asked for an engineering set for Christmas, instead received a box full of twigs, toilet paper tubes, bits of copper wire and PVC pipe left over from the construction of our house and a big container of Elmer’s glue to “engineer” it all together.

There are, however, some things I have massive trouble resisting. Classic shotguns with two barrels and nice wood, gundog puppies that beseech you with those pleading blue eyes, high-end rods and reels, custom knives, custom bows, vintage maps and travel posters, German optics, scotch and above all, books.

I should probably be thankful for that, because as much as I like all that other stuff, I mostly can't afford it. Books, on the other hand, I can usually find the coin to buy. But not just any books. No Barnes & Noble-Borders-Hastings Pay-Full-Retail for me. Nope, I like used books. Old books. Done-been-read books. Out-of-print books. Obscure books.

I know that seems a little self-immolating, career-wise, for someone with aspirations of someday writing books he fervently hopes many, many people will pay full retail for, but I can't change who I am. When you grow up hardscrabble you have no choice but to go swimming for hung-up spinnerbaits, be picky with your shots come dove season and buy used books.

And although I do buy a fair number of new books at chain stores, it just seems such a soulless way of going about it, what with the clean, wide, well-lighted aisles, cheerful staff, the faux-coziness, the local beatnik tribute band setting up in the espresso bar, the college students earnestly (and inexplicably) reading the pixilated words on their laptops while ignoring the printed words that surround them. Give me dusty shelves, tattered pages and crazy old bastard bookshop owners any day.

The problem for me, however, is that I live in a town with exactly one real, in point-of-fact bookshop, and for the most part it's the kind of place patronized by housewives, hairdressers and grannies who come in once a month to exchange an old grocery bag full of tales of busty damsels and well-hung swashbucklers for a new grocery sack full of tales of busty damsels and well-hung swashbucklers.

So I have to get my used bookshop fix whenever I return to my hometown for a few days. And it was there in a used bookshop that the difference between independent bookshops and chain stores was once again driven home to me, but in a weird and unsettling way.

But first, a little backstory: The particular used bookshop is something of an institution in my hometown. I bought my first book there when I was eleven years old. When I was sixteen I tried applying for a job and the crazy old bastard (henceforth known as COB) who owned the shop informed me he only hired girls. I tried again when I was nineteen and the COB again informed me he only hired girls.

I figured that if a vagina was what it took to get the job I probably didn’t want to work there, anyway, so I stopped asking. But other than that the COB was a decent sort - if a little pervy - and he DID always seem to employ one of those quirky-hot 18th-Century French lit major-types sporting Lisa Loeb glasses and tight shirts, so I continued buying and selling books there until I married and moved to Purgatory some years later.

So I walked into this shop a few weeks ago and there's the COB, looking exactly the same as he did when I was eleven. I'm now 38. I know he's at least feeling older, however, because instead of Lisa Loeb he now employs Cloris Leachman, an unsmiling, marmish old lady just retired from a career spent performing penal institution body cavity searches.

Withering under her severe gaze, I retreated into the shelves, where to my delight I found a book, a nicely illustrated circa 1950 Random House collection of stories by the French short-story master Guy De Maupassant. The book contained a story that had been recommended to me by F&S writer Hal Herring on one of my Field Notes blogs a few months back. So I took the book up to the counter and the COB and I started talking books.

Somehow, though, the conversation turned to fishing and kayaks, and the COB says "Hey, I've got a good kayak story for you."

So I proceeded to learn - whether I wanted to or not - that the man who had repeatedly denied my adolescent dream of bookshop employment enlisted in the Army during WWII, but by the time his training was over so was the war. The COB therefore got stationed to a remote observation post somewhere along the coast of Greenland.

There apparently weren't many women on the coast of Greenland in 1946 so one day when a party of kayak-paddling Inuit seal hunters showed up the GIs asked them to please bring women. Any women would do. Bargaining ensued and the next day the Inuit hunters brought back several kayak loads of Inuit lasses. One thing led to another, and before long there was quite a party going on in the old igloo.

At this point all I wanted to do was grab my book and get the hell out of the store. My long-held suspicion that the COB was a dirty old man had just been bawdily confirmed. I wanted no more tales of Eskimo conquest but as I ran out the door the COB gave me one last charming anecdote...

"Those igloos can get pretty hot inside, and let me tell you, nothing kills the mood like a girl who smells of walrus."

Now that's the kind of personal service and attention you just can't get in the big-box stores any more…