By Nick Simonson
Perhaps it was because the spoken-word piece by Baz Luhrmann was in such high rotation on MTV’s video lineup in the summer of 1999 when I had just afternoon classes and the TV in my fraternity house room was just on all morning, but the newspaper column dubbed over instrumental music that is Wear Sunscreen has resonated with me throughout my life. I highly recommend everyone look it up on YouTube, as the advice contained in it is simple, fun, and always reassuring. As it has randomly shown up on the satellite radio feed from time to time, or stray words in my day-to-day life will trigger memories of the fuller quotes contained within the piece, I often find a place for many of the nuggets it provides in my outdoor life as well. Perhaps my favorite quote comes at the end of the song-that’s-not-a-song:
“Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”
So too it is with stories of the outdoors. Each hunting and fishing tale, with time, grows shinier to its audience and fonder to its author. Perhaps it’s because the things we accomplish in the field and on the water in those early seasons seem so amazing. To fool a deer into coming within bow range or turn a double on a pair of flushing roosters, or to finally, somehow, convince a following muskie to strike, become the bright moments that serve as the centerpieces of our short stories, and hopefully as guideposts of accomplishment as we look back 10, 20 or 50 years down the road in the greater tale of life. In between those moments are the quiet days on stand where nothing happens, the field with only a few scattered hens, or the constant casting over seemingly empty waters which get painted over in favor of those finer facts we can recall.
The details of cream-colored bobbing antlers emerging from the brush, the slow-motion curl of brown and black tailfeathers of the rising roosters in front of a solid point, or the flash of a silver, gaping maw opening in the dark water to inhale the black bucktail all fill in the gaps where silence and stillness would otherwise do so. What’s more, the excitement of these moments replace the frustrating times – the scent-busting, missed shots, and follows unconverted – that are also part of the outdoors and provide us an opportunity to paint over those situations where we were less than successful. They allow us as hunters and anglers (most of whom already sport a natural proclivity for adding a dash of flair and excitement and by doing so cover the bitter tang of previous disappointment) a chance to wrap up what we’ve learned and what was successful, and share it with our friends, new sportsmen, and really anyone who’s willing to listen, from the tackle shop clerk to the random stranger waiting for his wife on the leather couch alongside us in the mall.
I never tire of telling those stories, particularly when they’re traded with others. But where I was once more of the storyteller in my young and know-it-all days, I now find myself listening more to their adventures. In doing so, I try to extract the advice from the grander tale, like picking out the rustle of footsteps along a leaf-covered November deer trail, or the slight rise amidst the swirling current in a riffle, with a “what did you do next” or “what color of crankbait did it come on” to allow an opportunity for more detail. Their recitations of adventures serve as the same sort of assistance Luhrmann described, and while some of them are likely shined up with a positive spin as many of mine are, all of them are fantastic tales of success, strange sightings and something they have accomplished. While many others’ stories might be similar, they won’t be the same, and for that fact each one told is a valuable addition to the collective consciousness of hunting and fishing lore.
So I encourage you to tell your stories – the fastest limit of birds, the biggest pike you ever caught – but be sure to listen to others’ tales as well. In them you’ll find the same mix of nostalgia, advice, and perhaps more importantly, a hint at what it takes to wipe away the dust, add a little bit of color and tack on some added value to the gold nuggets and even the lumps of coal we all take with us and share…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Do Tell. The author in his younger days with a walleye from the Sheyenne River at the start of a night of fast fishing. Those moments of success provide us an opportunity to wrap advice, nostalgia and entertainment into one tale and share our experiences with others. Simonson Photo.