A friend who hosts a highly successful radio show on one of the biggest stations in a major market said something on air this past summer that made me wince. I doubt he even realized what hed said or the significance of the phrase, because its something most of us wind up saying once or twice a week or month or year.
During a monologue on something irrelevant to the outdoors, he outlined a scenario and the way hed likely react to it. Some folks, he continued, might disagree with that reaction. And when hed finished making his point - which was a good one - he wrapped with, "And if that makes me a bad person, Im sorry."
Any time any of us even thinks about saying something the least bit controversial, weve been conditioned now to pause and run a laundry list of reasons not to say it: two people on the planet might be offended; the remark might seem insensitive; maybe it would turn a weak stomach or, Heaven forbid, cause an eyebrow to raise. If it doesnt pass the "nobody on Earth could possibly be offended" test, we either clam up or qualify the statement with one of those preemptory apologies.
Often as not, if we cut through the baloney, we might find that were apologizing for exercising common sense or declaring open support for something we know in our hearts is absolutely, positively right.
Truth is, what the radio host said didnt make him a bad person. At all. To the contrary, it made him a wise person. It made him human and honest, unafraid to share his opinion. And in this country, at least back when it was founded, wisdom and honesty and courage made you a good person.
Now for the part where I turn the corner and bring this column back to the outdoors.
The subjects of hunting and fishing and all outdoors things "consumptive" come up often in social settings. Thats especially true in Texas, of course, although the discussions arent always positive.
Ive been caught in the green crosshairs of tree squeezers and bunny snugglers many times over the years, and theres always one of them who thinks that being loud and insulting is synonymous with being right. (Note to those ear-piercing jackasses: It is not.)
Rather than get into shouting matches with professional shouters, my strategy is to let them make fools of themselves. They always do.
Hunters are not all blood-thirsty poachers any more than politicians are all dishonest or professional athletes are all on steroids. If Im sorry for anything, its that we havent the resources to catch all the poachers.
Im not sorry that I hunt and fish and eat meat. Im not sorry that Im capable of doing my own killing. Actually, Im pretty good at it, and Ive fed a lot of people over the years with fish I caught and animals I shot or arrowed.
For a time, there was talk that hunting and fishing were in irreversible decline, that increasingly fewer people cared about making such deep connections with or commitments to the outdoors. For a time, opponents to the activities I find so revitalizing and exciting called me a vanishing breed. Turns out - surprise - Im not. Were not.
The most recent 5-year study of hunters and fishermen, results of which were released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this past summer, showed an increase in the numbers of both during the past half-decade. One was up 9 percent and the other 11 percent. I cant recall which was which, and it doesnt matter. What matters is that more of us are ignoring political correctness and whiny environmental extremists and reconnecting with the outdoors heritage and history.
I believe that to flourish, to be content, our souls need some sort of tangible bond with the outdoors, and the more the merrier. As a kid, I could sit and watch insects crawl on the sidewalk for hours. But for work and other adult obligations, I probably still could.
Fish, bugs, small animals, large animals, edible animals, venomous animals, flying animals, burrowing animals. The whole lot of them do amazing things every day. And the plants. And mud, and dew and sunshine and cold and wind and rain. And lightning and hurricanes and tornadoes and even earthquakes, if you live where they occur. Theyre all parts of us, although so many of us wouldnt know where to find those parts now.
To witness wild animals in the wild, doing whatever theyre doing in the moment, is a gift. You can share it with as many people as you like, and yet you still get to keep the whole thing.
And while youre out there unapologetically enjoying our natural resources, take a moment to squeeze some soil between your fingers. Feel it. Smell it. Look closely at it. Youll feel better. Really.
From a separate study, also released this past summer, comes scientific evidence that physical contact with standard-issue dirt, whether through gardening or digging up worms or making mud pies, encourages learning and reduces anxiety. (Eating mud pies is indicative of something entirely different and for another page...maybe another magazine.)
Hunting and fishing arent for everyone, and thats probably better since there are so many people now. The few of us who genuinely love the outdoors, a little or a lot, have nothing for which to apologize.