KEVIN TATE: Happily turning the yellowed pages of yesterday

KEVIN TATE

KEVIN TATE

Sometimes a shopping trip can turn out better than expected, even in the outdoors.

So many outdoorsmen never throw anything away. Any fisherman’s trove will include at least two reels so frozen with rust they’ll never move again, but which remain because sentimentality forbids their disposal. Lying about most hunters’ gun cabinets are small parts they can’t identify that belonged to guns they no longer own, but which can’t be thrown away because, well, you never know when you might need it. Thankfully this extends to things which are truly useful, such as the 60-year-old issue of Field & Stream that lies atop my writing desk now.

I don’t mind spending money, I just hate to shop, but when old outdoor magazine covers were needed at home for a kid-related project and I was told to see what I could find, I couldn’t wait to get on eBay and begin transferring parts of collections from garages and storage rooms all around the country into a growing heap of my own. I hadn’t looked for any before and I didn’t know they were there, but the frozen reels and nameless shotgun parts I keep around told me I’d find them and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Most of the writers who informed and continue to help craft the way I think about the outdoors did their work during a golden age of print, when magazines supported a vast way of life among those willing to pass on the security of a real job and sell their abilities month to month. The best appeared between covers that were high art, at least to their readers, and certainly to me. Between were stories by Robert Ruark and Corey Ford, Ted Trueblood and others. I’d read their collected works and seen the old magazines in museums, but I’d never thought about buying my own until now and was amazed at how affordable they were.

From 1953 until the latter part of 1961, Field & Stream published a monthly column by Ruark that came to be generically known as “The Old Man and the Boy.” Collectively the stories may be the best outdoor writing ever produced. They certainly merit consideration as such.

I return to the books compiled from those columns often, but I can only imagine the thrill of seeing each story as the sporting world saw it for the first time, or meeting Ruark’s Old Man for the first time as the world did when they came home from work one afternoon in January 1953 and found the next month’s issue in their mailbox. I found a copy for myself online for about five dollars, a find that’s sparked a new obsession.

In one issue that predates the series, Ruark writes, “For a long time I had a small boy’s dream of writing a story about my dogs and my quail – and of course, me – and seeing it printed in a magazine with a cover by Lynn Bogue Hunt. This was the going-to-sleep dream. I never expected to achieve it, but dreams are not taxed for small boys, not even the wildest ones. … Dreaming costs nothing and it might even come true. In my case it did.”

The old magazines filled with dreams that may still come true are a great source of enjoyment. They’re something I’ve continued to collect well past the need of the kid-related project that brought the first ones to me, and I’ve begun to supply my own small boy with the tales they contain in hopes of sending him off to sleep each night with wild dreams of his own, some of which may also come true.

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.