KEVIN TATE: Learning how to seek means recognizing what we find

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Time in the outdoors means something different to each of us. The sight of bass tearing into a school of baitfish, the ringing howl of beagles hot on the chase, the anticipation of a strike on the biggest topwater lure or the smallest dry fly as it teases the surface of the water, provoking gamefish we know lie just below, the airborne flavor of the day’s harvest wafting from the grill as the sun crosses below the horizon, our lifestyle means all of these, but much more. These moments beget memories, and together they form elements of an ongoing experience we spend a lifetime to define.
When we talk about how an adventure went, we often mention the difficulties because they connect us to each other and remind us to be humble.
It’s no wonder outdoor enthusiasts are superstitious because, when nature meets human nature, debacles never lie far behind. If you’ve never launched a boat with the drain plug out and scrambled to keep from foundering, if you’ve never missed a chance at a shot because you forgot to load your gun, if you’ve never had a brand-new reel fall apart on the first cast or lost a new rod over the side on its first trip to the water, if you’ve never remembered your gun but forgotten your boots or missed so many birds in a row you wondered if there was any shot in your shells at all, just wait. Just wait.
I once knew a Methodist minister who said he felt bad about laughing at other people when they fell down. Undoubtedly he wasn’t an outdoorsman. Certainly not one I’ve ever hunted with, at least. As long as they’re not permanently damaged, I’ve always thought I might as well laugh because, in a few minutes, it’s sure to be me sprawled on the ground.
The debacles are important because they remind us not to take ourselves too seriously, and not to focus too sharply on the day’s stated goal. Game and fish are great to eat, but it’s the experience of everything leading to that end that’s really worth chewing.
We can talk about how full the cooler was at the end of the day, but it’s tougher to put into words the sensation of warm, humid air blowing past as we motor along the flat calm of a big, open lake in the early morning, when water mirrors sky and we tear across the boundary in between. We can talk about how many points the buck had, but it’s impossible to say what we felt in the last seconds spent watching does look back the way they came, seeing something we couldn’t see but knowing what it must be, waiting with pounding heart for him to step out. We can number the rabbits in the bed of the truck but it’s a mistake to grade the hunt accordingly, because the count omits the sound of the chasing pack, the same one that thrilled our mentors long gone and so connects us to them each time we hear it. It omits the sight of dogs running and the anticipation of getting to the right spot to intercept, of absolutely knowing you’re in it even before it happens, and of making a good shot when it does.
Each of these singular things we describe to our friends because it’s the best we can do. The overall experience itself, more lifestyle than anything, is defined by how we live.
Ultimately it comes to define who we are.
Maybe that’s the only way it’s ever really explained.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.