KEVIN TATE: The things left out can define a life on their own

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Storytelling in its best form trusts the reader to fill in the blanks, to draw their own picture in the spells between the facts. A good story is less rote recitation than fodder for the mind, bread crumbs tracing the way home. The space between the crumbs, though? Those are the parts we skip, partly to keep the listener’s interest, partly to save them for ourselves alone.
A good story comes from an experience first, and the path to sharing an experience is pretty rocky. That’s where the art comes in.
Most of the things we leave out involve boredom or hardship or any number of other forms of self-inflicted misery, mild and otherwise. We also leave out the finest of details – the excited anticipation of feeling the tug on a line and wondering what may be on the other end, the private doubt spent wondering if we’ll land it, the relief that seasons our satisfaction once we do, and the pleasure of closing the freezer on new packs of fish neatly tucked away.
That’s what we got through to get to the good parts, but those parts are important because they’re the background for everything that happened before and after. They’re part of the good parts, too.
Maybe that’s the best way for it to be – from any experience comes the part we tell and the part we keep, separate trophies that double each adventure in our mind’s eye.
One of my Old Men always said it was a sin to re-tell any story without adding a little something to it, and that’s true in a lot of ways. Most stories, I’ve found, are improved for the telling by subtraction.
From a life outdoors comes many tales. As we share them, we choose what to leave out, but as we remember them, that’s not necessary. The full, Technicolor epics that never fade or wane are a big part of what draws me back. When we share, there’s a definite art to touching the high points, keeping the tale moving steadily on, but when we indulge in our own return, there’s a wondrous joy in savoring things none other need know. The study of a single element from memory, like how dew coats a vinyl boat seat first thing on a humid morning, or how it feels to take a backpack off for the last time at the end of a long day, those things can sustain us, not just by rationing a memory, but by exploiting it to its fullest. The smallest elements, those we may have forgotten we knew, can sometimes rise to move us.
This week marks the dawn of summer, a time when young minds learn to learn on their own. Here’s hoping the joy of discovery begins again for them, and consents, for the rest of us, never to stop.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.