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    Eatin’ Dust

    An outdoor writers’ organization I belong to holds its annual three-day meeting in the boardroom of whichever hotel will give us the cheapest rooms. For three riotous days, we drink black coffee, eat brown donuts and watch videos in which salmon spawn, pheasants flush, turkeys and grouse strut and bullets slam into huge blocks of jiggling gelatin.

    At the end of this wanton weekend we assemble, each with a handful of raffle tickets we have purchased, hoping to win one of the 5,000 hand warmers or million spools of coffee-colored monofilament donated by sporting goods manufacturers who couldn’t sell the stuff. This causes a great deal of excitement among the 50 attendees who haven’t figured out that no matter how few tickets they have purchased, they are going to win a lot of stuff they don’t need.

    This year, in an attempt to inject additional substance into our meetings, our new president introduced the concept of craft improvement seminars. Now, I have a pram, a bass boat, a Porta-Boat, a canoe and a yellow life raft. All of these crafts are in pretty good shape; none are in need of improvement. Imagine my resentment towards a seminar that would interfere with the showing of the pheasant video.

    When the president explained the seminars were not about boats and would indeed help me earn more money in the craft of outdoor writing, I was still skeptical. The word more indicated she thought I was already making money. The truth is, the lifelong ambition of every outdoor writer I know is to win a $20 million lottery and then write like crazy about fishing and hunting and dogs and shooting until all the money is gone.

    Eventually, I agreed to attend the craft improvement seminar on digital cameras. For as long as I could remember, I’d been told the camera was an outdoor writer’s best friend. For as long as I could remember, I’d been told excellent photos would sell a mediocre outdoor story much quicker than excellent writing and mediocre photos. I’d been told my Nikon CoolPix was inadequate.

    The seminar was presented by a young man named Jim. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, but I’m pretty sure he had a brain disorder because he didn’t utter one complete sentence I understood. Sometimes, I could make out a word or two, but the message wasn’t coming through. He’d start out okay, but then would lapse into gobbledygook and say something like, “Anytime you save in jpeg, the resolution will munch down.” After that, he’d say a bunch of numbers. Three, 10, 500 and 120 were some he used a lot, but he seemed partial to 72.

    At one time, Jim suggested I could output an 8 x 10 at 300 dots per inch, but I might run into pixilation problems. A short time later he said something about “digitizing yourself,” and that’s when I stopped listening altogether. I figured if Jim wanted to digitize himself, that was his business, but I still have a lot of faith in Dr. Corbett.

    Some of my colleagues were taking notes and asking questions, and this bothered me. My colleagues evidently understood gobbledygook. Why not me? I wondered.

    In high school, I used to pretend I knew what was going on in class by asking questions. Sometimes I’d awake from a really swell dream, wipe the drool from my desk, raise my hand and ask, “Do you think Caesar suspected the conspiracy?”

    Mr. Clark would shake his head and cluck sympathetically. “Alan,” he’d say, “this is geometry class.”

    A nasty thing about today’s ever changing technology is you can’t even try to fake it. If you start asking questions about megabytes, gigabytes and dogbytes, you’d better have a clue. Having Jennifer Smart in geometry class laughing at your dumb questions was one thing. When the editor of some outdoor magazine is laughing, you’ve lost a potential market.

    My brother-in-law, Thayer the Abnormal, says I am being left in the dust of technological expansion because I am still stuck in my childhood. A good digital camera, he explains, is better because it requires no film and the pictures are instantly accessible by plugging the camera into a computer terminal. Oh sure, your burst rate is slower with digital, and a good camera for wildlife photography is a little more expensive, but just imagine gaining the capacity to convert your pixels to DCL.

    “Just imagine,” I reply. “Just imagine an old Minolta 101, your first roll of black and white Kodak and a long spring day in the grouse woods with nothing to do but wander. Imagine the excitement and anticipation of wondering if any of your drumming grouse shots are magazine-worthy.”

    Reluctantly, I’ve converted to digital, but I’ll always be eatin’ dust.

    I like me that way.

    Wolfe Publishing Group