column By: Tom McGuane | November, 19
Every now and then, if we are fortunate, we stumble upon a few reminders that in skilled hands outdoor writing can, indeed, become outdoor literature. This is the type of writing that touches us more deeply than a “Me ’n Joe went huntin’ and had fun”-type of story can. The kind that inspires a little.
Recently, while otherwise looking up other things, we happened upon these gems.
Copy #751/900 of the Derrydale Press edition (1936) of Harold P. Sheldon’s Tranquility: Tales of Sport with the Gun features the following inscription:
“To Milford Baker
“There on a surf-rimed deck of plated steel,
Far from the mountains, he is hunting still,
Searching horizons where the gray gulls wheel,
Dreaming of woodcock on a sun-bathed hill.
Sounds all nice and pleasant doesn’t it? Just a few strong images for Milton Baker to savor. But wait! There’s more! Try reading it again, this time realizing two things. First, Sheldon completed the inscription with “at Ev Hoyt’s House in the commonwealth of Connecticut. June 9, 1943.” Second, the online rare book sites call this Sheldon’s “wartime inscription.” Wartime … 1943 … on a steel deck frosted by the surf …
We also noticed in Nash Buckingham’s obituary from the New York Times, March 11, 1971, a complaint that still rings true today:
“Mr. Buckingham’s first collection of stories about shooting, entitled De Shootin’est Gent’man, was praised in the NYT on its first appearance in 1935 as ‘refreshingly different’ from most such writings described as ‘turgid compositions whose artificiality is not in keeping with the nature and the sport they describe.’”
Even as far back as 1935, the Times did not suffer phonies politely.
Almost on cue, Jim Harrison echoes the sentiment in the essay, “A Sporting Life”:
“The best outdoor writing is on the periphery of sport, in such writers as Edward Abbey, Peter Matthiessen, Ed Hoagland, John McPhee and a very few others. These writers are first of all artists, and they deliberately avoid even a tinge of fakery. You learn slowly that to the extent that there is any pretense of expertise you don’t own, or willful snobbishness, you lose it all and are simply another of millions of incompetents whose outdoor activities are very probably an extension of their sexual neuroses. It seems odd, I know only one good writer who is truly a first-rate angler and wing shot, Tom McGuane.”