By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
“Mommy, please tell me a story. Daddy, will you tell me a story? Please!” It is one of our earliest verbalizations. As soon as we begin to understand language, we want it to bring us stories. And not long after we transcend the cacophonic utterances of infancy, we become tellers of stories ourselves.
Stories. Those marvelous clusters of words; expressions that paint images across our minds and take us on exciting and warm and scary and thrilling journeys.
Everyone loves a story. And good story tellers are always valued guests where people gather. The art form is so revered that some practitioners assemble and engage in competition. But I suspect the competition aspect gets lost in the enjoyment of the stories by both tellers and listeners.
Outdoor stories are my favorites, obviously. I like them any place and any time, but they are most appealing when told in the outdoors. It is hard to find a better pastime than storytelling around a campfire. Such a setting can enhance a story significantly. What better scene for a ghost story than when a campfire crackles quietly, sending up yellow flames that cast giant shadows behind hunkered listeners, the shadows alternately billowing into black monsters and then fading into the murk of night.
Fiction and Non-Fiction
Stories can perhaps be divided into many categories. Universally, a distinction is made between fiction and non-fiction. And I have two points to make about these two categories of outdoor stories.
First, because I like true outdoor stories, I question why they should be called non-fiction. To me this subliminally degrades them; defining them in terms of fiction as if fiction were the acceptable stories and true stories were not quite as important; an inferior alternative to fiction. Why shouldn’t it be true stories and fiction? A lot of us find the true outdoor story more stimulating. For us the old saying that “truth is stranger than fiction” is our slogan.
Having gotten that complaint off my chest, here is my second point. The two, fiction and true outdoor stories, don’t mix at a given gathering. Have you ever left a place where people were telling stories feeling that though there were a lot of good stories, something was missing from the session? It was probably because someone told a crossover story. This compromises the ambience.
If the setting is such that everyone is telling big fish lies or stretching the antlers on last year’s buck a foot wider than the world record, or one-upping each other on the number of doves bagged with a box of shells to well past two birds to the shell, it can all be a lot of fun. But in the midst of the guffawing, don’t try telling a true, moving story of someone taking a disadvantaged young girl from the orphanage on her first fishing trip. It won’t work. Great story, but told in the wrong setting.
As long as everyone knows the others are putting them on, it's all harmless fun and everyone has a good time. Although I had as soon play checkers or watch the weather channel, some folks like this game of tall tales and there are worse pastimes I suppose. But before I depart such sessions, you won’t catch me interjecting one of my true outdoor stories. What’s that the Bible says about casting pearls among swine?
The one that really deflates the group is when a string of true outdoor adventures have inspired and entertained, and a liar takes off on one of the stories where his bass was bigger or his gobbler had longer spurs.
Don’t let this happen. If you have a good lie, tell it to others who are stretching the truth at the time. Everyone will be on the same page. Conversely, if you have a great true story, save it for telling when everyone else is being sincere. And then a good time will be had by all.