Meridian Star

August 17, 2012

What Keeps Us Going Back?

By Otha Barham / Outdoors Editor
Otha Barham ©

MERIDIAN —    Back when I had limitless energy, I often fished for bass on a weekend day from daylight until dark. Several times my partner and I fished the whole day without getting out of our small jon boat. I often was distressed when I got hungry and had to stop casting for a couple minutes in order to choke down some Vienna sausage and crackers. And on many of those days we only caught a few bass. In reflective moments both then and now, I have wondered why I persisted in the face of such meager success.

    I hunted deer, very hard, for eleven fruitless years before I bagged my first one. Granted deer were scarce in my woods in the fifties, but eleven years? Fellow hunters questioned my stubbornness, and I too wondered what exactly kept me going back to the cold December woods in my cotton clothes and unlined brogans.

    Beyond my own experiences, bowhunters often sit in trees for countless days, freezing their corpuscles and trudging home empty handed only to rise before dawn the next day and do it all over again.

    And there are scads of fly fishers who carry fly rods that severely strain their family budgets to distant waters where they infrequently catch pencil length trout and return them to the water.


The Reason?


    Why? I don't have the whole answer, but I feel certain I understand at least part of it. Acknowledging that no two outdoor sports enthusiasts have identical cravings, my offering is necessarily a generalization.

    First, the aesthetics of the outdoors draw each of us to our favorite wild places. The depth of nature's beauty dazzles us. And we do not need to collect bounty to sustain our need to visit and revisit them. Being there, where we feel we belong, is enough.

    Yet what runs over the full cup is the anticipation of interaction with the object of our adventure. We expect the tiny noise in the leaves to foretell a stately buck slipping into view in the next moment. A vicious gobble in response to our muted yelps brings the vision of a strutting tom to our mind's eye. A swirl in the water near our floating plug causes us to tense in readiness for the strike.

    Anticipation in the outdoor sports is the expectation of specific interactions, or the hope that cherished outdoor events of the past will somehow happen again. Those moments between the time when the confrontation appears to be likely and when the encounter actually occurs hold forth an esteemed promise. And this state of anticipation may just be the magnet that draws us so forcefully to the sport.

    So called buck fever is the result of our losing control of the anticipation. Buck fever takes hold of most of us now and then because we sometimes are overwhelmed by the excitement of the outdoor moment. Our camera shakes to the point of unsuitable aiming. No matter our efforts, our gun sights wobble out of control. We try to make the perfect cast to the spot on the water where a large bass struck a minnow, but we blow the attempt and backlash our reel.

Lost Sleep


    Anticipation is the culprit when even those of us long in the tooth can't sleep the night before opening day or the night after we have roosted a gobbler we have sought for several seasons.

    It's the anticipation that motivates us to plan and make those outdoor adventures, most of which cost us certain sacrifices if not hardships. But we accept the challenges gladly because we visualize returning to the scenes of past experiences or of dreamed of episodes. And dreaming is an important aspect of the outdoor experience. For the rewards often arrive in the form of imaginings coming true.

    I may never see another 180 class buck in the woods. I saw one, many years ago, that eluded me. That may have been my only glimpse of one; my lifetime quota. A fellow in the boat next to mine caught the ten pound bass I was after in Florida. The big double bearded gobbler with inch and a half spurs still has not found its way into my bag.

     But I can dream of another chance at these elusive prey. The anticipation will sustain me, urge me to go back again and again and ready me for that possible moment of truth. And even if it fosters excitement that overcomes me and causes me to blow another opportunity, I will have lived a few more pages from my diary of the idealized outdoor life.