I remember as a young boy getting my hands on a copy of “Outdoor Life” magazine. After reading it from cover-to-cover, looking at the drawings and photos, I was toast. One coulda stuck a fork in me. I was that done.
Adventure after adventure, with tales shared of men fighting off bears, mountain lions or wolf packs. Men living out in the wilds of wherever, existing on whatever they could hunt, trap or catch. Those men, to me, were living in paradise.
What I gleaned from the magazine fit my boy life completely. Growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee, I was already hooked on staying outside. Maybe it had a little to do with being the oldest of seven children, with four girls thrown in to maintain the majority. Crammed inside our small house with one bathroom and a TV with just three channels, my indoor activities were severely limited.
I wasn’t about to complain, not with an entire valley of wooded mountains, creeks, rivers and lakes to explore. I don’t remember a single time when my parents told me to “go play outside.” If anything, I’d hear them out at night hollering for me to come home for dinner.
Yes, I was already an outdoors addict, but reading the magazine really got my juices flowing. I began planning a way to join those adventurous men in the wilds of Montana, Wyoming or wherever one had to go to fight bears or mountain lions.
I was also smart enough to know that had I broached with my parents the subject of leaving home, I’d have been chained inside with my sisters.
Such limitations didn’t make it to my imagination. Every trip up “my” mountain, I made sure I had a weapon at the ready for any charging bears. OK, it was usually a big stick, but I wasn’t old enough for Dad to trust me with a high-powered rifle, or even a massive hunting knife. He knew I’d stab or shoot my eye out.
All my mini-Davy Crockett shenanigans produced not a single bear attack. Boring. My search for a battle with a mountain lion ended up with little more than a few battles with my sisters’ cats.
Without a real lion, tiger or bear with which to prove my manhood, I was left with whatever critters happened to cross my paths.
There was the milk cow my mom milked every morning. That creature had horns. (The cow. Not my mom.) In the magazine I’d read, there was a story of a heroic bullfighter known for his fearlessness in the face of a large, angry bovine. I remember the illustration of the man waving his majestic red cape in front of the bull.
I knew my mom wouldn’t order me a red cape, so I borrowed her red tablecloth. For a while, I was a true matador, waving the tablecloth — I mean, cape — in front of the mean ol’ cow. Sure enough, I managed to get her to charge at me more than once. I’d dance out of the way and pretend I heard the “ooohs” and “aaaahs” from my adoring fans.
I didn’t hear any real cheers. All I heard was my mom yelling at me to get my fool self out of the pasture with her good tablecloth. As I was moving away, the cowardly cow managed to hook me in the ribs with one of those horns.
Hey, not even matadors win every battle.
I never encountered an actual wolf pack, either, unless I can count the pack of dogs that sneaked up on me while I was prowling the woods. I grabbed my weapon — that big ol’ stick — and prepared to defend my territory from what I knew would be an epic attack.
Nope. Those hounds just wanted to hang out and see if I had any spare food to share. No matter how threateningly I brandished my stick, they just wagged their tales and licked me when they got close enough.
Dang. What’s a boy gotta do to provoke an attack?
I was beginning to wonder whether those guys in the magazine were straight-up liars.
I took my love for the outdoors everywhere with me, even after I finally grew up (sort of) and moved away. No matter where I went in the world, I’d find a way to explore the surrounding terrain. Yes, deep down I still hoped I’d find me a bear or another dangerous creature with which I could do battle. How else would I ever get to tell a story in “Outdoor Life”?
Tragically, none of my battles ever took place. At least not the ones I wanted. The closest I ever came to a wild bear was when I saw one strolling through the woods a whole mountain away. My only close encounter with a lion or tiger happened at the Ellen Trout Zoo. I was in the tiger’s cage shooting pics for the newspaper when he approached me and growled. Basically, he was telling me to get out of his house.
I got out. I’d forgotten my stick.
The lion? I was doing another story on a tiger’s checkup. I was shooting pics, and I didn’t notice I’d backed up to a cage while I was looking through the viewfinder.
I heard a low growl, and when I turned, my face was inches away from a lioness. She hissed and swiped at me, and if there hadn’t been a wire cage between us, my mug would look a lot different.
Now, here I am, 50 years past the little boy who looked through a magazine in search of adventure. My adventurous days are way, way behind me. I no longer search for a bear battle. He’d probably skin me and make a man-skin rug out of me. No more lion chasing for this old man. I barely survived raising our daughter’s cat.
And while I never quite experienced the exact adventures I thought I would as a kid, I can say this:
Getting outside and looking for adventures showed me far more of this world than my 10-year old, hillbilly self ever thought I would see. Getting outside and looking at everything — sure, go ahead and look for some bears and lions while you’re at it — provided me with plenty of experiences — and ones that didn’t have to be death-defying.
Recently, I went online just to see if “Outdoor Life” still exists. It sure does. It’s still got the same types of stories that managed to captivate me as a kid. A story about wolves attacking a man’s goats. Another about a grizzly bear mauling a hiker. Even a story about a Canadian plumber kicking a mountain lion in the head to save his daughter.
And here I sit reading about them. Again. Yes. I’m jealous.
Get out there and experience the outdoor life — and not just a magazine.
Just be sure to take a big stick.
Or at least mom’s red tablecloth.