John Harrigan: A Christmas gift list for the outdoor buff
WELL, HO, HO, HO, it's time for Harrigan's timeless and sometimes tiresome annual Christmas Gift Ideas List, a radical departure from past years because it comes out in time for panting gift-list addicts to actually use.
Bear in mind that this list is heavily weighted to outdoor stuff because, think of it, where would any sane person want to be, in a mall? If you guessed "outdoors" you were partially right, unless the weather is foul enough to make a dog whine, which leads to the other answer, "camp," that bivouac of sanity and sometimes the opposite. When I speak, which I'm trying to quit, I ask: What are the two greatest wildlife conservation tools ever? The answer, which nobody gets, is: "A bottle of hooch and a deck of cards."
Anyway, if you can't give your cherished one a camp, or a bottle of Old Skunk, or a deck of cards, here goes with the Gift List:
. A GS map of the territory your loved one relishes to roam, say East Colebrook or West Overshoe. This is an easy one, requiring (a) interrogation at the back door as to just where this hapless person will hunt, (b) a few bucks for the relevant GS topo map from your favorite sporting goods store, and (c) search-and-rescue information and where to send the bill for saving the poor soul.
. Compass. Now, there's an idea in this age of the GPS. I have somewhere in my Strange Stuff File a wire-service story from, I think, California about entire families being lured to remote deserts by their blind faith in GPS coordinates. I also have an entry from hikers who thought they were near the North Conway Outlet Stores along with the rest of the Drive-North-and-Shop-to-Death-Lemmings, but were actually in Cranberry Swamp, a place you don't want to be stuck in. Even outlet stores sound better.
. Swiss Army Knife. Okay, there are lots of knock-offs out there, but stick the blades into water before you go to bed, and when you wake up, the rust factor tells all. A good knife with enough blades to carve your way to Mesopotamia, or for you to look like someone with brains around a campsite, beats the swagger of a Bowie Knife all to smithereens.
. Combo hunting and fishing license ($48.50) or just a fishing license ($35). Gripers, please don't gripe to me. Show me a better bargain, in terms of hours (days, even) of enjoyment. It's the all-time best outdoor bargain imaginable, and part of your money goes to helping preserve and enhance wildlife habitat that all, not just those who hunt or fish, can enjoy (picture hiking, having a picnic, canoeing, bird-watching, and on and on). And by the way, hikers and people who canoe and kayak and climbers and others who benefit from our license fees and federal taxes on hunting and fishing gear pay nothing. Cough up (okay, Scrooge here), you free-loading cheapskates.
. Fly-fishing kit. One of the grave sins of the fly-fishing fraternity has been to make fly-fishing seem too complicated and expensive. This is hogwash. You can outfit a kid with a basic Cortland or other high-brand beginners' kit (rod, reel and line) for under $80. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain - all that's needed is a guiding hand (a friend who fly-fishes, your local hunting and fishing club, or the Fish and Game's "Let's Go Fishing," one of the best initiatives I've ever seen).
. Sleeping bag. Now, I came on the scene when we camped out with a ground cloth and blanket, but along came sleeping bags. They had been there before, for specialized use, but all of a sudden they came onto the market fairly cheap. When I got mine, we were opening presents at my grandparents' place at 65 Thorndike St., Concord. It was one of the best presents I ever got, and I wore it to threads. Shop around and get one rated to 20 degrees or so, all you need unless you're getting into serious business, for which you should have your head examined, and get the cloth interior, much more comfortable ($40 bucks or so at your local store).
. Hand-knitted wool mittens and heavier gloves, or in fact anything at all locally made. Wool, as all of us Bwana Bob Rugged Outdoor Guys know, keeps us warm (well, sort of) when we are being sucked to oblivion into Cranberry Swamp.
. Books, herein from the meager list that helped shape me into the wretch I am: "A Sand County Almanac," Aldo Leopold; and "Into the Country," John McPhee.
. Stupid-looking hat. This would be the rabbit-fur, flap-eared bomber's hat, with the even stupider (more stupid?) flap that comes down on the front to obscure where you're going, which in my case is nowhere. The literature says that something like half of your body heat is wicked into space through your head, sort of a vacuum into a vacuum, without the insulating factor of brains.
John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook, N.H. 03576, or firstname.lastname@example.org