Living an Authentic Life

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
— The Second Coming; W.B. Yates

There's an interesting phenomenon floating around the internet these days.  While it manifests itself in many discrete forms, it's usually accompanied with a hashtag (obviously) of #liveauthentic.  Most of you know the story by now, but a classic case study goes something like this:

Foster is a millennial in his early twenties.  Likely raised in a relatively affluent suburb of a highly gentrified mid-sized city (Portland, Denver, Seattle, etc.), Foster put in the requisite four years at a highly regarded liberal arts college surrounded by others exactly like himself.  Upon his exit from said college, Foster was forced into the cold, hard "real world".  Of course, Foster's "real world" wasn't actually the real world as his expensive education and some family connections landed him a job with an exciting company, almost certainly in the Bay Area, replete with fancy perks like free lunches/haircuts/hoverboards.  While some would be deeply grateful for such an opportunity, Foster spent the next several years filled with a river of detachment and wanderlust.  Rooted in an unwavering and likely unacknowledged sense of entitlement, Foster believed that not only was there was more to life than working, but that he deserved more.  So, in an act o, Foster sells his belongings, finds the perfect Sprinter Van, and settles on a route that will help him live the life he wants to live.  As Foster drives the Pan-American Highway, he fills his social media with photos of sunsets from the back of the van, morning coffee selfies while wrapped in "authentic" Mexican serapes, photos of vibrant markets, and perhaps a photo or two of a smiling septuagenarian local.  The photos are always accompanied by verbose captions about how this campsite, this sunrise, or this plate of tacos filled a spiritual/existential void or just general ramblings about the importance of living a meaningful and handcrafted life supported by wild places. #liveauthentic

But who is this life being crafted for?  There is nothing wrong with seeking a life of adventure or carving one's own path in life.  Shit, I try to do so myself.  But #liveauthentic is not a movement based in principal so much as it is a marketing strategy.  At its most basal level, it is a strategy for the perpetuation of self promotion for those living the life authentic-- more likes, more followers, more possibilities to score a free hammock to include in the next Instagram photo.  On a larger scale, however, #liveauthentic has been appropriated by clever brands, usually outdoor industry based, as a method of targeting other wanderlust filled twenty-somethings.  Through carefully curated social media accounts, ads that don't feel like ads with sweeping video footage of the aforementioned campsite/sunrise/taco plate, and strategic inclusion of individuals like our buddy Foster, #liveauthentic has become nothing but a caricature of real adventure.  Like Yate's bird of prey spiraling away from the falconer, things fall apart and, in the case of #liveauthentic, hypocrisy ensues.  A life lived for likes and followers is not authentic.  There is nothing genuine or real about a carefully curated shot of your breakfast in a Peruvian cafe, your 35mm camera and a topographic map ever so perfectly placed in frame. 

So what's the point of this aimless rambling I just put out into the world? Probably nothing important, other than to say that how we engage with places and people (not things) is one of the most important ways we define our experience in life.  So whatever it is you chose to do and wherever you choose to go, take a moment to appreciate it for yourself .  Reflecting upon what that place/trail/mountain means to you and how that place or experience affected you personally is the only way to live authentic.  Take the time to do so, then post that selfie. Because after all, if a bear shits in the woods and no one was there it Snapchat it, did it really happen?   

Voluntary Beatdown

As Ty pulls into Les Schwab to pick up his trailer, one white rim now a dingy shade of gray-brown from the axle grease that had exploded all over it the previous weekend, a funny feeling creeps down my spine.  We get out of the truck and I peer into the back seat.  A hodge-podge of Rubbermaid totes, dog food, and gun sleeves.  Only... two... gun... sleeves.  Ty's 12 gauge is there, and his backup 20 gauge.  

In a panic, I rummage through the cab, then the bed.  Dogs laughing at me in their kennels, as they clearly know that there's a double-barrel Remington, lovingly stowed in its case, resting comfortably on the couch back at Ty's house.  Thanks for reminding me, you jerks.  

Thankfully, Ty agrees to part with his 20 for the trip, but not much of a shot with my own gun, the prospects with this shiny new Silver Pigeon aren't looking good.  

Few more hours behind the windshield and we reach our destination.  Dogs giddy with anticipation, the sinking feeling in my stomach almost crowded out by thoughts of hard points and dead chukar.  Out of the truck, collars on and boots laced.  Side by side swerves over bumpy roads and muddy puddles.   Up into rimrock and cheat grass and freedom.  

Sawyer is what our friends at Mouthful of Feathers call a bootlicker.  Too much waterfowling and planted birds, fairly incompetent owner, and not enough of the big, wild country where one goes to find chukar.  She stays close while Frank, Ty's two year old GWP, ranges over ridges, down draws, goes on point.  She bounds past him and flushes a covey of twenty birds.  Frank's not happy.  Neither is Ty.  

We go out separate ways, with me feeling like I did when I first started fly fishing, my gut like my line- a tangle of knots, back-cast caught in a tree.  Hopeless, dejected, why the f$%# am I here right now.  

Down, out of the rimrock we go, towards willows and cottonwoods that look a little more like Sawyer's speed.  Gunshots ring out from above.  Ty and Frank do a lot better without us monkeying things up.

Three steps into the first willow patch, an explosion of wings as twenty valley quail flush before Sawyer even knows we're hunting.  Further into the thicket, she locks up.  I walk in and two more flush beneath her.  Two shots, no birds.  Sorry Sawyer.  

Our luxurious accommodations, circa WWII

Our luxurious accommodations, circa WWII

Back at camp, our WWII-era storage container of a hotel room is warm from the electric faux-fireplace that's been running since we checked in.  Ty runs the Camp Chef while I drown my sorrows in High Life.  There's a hotspring here, where I wash away some of the disappointment and the Milky Way is shining, as if to make a few blown coveys and a couple of missed shots seem pretty small in the grand scheme of things.  There's beers to drink and laughs to be had.

There's no rush in these things we do to fill time and space.  Dwindling need to be the best, or even marginally adept.  Ego beat down, eroded over time just like these hills we hike in search of birds.  So long as the adventures continue and lessons keep getting learned, there just isn't much to complain about 'round here.  

The Art of Getting Skunked

It's 5 a.m. and I've already been up for an hour.  I've already downed a large Stanley flask of coffee and I pull into a 7-Eleven to meet my guide for the day and refill on coffee.  Not far enough out of the Metro Denver area to not be out of place in full camo, the cashier makes a point of asking if he can help me with anything as my pacing through the isles likely caused him to worry about my intentions.   I try to cut a large cup of shitty gas station coffee with a bit of hot chocolate from the machine, but water apparently siphoned from a nearby puddle comes streaming out, devoid of any taste-bud-saving chocolate-y goodness.  I give the cashier a few dollars for the watered down coffee and toss it in the nearest trash can as a F-250 pulling a large trailer pulls up.

 As an avid do-it-yourself-er, my forays into guided anything are few and far between.  There's a lot that can be gained by getting into the field or stepping into a river on your own, but in a lot of instances there's a lot that can also be missed.  For me, waterfowl hunting is one of those situations where I currently find getting out with a guide to be worth the hard-earned money.  For one thing, my German Shorthair has a notable distaste for jumping repeatedly into freezing cold water.  For another, waterfowl within a day's driving range from my house is a difficult course to navigate.  Throw in the fact that I have yet to shell out for a decoy spread and hiring a guide is (for now) my best option and best chance to learn something new about hunting ducks in Colorado.

But today I don't learn anything new.  Instead, I've treated to a refresher course in The Art of Getting Skunked.  Now, I've been on the receiving end of plenty of ass kickings dished out by Mother Nature.  Chasing wild critters with rod and gun is at its core an unpredictable pursuit.  I harbor no disillusion about the fact that every day I step into the field to fish or hunt is just another chance to come up empty handed, and I know having a guide is no guaranty of success.  But some skunkings hurt more than others.  This one, marked by hours in a blind with temperatures well below freezing without seeing a single waterfowl (not counting two strings of geese flying high, fast, and far away) was particularly unpleasant.  Maybe it was the frozen toes. Or maybe it was the disappointment resulting from having made tasty plans for things that used to fly but coming home with an empty bag.  Or maybe it was calling it quits after 5 hours in the blind, driving to the nearby lake, and seeing thousands of birds on the water all give me the middle feather at once.  Yeah, it was probably that.