Wool and Waxed Cotton
The photos on this post are all 35mm film photos. Some are out of focus and some are on corrupted film. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
here’s a powerful nostalgia that I’ve been reckoning with recently. Maybe it’s the fall, maybe it’s fatherhood, that feeling of trying to grab smoke from a campfire and hold on to it. It often comes upon me in the crisp, cool weather shift of the early fall. A wistfulness triggered by the smell of a hand-me-down shirt from my dad after changing the oil in my truck or the experience of a family trip to the pumpkin patch, or sometimes after rediscovering an old grainy photo that anchors me, not so much in a time or place, but in a feeling. A fleeting, almost blurry feeling. A feeling of longing or aching for something that, I can’t be certain but, am pretty sure is missing from the core of my being. I wonder if this is some part of our deeper being recognizing the the effects of the fall – the constraints we’ve been given – the realization that we were created for more, but are experiencing less. I wonder if it is our soul remembering that this feeling of loss is somehow wrong – that entropy was not a part of the original design but crept in unnoticed as we turned our faces from our Father and forged a new path.
few weeks ago I asked my Mom to go through the photo albums and bring me some old hunting photos. With this new project, I knew I wanted to write about the hunting tradition that I had grown up in and hoped that a trip through the annals of the Neale family deer camp would spur something inside of me. So much of what has come to appeal to me about hunting is the tradition, the heritage, “the way we’ve always done things.” When I came across this photo of me and my dad sitting on the tailgate of his ’94 Dodge Dakota, a truck that would eventually become mine, it stuck in my mind. I wasn’t entirely sure why at first, but the longer I look, the more I think I know why. It’s what my father is wearing: A blaze orange Jones cap, a light grey wool button down, dark grey wool pants with a red pinstripe, all over some old L.L.Bean or Polar King thermals, on his belt – which he made himself & features an empty shell casing mocked up with a bullet for the closure – is a hand-stitched buckskin cartridge holder. Most of this he still wears today in some form or fashion, depending on the weather.
hat struck me was something so familiar and also so foreign – the lack of camo. There is of course no wholesale ban on camouflage in our family, it’s just not something we think or talk about that much. When I started hunting, dad admonished me not to wear blue jeans…and that’s about all I can remember. Sure, I’ve had some camo gear, but the pattern has historically not been what has motivated me to make a purchase. Earth tones and maybe a plaid shirt to help break up your outline was all you needed. And then, In 2013, I picked up a nasty habit – waterfowl hunting. This manifested like a sickness in my bones, and it had funny side-effects: A desire to get up early, a longing to freeze half to death, and a sudden interest in camo. There were all these fascinating patterns I had never had much interest in. Max-5, Shadow Grass, Blades, Bottomland, Timber, DRT – and then, something new and foreign. Optifade. Everyone I wanted to be like wore it. It was everywhere on social media, a status symbol. Optifade Camo was the P.F. Flyer’s that would make me run faster and jump higher. And yet, it wasn’t. Like so many this I had convinced myself i need for waterfowl hunting, it had no real bearing on the success of my hunts. It did not, despite what Gore’s advertising and people on social media were trying to tell me, add or subtract a single bird to my game bag last year. It was, like so many things in the hunting industry, fashion. It was keeping up with the Jones. It was the desire to fit in, to be accepted.
his is not an indictment on Sitka or Gore or Optifade. This is not even a cry to get rid of Camouflage at large. This is not a witch hunt for those of you who use ozone gadgets or space-age waders. Frankly, this is not even a call to change. This is simply a confession of a fervent outdoorsman who feels like a fool for forsaking conservation in favor of consumerism; who knows that he has wasted too much time on stuff and not enough time on experiences. I don’t know what else to say on the matter because, in reality, this is not a call to action or compelling argument, but a need to express a feeling – a fleeting, almost blurry feeling – that somehow, somewhere we’ve gone off the rails. A feeling that I’ve heard time and time again from like-minded hunters and sportsmen. A feeling that seems to be hovering in the ether, beckoning us back to something that our grandfathers knew – a love for the outdoors.
I’m not asking you to burn all your Sitka Gear or destroy your motion decoys – all I’m saying is this: I’m looking forward to rolling in the Neale Family Deer Camp this weekend, where Wool and Waxed Cotton are still king.