Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Moving on......

So how did I get from a fishing article to where I am today?

Another long story. After I started writing about hunting and fishing for Florida Game & Fish, I really wanted to expand that part of my writing. However, you have to get out there and do it to know enough about it to write about it.

For a long time, family pressures kept me from doing any traveling. A long time being 12 years. Finally, when my son Chris was 18 months old, I had an opportunity to go mule deer hunting in Colorado.

At the SHOT Show in 1991--the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show--one friend of mine, Kitty Beuchert, asked another friend of mine if he would do a hunting camp for us. That second friend was Galen Geer, an outdoor writer living in Canon City, Colorado. When she first asked, the silence was deafening. Finally Galen said, "I swore I would never have a woman in hunting camp. But since it's the two of you, I'll do it."

So in early October, Chris went down to visit my mother for a week. Kitty and her daughter and son-in-law and I showed up in Colorado Springs and Galen picked us and all our gear up. Galen was--and is--the Environmental Affairs Editor for Soldier of Fortune, and he already had all the SOF hunting camp gear packed.

We left Canon City, headed for the Rifle/Meeker area, about 3 PM the next day. By dusk we were headed up the Front Range. Elk and deer flowed down off the mountains and into the green fields like water. It's a good thing Galen was driving and not me, because I'd have been all over the road--all I could do was stare at all those animals until it got too dark to see. We pulled over by one green field and lost count at more than 200 deer and elk in that single field.

We rolled into camp about 4 AM, put up tents, and fell into bed. The next day we got the camp set up, did some scouting, and got ready to hunt. That was the day Galen broke the news to us that we were going to have guests--two German Army officers were in Colorado for some sort of combined maneuvers, and they wanted to go hunting American style. They were going to join us for camp.

They were hilarious. They were both stiff and Prussian, but with a ribald sense of humor underneath. It would have been fun without them, but they made it a total hoot. Over the 5 day season we all got our deer, and had a wonderful time doing it.

At the end of the week Galen declared that he had completely changed his mind about women in hunting camp. Kitty and I proposed that we plan a women-only camp for the following year, and he readily agreed--with the caveat that we come up with enough women to fill it (which we did).

In fact, we ran that camp for 5 years, using the SOF gear every year (thank you, Bob Brown), and had good women and good camps every year.

I came back from each of those camps with a wealth of material to write about, and they took me even deeper into the world of hunting and fishing.

Next......how Africa ties into it all.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Strange days

This has been one of those weird writing days.

I started out this morning working on a piece for Fishing Tackle Retailer about how to be sure your customer gets what he wants.

I finished up this afternoon with a profile of Empire Labs for Adult Novelty Business. Empire Labs' signature product is called Clone-a-Willy, and it's a mold kit for making a rubber model of guys' private parts.

The one thing I can't say about what I do is that it's boring!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Step two......

The next step in this saga--ironically--also involves 4-H.

After my job writing 4-H marine science materials ran out, I went back to school. I had gotten my Bachelor's Degree in biology from Florida State University, but since the Florida 4-H Department is located at the University of Florida, and they offered a Master of Forest Resources and Conservation, I applied for the program.

All of this was partly philosophical. Yes, I wanted to be a writer, but I also had an agenda. At the time I applied to the master's program, I was as anti-hunting as it gets. I was even a vegetarian because I hated going into the grocery store and buying meat. When you buy meat that way it's just a "thing" in a package, and it doesn't have any relationship to the animal. I had (and still do have) a problem with that. We have so divorced ourselves from the source of our food that we forget that an animal had to die to put those steaks on our plates.

So, my agenda was to learn enough about the outdoors and wildlife to write about how bad hunting is.

Once I got started into my master's program, my philosophy came face to face with reality. I bumped head on into the uncomfortable notion that hunting is not only a legitimate use of wildlife, in some cases it's far less wasteful than letting an overpopulation of large grazers starve as they attempt to thread themselves through the midwinter needle's eye. Not that I would ever hunt, I assured my friends, but I finally accepted that hunting is a part of conservation.

A few months later, one of the staff members in the department mentioned that he was going duck hunting. I talked to him for a while about it, half-dreading, half-hoping that he would invite me along. He didn't.

But he did bring me some ducks. I plucked them in the kitchen, leaving little mounds of fluffy feathers in the corners while my cats went wild.

For several years, that was as close as I got to hunting. I finished my degree and went back to work in the Florida 4-H Department, this time on a longer term grant, writing Integrated Pest Management materials for 4-H. It wasn't as much fun as writing the marine science materials had been, but it was a job, and it was writing, and it taught me to meet deadlines and work with printers.

Then in 1981 I got married and moved to the country. One of my first acts was to insist that my husband remove the remains of someone's old deer stand from a big oak tree on the back of our property. I might accept hunting as a part of conservation, but I certainly didn't want to be reminded of it each time I turned around.

I started freelancing--a tough gig no matter how you do it--writing about agriculture. It was a logical move, since I already knew many Extension specialists from my time in 4-H, and I was in an area with a lot of agriculture.

I also started doing a few stories for Florida Wildlife. This was the old Florida Wildlife, when it was still published internally at the old Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Meanwhile, my position on hunting underwent another quantum shift. During my second winter in the country, I heard a couple of my neighbors discussing hunting. "You know," I thought, "hunting is a valid part of conservation. How can I call myself a conservationist if I've never tried it? I'm going to hate it, but I owe it to myself to have the experience."

I didn't get a deer that year, but I did the following year. The experience of taking an animal from the field to the table--knowing I could literally put meat on the table--changed my life forever. It is an incredibly powerful feeling to know that you can provide a meal no matter what it takes to get it.

Along about that time, I got a call from Rick Lavender. He had just been hired as the editor of a new magazine, Florida Game & Fish Magazine. Would I do a story on fishing?

You bet! (And just as an aside, I am still writing for them today.)

That's enough for one post. I'll pick up there the next time............and pretty soon we'll be talking about Africa.

Monday, August 3, 2009

How this madness got started

A friend recently asked me how I got started writing, and how I ended up writing what I do today.

Talk about a question with a convoluted answer! Nonetheless, I'm going to try to answer it. This saga is going to take us some strange places, but here we go.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Actually, I wanted to be Fiona Sunquist, who has traveled all over the world writing for magazines such as International Wildlife and Audubon and other high end conservation magazines.

I went to Florida State University to get a degree in biology, intending to use that as a place to start following that path. At the time that made sense to me, but looking back from the distance of 30 years, it would be nice to go back and tell my younger self that that degree in biology wasn't going to do what I wanted it to do. All it really taught me to do was work in a lab or go on to graduate school; I would have been better off with a degree in journalism or one in conservation of natural resources.

About the time I graduated from FSU, I got a phone call from someone in the Florida 4-H Department at the University of Florida. I was involved in 4-H all thought high school and into college, and knew a lot of state level faculty members, so this call wasn't totally out of the blue.

Dr. Tom Greenawalt wanted me to come to Gainesville and work in the Florida 4-H Department writing a new set of youth materials in marine science. This was right after the movie Jaws came out, so there was a lot of interest in all things marine, and in fact the very first document I did was on sharks.

I only spent 6 months in that job; it was a temporary position with no benefits that ran out at the end of 1975. But the materials I wrote were well received, and the Florida 4-H Department eventually hired a full-time regular faculty member to expand the program.

And having something I wrote be that well received reawakened my desire to write.

So that's step one on the road to how I became a writer.