“It is harder to have heroes as you get older, but it is sort of necessary.” – Ernest Hemingway
I’ve been in love, so to speak, three times in my almost 30 years here, but I’ll only bore you with two of the subjects that stole my heart: Sports and fish, or more specifically, the Red Sox and striped bass. It’s hard to remember which I fell for first. I was probably about four when I first noticed that the time that elapsed between my father’s car pulling in the driveway and his coming inside was longer than it should have taken any man to walk the 20 or so feet to our front door.
When I finally got up the courage to go out to car to see what was taking him so long, I realized that he was listening to a distant radio station broadcasting the Red Sox games from Connecticut. See… Richard N. Bach Sr. was, if nothing else, two things: A workaholic and a Red Sox fan. So, and perhaps this was divine intervention or perhaps it was coincidence: He was usually arriving home between 9:30 and 10 p.m., or, as baseball fans might call it: The bottom of the 8th at Fenway.
My father liked the Red Sox for one reason above all others: He hated the Yankees. A man born into poverty who worked for every cent, he despised the notion that a team could pay for talent and win with it, and he rooted for the Red Sox not like a man rooting for a ream, but like a man rooting against another one. He picked them, not because of what they were, but because of what they weren’t. They weren’t the professional, clean-cut, pinstriped millionaires that were forced down our throats on the Y.E.S. Network every evening growing up in Upstate New York. Pedro spoke broken english, Ortiz wasn’t beating out any ground balls to first and Varitek was more than happy to get in the face of the game’s richest player. I remember my father in a lot of ways: I do push-ups daily like we did together when I was a child, I try not to miss mass, even if I’m late like he usually was, and I always pull for the Sox.
Of the moments that we did steal together, many were on or near the water. He belonged to a Golf Club that had a pond stocked with largemouth bass. That… that is what I call divine intervention. The pond was next to a short Par 3, and he’d play the hole on a loop to work on his short game while I’d work on my subtle presentation of soft plastics to the resident bass.
I’ve been reading a great deal about the late Jim Harrison as of late. He was, it seems, a man larger than life. And it seems that he will be remembered in the great line of writers who have tried to wrap words around water. I say “line,” here, because what I love most about outdoor journalism, or as much as anything else, is that if you get into it… you inherit its history. There are any number of great sports journalists, but it’s unfair to say that there’s a lineage that follows. Some have waxed poetic about Ted Williams and the beauty of baseball and others on the unpredictable beauty of the N.C.A.A. Men’s Basketball tournament that my Syracuse Orange are currently still alive in. Because there are so many different sports (or at least four for our American purposes), it’s harder to carve out a lineage of great sportswriters who inherit the work of those before them and perhaps pass something on to those who will follow.
But in Outdoor Journalism, we inherit a history. Hemingway might be the most famous outdoor writer, but he’s a piece of a puzzle as old as a a hook and a typewriter, or even perhaps the pen.
And that is part of what I love about writing about the outdoors. We can look at all those who have come before us, the mark they’ve made, absorb it, inherit it and then try to make our own. If we are lucky, and I have been, the gatekeepers of the great institutions of outdoor journalism, like the editors at Outdoor Life and Field & Stream, Saltwater Sportsman and Florida Sportsman, the Drake and the Fly Fish Journal let us inside their walls for a moment, and let us carve our thoughts on the paper walls of their storied castles. I’m blessed to have left my mark inside each of these monuments to our love of water… not because of any talent I have, but because editors had faith in me that I’d share something worth sharing. I’ve tried, and I’ll leave it at that.
But in thinking about Harrison, and Hemingway, I’m reminded of why our particular field of writing, of content creation, is a special one: Whenever we pick up a pen, or sit down to a laptop to try to articulate what it is we love about the water, we inherit the history, the obligation, and the beauty of all those who have done so before us, in such profound and impactful ways.
Rest in peace, Mr. Harrison, and thank you for the crucial piece of this great puzzle that you contributed, one that we can only hope to inherit as and wield half as gracefully and beautifully as you did in your time here.