Monday, 7 January 2008


(WARNING: This post contains a discussion of Pothunting)

George Washington Sears, pen name Nessmuk, wrote a series of letters to Field and Stream Magazine from 1880 to 1885 about his solo canoe trips through the Adirondacks. The canoes he paddled were small and light because he was an older man with asthma. He went to the woods for his health, believing clean air to be a balm like no other. “Go light,” he advised, “the lighter the better, so that you have the simplest material for health, comfort, and enjoyment.”

I like George, meeting him all these years later though his stories. He was an observant person who loved remote places but did not shun people....well most people. He did shun certain types of people.

“I love a horse, a gun, a dog, a trout and a pretty girl. I hate a pothunter, a trout-liar, and a whisky-guzzling sportsman.” Sears wrote these words and others like them because he saw how men of this sort spoiled the woods, lakes, and rivers.

A pothunter is a hunter who hunts with disregard for rules and conservation and who lacks appreciation for the value of animals apart from their role as objects to kill, possess, or display. A pothunter seeks a prize to show to his friends, a trophy to give him bragging rights. Sears liked to hunt and fish, but not as a means to build his ego, not for show or prestige.

When I first came across references to him, I expected not to like him. I generally don’t like people who start movements. They are driven. Driven people make me nervous. The movement he started (solo canoeing) is sometimes twisted into pothunting of a different sort. I’m talking about outdoor types who show off their survival skills, endurance, courage, and competitive edge in order to impress or awe others.

But Nessmuk isn’t like that. He is a bit the opposite, and while he was not a saint or heroic icon, he comes close to embodying a way of being in the wild that feels right to me. In this he reminds me of my father. Like Nessmuk, my father loved fishing and hunting for their own sake, and cared little what others thought of the sport or his prowess with a gun, bow, or rod. He just liked it and when we went out together it wasn’t overly important if we arrived home empty handed. Dad didn’t brag and while he told stories of “the one that got away,” they were almost always relatively accurate. I knew they were accurate, because most of the time I had been there.

I plan to write about dad, our times together, and the values he passed on to me, but for now, I just want to be clear that what I am after, the reason I am doing this project, is to define one of many alternatives to pothunting. I’m certainly not the first to attempt such an exercise, but I do want to include my voice.

Another reason I am going is to learn to read again.

Karen Armstrong in an interview with Tapestry Producer Mary Hynes describes a time in her life when she was defeated by poor health and life circumstances and turned to the study of the great texts of world religions. Because she was no longer surrounded by noise and activity, all alone in her apartment, she was suddenly able to hear the poetry of the writers, and enter into the realities behind the words.

Much of my reading lately has become speed reading, rushing through one book or another looking for content, for a specific answer, for data, facts, information. I want more than that, I want the meditative absorption that comes from reading a book in the company of great silence.

So I will be reading Nessmuk, and other great nature writers. And I will be reading Taoist texts and maybe some other religious texts, I’m not sure yet. I want to read Ursula Goodenough’s Sacred Depths of Nature because I intuit that Ursula knows something important, something I need to know.

I also want to learn again to read nature, to “notice” it in the great Buddhist sense. This is why I paddle, why I have embarked on this experiment. The Japanese poet Basho spoke of his travels across Japan as a journey into the deep interior of his country. I will be traveling into the deep interior of this island I call my home.


  1. Ooh, just found this - what a wonderful project, I'm jealous. Do you like Annie Dillard? Hope you're taking some of her... I find it incredibly difficult to read blogs slowly/carefully, but slow reading is a completely different experience to flicking through as you say. Hope you're enjoying it...

  2. Hi Fiona,

    I do indeed like Annie Dillard. Thank you for the reminder, is there a particular book of her's you would recommend? I have read The Maytrees and For the Time Being - which is one of my all time favorites.

    I am very much enjoying my project and can not wait for the weather to warm up a bit.

    But, I am still getting out, snow and all...

    Thanks for stopping by!