Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Doldrums, & Best Gear for the Marginal Lands

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Pat McManus wrote well about early Spring being the cruelest time of year for the outdoorsman. Here in my part of California, it rarely drops below 50 during the day, or 40 at night, but we do get all our rains from November through April, making for really big water in a short period of time, and locking people inside.
For me, this time of year is best described by the doldrums, the equatorial calms that trapped sailors in a vast expanse of quiet nothingness. In February almost all hunting seasons are over, and trout in the Sierra won't start for another three months. Some fishing is available, weather permitting, but most of it is catch-and-release, and there is no shad until well into May. And gardening is a gamble - it's okay to put in the garlic and maybe some peas and greens - but a gigantic storm can threaten any time, bringing high winds and dumping inches of rain in a day, and the likelihood of at least one more cold snap looms.

Right now, then, is when I harbor illusions of perfecting my gear and equipment. I imagine a day all to myself, taking turns breaking down my guns and giving them a real work-over, then putting on a pot of coffee, eating some slow-cooked oats, and tying a pile of flies after throwing the pants, gloves, and waders in the wash. Maybe I'd sew up that gun case I've planned out, or break out the shoe polish and shine up those Danners that have saved my life. Then, I'd mosey out to the shop and cut some forms for next season's duck and goose decoys, as I dream of hunting over my own, hand-made dekes.

But the workshop is a shambles, and it's tiny, too - plus, balsa and cork are exorbitantly expensive. Gun oil and solvent in the house make my wife very unhappy. The fly bench is strewn with papers and unorganized pieces and parts. It's really hard to sew a four-foot case without a machine. I have no idea where I put my shoe polish.

If this were the Fall or Summer, I'd look at all of these, get overwhelmed, and do my version of a Calgon commercial: grab my gun or fishing rod, and leave the chaos for some relaxing, quiet spot. But, it's February, and there are no winds to blow me out the door, so I'm writing, instead.

Granted, I've recently taken on another hobby that gets me out-of-doors, foraging, and this time of year is a good time for gathering greens here, but only when the weather hasn't completely waterlogged the countryside. That's the case this week, so far (well, that and work).

Since my mind is left wandering over my gear, I thought it best to consider what gear works best in the marginal lands.

Hunting, fishing, and foraging in the marginal lands is a place-based experience, so I don't expect my favorites to be everybody's. My places tend to be either watery or very dry, either verdant or very crunchy, but big, and full of varying opportunities with little warning.

In case you didn't know, California has quite a few climates, even in the same place.

My most typical haunts split their climate patterns between 5 months of Mediterranean Winters and Desert Summers. Temperatures range from 40's in the Winter to 110+ in the Summer, and with little humidity to speak of, the green hills of the California Milk commercials (which were filmed in New Zealand, but look surprisingly Californian) turn a golden brown very, very quickly.

Because of these characteristics, I need gear that is lightweight, waterproof or water-happy, able to layer (if clothing), able to multitask, and pretty tough. I also need it to be inexpensive, for the most part.

What works for me, I've found, has run the gamut of outdoorsman cliques, from "army surplus" to "upland gentleman", and I'd never make it on the cover of some magazine. However, I'm comfortable most times I'm out, and I rarely feel like I've left something behind.

Of course, I could always use something new, and I do have my wish list (fillet knife?), but nine times out of ten, I'm set for the types of activities I pursue on my marginal lands.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll highlight the gear that has worked best for outdoors activities in the marginal lands. I hope to hear from you all about your best gear, and the trials and tribulations you've suffered to come to your conclusions. If this still interests you, stay tuned.

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