Outdoor Engagement

When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.

–Jack Kornfield

The bull came at dusk. I heard nothing, saw nothing. Suddenly he was there, a pale swath amid the timber. I inched the binos upward until my eyes beheld the beast: massive frame, antlers like hunks of driftwood, dark eyes staring directly at me. And then he was gone.

Back at camp, stoking the fire and watching evaporative mist float off my clothes, I replayed the scene. I had the wind. I’d made no sound. Was it a reflection off the bino lens? The outline of my hunting cap? Cervine sixth sense? Somehow the elk spotted me. Amazing. 

Touché, old bruiser. You got me. 

I’d spent a long weekend deep in the Gallatin backcountry. At the end of the first day, I stopped thinking about work. Patience and quietude soon followed. By day three I was an animal: strong, stealthy, single-minded of purpose. I scaled mountainsides. A moose walked within three feet of me. And on the last evening, in the final moments before dark, I found what I was looking for. 

An encounter. A moment of pure connection, unmuddled by the static of modern life. I needed to go back in time, beyond email and appointments and never-ending to-do lists. Past civilization and technology, way back to where it all began. And at that moment, when the big bull elk and I stared into each other’s eyes, I felt it: the primordial link, the ancient bond, the inexorable connection between predator and prey. Time obliterated as eons passed between us. And I was renewed. By exploring the wilderness—slowly, carefully, thoroughly—I’d restored my connection to the world around me, and to myself.

And so it goes. Each fall, we head to the woods with a new purpose. We focus. We observe. We look for stories: beds in the grass, hair on trees, tracks in snow. We trace things back to their origins. We explore the world around us and look for patterns within it. And by doing so, we make connections.

This issue explores that search for connections: to nature, to recreation, to others, to oneself. Chasing whitetails along the Gallatin River, Bill Bilverstone strives for a more authentic outdoor experience. Peeling back prejudice, Tom Reed finds beauty in the oft-maligned mountain whitefish. Other authors help strip away unnecessary layers through eating wild plants, flying solo in the wilderness, and building a blind with one’s own two hands. And for some visual stimulation, check our 2012 O/B Photo Contest winners—there’s no better motivation for getting off the couch and engaging the outdoors. 

So get out there this fall and explore—and not at light speed, like a tourist checking off a must-see list. Slow down. Move like a hunter. Look. Listen. Smell. Feel. Taste. There’s a big, wild world calling you. Enter it, engage it, connect to it. You’ll be glad you did.