D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e    August 2005

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The Perfect Outdoor Companion

When it's just the two of you out there, compatibility is key.

So, you want a person to hang with when you're out there on your various adventures? You want the perfect outdoor companion, right? Well, allow me to flatly state from the git-go, there ain't any such thing!

But I can attest that we can come mighty close, and I'm here to tell how you might go about finding such a critter. I'm not necessarily talking about a lifelong mate, but rather, someone you can call on the spur of the moment and say, "Let's go do something."

My missus and I have been hitched for nigh onto 37 years, and along the way we have attended several marriage seminars. Some have been quite enlightening, applying not only to our marriage, but to our friendships or possible friendships.

The most profound and absolute eye-opener was a concept called "The Five Love Languages." A more accurate title would be "The Five Basic Character Identities." This is an analysis of the five areas that make up the core of who we are as individuals. Understand these about yourself and others and it makes all relationships much simpler.

These character traits are: 1. Deeds or acts of kindness; 2. Doing things with the family or other groups; 3. Physical touch; 4. Words; and 5. Gifts (things). One of these areas or more than one will really push the button in all of us. If you are a "deeds" person, you like to do things for others and have things done for you, above all else. "Doing things as a family" means you prefer to spend quality time with those you love or with a group of friends—you are a social animal. "Physical touch" describes those who like to hug, be in close physical contact or just lay a reassuring hand on another's shoulder. "Words" are most important to the expressive person, who will say phrases like "good job," "thank you," "you look good today," "I love you" or "that really stinks!" "Words" people also appreciate people who tell them the same. Finally, there are the "gifts" people, who above all like to buy, make and own things and give and receive gifts.

Without giving too much away, I'll admit to being a "words" person (hey, I'm a writer, ya know!), followed closely by "physical touch" (I've shaken up more than one man and woman with a spontaneous hug), and then by "gifts." I could give a whit about social functions or doing things with others (remember I'm a "Free-roamer"). And "acts of kindness" don't do too much for me, either.

Being able to discern how others tick and how I tick allows me to nurture relationships and avoid conflicts. It also serves to break down that old demon "projectionism," whereby we expect others to think, act and speak in our vein of what we deem to be "right."

If I run into someone I think would be good to "run the river with," it goes a long way if I can figure out what pushes their buttons. I can then react and approach in the right way.

Next I'll look at another area of character. I've found that all humans also fall into one of these four categories: 1. They like possessions; 2. They like to go places and do things; 3. They like both; or 4. They don't like either. Again, using myself as an example, I'm a things person; I like owning goodies from guns to vehicles to ATVs. I also like my outdoor excursions, but if push comes to shove, I'll take goodies over trips. On the other hand, I don't have much use for the individual who doesn't have a hankerin' for either.

Then I consider if a person is a talker or is taciturn. The extreme of either is a "no-go," because I enjoy a conversation but also cherish the ability to have times of silence with a companion.

Over the years I've had close outdoor friendships. Like two ships on a vast sea, we came together and enjoyed our outdoor experiences, before the fickle winds of change took us on separate courses.

The last such friend was a man I'll call Oob. Right off I saw he was a "gifts" person with a "deeds" backup. He too liked guns and "men's toys." He enjoyed things like shooting and hunting, but shunned activities that involved more than two folks. Oob talked, but not as much as me, and we both liked our long lulls in conversation. He and I seemed to be about 85 percent compatible and he was my kind of a guy.

In the Good Book it says "there is a friend closer than a brother" and that was Oob. If my activity included guns, shooting, trucks or hunting, Oob was usually at my side for the majority of those adventures.

Then, after half a decade together, one day we were out shooting and the next he quit talking and was gone. That was three years ago, and to this day, I don't have the foggiest as to what happened. I haven't found an outdoor companion since who can come close to filling Oob's shoes.

There is one last human character trait I want to address: competitiveness. Some people are competitive; others—including me and Oob—are not.

A decade ago, I was an avid mountain biker. Again, I was looking for just one other person to share my passion, and all of my male friends were out of the picture. That's because every blessed one of them was competitive. If we went biking, they all had to get from point "A" to point "Z" in the quickest time possible and they had to be first! I like to meander on my bike and meditate and eyeball and stop and smell a flower or two. My pals would have none of that nor could they understand me.

But "Ooom" could. She and her husband were good friends of ours, and she loved to mountain bike. Ooom was a "words" person and a "things" person (forever buying new and better bikes). She talked a mite more'n me, but we had our quiet times together on rugged back trails. She liked to stop and smell a flower, too. We were compatible when it came to bike excursions (strangely, not in much else). One year we traveled 2,000 miles on trips here and there.

But alas, all things and people change. I became physically stronger and faster and grew tired of waiting for Ooom to keep up, even though we were both still meandering (she just meandered more slowly!). Since mountain biking was our only common interest, we gradually grew apart. Eventually Ooom and her husband moved away. I never found another compatible biker to accompany me, and gradually my interest in two wheels waned too.

Recently I went afield with a long-time pal—"Ug"—who happens to be an avid dirt motorcyclist. Now, Ug is a "words" man followed closely by "things," but he is strongly competitive and enjoys going full-bore. I found myself constantly going faster than I wanted, and always feeling guilty because Ug had to wait for me to catch up. Consequently this old Free-roamer had fun but not full enjoyment. I realized that Ug and I would never be fast and constant outdoor companions.

So today, I mostly go it alone. I'm always looking for that new pal to traverse the outdoors with, whether on a hike or with a gun. As I do, you can believe I'll be analyzing the person to see whether they'll do to ride down the river with for the long haul.

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you out there.

Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors monthly for Desert Exposure.

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