People of Influence
Outdoorsmen and -women and other heroes who've
boldly blazed their own trails.
Is it just me who notices this, or have you too noticed that there seems to be a woeful lack of personal heroes — people of good influence, if you will — both past and present amongst society today?
This came to my attention not too long ago when I saw the debacle named Lance Armstrong and his steep and rapid downfall. I mean, he was just in town a few years back and being declared the greatest of them all among bicyclers.
Up until that dark day, ol' Lance had been on my personal list of good influences in my life.
When I speak of that term — good influence, or maybe even "hero" — I'm referring to people who have, or had, a true commitment to something, and epitomized the highest of virtue and ethics in a given area of life, whom I respect and admire.
Since this is an outdoors column, I thought I'd cogitate over my own list and then share it with you: Just who are my persons of influence past and present?
The first on this list is our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. The man was a political enigma who seemed to be both conservative and progressive and today both sides of the political spectrum still applaud him; he did not fit anyone's mold, and for me, that is an extremely good trait to have. He was an ardent outdoorsman, a hunter who safaried in Africa for a full year; he established both the park system and the wilderness systems; he owned two western ranches.
But did you know that Roosevelt is considered one of our true intellectuals, and not the buffoon some have portrayed him to be? It is said that he wrote and published over 2,000 articles and books on many a diverse subject area, the most of any president even to date, and no one has more material in the National Archives!
What I admire most about him, though, is that "TR" was a man of strong principle; he never backed down from what he believed and he practiced what he preached, regardless of politics.
Local Ben Lilly is on my list, but not because he was an extraordinary hunter. In fact, I don't care much for Lilly's tactics, nor the way he treated some of his prey.
But what I do value is his tenacity, endurance and hardiness. I read that he often sat in a tree all night, squatting on a limb like a turkey, and slept that way. Amazing!
Even in his 60s, he could dog-trot all day long after a bear or cougar, and carry only a blanket for shelter even in the coldest of winters. One tough dude!
I even have a fictional character on my list, Jeremiah Johnson. Oh, I don't mean the real Johnson, who was known to eat the livers of his dead foes, but the movie guy. I'll wager that I have watched that movie 20 times over the years and never tire of it.
What I admire about Jeremiah is his individuality, his loner personality and self-sufficiency. He could go it alone in a crisis or die trying!
Another president is on the list, Ronald Reagan. In my point of view, he was the last of the good and great presidents. He didn't hunt or fish as far as I know, but unlike most other presidents, who played golf for relaxation, Reagan liked to cut wood on his ranch, even when he was well towards his 80s. I can still see him on a TV interview, and he's wearing his Stetson and using a chainsaw. I admire that he, too, walked to his own beat.
There's a woman on my list, Annie Oakley. She was a terrific shot with both rifle and pistol, often beating the greatest male shots of her day. She, too, was a person of her own choosing, but it's her great marksmanship that puts her on the list.
Most of you have never heard of Jack O'Connor, who died in 1978. He first began his career as a professor of English at the University of Arizona, I believe. After several years he switched careers to become one of the greatest outdoor-hunting-gun writers of all, spending most of it as the outdoor editor of Outdoor Life magazine.
As a teenager, it was his columns that I read first and his teachings I followed ardently. In fact, he is the main reason I decided to become a professional outdoor writer.
While he is not an outdoor figure that I know of, I have always admired A.J. Foyt, the racecar driver. He has the distinction of winning all of the major automotive racing events worldwide, and no one else has done that!
I admire him for his passion and ability to win; he seemed to always be at the top of his game.
My next person will probably upset most of you: Ted Nugent. Now, I don't much care for Ted's personality that reflects brashness and in-your-face-confrontations; he is belligerent and berating of his opponents in a not-so-nice-fashion.
But I do admire him for standing up for what he believes in and not taking any "crap" and he's not in the least ashamed of it.
He is quite the hunter, but more important, he owns a Michigan farm and Texas ranch and spends a lot of money on creating a good ecosystem on them.
There's another "Ted" on my list, and he might surprise you, since he is known both as a liberal and a Mexican Wolf lover — Ted Turner.
Now, I don't much care for Ted's politics or his being a supporter of El Lobo. But Turner is a big-time hunter, especially quail. He spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on habitat on all of his ranches and owns a kennel-full of high-grade bird dogs, and by the way, he is the largest landowner in New Mexico! He currently owns two ranches not far from here in southern New Mexico and all of his ranches cater to hunters.
I'm told by a friend who knew and hunted with them that Ted introduced arch-liberal Jane Fonda (his wife at the time) to hunting! He even sent her to a prestigious shooting school and she became a crack shot with both rifle and shotgun.
So Ted is on the list, because he doesn't fit into the mold. He's his own man.
Lastly is a man who was never known for his outdoor passions when he was in the public spotlight. He was known for being a great football player and a good baseball player — Bo Jackson. He played football for the Oakland Raiders and baseball for the Kansas City Royals, and his career was ended with a hip injury.
Bo is also a black man, and black men are not noted for their passion on hunting, although there have been many who have done so, and excelled at it.
Bo is my most recent hero, even though he is 15 years younger than me. After the injury forced him to retire, he took up archery hunting, and today spends a great deal of time between hunting and target shooting with a bow and arrows.
What I admire in the man is that Bo isn't a trophy hunter as most in his income bracket are; Jackson is a "meat hunter." In other words, he eats what he kills. And if he cannot eat it, he utilizes it in some way.
The man can well afford to dine on lobster and prime rib, but he prefers wild game! And if his family doesn't eat it, he will donate the game to the needy and poor in his home state of Illinois. Now, that's my kind of guy!
As always keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may The Forever God bless you too!