Humorous, insightful essays on outdoor life from the renowned contributor and editor of Field & Stream—“one of the best magazine writers in America” (The Wall Street Journal).
Living the life of an outdoorsman doesn’t necessarily take skill. After more than two decades of writing about his adventures (and misadventures), Bill Heavey has proven that being a true outdoorsman just takes enthusiasm, determination, and a willingness to, occasionally, make a fool of oneself.
You’re Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck gathers together more than sixty of Heavey’s best stories from his work in Field & Stream, The Washington Post, and The Washingtonian. Including retellings of his adventures hunting ants in the urban jungles of Washington, DC; braving freezing winter expeditions in Eastern Alaska; attempting to impress ladies by immediately flipping over his canoe; and planning deer hunts around dad-duties, these tales are chock full of life, insight, and, of course, hilarity.
Here is a far-ranging and enlightening volume that traces a life lived outdoors, for better or for worse.
“To the list of great Field & Stream essayists . . . add the name Bill Heavey. His writing is funny, poignant, acerbic, and, best of all, always alert to the absurdities of life.” —Patrick C. McManus
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||586 KB|
About the Author
Heavey’s 2007 collection If You Didn’t Bring Jerky What Did I Just Eat?, copublished with Field & Stream, the leading American outdoors magazine, was a resounding success that went into multiple hardcover printings. Should the Tent Be Burning Like That?, also copublished with Field & Stream, collects more of Heavey’s top pieces from the magazine, as well as the best of his writing from the Washington Post and elsewhere. In this far-ranging read, Heavey’s adventures include nearly freezing to death in Eastern Alaska, hunting ants in the urban jungles of the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and reconnecting to cherished memories of his grandfather through an inherited gun collection.
With Heavey’s trademark witty candor, You're Not Lost if You Can Still See the Truck traces a life lived outdoors through the good, the bad, and the downright hilarious.
Read an Excerpt
"Think they might be moving," says a voice on the phone. It's Greg. We last spoke four months ago, but he talks as if the conversation has been interrupted by someone burping instead of winter. Every spring when the sun reaches a certain angle and the water's edging up toward 60 degrees, Greg and I seem to find each other. It's been like this for six years now.
"I'm working a job nearby," he continues, not waiting for me to say hello. "Primer's got to dry for at least five hours. I got the boat on the car, and if I pick you up in fifteen —"
"'Preciate all this advance notice, bud," I interrupt sarcastically.
"Why?" he asks, his voice full of innocent surprise. "You busy looking through GQ to see how many pleats your pants are gonna have this summer? Want me to call you back in July?"
I'm already smiling. These are ritual insults, our way of saying we missed each other over the season of antifreeze, catalog fishing, and despair. Greg is an artist and self-employed floor refinisher who drives what's left of a midseventies station wagon the size of Brazil. In his part of town, the guy at the corner store passes your donuts through a Plexiglas wall with 9 mm spiderwebs on it. I, on the other hand, labor with the tips of my fingers in an office with windows that can only be opened by throwing heavy furniture through them, and live in an area where espresso shops have suddenly begun to grow like shower mold. In a universe without fish, we would probably not be friends. As it is, there are times when we're almost telepathic.
"Think they're still deep?" I ask casually.
"I'm thinking shallow. Find someplace the sun will have warmed some rocks near —"
"Like that riprap below the ferry where it —"
"Nope. Motor-accessible. That'll be a mob scene." He thinks for a moment. "'Member where that carp hit on a red shad Slug-Go last —"
"Too open," I tell him. "No structure. What about that skinny water up —"
"Okay," he agrees. "Yeah."
"Make it twenty minutes," I tell him. "I got three rods to string up. And, uh, Greg?"
"What?" he asks impatiently.
"Park up the street. I don't want any of my friends seeing me get into your car." I hang up before he can get a word in.
The fact is, of course, we enjoy each other. Greg routinely and publicly tells me I'm spineless yuppie scum who has sold his soul for mammon. (He especially likes to do this in the dives we stop in for coffee on the way home.) I return the favor, explaining that he digs the starving artist act because it lets him simultaneously dress like a slob and feel superior to people like me who have full-time jobs.
But that's just the surface noise. Here are the important things I know about Greg: He will be ten minutes late; he will park right out front; and his car will smell like it always does — a mixture of resins and solvents, unwashed dog (a 140-pound bloodhound with minimal saliva control), and Berkley PowerBaits (the car doubles as a tackle box). Out on the water, he is one of the best guys with a spinning rod I've ever seen. Because he's wiry to start with and because waltzing a 250-pound floor sander has given him wrists like twin boa constrictors, he can throw a 1/16-ounce rig thirty yards back into overhanging trees and never have the lure rise five feet off the water, the fishing equivalent of hitting a one-iron three hundred yards. He's an aggressive caster, and he loses more lures than I do. But when he's hot, he can throw from his off side around a tree and drop a plug into an opening the size of a shoe box as if that lure wasn't even considering landing anywhere else.
Like all fishermen, we both have our odd proclivities. I, for example, am fond beyond all reason of the four-inch white grub. I'm comfortable with it, I believe in it, and I generally make the fish prove they don't want it before I take it off one of my three active rods. Greg, on the other hand, is just plain bent. He will throw any crankbait in the book, as long as it's a Countdown Sinking or Original Floating model Rapala in silver or gold. These, Greg maintains with the demented reasonableness of people who only shop on Mars because everything is always on sale there, are the only hard-bodied lures that look like real fish. And yet he routinely throws plastics in shades they won't sell to minors except in New York City. One favorite crawfish pattern — hazardous-waste-orange claws on an about-to-be-sick-fuchsia body — could only have been thought up by someone deep inside the penal system of one of those Scandinavian countries where everybody goes crazy six months a year due to light deprivation.
All of this is especially galling because Greg catches more fish than I do. Actually, I can handle that part. (I'm five years younger and better-looking.) The real problem in the relationship is that he can fish whenever he wants and I can't. This has necessitated my developing a number of chronic-but-unspecified medical problems that flare up on short notice April through November and seem to be related to barometric pressure and water temperature. (I think people at work know I'm faking, but as any criminal prosecutor will tell you, knowing and proving are two different animals.)
Greg and I once tried getting together socially, that is to say with our girlfriends. But I think we did it more because we felt we were supposed to than because we actually wanted to. The results were predictable: a dinner of lasagna and long silences that neither of us has ever mentioned again.
Last year, however, I heard a local gallery was having a show of his work. He didn't invite me; I just decided to show up. One of the paintings was a memorial triptych for a friend who died when a drunk's car jumped a curb and drove through his windshield. It was painted on a piece of ancient wood he'd gotten off the front of a boarded-up store in his neighborhood and combined some strange images: a detailed calendar of the waxing and waning of the moon over several months; painstakingly rendered bits of the cotton plant shown as seedling, bud, flower, and withered stalk; a fireman's yellow boot and, off in a corner, a larger image of the full moon in whose shadows you finally saw the face of the dead man smiling faintly at you, his name, simon, scratched below. It's a haunting piece, unflinching, charged with the knowledge of how quickly what we take for granted passes into nothingness. It's too bleak for people who want something that matches the green sofa in the den and doesn't take up too much wall space. It's like one of those books people admire but don't read. And Greg knows this, of course. But it's like the way he is about Rapalas — he's just not the compromising sort.
The critic in a major newspaper the next day lauded the show, praising its "elegiac power" and calling my fishing buddy "a master of metaphor." I didn't say anything about all this to Greg. He'd seen me that night and nodded, but I'd left him, dressed in clothes only slightly more stylish than what he fishes in, surrounded by men in black silk shirts buttoned up to their necks and women who had gone to great pains to make themselves look as if they'd been freeze-dried, brought back to life, and then painted by undertakers.
But the next time we went fishing, Greg uncharacteristically threw a large silver Rapala high into a sycamore, where it spun around a limb four times, sealing its fate. "Damn," he said. "Just threw five bucks up a tree." We looked at it for a moment, waiting as if it might fall. It didn't.
"Look at it this way," I finally said. "At least you're a master of metaphor."
He looked at me to see if I was consoling him on the loss of a lure, acknowledging his art, or simply pulling his chain. I think he realized it was all three about the same time I did. He smiled, then bit the line, laid his rod across the thwarts, and began to paddle.
"Running outta daylight," he announced. "We got time for one more stop on the way back. The big eddy by the island or the bar off the point?"
"Your pick," I told him.
He pondered. "The sandbar," he finally murmured almost to himself as I picked up my paddle and fell to under the failing light. "I'm betting they're moving into the shallows to feed."CHAPTER 2
It's the place you can get to in under an hour, the place that gets pounded like a dead tree at a woodpecker convention, the place big fish avoid, the place where the waters are stocked with compromise. It's the place you go when time is short and the act of fishing is more important than the catching. In short, it's your fallback.
My personal version is a scenic portion of a good-sized river fifteen minutes from my front door. I could draw you its features in my sleep: the two-foot ledge running diagonal to the current; chunky little islands in the middle where some resident Canadas have opened their own fertilizer farm; a line of celery grass off a sandbar that tapers into the current the way the last hairs of your eyebrow peter out into the skin on your temple. While I'd hardly ever been skunked here, neither had I ever unhooked a smallmouth over thirteen inches in the ten years I'd been visiting. Until last Friday, that is.
It was one of those days they couldn't put enough numbers on your paycheck to make it worthwhile, when you feel like you might pour sugar in your boss's gas tank unless you get away to a place where the only thing tugging at you will be a fish. I couldn't slide out early enough to make it to Lunker City, a two-hour drive. So I did what big people do: I waited until 4:59 and hit the gas for Fallback Flats. The way I look at it, thirteen inches of fish is a hell of a lot more than zero inches, which is what you catch if you stay home.
Traffic was worse than usual and I knew I'd be lucky to get an hour on the water. Redemption came just as the sun was becoming tangled in the trees and three night herons flapped silently overhead (why is it getting to be that you see more kinds of wild birds near cities than in the country?). I was massaging the rocky bottom just upstream of the ledge with a four-inch Scoundrel "live"-colored worm (call me crazy, but I was actually fishing a worm-colored worm) Texas-rigged on an 1/8-ounce slip sinker, when there came the most tentative of taps, the twitch of a sleeping baby's finger. I raised my rod tip and held my breath, not quite sure I'd felt what I thought I'd felt. When I felt a second bump, I set that hook like it was connected to the backside of an IRS auditor. The ball of adrenaline on the other end began stripping six-pound on a diving break for points north and east and I just held on. My spinning reel was making a sound like someone pulling masking tape off a roll, my arms were shaking, and I knew instantly this was not a catfish because although the fish stayed down, the line was cutting all through the water in a kind of fevered handwriting that could only spell "smallmouth."
I couldn't remember if this was the rod I hadn't changed line on for three months or the fresh one, and I didn't have time to check. But I made a bunch of promises about product loyalty to whoever's line this was, because I wanted this fish. He jumped once, fifteen yards out and as big as I'd imagined, then put on a final surge close to the boat when he saw what I looked like. But I kept pressure on him, and then it was over. He was dark and heavy, and as soon as I lifted him the hook fell from his mouth and thocked the deck of the canoe as if he'd been holding on to it out of pure courtesy.
"Oh, buddy, look at you," I said, as if greeting an infant. I held him down gently with one hand and measured with the other. When stretched full out, my hand measures exactly nine inches from thumb to little finger. The bass was all of that and an inch more and just over three pounds on my right-hand heft-ometer. He stared back with his wild orange eye and snapped his body, refusing to be friends. How many thousand empty casts had I made at this place to arrive at the one connecting me to this creature? I had the sensation of watching an odometer turn over, of it all beginning again.
I lowered him back into the water, my thumb still in his mouth, and swished him back and forth a couple of times while he lay stunned. I don't think anybody had ever treated him in this manner before. He wasn't used to it. Suddenly, with a vicious swipe of his head, he was gone. I held my hand up. There was a little line of blood coming from where he'd nicked my thumb. I sucked it and smiled. The sun had gone for the night, leaving a soft molten glow on the underside of the farthest clouds.
I was back the next morning before the crowds, armed with fresh line and high hopes that the river hadn't undergone a mood swing during the night. It hadn't. I hammered them. I got 'em on the Scoundrel, on a three-inch white grub, on a six-inch red shad Slug-Go with insert weights. They weren't in the eddies or more obvious still water, but holding in the tiniest pockets in relatively strong current about four feet deep. None were as big as the one from the night before, but by fallback standards they were trophies. I didn't keep strict count, but I bet there were five fish in the 14–16-inch range, including one brawler who got loose in the boat and fought his way forward until he wrapped himself up in my sweatshirt. I fished for several hours, concentrating so hard it was like being in a trance.
When I finally took a break, everything around me seemed more vivid: the throbbing of a drowned limb caught in the current, the river's endless self-applause as it completed a little ladder of riffles, the ancient scalloped rocks that look like shoulder blades. You can fish for years, not thinking about anything but where your next cast will be, and then look up and see everything around you as if it had just been created. That's how it felt that day.
I wasn't able to get back to that place for a week, and then I found about what I expected, which wasn't much. But it was okay. I'd had my moment of glory, the mystery had been restored. About a month later a friend called up and said he'd like to get out on the water.
"I don't have much time," he said almost apologetically, "but we could hit that place nearby on the river if you're up for it."
"You think we're gonna catch anything there?" I asked, not having decided whether I wanted to tell what had really happened.
"Well, prob'ly not," he admitted. "I just want to get out. But we gotta get lucky there someday."
"Come on over," I told him. "We'll give it a shot."CHAPTER 3
SHOPPING IS FUN, BUT NOT FOR MEN
I have just made the biggest mistake of my life. I have agreed to go shopping with my current girlfriend. "C'mon," she urged. "We'll start small. A shirt and a pair of pants. You dress like you haven't bought any clothes in twenty years." Actually, it's only been ten years. It was at Sunny's Surplus, the one in Georgetown. I bought nine identical pairs of black socks. I understand that is also where Ralph Nader shops.
We leave behind the world of sunlight and fresh air as we descend into the fifth circle of Mazza Gallerie in my Honda. Lose your ticket stub and you stay here until Jesus comes back. "Where are we going?" I ask as calmly as possible. "Filene's," says my companion. "You'll like it. It's cheap." We take the elevator up with a young women's professional gum-chewing team. All have on the kind of canvas coats men wear on dairy farms. "Tourists?" I whisper. "No. Those are barn jackets. They're in."
On the way to Filene's we pass stores that are anything but cheap. Places that sell only Belgian chocolate molded into shapes like a tennis racket or a woman's leg or a Mercedes hood ornament. Places that sell platinum fountain pens shaped like overstuffed sausages and endorsed by men who have walked on the moon. A store that sells only bonsai trees. There is a sign in the window: will hold your tree while you shop. Why bother? They could just pin it to your lapel.
It's warm and airless in Filene's, which appears to operate without sales staff, just people who put merchandise back on hangers after it has been flung on the ground and trampled. Men, I am reminded as my brain begins to shut down, are basically hunters. We like to focus on a single thing to the exclusion of all else, stalk or run it to ground, and then kill it with spear or credit card. Then we go watch television. Women are gatherers. They have wide-angle vision and can actually look at hundreds of things simultaneously, imagining how they would taste or feel, what they could be combined with, and how often they would need to be dry-cleaned. What's more, women can do this for virtually unlimited amounts of time. My friend, I'm vaguely aware, is as charged as the Energizer Bunny, while I've got all the zip of a man on a chloroform binge.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "You're Not Lost if You Can Still See the Truck"
Copyright © 2014 Bill Heavey.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I: Taking the Bait, 1988–1999,
Shopping Is Fun, but Not for Men,
Monster in a Box,
The Girls of Summer,
A Chip off the Old Root,
Can I Tell You Something?,
A Bowhunting Obsession,
It's a Bass World After All,
A Morning in the Blind,
Alone with a Pretty Woman in a Small Room with a Big Mirror,
Birth, Death, and Doves,
Truce and Consequences,
Part II: It's Always November Somewhere, 2000-2004,
American Scene: Rod and Reel Repair,
Finally ... Uncle Danny,
Suddenly, She Was Gone,
A Sportsman's Life: Drum Roll,
Spring Canoe Tricks,
The Kid in the Photo,
None Dare Call It Happiness,
Only So Many,
As Good as It Gets,
All Alone in Tarpon Paradise,
Good Cop, Bald Cop,
Part III: Not Entirely Untrue Stories, 2005–2009,
The 2005 Elmer Awards,
Lost in the Woods,
Stalking the Highlands,
Always on Call,
The Wild Card,
A Sinking Feeling,
I've Been Caught,
Have Gun, Will Travel?,
What I Believe,
You Can't Touch This,
How to Be the Man,
Part IV: I Wouldn't Try That if I Were Me, 2010–2014,
The Last Mountain Man,
Salute to Turkeys,
None for All,
My Late Season,
Making the Cut,
Casting a Spell,
Caulk This Way,
Son of a Gun,
The Old Warrior,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You don't have to be an outdoorsman to love Heavey's writing. He really is an Everyman stuck in the body of a 20th century suburban male.