New England Grouse Dreaming

For a few weeks in October New England forests are awash with an impressionist’s pastels. Soon the color drips in fallen leaves to the forest floor where grouse drum and the Robert Frost poem “October” (O hushed October morning mild; Thy leaves have ripened to the fall … .) seems to be whispered by the wind.

Now, though we’re seduced by the natural splendor, we’re careful how much we say so. Articulating such things just isn’t manly. It isn’t what hunters do. But, as I crumble under a maple on a colorful mountain, I know it isn’t just the cagey ruffed grouse that drew me north to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in late October.

I kick yellow leaves in frustration. I know too well why the word “grousing” was coined. I’d crunched down an overgrown logging road under trees shedding a rainbow of hardwood leaves and when the flush finally came the bird blasted off behind me. I turned, shot off balance and missed badly. The miss reminded me that New England grouse hunting is for masochists.

I grew up breaking brush and shouldering a gun all-of-a-sudden when this brown-and-gray game bird booms its wings and rockets up and twists away, giving glimpses when you’re fortunate. Now I’m reminded that the past can be mischievous, even a shape shifter. Time slips by but doesn’t just peel away as memories fade; no, they can also grow more golden—recollections thereby become masters of spin.

Maybe that’s what drew me north to hunt grouse. Surely I was influenced by memories whispering things like: Don’t you want to drive the meandering byways over red covered bridges? Don’t you want to see the autumn sun making color-splashed trees shine like fallen rainbows as you hunt for the explosive ruffed grouse? Come on, this is when the words from Corey Ford’s “The Road to Tinkhamtown” are tossed over a mountainous landscape; this is when grouse drum and woodcock wing through; this is when a bird dog becomes part of living art … . And so go the one-sided and awfully wistful deceptions.

Of course, I concede there must be sparks of truth in the remembrances because Corey Ford himself wrote in that elegant story: “The past never changes. You leave it and go on to the present, but it is still there, waiting for you to come back to it.”

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A Hemingway Kind of Year

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated. ” –Ernest Hemingway, from The Old Man and the Sea

It’s been a Hemingway sort of year for me. I followed his footsteps through Paris and drank martinis in the places he did and looked on the very paintings from Paul Cezanne and more he said shaped his writing. I then went to Pamplona and ran with the bulls and saw all he wrote about in The Sun Also Rises. I went with two friends—one new and one old—to the places in the Pyrenees where Hemingway fished for trout in Spain and wrote about deceivingly in The Sun Also Rises.

Finally, I went to sea and caught tarpon and tried and tried for a marlin like Hemingway loved to do. No marlin took the bait but that’s fishing too and is a lesson from The Old Man and the Sea, a story that lets us know we can try but can’t always succeed. Like much of Hemingway’s storytelling it tells us that whether we fail or succeed it’s how we handle winning and losing that really matters. And anyway, I caught jacks, snook and more and even helped save a sea turtle from a commercial fishermen’s net.

Also, an 80-pound tarpon I fought for 20 minutes and landed along Costa Rica’s east coast made me think of another Hemingway quote from The Old Man and the Sea: “Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so.”

Of Mice and Men

Sunday night I found myself cheering as Alex Rodriguez stomped on home plate after he smashed a homer off Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster. Now Rodriguez is hardly an example of what a man should be. Incredible athlete yes, but his ethics end when they get in his way and that’s not how a real man acts. That said, Sunday night’s game said something about manliness that must be noted.

In the second inning Dempster threw behind Rodriguez. Dempster then went inside on two pitches before drilling Rodriguez with a 92 mph fastball.

Home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora didn’t warn Dempster during the first three attempts to hit Rodriguez. Then when Dempster did hit Rodriguez, O’Nora didn’t toss Dempster. He just warned both benches—as if the Yankees deserved a warning.

Yankee Manager Joe Girardi got right in O’Nora’s face and was thrown from the game. Love, hate or tolerate Rodriguez, Girardi was standing up for his player and for what is right—that’s manly stuff. Girardi later said, “You can’t start throwing at people. Lives are changed by getting hit by pitches. Whether I agree with everything that’s going on, you do not throw at people and you don’t take the law into your own hands. You don’t do that. We’re going to skip the judicial system? It’s ‘My Cousin Vinny.'”

Even worse, when an umpire tolerates a player who intentionally hits another player the game falls apart. The umpire is the cop on the scene, the rule enforcer. When he decides to overlook such an obvious infraction he becomes complicit and the game becomes a farce.

Rodriguez’s home run exacted revenge and sparked a four-run sixth inning that lead the Yankees to a 9-6 victory. Rodriguez later said, “Whether you like me or hate me, that was wrong. It was unprofessional and silly.” Rodriguez is right about that much.

Dempster lied and said he’d been trying to throw inside to Rodriguez, a falsity that was supported by Red Sox manager John Farrell. By obviously lying both showed themselves to poor examples of men. They’d of been better off keeping their mouths shut—stoicism is often manly.

The only one who came out as a man was Girardi. Rodriguez became a sympathetic character for a moment—not an easy thing to accomplish—and Dempster lost the game and his machismo, saying, “I’m more disappointed in the fact that I couldn’t hold a 6-3 lead. That’s the bigger story.” No Dempster, that you behaved like a child and weren’t tossed for it is the story. That Rodriguez made you pay simply evened the score.

Why Some Run with Bulls

When I stepped on the crowded street in Pamplona, Spain, to run with bulls I thought of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” about being a man and remembered its first words: “If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs….” I knew I needed to find the zone, to be calm in myself while observing and moving properly with what was coming. So I stood still in my white pants and shirt, clothes that symbolize what Spanish peasants once wore, and red sash and bandana, which symbolize the blood of the martyred saint San Fermin that this festival celebrates, and waited within the nervous crowd. Most were young men. A few were young women. A young Brit asked me from which direction the bulls would be coming. I pointed back toward the bullpen and told him “if you’re knocked down near the bulls stay down.” He smiled. A young woman stomped by me in rubber boots. When someone said she shouldn’t run in those she shouted at him, “I don’t have anything else. I didn’t know I was going to do this.” Then she stomped off. Many of these people were there for the rush, to say they ran with the bulls. They didn’t know what it was about. This to me seemed like a good metaphor for life within a heedless populace. Then the crowd began to shudder. Ripples would roll through like shivvers of fear. A few began to run early. It was nearing 8 a.m. and soon we’d hear the rocket telling us the bulls were coming.

A man named Juan Macho, my guide to this ancient festival, taught me the rules to running. He showed me there is more depth to running with the bulls than an adrenaline rush. He introduced me to his circle of veteran runners. One gray-haired, little American who has been running for decades said, “If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much room.” Another gentleman was wearing a pin that said, “Down these mean streets a man must go.” After each run I’d ask both veterans and first-time runners why they did it and what it did for them. The common theme was that life must be lived, that playing it too safe all the time leads one to forget what life is all about, that no one lives forever. Some said when they get in the zone and find themselves running with bulls they experience something that’s almost out of body. They are in the street with the bulls of moving crowd in white and red and see themselves from afar. In the end they’ve learned to control their fear and that is something to help them live. All of them said they cherish the friends they’ve made in Pamplona—friendships made more intense by the shared experience of being close to fighting bulls.

I didn’t run every morning—the bulls run eight days in a row—but I got in the street again and again trying to understand, trying to get the perfect run. When the bulls come it’s over very fast. Sometimes they came uncomfortably close in the tight streets. One morning I was inches from the horns. People were hurt, some badly. Most walked away to the bars, jumpy from adrenaline and with the knowledge they’re alive.

Of course it is all much more complicated than this, but I’ll save the inside story about the tight group of veteran runners I spent the festival with, the religious foundation, the telling myths, the wild characters I met and the profound things they said for the book I’m working on.

Though as I write this and think about my runs and all those crazy people the last lines from Kipling’s “If” keep running through my head:


If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Hunters Have Always Loved Wildlife

While hunting for gemsbuck in South Africa in early June I heard rock carvings etched by Bushmen who knows how long ago were hidden in the rocks near an ancient waterhole. I’ve seen paintings and etchings from ancient hunters in New York, Utah and New Mexico. Later this summer I’m going to see ancient Spanish cave paintings. As a hunter I feel drawn to this prehistoric art. They say something about the connection hunters have with the wildlife that sustain us. Some think hunters today are trying to prove their manhood by killing. I think they’re right, but that the manhood they’re affirming is much deeper and more honest than killing to establish dominance or control. Hunting honestly is to connect yourself to nature and understand and love its process as you experience it. The ancient rock art and modern photos and more show that those who hunt tend to revere what they hunt. They’re connected to it in a very literal way. The Spanish writer Jose Ortega y Gasset said this well when he wrote, “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” I know this from experience and I know this can be very difficult to articulate to someone who only buys their meat and has become very disconnected from where their sustenance comes from. So I asked to see the Bushmen art and found that the etchings are just far enough away from the waterhole to allow the ancient hunters to hide and wait for game to come. The art is how a few Bushmen passed their time as they waited for game they revered to come.

The Gunny Likes My First Book!

A college chum who edits Tactical Knives magazine sent me this photo of R. Lee Ermey “The Gunny” with my first book. In his column “Gunny Back Talk” in the July issue of Tactical Knives Gunny answers the question, “Do you have a new book for us?” Gunny writes, “I sure do, and it’s one our readers are going to love. It’s called The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting, by Frank Miniter. There’s nothing flaky left-wingers and liberals hate more than hunting, and here’s a book that blows the antis’ viewpoints all to hell. This book shreds every anti-hunting argument to pieces…. If you’re a hunter, you’ve got to have this book to help you tell the next anti-hunter you meet to ‘Shove it!’” Nothing like an ultimate man giving you a nod of approval.

The Misunderstood Life of a Beretta Man

More Americans need to be acquainted with the Beretta man. He shows how millions of Americans see guns. The Beretta man has a shotgun that’s a work of art. It might be an over/under with a grainy walnut stock, blued metal and engravings of a bird dog and maybe a pheasant on its receiver. Or it might be a semi-automatic Benelli (a Beretta-owned company) with a carbon-fiber stock and inertia-driven action. In either case, the Beretta man stands with his back straight and the shotgun in the crook of his arm. He is wearing a shooting vest and shooting glasses. He has class. He is how James Bond would look if he went skeet shooting. He’s sophisticated, but hardly a snob. He has what the Spanish call duende, a characteristic James Michener said is almost indefinable, as it means something with taste, refinement, beauty, perfection and elegance all in just the right proportion and with no showiness at all. He is what the Japanese mean when they use the word shibui, which is something a Samurai tried to embody, but only could manage in fleeting moments when life and art meet before again separating with a bad gesture or misstep.

Of course, he isn’t any more real than James Bond. But what archetype is? He’s an American icon men want to be. He’s an ideal never reached but, if you do everything right, might be you for just a manly moment when you shoot a perfect round and thereby master yourself. In that moment a Spaniard might proclaim, “Gracia.” This is another word that deals not with things but with the essence of things and so is fleeting in an empirical age that trusts science to answer everything for us while disdaining the effervescent quality of philosophy. Though now misunderstood by op-ed writers at The New York Times, even the fashion set is aware of the Beretta man. Beretta, after all, has stores in Milan, Paris, London and New York. Oh, there’s one in Dallas, too.

This image is what President Barack Obama tried to represent when the White House leaked a photo of him “shooting skeet” with a shotgun held too horizontal for skeet shooting and with a choke missing from the bottom barrel (it takes two for skeet)—clear signs the shot was a stunt. Instead of being the Beretta man, Obama became a laughable parody of something he doesn’t understand, but at least on some level he knows such an archetype exists.

What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that, to people who want to be a Beretta man, or a Winchester man, or a Colt man … guns aren’t a negative thing; they’re a manly a thing a real man knows how to use safely and well. And therein lies the political miscalculation of anti-gun-freedom politicians.

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How “Facebook Friends” Can Be Pals

In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) used the term philía to define friendship as Platonic, virtuous love. Aristotle said philía is “wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him.” In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, friends and combined with a desire or enjoyment of an activity. Aristotle defined this characteristic to show the importance of true friendship between pals. Could we say this today about most of our Facebook friends? A more honest parlance would be “Facebook acquaintances” or in some cases simply “Facebook fans.” Not that Facebook is necessarily bad. Facebook friendships, rather, simply need to be seen for what they are.

In comparison, consider what C.S. Lewis had to say in his 1960 book The Four Loves C.S. Lewis argued that without a shared experience, a passion for a hobby or really anything that interests us that we share with another, friendship doesn’t grow or last. This is why friendships that aren’t about something are shallow and easily ended. This is why some high school or college pals fade away after graduation, as the shared experience of school is over. This is also why Facebook friends are only acquaintances until you find a shared experience with them.

Heroes Remembered

The Candlelight Vigil for Police Week took place on Monday (May 13) in Washington, D.C.’s Judicial Square. President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation in 1962 to designate May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. Police Week’s events have grown over the decades to become a time of celebration, mourning and a great coming together. This year’s Candlelight Vigil was an evening not destroyed by politicians. Thousands of officers and others filled the park. Many came days before to place wreaths and photos commemorating lost officers. An astounding 120 officers were lost in 2012. Though that number is much too high, it is thankfully a 50-year low.

After the event and meeting officers from around the country, I wondered about heroism in America again. Americans have a great capacity for selfless heroism. When the Boston bombers struck, many people ran toward the explosion. On September 11, 2001 hundreds of officers and firemen put themselves in harms way to save people they didn’t know. There are many more everyday examples occurring right now. Sometimes, however, I worry that even though many are heroic today we are nevertheless starting to lose touch with what heroism is. We too often herald the individual’s action, but then fail to equate the heroic act with the fallible individual. By doing so we unconsciously allow the hero’s code, act and even epitaph to fade away, as if a person can’t truly be a hero, but can only for a short time do a heroic thing. This is why today the only people we’re all ready to still call heroes are those who have died trying to do good. This leaves us without living heroes for the rest of us to meet and try to emulate and understand. Conversely, it leaves us without fallen heroes and the examples they give. (Sorry, fictional characters don’t count. Movie characters can help, but in the end they’re too flat-screen thin to be role models.) It seems to me heroes surround us and we need to see them for who they are and hold them accountable when they fail.

All that said, the police, firemen, nurses and more aren’t heroic simply because they wear uniforms that declare they’re prepared to be heroes. They still have to live up to what a hero is supposed to be. And therein is the crux of the problem: if we allow ourselves to lose touch with what makes a living hero, then we could lose true heroism altogether.

What Happened to Statesmen?

Some journalists are now questioning the hubris of our modern political class. Mike Allen does this in Politico, as does Keith Koffler. Not long ago even Tom Brokaw criticized the White House Correspondents Dinner. He even refused to go this year. He explained himself to Politico by saying, “The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan. She became a big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break.”

Back in 1978 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel Prize winning author who’d exposed Stalin’s prison camps and other atrocities at his own peril with books such as The Gulag Archipelago, gave a speech at Harvard that pointed out the underlying reason for current political class’s lack of statesmanship. As a Soviet during the Cold War, people thought Solzhenitsyn would simply sing the praises of Western democracy; he did, but he also shocked his audience by pointing out the shortfalls of overzealous Western legalism by saying things such as, “Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.”

He accused the West of lacking courage. He said, “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.”

Sometimes it’s hard for a person or people to clearly see things in themselves. Sometimes it takes a person from afar to point them out. That is what Solzhenitsyn’s speech did. It underlies the foundational reason why so many politicians are losing their statesmen qualities today and becoming shallow egotists. Many don’t think they need to follow a code of honor; instead, they think what matters most is how big a deal they are.