My birthday present came in the mail today. It's a little late, but right on time...as great presents can often be. I bought it for myself. A little something to celebrate year number 51.
So I'm sitting here at my table. Holding this book in my hands
and almost not wanting to open it for fear it will do one of two things:
Make me regret buying it because I can't ever go back to this time again.
Or make me regret buying it, because after 40 years, maybe my memories of Gene Hill and the "Hill Country" column are kinder than the truth of his writing.
I quickly come to my senses...Mr. Hill was every bit the great writer.
Here's why he was so special to me...
I grew up loving the outdoors and wanting to hunt and fish. I would have easily spent every waking hour that I wasn't in school, either on the baseball diamond or beside "NoneSuch Creek" with my three best friends catching fish or -later when I was old enough- hunting for whatever was in season.
It wasn't just about having success...it was about being out there.
I drank my first cup of coffee at the Townsend Fire Hall Deer Hunter's breakfast. I walked miles and miles of hedgerow in St. Georges and at Phillips Nursery looking for rabbit. I ate packed lunches on hot summer afternoons at NoneSuch Creek and "The A-Bridge" and sneaking back into Smalley's Dam to fish with Johnny Wilkins and Richard Ferraro.
I learned to track deer. I learned how to smell the rain coming before it got there. I bought my first pocket knife at the Western Auto, to use on those excursions. I could decipher the call of the birds in the treetops. I learned how to set up a string of Canada Goose decoys.
Those days in the woods were about a lot more than just hunting or fishing. They were about moments.
I saved my paper route money when I was a kid and subscribed to Field and Stream. For me, the magazine was more than just good information, it was a script, of sorts. I would read about hunting Dall sheep in the Sierra and fishing for Steelhead on the Columbia and I would imagine what it would be like to do that with my dad. My father wasn't a part of my life then and my stepfather was not an outdoorsman at all and so I had to do these things by myself with my friends and their dads when I could. But when I would read about them in Field and Stream, I was there. I was out there with a really great Ithaca or a Purdy and a really smart, game, bird dog and I was taking quail with my dad and maybe my grandfather and I was where my heart always wanted to be.
Gene Hill's column was always on the very last page of Field and Stream. It had to be. The way he spun a wonderful, warm tale of the outdoors, there could be nothing after.
I guess I was nine or ten when I read him for the first time. From that day until this, I wanted to write like Gene Hill. I wanted to write like some others too...but Gene Hill was the very first author I ever read that I consciously made a connection with, and wanted to emulate. Gene Hill made you feel like you were in the blind with him, or walking that hedgerow with him as his champion Brittney Spaniel worked the honeysuckle.
And he made you feel like he really liked your being there.