To everything there is a season, and in my life, winter has arrived. But heck, I like winter too. The ducks and geese I once followed south are soon to make their trip without me. The yeller suckers I waited for below flowing river shoals each spring will soon come there not knowing I ever watched the clear cold water for their arrival with such enthusiasm. I hope so anyway, but there are far fewer of them each year.
I have written an outdoor column since I was 18 years old for some newspaper or another. Over the years my columns on the outdoors have appeared in more than 220 newspapers in five different states. I don’t think I have missed a single week since then, sending a column to someone, sometimes two per week. There have been, since I started to college, about 4,600 of them. Maybe that is enough.
It is easy for me to write a newspaper column, I likely could do two or three a week, columns about what I have seen in the woods or on the river, or columns to make readers laugh. But I have also done it because I felt I had a message of conservation to get out. However, now journalism has changed so much I cannot be a part of it and a message of conservation is of no value. Almost all of today’s outdoor writers live inside the city limits somewhere and there are tons of them. They consistently write what has been done to death… ’take a kid fishing’ and what the new technology is in bows, or fishing reels, or what new shotgun Remington is putting out. They tell you how to filet a crappie, how to train your dog.
I never did live inside city limits anywhere, even in college. I got my degree in wildlife management from the University of Missouri, but I learned about the outdoors in the outdoors. I was naturalist for two state agencies in Arkansas, paid not to sit behind a desk but to explore the wilder places in Arkansas, and make reports on the areas I felt should be protected. I was also a paid naturalist for the National Park Service on the Buffalo River
No newspaper I have ever written for ever questioned whether or not I knew what I was writing about. But now, most all of them question if it has any importance or not, whether or not anyone cares any more. “Sure, you had a great time on the Big Piney when you were a kid fishing and hunting with your grandfather and dad,” one editor told me, “and you could drink the water and catch 40-pound catfish on trotlines. But your grandpa and dad and uncles are all dead, and soon your generation will all be gone, too.”
He went on to say that readers today couldn’t care less if the holes in the Buffalo or Current or Big Piney are filling in with silt and gravel. If there is coliform bacteria from cattle in the water, they don’t see it, and if slime covers the rocks in the river and the lakes it is of no importance to a thirty year old that never saw it like I did. There’s a lot of truth in that. Today’s river floaters don’t seem to mind toilet paper or a few beer cans on gravel bars, if the water is flowing fast and they get a good ride. A hellbender or flathead cat doesn’t mean a thing to 90 percent of them, because they don’t know what they are, never saw one.
“In 20 years,” he said, “no one will care about what you are trying to save.”
He was brutally telling me that my life trying to save something of the wild Ozarks through my writing was wasted. If the concept of conservation isn’t dead, it has turned 180 degrees. I have tried to be voice for the ordinary common Ozark folks who have been unjustly targeted and prosecuted by a corrupt Conservation Department. I have tried to point out that public owned areas which the department owns are being stripped of timber by contract private loggers, and that public owned upland game tracts are being destroyed by contracted farm interest… all for a percentage of the money. It mattered once, but most of those readers are dead now.
Am I wrong to believe there is something in such places more valuable to a future time than the money derived from ruining them? It might be that I am. Will any 13-year old kids grow to manhood wishing there were coveys of quail to hunt? Will there be any of them wanting to hunt squirrel and rabbits in the Ozarks, or catch a goggle-eye?
So it all comes down to this… I am not going to stop what I am doing to write fluffy articles about what to put in your bird feeder or how to filet a crappie. So maybe, as a writer who points out what the Conservation Department is doing that they do not want you to know, I am not what today’s newspaper readers want to read. Certainly I am not writing what newspaper editors want. From many of them you will not see this column again.
One of the old-time editors I respect very much is Rob Viehman with the Cuba and Steelville MO. newspapers and he told me that his readers tell him they are not interested in my views about the Conservation Commission or what they are doing wrong so he only uses what that group does not object to. For many years the MDC has been asking people who are oblivious to what they do, to complain about what I write.
Rob Viehman has not seen the two-foot high stack of letters and hundreds of emails I have from readers who have asked me to do more to expose what is going on. I am going to see to it that my friend, Rob, sees them. Right now, I would like for those who read this to send their opinions to me so I can send them to editors all over the Ozarks. If you dislike what I write about the corruption and disdain for human rights I have seen over the years, tell me that, and tell me why. If you think otherwise, tell me so.
I will use letters from both sides in my next magazine.
On April 13 I will spend most of a day with the director of the MDC and I will write about that day and what she says about what I am going to show her. But I want to hear from readers, and I will continue this column until October, when I will likely fade off into the sunset, having outlived my purpose as an outdoor writer.
Many if not most, of this region’s newspapers won’t use anything they feel the MDC doesn’t want known. Some newspapers would rather use something the MDC sends them free, and that is the problem. This department controls so much of the news media, you will not much longer be able to read anything they disapprove of.
My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers… please, please let me hear your opinions… I want to send them to Rob and other editors.