Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Reading: Steve Earle's I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive

I don't read a lot of books in my spare time.  Whereas my wife can devour a full length novel in a matter of hours, it generally takes something pretty compelling to draw me in and hold my interest (perhaps that's a refined way of saying I have a short attention span).

Either way, that wasn't an issue with I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, the first full-length novel by hardcore troubadour Steve Earle.  Clocking in at 256 pages, it's not an intimidating tome, but you'll find yourself wishing it was a lot longer as you delve into it.

It's a quirky story that takes place in 1963 on the seamy side of San Antonio.  The story's protagonist is Doc Ebersole, a morphine-addled doctor that supports his habit by performing flophouse abortions.  He's haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams, aided by a young illegal Mexican immigrant with strange powers, and pursued by a priest that may not always be doing the Lord's work.  Still with me?

It does require a certain suspension of disbelief by the reader, but it's pretty easy to get sucked in by Earle's writing and storytelling.  And it's almost physically painful to read his description of Doc's self-destructive addiction -- demons that Earle fought firsthand for a number of years.

The novel -- along with his new album of the same title -- mark a strong resurgence of this talented artist.  I had grown tired of his leftist screeds and these efforts are a welcome departure.  Both were composed during a time in which the 56-year-old Earle lost his father, and it shows.  Throughout the novel and the album, he thoughtfully grapples with death, yet both writing and recording are ultimately about redemption.

The book feels like it probably should have gone on a little longer -- the end seems a bit forced -- but it's a fun read nonetheless.  "Wrestling a novel to the ground was about 100 times harder than I expected," Earle told the L.A. Times. "In the middle of it, I swore I'd never do it again. But now that it's done, I've got another idea."

We're waiting, Mr. Earle.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Back From Paradise

Pardon my absence from the blogosphere, but I've got good reason.  Mrs. Scampwalker and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary recently in Belize.  And what a terrific place it is.  The people are friendly, the weather is sunny, and the scenery is exceedingly beautiful.

We based out of the Xanadu Resort on Ambergris Caye.  They were excellent accommodations, and Ambergris was developed, yet still had a rustic charm.  The tallest building on the island was two stories, so it's definitely less glitzy and obnoxious than many Caribbean destinations.

We ate fresh seafood nonstop -- including spiny lobster, which had just come into season.

We also swam with the seafood, including these rather sizeable (yet ostensibly harmless) nurse sharks.  The Belize Barrier Reef is about a mile off the coast of Ambergris Caye, and at 185 miles long, it's the second largest reef in the world.  And that makes for some truly breathtaking snorkeling.

The fishing ain't bad either.  Not being much of a fly fisherman, I opted to take Mrs. S on an evening fishing excursion among the mangroves.  We tore up the snapper, grouper, and jack crevalle.  I swear our guide Armando was the prototype for Hemingway's Santiago in Old Man and the Sea.

And while we didn't do battle with a marlin, I won't soon forget the brief after-sundown battle my wife waged against a 60-pound tarpon. The beast tail-danced just like I've always read about, and it was an amazing sight reflecting off the full moon's glow.

Not a bad way to celebrate with a woman who's put up with the likes of me for 20 years!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Adieu, LuLu.

Today is the day that every parent works toward, yet somewhat dreads.  Their kid is going to college.

It's still a ways away for my God-given progeny, but my other pride and joy -- my 16-month-old pointer LuLu -- is headed to charm school today.  She's been a terrific young dog and a pleasure to train with a ton of natural ability.  But I'm smart enough to realize that I don't have the time, knowledge, patience, or wild birds to help her reach her full potential.

Enter Nolan Huffman.  I was introduced to Nolan and his wife Danelle last fall while chasing birds last October up near Lewistown, Montana.  But his reputation preceded him.  A season before, I had the treat of hunting in Aspermont, Texas on Rick Snipes' ranch, and he proudly told me his string of pointers had been trained by Nolan.  So it all kind of came together for me.

Jack and I are driving to Waverly, Nebraska this afternoon to meet Nolan at the NSTRA Performance Classic Trial and drop off LuLu.  Nolan is no slouch in the NSTRA, winning this year's South Carolina Regional and the 2010 Grand National Invitational last year.

From there, he'll head up to his training grounds around Lewistown, and he'll have LuLu until we come up to hunt in October.  I am expecting great things in the next four months (no pressure, Nolan).

It's a sad time (not so much for the kids, who are the primary turd shovelers), but also an expectant time.  Wish us all luck!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Getting Technical with L.L. Bean

Glove Love: Bean's new Technical Upland Shooting Gloves
It's still months before any of us can fire the first shot of the 2011-2012 upland hunting season, but if you're like me, you're already spending time daydreaming about this fall. I typically spend this time of year organizing my gear and (much to the chagrin of Mrs. Scampwalker) spend more than a little time online scoping out new must-have stuff.I've been impressed with some of the newer gear that's being marketed by L.L. Bean, including their Technical Upland Boots, and I recently posted on that particular product's uncertain status. Despite that setback, the Bean guys are still rolling out some really interesting new technical gear for this fall.

As promised, here's a recap of the email interview I did a week or two ago with Jeff Miller, L.L. Bean's Senior Developer for the Tecnical Upland line.

How did the Technical Upland concept originate at LL Bean?

I had been wearing traditional upland pants for many years and frankly they served me pretty well but when I was hiking, fishing or dog training I was typically wearing some "climbing" pant or similar which gave me a great range of motion with more dynamic fabrics and gusseted knees. They were pretty durable, wicked moisture well and dried quickly. If they would turn briars a little better I'm certain I would have reached for them in the fall. As I thought about it more it seemed relatively silly that the upland market hadn't taken advantage of new fabrics and designs that much of the outdoor market was enjoying. So we designed the Technical Upland Pant using a relatively lightweight polyester fabric with a little stretch and great moisture management as far as wicking and fast drying, great articulation through the nylon reinforced knees and then trimmed the cuffs with a bomb-proof, body armor fabric to keep the cuffs from fraying all apart in a season or two. We had some success and have been building on it ever since.

The Performance Hunter Orange Cap -- not your grandaddy's lid!

Hunters are a pretty traditional lot, and your Technical Upland line features a lot of new fabrics, styles and designs. What kind of feedback have you gotten from bird hunters on them?

Hunters are fairly traditional and Upland Hunters are the most traditional (exception maybe waterfowlers) and wasn't even sure if the market would be ready to accept "technical". Thankfully the were ready and have carved a nice little niche in the upland market - with more and more guys interested every year. We do hear about those that are still reluctant to give up their tried and true favorites but I have heard very few that have tried any of the Technical pieces that didn't absolutely love them. Now we all still have traditional pieces in our "quiver" - I mean it's all about the gear - but I think most are finding themselves reaching less and less for them and are preferring the benefits that some of this new stuff brings to the table. Overwhelmingly the feedback continues to be very positive.
What kind of customer is gravitating to the Technical Upland line? Traditional LL Bean customers, or are you getting new ones? My guess is that they skew a bit younger and more receptive to non-traditional designs... is that off base?

I don't think that is off base at all and I think its those same customers that, like me, have been using more technical pieces for their other outdoor endeavors. So yes, I'd say we have gained some new customers with this technical assortment and we have also engaged many of our traditional customers in it as well.

L.L. Bean is continually improving its popular (and bombproof) Upland Briar Shirt.
Note: Bean realizes that some of us use our LEFT shoulder to mount a gun!
What new Technical Upland goodies will Bean offer for the upcoming hunting season?

Well specifically to the Technical Upland assortment, we have only added a performance hunter orange hat - inspired by running ball caps - with tremendous moisture management/movement and ventilation and a shooting glove - inspired by mechanic/motocross gloves - with great dexterity, protection and a form fit. Now I will also add that we updated our traditional strap vest (Pa'tridge Strap Vest) with a great shoulder harness/lumbar belt system which should make a popular traditional piece even more functional and yet still maintain a traditional look. We didn't classify it in the technical assortment but it's a nice" bridge" piece for the guy looking for updated technology in a traditional design.

L.L. Bean's New Pa'tridge Strap Vest - Note the new lumbar support strap.

Beyond apparel, what other Bean gear is new or unique this year for the upland bird hunter?

Beyond apparel/vests/packs for the upland guy we didn't find or develop much other than a cool little bird and trout knife. It's hard to find gear or even ideas for new hardgoods in this category - short of dog supplies - what's an avid upland guy need (specific to upland)??

Between us, Jeff, we both know it has nothing to do with NEED.  But it sure is nice to get some new kit now and then, and I applaud you for your innovation.  You keep building it, we'll keep buying it!