By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
A picture of a woman dressed in an expensive burgundy dress wearing a pair of generic hip waders caught my attention. The hip waders were folded over below the knee, overlapping to the ankles with additional straps wrapped like bohemian braids, a stylish and purpose-defying statement of beauty stranded helpless in a fishing stream. The dress — $389; the imported earrings — $198; the deconstructed hip waders — $7.99; the girl hooking a salmon and filling her boots with water before falling in the drink — priceless.
The photos were themed to a world that doesn’t really exist: The chic outdoors. Creative backgrounds and props place models wearing expensive beaded halter dresses on horseback and chiffon ruffle tunics leaning against badly painted barns. While the reality would be closer to holding prom in a diesel shop, the clothes did look especially nice.
Back when I thought a balaclava was a Grecian dessert, I had no idea I’d one day be bulking up in layers and spreading Kenai River mud on my face to keep myself invisible to ducks.
After a few seasons in the field, I’d acquired a new wardrobe, one that contained the three Ws: windproof, waterproof and whiff-proof (scent-proof may be a better term, but it doesn’t start with “W,” and wombats aren’t really a problem in Alaska).
It wasn’t long after I started duck hunting that I bought my first pair of chest waders. The bulk was unfamiliar, so I kept tightening my shoulder straps. With the straps snug, I thought I looked all right. I took off across the Kenai River flats, which are not, as the name would indicate, always flat.
Getting down the first ravine was not a problem, even with a pack full of decoys, a full coffee thermos and provisions. Getting back out of the slough with my straps tightened to the point that my knees wouldn’t bend was not as easy. To make the ridge, I brought up my right foot, but I couldn’t make the final step. I fell straight back into the slough, my pack weighed me down like a turtle’s shell, my legs wiggling in the air.
My hunting buddy was laughing from the top as the sky opened up and the rain came down. I rolled around in the mud, trying to get up with restricted movement. Finally un-strapping my pack and my waders, I learned that the first rule of waders is to be able to get out of them.
The world of camouflage polyfibrous material was as foreign a subject to me as the outdoor experience itself. The fact clothing could make or break a hunting or fishing trip meant more than matching my shoes to my belt. The words “performance” and “adaptation” apply to the clothing itself.
The little-known fact by outsiders to the hunting world is the availability of camo patterns. What is now called “standard camo” or “old-school camo,” reminiscent of a military that fought in a jungle, has since been replaced by high-definition graphics or digital patterns. The average gathering of hunters can have as many as 15 camo patterns, including: Mossy Oak Duck Blind, Realtree, Trailblazer, Mossy Oak Break Up, Ground Swat, Predator, Seclusion, Realtree Hardwoods, Mossy Oak Treestand, Optifade, Brown Duck, Seclusion Open Country, Mossy Oak Brush, and Mossy Oak Blend.
My two favorites do not have nature-sounding names, Advantage Max-4 HD and Advantage Max-1 HD, code for a duck blind and a mountain top, respectively. The “HD” means that the pattern is the Blu-Ray of sharper image artistry.
As I pondered over the photograph of the vulnerable girl as much as tied to the railroad tracks with a river running through it, I wondered if outdoor-fitters would ever attempt to contrast their performance wear against unsuitable backdrops; Mossy Oak Brush chest waders in the Oval Office; blaze orange hunting vests in the typing pool; Winter Seclusion parkas on the beach.
I turned the page to find a pair of imported Italian heels next to a pineapple in a refrigerator. I’d never refrigerated my footwear, but maybe it was a good idea. Or maybe the sort of people who receive all four hardbound publications of the Cabela’s catalog aren’t impressed by duck-blind-on-a-cruise-ship images.
The outdoor world is a place where it’s either the results or the experience, I thought, setting aside the clothing catalog and picking up my hard-bound fall edition Cabela’s catalog.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. She can be reached at email@example.com.