The urge to acquire must be hard-coded in us.
I’m not overly susceptible to the Siren Song of Stuff – sloth and gluttony are my vices of choice – but I’m not deaf, either. I heard the call this morning, when, for the first time in months, maybe years, I had to go stuff shopping.
Kevin and I are visiting our friends Dave and Bonnie, who live on the outskirts of Manchester, Vermont, in the Green Mountains. We’re here to hunt deer, and there were a couple of items I needed. First on the list was a pair of pants. Last year, I made do with a pair of beige wool slacks. They were the dress-up kind – Ann Taylor, I think – not the outdoorsy kind, but I figured once I had a coat and boots on, they would look just like those old-fashioned wool pants they sell for the purpose. And they were fine. They were warm, they were beige, they were fine. Then, at the end of the season, I put them in the laundry, in open defiance of the “dry clean only” tag. “Shrink” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Next on the list was a pair of hiking boots. I own a pair of outstanding boots – Lowas – that are about eight years old. I hadn’t worn them in a couple of years, and they were in a plastic box in the basement. I took them out, dusted them off, and wore them to the range last week.
They fit as well as I remembered, and as Kevin and I walked down-range to hang targets, I was congratulating myself for having sprung for the expensive boots, boots that give proper support, have the right kind of cushioning, and last a lifetime. Then I felt a weird kind of drag on my right heel, like I had stepped on something that was trailing behind me. When we got to the bench, I found that the heel had essentially rotted in half, and the bottom of the sole had separated from the rest of the boot.
Next trip to the targets, the whole damn sole came off, and I was flapping around like something out of Mad magazine.
If there is any place on earth where you want to look competent and in-control, it’s the rifle range. Everyone there has loaded guns, and we all know our lives depend on our fellow-shooters’ ability to handle weapons safely. You simply do not want to look like an idiot.
As a rule, Kevin helps protect me from doing really stupid things. The first time we went to the range, he told me to bring earplugs, since we didn’t have any of those big earmuffs people use to muffle sound. But I had a better idea, and I packed the Bose noise-canceling headphones. When we got there, I was about to put them on, and he stopped me.
“You can’t use those,” he said, taking them out of my hands.
“Why not?” I asked. “They’re noise-canceling.”
He pointed to the long curly cord. “What are you going to do with that?”
I considered. “I’ll tuck it in my sweater.”
He didn’t say it then, but I know it now. You don’t want to look like an idiot at the rifle range. So the whole flapping sold thing was extremely unfortunate. Back at the bench, I held my boot up, and Kevin pulled the sole completely off. And then he did the other one, which had also started to go.
That’s why I was shopping this morning. And Mission: Acquisition took me to H.N. Williams General Store, in Dorset, where Dave sent me.
You have to love H.N. Williams General Store. On the outside, it looks like just what you think a Vermont general store should look like. On the inside, it has a complete supply of hardware, hunting and fishing gear, and outdoor clothing. The salespeople are suitably laconic. There’s a little café.
But it’s a diabolical little place. Just when you’re feeling all salt-of-the-earth, browsing the full Carhartt line, you get distracted by an extremely attractive line of jackets. Turns out they’re from a company called Ibex, which makes high-end merino wool clothing. Not just jackets, but base layers and socks and sweaters and pants.
It’s soft and beautiful and expensive. I have a soft spot for fine-spun wool, and I was hearing its call, loud and clear. I had to stand in front of the rack and take mental inventory of the clothing I already had that would serve the same function. (Silk base layer and a couple of ratty cashmere sweaters that are great for hunting.) I walked away, only to run into the rack of Gore-Tex hunting pants, with a price tag north of $200. And the boots …
I walked out with a pair of brown Carhartts with reinforced front panels (for crashing through brush), and a pair of hiking boots that were on super sale, made by a company called Irish Setter. But I could easily have spent many hundreds of dollars. This, despite the fact that I’ve been hunting for about seven seconds and have succeeded only in irritating some ducks.
There’s something disconcerting about using an activity that’s supposed to help you provide for yourself as an opportunity to buy. But it happens to me, over and over. There’s the super groovy Shimano composite fishing pole Kevin got me for my birthday. There’s my Ribb clam rake. And then there’s this rifle – a Marlin .308 with a 24-inch barrel, in stainless steel, thank you very much. I don’t have it yet, but I want it.
My friend Amanda lives in Portland, Oregon, and she told me that there is an entire store there devoted to homesteading supplies. You can buy greenhouse frames and solar set-ups and all-in-one canning kits – in stainless steel, thank you very much. Shop O Pioneer: The Homesteading Super Store!
On the one hand, as has been discussed here before, good tools and clothing and supplies outperform bad tools and clothing and supplies. But at some point the purchase is less about the incremental advantage than about the fun of owning really cool stuff.
Rifle season for deer opens tomorrow, and I’ll be hunting in a second-hand coat, with a sixty-year-old gun. I’ll be kept warm by a motley array of layers accommodated by pants that are a size too big. And I’m fine with that. I am. But there’s an Orvis outlet in this town, and if we happen to pass it, you’d better tie me to the mast.