Lighter Side
October 26th, 1998
"Just Me and My Jacket"

By Jerry Dennis

Excerpt from A Place on the Water
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, New York, NY
Thanks Jerry!

"My wife can't understand why I choose to remain ignorant of outdoor fashions. Contrary to what she thinks, I do not hate clean clothes or hope secretly for opportunities to roll around in mud. I must admit I prefer well-worn clothing, but I don't necessarily want it unwashed. It's true that as a child I slept with my dog, but not until he had dried off from the day's explorations and never if he had rooted around that day in the fish that sometimes washed up dead on the beach near our house. I might be a bit of a slob, but I have certain standards.

The truth is, when it comes to clothing, I just can't keep up with technology. While many of my friends have been converted to Gore-Tex and Thermax and those other super-synthetics that were discovered accidentally in corporate labratories and tested in outer space, my favorite article of clothing remains a red-and-black wool hunting jacket. It is a jacket essentially unchanged since the days of ax-slinging lumberjacks. My grandfather worn one just like it, along with red wool pants that fastened snugly around his ankles. Seeing me in my jacket, Gail once suggested that in a previous life I inhabited an unchinked log cabin near James Bay and passed my days on snowshoes, tending a trap-line, and making smoked jerky out of hunks of moose meat. It's an attractive idea.

Any jacket as dependable, warm, and comforting as mine is worth defending to the death. Unlike the modern synthetic models I've handled, mine is pleasantly heavy. You know you're wearing it. It's as satisfying to heft around on your shoulders as a well-loaded packpack. It's durable in the manner of good leather boots and it's equipped with so many pockets I'm still discovering new ones. Pockets are important to me. I like to put my hands inside and be surprised at what I find: a flattened pack of Doublemint, a book of impotent maches, pinecones, fossils, a berserk compass, one jersey glove, a magnifying glass, a twenty-gauge shotgun shell, a grouse feather, a packet of crumpled and arcane notes to myself. Whenever any small but important object somes up missing around home my kids automatically look in Dad's jacket pockets. Even if it's not there they come away contented, certain to have discovered something of equal or greater value.

These days, when so many people outdoors appear to have stepped from the pages of an L.L. Bean catalog and invariably examine the labels on your clothing before they meet your eyes, it's satisfying to believe fashion is irrelevant. I want functional clothing that leaps beyond trends to comfort and durability. My coat is appropriate whether I'm canoeing on brisk September mornings or fishing for December steelhead; it works equally well for grouse hunting, cross-country skiing, hiking, or cutting firewood. When camping I roll it inside a cotton sweatshirt and it becomes a pillow. In a pinch I could use it to smother a brushfire or signal a rescue plane. I can wad it, beat it, wipe my hands on it, drag it through brambles, toss it in a corner, stand on it barefoot while drying my socks over a fire, even spill Craig Date's industrial-formula Texas chili on it without fear of spontaneous combustion. If I were desperate enough I suspect I could boil it down into a nutritious broth. It never berates me for the abuse it suffers and it stays warm even when wet. And when wet it smells - faintly, just enough to recall old friends - like a wet golden retreiver.

I realize my jacket needs washing, and has for several years, but the label under the collar says it must be dry-cleaned and I don't trust the chemical processes used in dry cleaning. Besides, you can't actually notice it needs washing unless you get very close. The red- and-black color scheme is designed to mask stains, and when dirty the wool improves in wearability and maybe even increases in insulation value.

My jacket and I will probably never be asked to model for the cover of Gentleman's Quarterly, but we can live with that. I figure it's the fashion world's loss." ~ Jerry Dennis

For more of Jerry Dennis's insights, read the excerpts from the River Home below.

You Might Be A Fly Fisherman If...| River Home, Part 1
River Home, Part 2 | Creative Counting
Best By Test| E Pluribus Unum
All About Entomology| Fly Tying Types
Brook Trout
Going crazy; the World's Smartest Fishing Dog (#1)
Crazy Man|

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