As an outdoor writer, the biggest reward for me is positive feedback from readers. Sometimes, when you really make a connection, a reader will be moved to let you know. This a special moment for any writer. For what you the writer have done, with your words, is help a reader express, and perhaps understand, his own feelings or treasured recollection about an outdoor experience.
Among contemporary American outdoor writers there is one who really makes that connection for me. Dan Aadland. A rancher, horseman, and avid hunter from Absarokee, Montana, Aadland has just released another book. His other hunting book, “The Best of All Seasons: Fifty Years as a Montana Hunter,” is a real keeper! His newest book is “In Trace of TR.”
TR, in case you haven’t guessed, is Teddy Roosevelt, our former president and the iconic father of the American conservation movement. This excerpt from the book’s dust jacket outline’s Aadland’s quest with his new book: “Dan Aadland has long felt a kinship with Theodore Roosevelt. One day, on a single-footing horse, lever action rifle under his knee, Aadland set out to become acquainted with TR as only those who shared his experiences could. In “Trace of TR” documents that quest, inviting readers to ride along and get to know Theodore Roosevelt through the western environment that so profoundly influenced him.”
To me, Teddy Roosevelt has always been a fascinating American leader, with much having been written about his life.To his credit, Aadland did his spadework and dug deeply into the historical backdrop behind TR’s love affair with the West. Aadland, however, did more than dig in the archives in his effort to get to know TR. He personally visited TR’s old haunts in the Dakota Badlands. He rode his horse on TR’s favorite ground and hunted the same coulees for antelope and elk. He visted the site of TR’s beloved ranch, the Elkhorn.
This is a wonderful read. Like a glass of well-aged whiskey, it goes down smooth and warms you through and through. Aadland’s prose is as worthy of superlatives as outdoor writing can be. Aadland is hard-pan honest, refreshingly authentic, and always thoughtful in his work. He paints pictures of the West with words on paper almost as deftly as Remington did with oils on canvas. Best of all, Aadland overcame his biggest writing challenge, if you ask me. He did, indeed, connect with TR. And he did so in a smooth, seamless way, crafting a relationship with TR out of common ground and shared avocations — hunting and horsemanship.
“And it seems as if I’ve barely missed TR, as if he, Merrifield, and the weather-beaten plainsmen were hunting here mere days ago. A century and a quarter is a mere skip in time between hunters’ hearts,” writes Aadland.
Teddy Roosevelt, like the rest of us, was a flawed human being for all of his legendary feats and accomplishments. Because he did so much for American game conservation and preservation of wild and scenic places, we are rarely told about TR’s conversion. For many years, as hunter, TR was a greedy, rapacious guy, killing far more wild animals than he or his friends could ever eat! Aadland doesn’t let TR off the hook in this regard. In fact, he takes the icon to the woodshed.
“Here again we have the paradox: the father of American conservation, the man we know as having had not only the ethic but the political power to effect changes that have given the modern American hunter nearly everything he or she currently enjoys, seems no better than the extermination of the bison when you consider his total take of game on this one trip to the Big Horns. Morris tallies TR’s total take of animals and birds on his forty-seven day Big Horn safari, including those shot on the return trip to Elkhorn, at 170 critters! “
While Aadland concedes that his book-writing journey with TR left him with a lot of “admiration for one of the most remarkable men I have known,” he adds that there “is no hero worship here. Toward the end of the book, Aadland gets introspective about the connection he forged in writing “In Trace of TR. “At what point does another, long dead, his time having come and gone, become a fellow human being, an acquaintance, even a friend? I suppose this stage is reached when one no longer simply thinks about the person, but begins to feel happiness at his happiness, sorrow at his sorrow. I am there.”
Mark my words, if you are a hunter, an outdoors person, a history lover, or, like me, a person merely fond of the West, you will really enjoy riding along with Dan Aadland in the Big Open as he forges what he calls “simpatico” with Theodore Roosevelt, the hunter and horseman.
In “Trace of TR,” by Dad Aadland, published by University of Nebraska Press, is available on Amazon.com and at book stores.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal and has written his first book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.