The difference between journalism and literature is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.
"Nobody who loves to hunt feels absolutely hunky-dory when the quarry goes down," wrote Thomas McGuane in his now classic "The Heart of the Game," published in Outside's inaugural issue twenty years ago and reprinted here. " The remorse spins out almost before anything and the balancing act ends on one declination or another. I decided that unless I become a vegetarian, I'll get my meat by hunting for it. . . . I've seen slaughterhouses, and anyway, as Sitting Bull said, when the buffalo are gone, we will hunt mice, for we are hunters and we want our freedom."
Freedom was what Outside's
editors sought as well, as that first issue made abundantly clear. In this particular landscape, freedom meant an editorial ability to range near and far: Alongside McGuane's elegant, richly personal consideration of hunting were an article on the shock-troop ethos of Greenpeace; an examination of the egg; a melancholy report from paradise lost on the island of Kauai; reviews of the Minox 35EL camera, the Hi-Roller cowboy hat from Texas Hatters, and The Hallucinogenic and Poisonous Mushroom Guide; and a decidedly short story (188 words) by Richard Brautigan about a bicyclist and two dogs on a roof. Obviously no one was looking to get typecast at Outside
; not only would the magazine entertain a full array of subjects, but it would also air a wide spectrum of opinion as well--the better to keep the reader guessing and preserve, as editor-at-large David Quammen would put it years later, "the cacophonous disunity of souls." The one fixed requirement was that the writer, every writer, be skillful enough to pull it all off.
That the magazine was trying to stake out some wide-open territory in which to conduct its business, that it had journalistic and literary ambitions, was largely a response to the banality of much that was available to people who loved the outdoors and loved to read, circa 1977. Among magazines there were the traditional hunting and fishing and camping monthlies, some respectable if earnest back-to-the-land journals, and lest we forget, the long-standing "men's adventure" periodicals, which were still happily serving their readers a never-ending bounty of flesh-eating headhunters, exploding volcanoes, and blood-crazed wild beasts. There seemed to be no magazines about the outdoors that would have published the more lyric offerings of a contemporary Twain or Melville or Dinesen or Conrad, wilderness folks all. In fact, there was no publication that saw itself as a general-interest magazine about the outdoors and placed a premium on reporting and thinking and storytelling. To Outside
's editors and writers, there was no more perfect arena in which to probe the complexities of the human condition than the natural world, the world as it really is out there. And there was no better method of exploration than the long and demanding process of reporting and then writing--truly writing--about it. "I write because I hold the conviction, smarmy as it might seem, that we must give back to that from which we take," Bob Shacochis, the National Book Award winner and Outside
contributing editor, has said. "Take a penny, leave a penny. What I've most taken from in my life is the banquet table of literature. What most fulfills my sense of worth are my own attempts to contribute to the timeless feast, to keep the food replenished and fresh . . . 'There are no old myths,' the writer Jim Harrison once said, 'only new people.'"
The great Oakland Raider George Blanda once observed, "You stay in this game twenty-two years and things are gonna happen." Happily for us, they seem to have been happening right from the beginning. Through the years, the magazine has continued to interpret its mission broadly, seeking to evolve with the times, its readers' changing interests, and its writers' and editors' intuitions. Thus far, it seems to be working: What early critics deemed a charming if naive little enterprise that would never attract great writers, let alone a large and committed audience, has been nominated for National Magazine Awards in each of the last fifteen years, winning six times, three of them in the last couple of years. But whatever we've achieved in our better moments comes compliments of the magazine's ambitious roots--and the skilled writers that those ambitions led us to discover and publish. We've been profoundly fortunate to provide an environment for some of the finest writers of a few generations: Norman Maclean, James Salter, E. Annie Proulx, Robert Stone, David Quammen, Jane Smiley, Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, Tim Cahill, William Kittredge, William Burroughs, Bob Shacochis, Susan Orlean, Barry Hannah, Jim Harrison, Ian Frazier, Jonathan Raban, Thomas McGuane, Bill Bryson, Peter Matthiessen, Chip Brown, Randy Wayne White, Bill McKibben, Donald Katz, Kate Wheeler, Mark Kramer, Garrison Keillor, Craig Vetter, James Hamilton-Paterson, Willian Finnegan, Edward Hoagland, Jon Krakauer, and many others.
Spouting such a list probably seems a little like boasting, and perhaps it is. But what I'm trying to get across here is how privileged we are. Outside
may be (as I'm prone to prattle on about) a great license to be curious, but it would be another magazine altogether without this particular corps of writers. What Outside
's authors share is not so much a style of writing as an attitude--about themselves and the planet at large. An attitude that is fiercely independent and often irreverent, touched by irony yet also generous and inclusive. These writers marvel at much of what they discover--whether at the far ends of the earth or lurking in the backyard--yet they are also, properly, saddened and angered by some of what they find. They resist compartmentalizing their experiences, understanding that what we see and do outside is an integral part of life, a life crammed with contradictions and maddening, intriguing shadings. Thus they aim high, creating pieces not merely to entertain on the subject at hand--knocking around the forests of Belize, summiting Mount Everest, homesteading in Montana, evading the snapping jaws of the Komodo dragon--but to explore our behavior, our values, our judgments, our place in the natural order of things. These people know how to watch and listen and tell a story.
They also know how to revel in the simple awkward act of being human, and they aren't shy about advertising their screwups; misadventure in the right hands can make for a memorable tale. And so it is that we see McGuane on an uncharacteristically lackadaisical hunting trip, tucked under a cottonwood to wait for whitetail deer, fast asleep. "I woke up a couple of hours later, the coffee and early morning drill having done not one thing for my alertness. I had drooled on my rifle and it was time for my chores back at the ranch."
One of the painful truths about magazine journalism is that these flashes of humor and grace--some of the best writing of our times--often get heaved with the trash at the end of each month. Collecting it again between two covers is immensely satisfying for obvious reasons, yet what a trying experience: selecting only one piece per writer when some of these authors, like our former "National Acts" columnist David Quammen, have been contributing on an almost monthly basis for a decade and a half, even two. Many worthy writers, sad to say, could n't be represented here--blame it on space and story mix. And so we grit our teeth against those hard cuts, at least until anthology time comes round again.
In the meantime, special thanks are owed to my colleagues in the editorial ranks--past and present--who have lent their ideas, their wisdom, their passion, their endurance, and their skills with a nubby No. 2 Mirado Black Warrior. In particular to Larry Burke, Outside
's owner and publisher, for his remarkable support all these years, and to Greg Cliburn, John Tayman, Hal Espen, Susan Casey, Hampton Sides, Adam Horowitz, Brad Wetzler, Susan Smith, Gretchen Reynolds, Mike Grudowski, Michael Paterniti, John Rasmus, Alex Heard, Dan Ferrara, Kathy Martin O'Neil, Andrew Tilin, Eric Hagerman, Will Dana, Lisa Chase, Donovan Webster, Terry McDonell, Marshall Sella, Dan Coyle, Marilyn Johnson, Michael McRae, Michelle Stacey, David Schonauer, Alison Carpenter Davis, Todd Balf, and Amy Goldwasser. Many of the writers in this collection are indebted to these people, and so am I. My thanks as well, and most importantly, to Laura Hohnhold, with whom I've had the pleasure of working for twelve years now. Much of the effort and taste and sensibility in this anthology are hers.
Last, enormous gratitude to our readers, who continue to help us prove that Oscar Wilde had it wrong.
--Mark Bryant, editor
Excerpted from The Best of Outside by from the Editors of Outside Magazine. Copyright © 1997 by Mariah Media Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.