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July 17, 1998
 
Aubrey's Notebook:
Best opinions survive tough tests of time

Outdoor writers love to share opinions. Our columns are full of personal preferences in equipment, technique and location for the enjoyment of outdoor sports. And - when the habitat of fish, fowl or mammals is threatened - we don't hide our feelings.

An opinion may vary in quality from the level of prejudice all the way up to universally accepted belief. The more curiosity a person feels, the more zest for life a person feels, the more likely that person is to develop strong opinions based on fact.

Many teachers make a point of asking their students to open their minds to facts and develop opinions gradually. Opinions long tested by new facts begin to have credibility.

In our world, where the World Wide Web and television and radio talk shows allow millions of people to publish their opinions to millions of others, opinions don't appear worth much.

But, in my lifetime, opinions weren't always so easily shared. A newspaper columnist had a rare privilege, and most whose work I have read frequently or whom I have known personally valued the privilege enough to build opinions carefully until they had validity and could be explained.

Some opinions I held at age 8 or 18 or 28 or 38 or even 48 no longer seem defensible. Those I hold in my 58th year, however, mean a good deal to me. But I do not fool myself into believing that another decade or another half century won't alter some of them.

Those that I developed young and maintained even as facts and experience accumulated, however, appear unlikely to change drastically. For instance, I first believed woods and water were important because they provided me opportunity to hunt and fish. Before long, however, I came to value plants and animals and other natural resources for their inherent worth, some of which I continue to discover.

My father, even during the years when I was enjoying a prosperous, happy career as a full-time outdoor writer and sometime professional outdoorsman, occasionally said he wished that he had taught me to farm rather than to hunt and fish.

He was talking not only about the satisfaction of seeing things grow partly as a result of simple hard labor but also about certain values that are missed by a person traveling around the country in a motorhome and racing across reservoirs in search of largemouth bass to fill the livewell of an expensive bass boat.

He would be proud today to see me spending time with my laying hens and pet rabbits and helping water a garden and taking pride in things he always enjoyed as much as he enjoyed the fishing and hunting he managed to teach me so well.

Yes, I was exposed to farm things not only when visiting grandparents in the country but also in the Shreveport, La., neighborhood of my childhood. During World War II, people in town kept chickens for the eggs and raised gardens because food was rationed. But I was excited by big woods, swamps and free-flowing streams not barnyards. Back then, it was unremarkable that we could drink not only from relatives' wells but also from springs on their rural property.

My opinion is that it is wonderful that a new pipeline soon will carry water from Beaver Lake to outlying areas to the west. But stopping all sources of pollution and making it possible for people in those areas again to rely on springs, wells and streams seems more reasonable. And to me that goal should remain regardless of the success of the new water loop.

The building of such opinions begins with the small child's asking "why?" Parents who sincerely try to give a child an honest answer to each such query may find their own opinions changing and developing.

Many cities have rules requiring the paving of parking lots. Why don't they have rules forbidding unnecessary paving to reduce flooding?

Some cities have rules limiting the number of domestic animals allowed on private property and dictating that vegetation be trimmed. Why don't they have rules requiring every family to keep a few chickens and to grow a garden and to keep as much natural vegetation around their homes as possible to provide for the wild things and to help cleanse the air and water?

These are examples of questions leading to opinions that I have long held and that get stronger as I gather new facts. As a city-reared 3-year-old, I once asked my father why there were no sidewalks along a natural lake in Louisiana that he took me to fish. My desire to avoid the slippery mud has long since disappeared. Now I glory in the natural areas. I feel sorry for children who would ask such questions, even as my father must have felt for me. He never forgot that day. I just hope to learn to explain the interdependence of human life and nature as he did before my time ends.

Now its is time to go. I want to sit on the porch awhile and watch the bumblebees and butterflies work the flowers and maybe help pick a few vegetables and drag a hose to the garden to help perk up the plants struggling to survive this long, hot summer.

Maybe, when the moon gets high, I'll visit a nearby farm pond and try to find out whether my half-century-old opinion that a Jitterbug is a great topwater lure for nightfishing is still valid. Dad proved it to me a long time ago.


AUBREY SHEPHERD is a veteran outdoor writer and broadcaster who serves as a news copy editor at the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas.

       

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Aubrey James Shepherd
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