Aegis editorial, an appreciation of Hayward Putnam

January 22, 2013|Editorial from The Aegis

For someone who didn't much consider himself a writer, Hayward Putnam certainly had a long career in the field.

Roughly 40 years ago, he and Joseph Zimmer Jr. approached The Aegis about the paper's coverage of outdoors issues. Shortly thereafter, they became responsible for the newspaper's outdoors coverage, mainly hunting and fishing. Mr. Zimmer would do the writing and Mr. Putnam, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, would put together a drawing to go with the text.

Later, they would alternate writing the weekly installment for the sports section and it wasn't that many years on before Mr. Putnam took on the task of writing the column every week, or almost every week. Last year, when Mr. Zimmer died early in January, Mr. Putnam reflected on the Outdoors column's origins, even as he knew his writing days were drawing to a close. The previous summer he had been out fishing with a young relative — teaching young people to fish, hunt or simply have an appreciation for the wild things was a big part of his life — fishing in a farm pond for bass and bluegills. He returned feeling out of breath, which he initially chalked up to pollen and allergies. When it didn't pass, he visited his doctor and was told that his condition was chronic and would deteriorate, though there was no way to determine how long he would be around.

He was reluctant in the final years of his life to let on that he wasn't in the best of health, largely because he didn't want people feeling sorry for him. During the drive to a service for Mr. Zimmer last year, he said death held no fear for him, so he didn't want people to focus on his ailment, but rather he preferred to enjoy the time he had left.

Clearly, one of the things he enjoyed was writing about the outdoors, which he continued to do until just a few weeks before he died.

He was an outdoorsman of a bygone era. These days, many people consider themselves hunters or anglers, but in the time of Mr. Putnam's youth, most people who were hunters also enjoyed fishing and vice versa. Fishing seasons were more regimented in those times, and when hunting season was in, fishing season was generally closed.

Though Mr. Putnam considered himself first and foremost an angler, the columns he wrote that seemed to elicit the greatest response were about hunting. Once he penned one on the joys of a brand of varmint hunting that was fairly common years ago, but has only a limited following these days, namely groundhog hunting. Time was most farmers would be eager to have a groundhog hunter pay a visit as their holes can pose leg-threatening hazards to livestock and horses.

He was also a strong advocate, in person and in print, for a traditional interpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, namely that it protects the right of individual citizens to own guns. Though his positions were firmly stated, he wasn't one for breaking off relationships over political issues. A mild mannered and polite man, his actions rather than his written or spoken words, did most of the talking.

One of those actions was his work with young people and his many efforts to teach those in his extended family and circle of friends the ways of wild things. Often it is forgotten that the modern conservation ethic has its roots in people like Mr. Putnam, whose enjoyment of the outdoors was deeply linked to fishing and hunting.

Though there has been something of a divergence in the conservation movement that pits hunters and anglers against nature lovers opposed to hunting, Mr. Putnam instilled in those he instructed on the outdoors an ethic that all can appreciate, respect for the wild places and wild things.

Never take more than you can eat; never waste what you take.

The fun in hunting or fishing, he was keen to point out, is only partly in the killing or catching. The greater joy comes from learning to think like a bass, deer or some other noble beast and coming to a personal understanding of the circle of life.

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