I have to stretch onto my toes to make it fit, but I push the gun vise to the top of a power-tools-and-ammunition cabinet in the basement, next to a metal snowman sculpture that only recently was removed from the front porch. The vise scrapes Frosty’s sheet-metal side with a complaining creak, as if neither one of them likes the fact that it’s going into storage
When I stand back, the smell of Hoppe’s No. 9 prompts a little catch in my throat. What a great hunting season. Five months passed from the dove opener to the last duck hunt, and I’ve spent some quality time at the basement gun-cleaning station. But the times they are a-changin’.
Such a bittersweet moment occurs twice a year, in this very spot: once when I convert my basement from a staging ground of hunting gear ready at a moment’s notice to a launchpad for fishing trips, and once when I stow the rods and tackle bags to clear room for duck packs and deer stands.
Today I’m clearing the workbench of its hodgepodge of shotgun shells and grunt calls to make way for flats-wading boots and the new shad lines I’m building from old sinking-tip streamer lines. Julie leaves me alone, knowing that it’s a fraught few hours. I cue up a playlist designed to keep my spirits up when I start to sink into the doldrums that kick off as I fold Minnie’s neoprene vest and tuck it into its cubby. I’m just as excited about spring and summer as I am each year when fall rolls around. But each season, I sure hate saying goodbye.
I’ve been lucky, or choosy, or a bit of both. But in the 39 years since I moved out on my own, I’ve never lacked a basement or large shed or some other significant storage space for all my outdoor equipment. And given my job, there’s a mind-boggling array of it, especially since I’m loath to throw anything away.
For such a pack rat, I’m remarkably organized. Metal racks hold plastic tubs organized with near–Dewey Decimal System precision. There are separate bins for flashlights, binoculars, face masks and lightweight gloves, heavyweight gloves, rain hats, freshwater fly-tying materials, saltwater fly-tying materials, shotgun chokes and wrenches, two-way radios and GPS units. There are larger bins for upland-bird gear, turkey-hunting gear, and camping cookware. Other heavy-duty racks hold decoys or blind bags. There’s a canoe stored against one wall and a 6-foot rack stuffed with sleeping bags and tents. A wall of shelving groans with, let me count, 19 pairs of hiking boots, wading boots, snake boots, snow boots, river sandals, and knee boots. My childhood dresser holds drawers of carefully delineated thermal layers. You won’t find a quarter-zip top in a drawer designated for bottoms. It’s simply not going to happen.
It may be that I spend more time in the basement than I need to. But for me, the gear grotto is a refuge and sanctuary. It’s where adventures begin and end, in piles of wet, mucky camouflage netting and wading boots. There’s always something to do down there. To the outsider—or to Julie, upstairs—some of it might seem like a waste of time. How often do you need to refinish a canoe paddle? But most of my basement tasks are utterly critical. Sort a bucket of shotgun shells. Sharpen a few knives. All while savoring the memories of moments made outdoors.
And memories still to be made. None of them happen by accident. And they all start in the very same place: through a doorway off the kitchen, at the bottom of 14 wooden steps. Down here where everything comes together.
This essay appears in the Home Issue, the latest digital edition of Field & Stream.