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GUEST BLOG: JOHN RIUTTA, A LESSON LEARNED FROM MY FATHER

January 4, 2012
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John Riutta, also known as the Well-read Naturalist, learned a thing or two as a child thanks to his father, and something that he’ll never forget is the importance of never compromising on the quality of anything that you hold close.

When I was a boy, my father only ever wore two types of shoes. One pair were the traditional stout, black, thick-soled work shoes common among the commercial fisherman who, like my dad, each spring and fall pursued the Chinook and Silver salmon migrating through the vast mouth of the lower Columbia River and each summer themselves migrated to Alaska’s Bristol Bay to do the same with the King and Red salmon there. The other pair, worn during the few hours each day when he was not either working or sleeping, were deep golden brown, deeply grained, hand-sewn wing-tipped double brogues; always meticulously polished by his own thickly-calloused hands.

For as long as I could remember, these were the only two types of shoes that he would own. They both suited him; both did exactly what he needed them to do and looked exactly like he wanted them to look. A child of the Great Depression, he not only knew how to care for everything he owned, he knew how to do so in a way that kept it looking like new until the day it was no longer functional – thus each pair of shoes, his work shoes and his brogues, lasted for years. Then one day he learned that the shoe company that for decades had made his favored brogues was planning to discontinue production of them. It seemed that styles were changing and such old-fashioned, well-made shoes as these classic double brogues were no longer popular and as a result were selling poorly.

Rather than simply accept that he would have to soon change something about his life that, for him, worked perfectly fine, he estimated how long each pair of these shoes lasted and how long he expected to live, then went out and bought as many pair as he calculated he would need for the rest of his life – plus one extra pair, just in case. For my father, when it came to the quality of his tools, his fishing gear, or anything that was part of his daily life – including the shoes on his feet – compromise was not an option when forethought and preparation could prevent its necessity.

I learned many important lessons about living and working from my dad, and among those I have found most valuable has been never to compromise on the quality of anything important to you; to always buy the best you can afford, maintain it well to help it last, and if it’s something you discover may not be able to be replaced in the future, secure a replacement for it today. Thus when I learned that the bag that I use to carry all the gear I need as a writer and naturalist both into the field as well as through airports and into conference rooms, the bag that has hung from my shoulder in the jungles of Panama, the museums of England, and the cathedral forests of my own native Oregon – Filson’s superbly designed Small Passage Dispatch Bag – was to be discontinued, I immediately recalled my dad’s decision to lay in a lifetime’s supply of his favorite brogues and took action accordingly.

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