I’ve been remodeling my bathroom the last couple of weekends, and amid the mess last Saturday night I sat down to pout about how much it was costing me.

I questioned whether it was really necessary. The answer was yes, our old bathtub could’ve been used as alleyway set dressing in a Hitchcock movie. Even so, I had this vague idea that I was really just keeping up with the Jones’, which is how I tend to feel whenever I spend money on anything. 

I grew up fairly poor, but it was the kind of white, working class poor than meant we were only impoverished compared to the rich suburban kids I went to school with. We had toys, but most of them were homemade. 

As an adult I’ve been sucked into the consumer factory a little more. I like being able to afford something new every once in a while, whether it’s bathroom tile or a shotgun. This is especially true with outdoor equipment — Sitka, yeti, Orvis, I pony up for them all. 

Between waders, jackets, decoys and shotguns I’ve got at least two grand worth of gear on every time I hunt ducks. Add the $1,000 garbage disposal/duck-fetcher that sits next to me in the blind, plus her shock collar, training dummies, check chords and the four cups of Purina Pro Plan she vacuums up every day and the cost becomes almost ridiculous. Total that, plus gas, snacks, coffee and the occasional breakfast burrito from McDonalds, and the meat I come home with between September and November probably costs me somewhere around 90 bucks a pound. All that money, and yet my most cherished piece of hunting equipment (excluding the dog) is the hideous foam trucker hat with the outline of Nebraska on it that I’m wearing in my column photo. I bought it at Goodwill for $1.50. It’s got a kind of puke green color and it sits up way too high on my head. Erin hates it, which makes me love it even more. 

So often the things that mean the most to us are worth the least, and the stories behind them trump their lack of a price tag. 

My brother has an old coot decoy our Dad made in the mid 60s. We named it “Coot Gibson” after a 1930s rodeo champion and movie star from Nebraska named Hoot Gibson. If something could be worth negative money, this thing would be. He doesn’t have a keel, the decoy chord is screwed in to the bottom of the body and Bruly chewed off half of his head when she was a puppy. He sits so crooked in the water that it looks like he had too much to drink the night before. But he means the world to Dan and I because Dad made him. We talk incessantly about which brands are the best, but we take better care of Coot Gibson than any other decoy we own. He rides in the front seat for crying out loud. 

 Oscar Wilde said, “A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” That quote could be applied to all kinds of grand debates in relation to outdoor spaces — public land access, oil drilling, logging. But I find it just as useful for the small things. Coot Gibson and my stupid hat are worth so much more to me than my $100 zip off long underwear. And the value of our experience as humans and as hunters outweighs all of it. 

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