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Charlie Farmer, Paradise lost

For Charles J. Farmer the outdoors was heaven, peace, church

By Kathleen Farmer

The Redwood Bar in Cheyenne, Wyo., takes you back to a John Wayne western. Smoke clouds the vision; beer is lukewarm in plastic mugs; the song “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” shakes the table, and couples wearing cowboy hats are circling the dance floor with the two-step. With hats like those, a twosome has to stay at a distance. I was stepping into another world.

I had moved to Cheyenne to enter this secret arena of hunting, fishing, backpacking, guns, ammo and trail mix. But how to find the magic door was another question. Born and raised in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, my father never let me touch his 12-gauge. Why? Probably because my mother was afraid of guns and I needed to develop that fear, too.

When the band cooled off and played a slow song, a guy name Charlie asked me to dance. He said he was an outdoor rider. “You wrangle horses?” I asked. “No, I’m a writer.” I really didn’t believe that he was an outdoor writer with published articles and a book contract (“Creative Fishing,” Stackpole Books). He told me he had obtained and filled permit No. 1 for a Rocky Mountain goat from a herd that migrated into Wyoming from Montana. Judging him as somewhat grandiose, I declined his invitation to an after-hours breakfast and gave him my telephone number, expecting that I’d never hear from him again.

That was in May 1970. We married in June 1972, moved to Jackson Hole, Wyo., and lived in a restored log cabin. We had running water and a flushable toilet only after sunset because propane for the generator was too expensive to produce electricity 24 hours every day.

Charlie helped me through my phobia of guns and patiently explained how to identify ducks by their calls, coloration and flight patterns. He lost his composure during my first antelope hunt when I asked him how to distinguish an antelope from a mule deer. I was very green.

Over the years, as a husband-wife outdoor writing-photography team, we wrote or edited 11 books and countless articles. We both served on the OWAA Board during the 1980s. Being freelancers, we were constantly hungry and aggressive about new ideas and taking the best photos possible. When we became parents, we moved to the Ozarks to be closer to our families. We feared we would not be able to keep up the pace with two children. But instead, Brittany and Scott became inspirations for experiencing the outdoors through children’s eyes. They became expert waterfowl callers. They built blinds in the woods while we hunted the marsh. They gained the confidence that despite angry weather, we were still comfortable and safe, seeking the adventure of the hunt.

Charlie became the voice of conservation in the Ozarks. For 15 years, he had a weekly outdoor radio show with Curt “Mother” Mertz, who played in the first Super Bowl as a lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs. Charlie is still featured in a video about fishing in an exhibit at the National American Fish and Wildlife Museum next door to Bass Pro Outdoor World. He took on causes, such as protesting the Las Vegas-style development in Branson, Mo. Individuals and organizations contacted him for support on issues of water quality, clear cutting, dwindling aquifers, gun control threats. He was awarded Missouri’s Conservationist of the Year in 1992. He was inducted into the Missouri Writers Hall of Fame in 2001.

Brittany lists her Dad’s accomplishments more personally. “Since I was 8 years old, every summer we spent weeks backpacking and fishing in the Wyoming backcountry. Patience and understanding are critical when faced with a daughter who would rather make mud pies after catching a large grayling.

I am proud to say among my sorority sisters, I am the outdoor expert who convinced them to go camping and enjoy it. But, the most important thing my dad taught me is that time together is irreplaceable.”

People ask, “Where is Charlie? Where did he go?” Thats best explained by Scott, professionally an artist and multi-media manager but in his heart, an outdoorsman who hunts or fishes whenever possible. These experiences connect him to his dad’s legacy, which will never leave him. As he puts it:

“Being the son of an outdoor writer consists of early mornings and busy weekends. While many kids had Nintendo or ‘Saved by the Bell,’ my days were full of Poke boats, GNH decoys and Haydel calls. Days started at 4 a.m. and ended when the greenheads stopped flying. Cold hands, wind-burnt faces, wet dogs and the occasional Bull Sprig set the stage for some of the best days a boy could share with his father.

During the week, my dad would replace his Remington 1187 with a Royal 440. His winter-chapped fingers hit the worn keys in a magical rhythm, molding a little masterpiece for all to enjoy in a local newspaper. Ozarkians turned directly to the outdoor section for a “Charlie Farmer and his kids” adventure. They received a little piece of his love for the outdoors. He passed on his love for the outdoors to me. For that I am the luckiest son of all.

The past few years have brought a new chapter to my father’s life. His memories are fading like a retreating flock of geese on a cloudy day. His waders have been hung up for the last time, only to be replaced by nurse-issued scrubs. His eyes still light up when I mention the good times, but then disappointment and confusion sets in as we both look at the four blank walls of his new room. The cold is not the reason for his trembling hands now. It’s the fear of never again experiencing the thrill of the hunt. He clutches his last book he wrote, as though wanting to go back to any chapter. He’s living the chapter called Alzheimer’s. The next chapter is welcomed in hope of once again being in his heaven, his peace, and his church. It’s called the outdoors.”

As Brittany reports, “Daddy hasn’t called me Pidge in over two years, but he still recognizes me and tells me he loves me. I miss him. I am so sad that he can’t teach my children the amazing things he has taught me. But I feel so lucky because I have always been so incredibly proud to have a dad like Daddy.”

Charles J. Farmer put his children first, his profession second, the outdoors third and his love of baseball fourth. He made a difference by sharing hunting, fishing, camping, skiing and canoeing with his family and his audience. If our family could do it, any family could. And many followed our example.

© Outdoor Writers Association of America