The Nature of the Beast

Imagining the great outdoors and coming to terms with reality

Text by Stephanie LaCava

I first saw my future husband at a bar near Madison Square Park on 23rd Street in New York City. Live Bait's menu specialised in Creole food and beer, of which I ate or drank neither. With its pale mint green walls and fishing theme, the place looked like the sort of joint Hemingway would have frequented in Key West. I had come with a friend to meet up with her boyfriend and his best friend. Some would have balked at being set up at a bar, but this was the perfect setting for me. I loved sporty, outdoors-type men, the sort that idolised Ernest and his alpha male pursuits. My matchmakers did not disappoint. He stood up - way up - from the table of impish boys to say hello. He was very tall and broad, the sort one would want on safari to wrestle lions and take care of mutant spiders. If I was lucky, he might also be a lacrosse player.

The first boy I fancied and the last boyfriend before my husband were lacrosse players and there was a string in between. My best friend decided the name for my particular fetish was "laxstitute", which was funny until the number of exes added up to what would have been an all-star team. I just needed a goalie. That evening, I thought I had found my man.

The facts added up.

He went to university at Cornell - they had a good lacrosse team.

He had the stature and then some. Basketball, perhaps? He always wore Air Jordans or Nike Dunk sneakers.

He was what Americans refer to as a "dude" or, "frat boy". There was a high tolerance of alcohol involved.

He didn't talk much - still doesn't - so I had little to go on, other than my instinct and his charming stoicism.

How perfect that we met. We'd go camping! Hiking! And mountain climbing! I'd cook the day's catch for dinner!

He tricked me.

He was nothing like the previous ones.

In between lacrosse players, I had met a lovely fly fisherman-writer-football player. Mike was half David Beckham, half Henry David Thoreau. He brought me to the Beaverkill in upstate New York, taught me to cast and hand tied a Stephie-fly with red dubbing. I loved him very much, the version that I had romanticised into master of the wild and salmon-whisperer. I dreamt of him when I first saw Prada's autumn/winter 2009 collection featuring thigh-high waders. The poet angler set new standards for my athletic outdoorsman paradigm, and we both ended up at university close enough from each another and the Beaverkill.

Admittance to my college seemed to be based on levels of alpha male obnoxiousness and stock in outerwear clothing companies like Patagonia. If you didn't ski race, you hiked at your Colorado house in the summer. And if you didn't play lacrosse, then you played American football or led outdoor education classes. You snow shoed, rappelled off rocks and sailed in regattas. It was paradise, until I realised these boys were so either so dumb - or wild - that they weren't good for much other than fun.

I met the next lacrosse player, Joe, because of boating. We were both riding the train from Manhattan to Westchester one summer and I was wearing a baseball cap with the logo of a sailing outfitter. I was commuting from my internship, he from his job. He had been a senior at my high school when I was a freshman. He had played varsity lacrosse when I was on the junior varsity girl's team.

Suddenly, I was at school far away dating a boy from my hometown. I drove back on the weekends and we would run together on the old railroad trail next to my parent's house or hike nearby Turkey Mountain. When I moved to New York City, the relationship ended. There were a few more dates with washed-up lacrosse players-turned-financiers. Then came Live Bait-boy.

Our first date happened over a whole cooked fish, its eyes staring blankly at the restaurant ceiling. I talked throughout the entire meal, while he remained quiet and reserved across the table. He was reticent to filet the dish; instead he speared it a few times with his fork and I ate the accompanying Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms and spinach. I should have known then.

A week passed before I heard from him again and we watched the film, Garden State. He didn't talk much before or after the movie. And I wasn't used to easy silences, like those that occurred between us. There was never any indication that he didn't like the great outdoors, only signs that he would be the perfect companion for a nighttime walk in the woods. He went to the gym in the mornings, which I took as a vestige of days training with a team. There was mention of the tennis team, which I lumped with the golf team; another of his favorites. The two didn't count in my twisted hierarchy of athleticism. Skiing was the only example of manly competition among adults and business associates.

"Do you ski?"

"No, not really."

Our courtship continued and he met my brother, a full-blown extreme sport fanatic and crazy man. "He likes to jump off stuff, hmm?"

"Yeah, anything really," I said.

"Crazy." Little did I know he truly meant it.

We took a trip to visit my parents in Westchester. He seemed a little uneasy around my mother's dogs. They were teacup Yorkshire terriers.

Still, I ignored all the signs. We got engaged.

He was so big and strong, how could he be anything but an outdoorsman; the chance for him to show off his skills just hadn't occurred yet.

And then it happened.

We were on vacation in a tropical area and I woke up one morning to hear him yelling upstairs.

"Steph, come here quick, please."

I ran down to the living room of the house where we were staying. There was a very large electric green cricket on the floor. "Can you help him?"

"You're kidding me?" I choked.

He shook his head. True, I collected beetles and often professed my love of insects, but it seemed to me this was something other than a thoughtful gesture.

"Why don't you just pick it up and put it out that window?"

Again, he shakes his head.

I crouched down and nudged the super-sized creature into my hand and held it up to offer to my fiancé.

He ran.

No, really. He ran.

"I need to get something from the car, be right back." And then he was gone and I had to let Jiminy Cricket free.

"Watch out for lemurs," I yelled.

"What's a lemur?" he asked.

That night, I asked what he thought of us maybe getting a dog together.

"I don't really like animals."

"You don't like animals?"

"I'm not used to them." I understood. Except for a goldfish that lived in a little glass bowl, he hadn't grown up with a pet.

There was a time, circa seven years ago, when I expected this lumberjack of a man to insist we pack our reels, creels and waders and set off to where the chance of an idyllic day fly-fishing would be as good as the odds of finding a bodega in Manhattan.

I had always thought my future husband would have a large dog, even a mutt he had gallantly rescued off the road. When we eventually met, he would already own a charming cottage in the country, because he knew when he found the right girl he would spend every spare hour there.

A year after the insect incident, my husband and I took a trip up to my family's house in Cape Cod. Both my brother and father are avid boaters and sailors, liking nothing more than to tinker with old boats or set sail around New England waters. Our second morning there, I woke up to find him keenly pulling on his swim shorts.

"Where are you going?"

"Fishing with your father."

  • The Nature of the Beast