Wednesday, November 5, 2008

NorCal Cazadora's first birthday

I know it's normal as one ages to forget anniversaries and birthdays, but I can't believe I forgot this one yesterday: It was my blog's first anniversary. If Suburban Bushwhacker hadn't pointed it out, who knows when it would've dawned on me.

It's a significant event for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it's easy to start a blog, but a lot of work to sustain one.

But I'd have to say my overwhelming feeling on this day is gratitude. Here's why:

When I was a kid, I decided to go into journalism because I loved writing. But 19 years in the newspaper business sucked the joy out of writing for me, because newspaper writing is, by necessity, quite restrictive. There are many rules and burdens in news writing, and the greatest one is that you must never allow your passions to show. And without passion, writing can be pretty boring - to the writer and the reader.

When I left the business in August 2006, I never looked back. Within a year, I bought a digital SLR camera and decided to focus on photography. If I never wrote again, I didn't care.

But I left the business to teach journalism, and one year ago, I found myself looking for ways to teach my students to present their writing more effectively on the web. I'd heard about Blogger and decided to use it to create a platform for some demonstrations for them.

It was the first Sunday in November, and I was working on my laptop in front of the fireplace while Boyfriend was - as always - working in the kitchen.


"Hey honey, I just started a blog for class, and it was pretty easy. I'm thinking about starting a blog of my own," I yelled over my shoulder. "What should I write about?"

He pondered the question for a second. "Why don't you write about being a woman hunter?" he yelled back.

"Good idea!"

I quickly decided to use my name from the Duck Hunting Chat - NorCal Cazadora - and I started writing my first post.

Yep. I started this blog on a lark. But like the old Elvin Bishop song says, I fooled around and fell in love.

The name turned out to be not necessarily the best choice. Try spelling it out to someone over the phone. "N-O-R ... no, N as in Nancy ... N-O-R-C-A-L-C-A-Z-A ... no, Z as in zebra ... N-O-R-C-A-L-C-A-Z-A-D-O ... no, D as in dog ... N-O-R-C-A-L-C-A-Z-A-D-O-R-A."

And spelling it once is never enough, except for Spanish-speaking friends in Northern California who know that we live in NorCal and that a cazadora is a huntress.

But the decision to start NorCal Cazadora was one of the best of my life.

It beat the hell out of news writing because I could write about something I love and show every bit of passion I have for it. But it also allowed me to apply every good lesson I learned from newspaper journalism - basic research skills, data analysis, accuracy, clean writing, linking people to information and resources.

And it allowed me to interact with readers in a way I never could as a newspaper reporter. Not that I didn't field plenty of calls and emails from readers during my newspaper career, but on a blog, comments are a public conversation that usually enrich the original post. One year of interactions with you - blog readers - has been more gratifying than 19 years of that limited, stilted conversation I could have with newspaper readers.

This blog has also allowed me to immerse myself actively in thoughts about why I hunt.

When I took up hunting in 2006, I fell in love with it immediately and learned very quickly that it had little to do with any of the stereotypes I'd always associated with hunting. So, of course it bothered me that the non-hunting public's image of what we do is so completely out of whack with the hunting experience. I realized the blog could be an important venue for explaining and defending hunting to those who know little or nothing about it.

And once I accepted that challenge, it forced me to think very deeply about what I do so I could articulate it clearly. And it made me pick up the books and essays and research of those writer-hunters who have come before me - Jose Ortega y Gasset, Aldo Leopold, Mary Zeiss Stange, James Swan, David Petersen. Imagine my pleasure when I learned that some of these people were members of the outdoor blogging community, such as Chas Clifton and Stephen Bodio.

Blogging, though, has not just been a gift to my mind or a virtual connection to people I'll never meet. After my first year of hunting, in which I often hunted alone, I now find myself blessed with hunting friends I've met through this blog:

Phillip at The Hog Blog was one of my earliest commenters. I joined him this summer on my first hog hunt ever (Phillip is shown in the middle of this photo from that hunt, with Hunting with Jim vloggers John on the left and Jim on the right). On that trip, Phillip also introduced me to Michael at Native Hunt, where I've now hunted several times. He also put me on the ProStaff at Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors, which sent me to the SHOT Show in February, where I met three women who've started women's hunting clothing companies.

Then there was Dana, who read my blog and emailed to tell me she's searched high and low for women to hunt ducks with her and do you want to go hunting sometime? Oh, hell yeah! And hunt we did - my post about hunting with Dana and two other women friends over Bald Pete the traveling wigeon decoy is one of my most popular posts ever (second only to one about adding my women's hunting clothing list to my navbar, which shows you how eager women are for this information).

Next came Tracey, whose ex-husband read about my first hunt with Dana and said, "Hey, you oughtta hunt with my ex!" We did, and though it was not a glorious hunt, it was the beginning of a great friendship. Two weekends ago, we hunted the Klamath Basin together. Now that was glorious.

And it led to more: Tracey is on the board of California Waterfowl, so she introduced me to key players there. Now I write for the organization's magazine and volunteer for its Women's Outdoor Connections committee. And oh yeah, I'm going to be the faculty adviser now for a new chapter of California Waterfowl that a student duck hunter is forming at my university. And did I mention all the duck hunting friends I've met in this organization? I'll be hunting with one of them on Sunday.

All those connections happened in my first three months of blogging, but it just keeps going.

Rebecca of the Operation Desert Dove blog used to live in Southern California, but she just took a job up here, and it turns out she found a place about two miles from my house. Rebecca's hardcore: She hunts ducks with falcons. I met her - and the birds - on Friday, and we chatted away about falconry and hunting and duck recipes while trick-or-treaters kept a steady drumbeat on her door.

OK, now I'm afraid I'm going to leave someone out and feel like an even bigger dope today. But suffice it to say that there are even more folks in the blogosphere that I hope to meet and hunt with someday - Sten at Suburban Bushwhacker. Tom at Base Camp Legends. Terry at the Women's Hunting Journal. Blessed. Kristine. Marian. Rex. Othmar. Albert. Kim. Jon. Keli. And all the lurkers who email me once in a while to let me know they're reading.

Is it making sense now, why I feel so grateful? I started this thing on a lark. I fell in love with the blog, and in the process fell in love again with writing. I was enriched by all the great thinkers of hunting. I began meeting all these amazing people in the outdoor blogging community - most of us drawn together by the Outdoor Bloggers Summit (which is probably the only reason anyone found me in the first place).

So, thanks. Thanks to all of you for being part of something that has been so incredibly meaningful to me. I look forward to the amazing discoveries that are sure to fill my second year as a blogger.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

30 comments:

Dan said...

I'm one of your lurkers. I don't hunt ducks, to cold!

What attracts me to your blog is your unabashed inner reflection on why you came to be a hunter and what hunting means to you

It reminds me of the inner turmoil I went through in the beginning and cause's me to reflect on why I still hunt.

I like the way you verbalize your feeling and enjoy the way you express yourself to the occasional non-hunter that shows up.

Please continue. You have a gift.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thank you! Your compliments mean a lot because they address things that are really important to me. Thanks for popping in on the comments! I'll keep writing, and I hope you keep lurking.

Tom Sorenson said...

Awesome insihgt and overview of one year of blogging, Holly. You've sure made a lot of connections - and one day, I'll have to remind you that you said you wanted to hunt with me and we'll have to introduce you to Idaho elk hunting. There is just something about the elk that makes me wish everyone could spend a day in the land the elk call home. It's a magnificent creature.

Love your blog and hope to keep on reading your commentary for many years to come.

Tom Sorenson said...

Sorry to crowd your comments, but I just read what I wrote and am completely ashamed at my use of the English language. I'm sorry! :)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Don't worry, I won't get all professor on you. You are already on my list - if not for a Klamath Basin waterfowl hunt, then for one of your spectacular mountain hunts in Oregon or Idaho. You're hardcore, though - not sure I can keep up with you...

Blessed said...

Happy 1st Blog Birthday! I really enjoy your writing, insight & influence here in the blogosphere... I too hope to meet you and hunt with you one day!

Native said...

Very heartfelt and sincere Holly,
I feel most privileged to have met and spent time with you whom I consider a true sports person and wonderful writer.

Happy Birthday NorCal Cazadora!

bushman said...

Happy B-day. Found ya threw bushwacker, n got ya now on my roll.
Gotta love this bloggin, journalism perfessers, fur trappers, just all us regular folks emptyin our heads into the internet...

Live to Hunt.... said...

Happy birthday Nor Cal. I agree with all the others about your writing. It is so sincere, accessible, and vulnerable. There is one other thing that hasn't been mentioned; and that is your willingness to share your learnings with others. When I first started bloggin', you were literally the first person that I emailed, and you responded in something like 10 minutes. Who was I but some shmoe who was asking you all these rookie questions. But you were gracious, helpful, and offered to assist me however you could. You even featured me on your roll right away! That one simple exchange gave me the confidence to go forward with my own little idea. For all of that, I say thank you. We need to set a date and go stalk some greeheads...

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks everyone!

Seriously, I feel so lucky have gotten this opportunity to know all of you.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

It's been fun, and I'm still looking forward to hunting and cooking and eating with you and hank.

Thought it might be this season, but it'll have to be the next one

happy blogday
SBW AKA sten

Rick Kratzke said...

Happy Birthday and/or Happy Anniversary depending on how you look at it.

I am not a duck hunter either but your blog since I stumbled across it has caught my attention and I always look forward to reading your posts.

Keep up the great job.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, Rick, someday I'll shoot a deer so the rest of this hunting nation can relate to me! And I''ve actually got a couple non-duck hunts lined up in the next couple weekends - pheasants once or twice, and turkey once. Maybe goose.....

Sten, I know what you mean about maybe this year, maybe not. Boyfriend and I have been saying that a lot about vacations, hunting and otherwise. Thanks again!

Marian Love Phillips said...

Holly..I'm so proud of you and what you have accomplished within a year. I've watched you grow into a NorCal Cazadora!!! You are so special and I look forward to reading your hunting blog for a long, long time to come. Happy Birthday/Happy Hunting to you my dear friend. Hopefully, one day we will meet. Hugs, Marian :)

Shannon said...

Uh oh Holly, be careful on that turkey - it's just as addictive as duck hunting! If Michigan's turkey season wasn't so short, it could ALMOST compete with waterfowling. It's a good thing the seasons are during different times of the year!

Thanks so much for keeping up the great blog!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Agreed. Luckily, I can get more ducks in an hour than the number of turkeys I'm allowed in a year, so the ducks have nothing to worry about. Or rather, they do...

Editor said...

congratulations, you have a great site and I am looking forward to seeing you soon, hopefully this year.

LuckySarahLynn said...

Congrats Holly! Don't know what else to say that hasn't already been said, accept that as grateful as you are for all this, I feel easily as grateful to be able to learn from you through the world of the blog. Your energy and enthusiasm is contagious.

Carina said...

Happy Blog-Day Holly! I'm feeling inspired - perhaps I should go on a whim and start a blog of my own? It couldn't compete with yours, but it would be fun in many ways. Thanks for everything you've given me and California Waterfowl. You're an incredible asset - your blog, your photos, your writing, and just YOU. I'm a bit of a lurker myself, and I don't think I've missed a post yet (imagine how many others there are!). Best wishes.

sportingdays said...

I used to bemoan the lack of passionate, thoughtful outdoor writers in our local newspapers. And I would search in vain for that kind of passion and good writing by subscribing to all the local hunting and fishing publications, usually to be disappointed by their overall quality.

The blogosphere, however, has filled this need. It's an absolute joy to live in Northern California and read your blog, Boyfriend's blog and the Hunt, Eat, Live! blog, among others. I wish I belonged to a fancy duck club so I could invite you and Boyfriend out on a hunt. How about a Camanche Hills pheasant hunt this month if the duck hunting turns slow? Then, of course, our frog adventures await this spring. Congratulations on your anniversary.

Kristine said...

Congratulations on your first blog birthday Holly. One of the things, among many, that makes me proudest to be a part of the Outdoor Bloggers Summit is the quality of the bloggers who support it.

You are a great role model for hunters, male or female. Your passion for what you do and your understanding of the reasons why you do it shows in every post. We're lucky, and grateful, to have you on our side.

Please keep writing for many more years. There are a lot of people who still need to learn from you and be encouraged by you.

And, if I ever do get myself together and hunt, I hope I get to do it with you. Then Hank can cook what we shoot and it will be a perfect day.

Terry Scoville said...

Happy Birthday Holly! Just let me re iterate what Hunt,Eat,Live said about helping out a greenhorn. you were the first to comment on my site as well as offering your help and knowledge to a very timid and challenged computer user. I appreciate your help, comments, postings and insights into the wonderful world of a huntress!Let me not forget to mention your integrity and willingness to write about and discuss some sensitive subject matter. I look forward to spending some time in the field with you, just let me know!

Brandon Darnell said...

Happy birthday! I'm not a woman, and I only hunt paper targets, clay pigeons and the occasional old cell phone, but I enjoy reading your blog.

The Hunter's Wife said...

Holly, Congratulations on your one year anniversary here. Your style of writing could convince even the non-hunter to consider hunting. It's your passion.

SimplyOutdoors said...

Happy blog birthday. I love your writing style as well, and I can completely see why so many people are attracted to your blog.

And once again, congrats on the first year.

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

Happy 1st Holly. Along with Bloom County, you're on my must read list.

Steve Bodio said...

Congratulations Holly! Hope we can hunt with you someday (Libby is BTW originally from Berkeley though like me has lived in the Rockies, north and south, for many years).

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

It's amazing how life just works out when you follow your passion, isn't it? Cheers to another great year!

Garrett said...

Happy Blogday!!! Love the pic of you in your orange opium den. ;)

Some of the best things we do are started on a lark. =)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks! And I can't believe it took 29 comments for someone to mention the Opium Den! Which is where I should be right now, in front of a fire instead of in front of this screen, because it's a holiday and it looks like good weather for a fire.