Classism keeps us from connecting with the world

As a young man stuggling to find my identity in high school, which never seemed to mesh with my peers, I recognized that, as most young people do, I was “different.”

Truth is, we are all different. But people, young and old, seem to have this insatiable need to build classes and divisions between groups; ones that can agree on one or two common values. Having gone to three different high schools, I witnessed this in all three distinct modalities.

I was raised as a privileged child in a town that was primarily steel workers and families that were mostly suppressed by a lack of opportunity. I was sent away to boarding school to pursue my first love; freestyle skiing.

I didn’t fit in there either. I was a freestyle skiier and everyone else liked racing — slalom, giant slalom, downhill and Nordic disciplines. So, once again, my path brought me to yet another social paradigm. The town of Stowe.

Courtesy photoChris Holwager of Vergennes with a handsome bullhead.
Courtesy photo
Chris Holwager of Vergennes with a handsome bullhead.

And again, I was outside of the social norm. At the time the town was heavily focused on traditional racing, producing Olympic athletes like Billy Kidd and Tiger Shaw, and the town’s focus was singularly honed in on producing world-class racers. I was a ballet skier, aerialist and mogul skier — not cool. There were two classes — the well-moneyed and the “locals” — mostly farmers’ and lodge owners’ kids.

I was an island of dreams. The only place I fit in was with two other outcasts, who liked to get “big air” in the moguls. While attending my senior year at Stowe High School, I signed up for one class that I felt was “a gut course.” I figured it would require less effort than some of the other more academically challenging courses and thus give me more time to ski.

That class was creative writing. It was just too easy, which if I had had the knowledge that I do now at 64 years old, I would have pursued my gift straight away.

So, where am I going with this? I will tell you that this “road less traveled” has taken me decades to accept and, if I were able to have defined myself then from the perspective of my future self, I would choose the title “class disruptor.” I think my teachers would have agreed. With multiple meanings to that title, it seems to have fit the description of my non-linear journey.

Here’s what I mean by that.

I have hung out with some uber-privileged people and I’ve worked in both white-collar and service jobs. What I have observed is that people tend to surround themselves with people who think like themselves. Now I don’t pretend to be any kind of anthropological expert, but I have witnessed this so often that it has inspired me to embrace my mission of breaking down social barriers of all different groups. We all have so much to learn from one another; why can’t we just drop our pre-conceived notions about what it means to be “redneck” or “elitist”?

For instance, why do fly-fishermen (and women) look down on bullhead fishermen (and women?) When I speak with those who are privileged enough to book a trip for an Argentinian dove hunt on a classic plantation, would they ever consider sitting next to a local guy on the shore of a backwater slough, swilling a Pabst Blue Ribbon, while watching a heavy fishing rod with 10-pound line gently twitch while fishing for bullhead beside a small fire at night? Would that be “beneath them”?

Or how about the guy who works in the factory or drives a truck who goes home and worries about how he’s ever going to retire and leave anything for his family? Would he ever accept an invitation from a friend to go to the Mansfield Trout Club in Stowe, where members have been on a waiting list for generations to soak in the luxury of casting a 1940s classic Orvis bamboo rod while sitting in a classic Mansfield canoe with a perfect patina of rubbed linseed oil on the mahogany gunwhales?

Do you understand what I am getting at?

If you see yourself as a “local” who shoots deer because you need to feed your family, or shoots pike in the spring because it’s a traditional Vermont anomaly, would you accept an invitation from a friend who likes to shoot driven pheasant while dressed in moleskin pants, a tweed jacket, an ascot and wellies on his feet?

Or how about you, who thrills at the sound of a flushing ruffed grouse deep in the Adirondacks, while carrying a Perazzi shotgun with a gold inlaid pheasant and dog scene engraved on the stock? Would you be willing to sit beside me on a pickle bucket on the ice, jigging for yellow perch in the bright blue sunlight of the bay?

I have known both worlds and will share with you, my dear reader, that as diverse experiences as we have had, none of us are better than another for what we can afford for sporting experiences. We all could strengthen our appreciation of nature, if only we were courageous enough to shatter the walls of classism that separate us.

Here’s my point: Step outside of your comfortable social circle and take the time to learn a new way to enjoy what we all crave — connection to the world around us. Drop those judgements about “them” and join “us” — all of us.

(Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred Hunter, a privately owned limited liability corporation that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature through hunting, fishing and foraging.)