My hat is gone and with it more than I expected. I liked the company and liked the hat. Over time it became the hat. I don’t remember exactly when I bought the hat because relationships with hats don’t usually start off remarkable.
The earliest picture I have of it is in 2017, so yeah, the hat wasn’t that old, but it doesn’t take long for a hat to become part of the routine and endure everyday use and outdoor abuse. If you’ve had a hat for 10 years, and it still looks reasonably new, you either don’t live in Southeast Alaska, or your outdoor adventures are making it from the parking lot to the grocery store.
A hat is better aged by seasons. August of 2017 was two and a half deer seasons ago. Hundreds of hiked miles ago. Thousands of twigs, branches, bushes and brush patches ago. It absorbed sweat on hot days, then was cleaned by the inevitable incessant rain of southeast Alaska.
The most image-worthy moments of this last portion of my life have included the hat. I caught halibut, king salmon and coho salmon in that hat, (dogfish, sole and skate too). I caught trout, steelhead and brush behind me in that hat. I hunted deer, bear and grouse in that hat. When I went to Colorado to backcountry ski I wore that hat. I wore it backpacking in Idaho, Utah and most recently hunting mule deer, elk and antelope in Wyoming. Over those seasons, it lost its color and the VORTEX patch, frayed beyond the stitching was eventually complimented by a frayed front bill which could only handle so many wet/dry cycles.
A good hat becomes sentimental because it was with you during times you felt like you were doing things right. Like you were living a good story. You bought it because you liked it. You wore it all the time because it’s comfortable. The coolest design or phrase, or company cannot make up for a poor-fitting, uncomfortable hat. Hats are like T-shirts in that comfort often outweighs cause, 100% standard cotton? One hundred percent chance it’s staying in my drawer.
Twice my hat flew off my head when a malevolent gust of wind caught it and sent it into the ocean. Both times I circled around into my skiff’s wake to search for what I felt I could absolutely not lose. Close calls.
I’ve retired hats. I’ve misplaced hats. But I’ve never lost one in the field. Then, in the dark disorganization of returning to the car after the hike off a mountain, taking off my pack, headlamp and shedding sweaty outer layers, I lost it. Did I put it on the roof? Did it fall in the dirt? If it were a Tom Hanks picture, some would cry as my girlfriend and I drove unknowingly away from it on a dusty road near Wyoming’s Platte River.
It’s always just a stupid object, until it’s your stupid object or you get what that stupid became to someone else.
Maybe the hat is so important and irrationally sentimental because it’s one of the links to younger days. As long as we have the hat, we have the direct link to a younger version of ourselves and we can stay gold a little longer.
But nothing gold can stay.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.