What gear we keep sell says a lot about us, and more than just whether or not we’re packrats.
In this case it’s my old Nikon F4, the rugged camera the gold standard for photojournalists and pro photographers from 1988 to 1998 or so. We rely on some gear: climbing ropes and hardware to save our lives, PFDs to keep us afloat through boiling rapids, tent poles to hold up in a gale. For the F4, Pavlov’s bell is the distinctive slapping sound of the shutter at 8 frames per second. I had no compunction about selling my old camping stove from my first backpacking trips as a kid in the 80s, despite many fond memories of melting snow for morning coffee high in Alaska, the Rockies, Scottish Highlands, Cascades and Sierras, nearly igniting a picnic table, and waking up people with it’s inimitable roar that sounds like the space shuttle blasting off. Our gear is a part of that experience, since we feel the snow through our skis, the water with our paddles, the cold mountain air through our sleeping bags. Some of that sensory experience is directly linked to gear that provides very tactile control, like how well our skis carve.


One quick blast of that sound brings me back to firing away at paddlers kayakers descending Crystal, Hermit, Granite, and Horn Creek rapids on the Colorado and watching a lighting storm brew over the rim of Mable Canyon. That rapidfire slapping reminds me of something I no longer have to indulge in: hours at a light table, squinting at 35mm slides thorough a loupe. Like the brick of Fuji Velvia still on my fridge, it’s been long-since surpassed by digital. The F4 fits my hands so well that using it is fast and easy, allowing me to quickly adjust focus and exposure to catch action or fleeting light. But most is something else: the sleeping bag is simply what allows me to sleep under the stars on a cold night, but it’s not the experience itself. The psychologist conditioned dogs by ringing bells before dinnertime until their minds failed to differentiate between the bell and the food and they’d drool as soon as they heard the bell. Never mind that it’s been sitting in the closet unused for years and is unlikely to be used anytime soon.


I’ve always rationalized keeping it in various ways: I could still shoot film (I have 2 others film cameras), it might be a collectible someday (unlikely), and it’s a hassle to sell (not really) In reality, I just love the way it fits in my hands.
For those of us who crave the outdoors as much as a dog craves food, gear is Pavlov’s bell.
When I was a kid, we camped in an ancient canvas tent that got soaked and packed away wet countless times. I associated the smell of mildew with camping (I may have been the only kid on the planet to have a deep positive association with the smell of mildew.) Now the pavlovian sounds that make me smile are the telltale snick of a hip belt being fastened or a two-part kayak paddle being assembled, the very last sounds before setting off down the trail or out into the sea.



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