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Dried flowers hanging from barn beams. One of the author's favorite fall occupations is preparing dried flowers.

BOB GRAY: A manly pursuit

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By Thursday, Sep 24, 2015 Life In the Berkshires

Housatonic — I was talking with a couple of college friends about what we were doing to amuse ourselves in our dotage. When my turn came around, I told them I loved picking and drying flowers for arrangements to decorate the house over the cold months. One friend told me it sounded cool; the other, whom I now realize was and always has been a pompous blowhard, opined that drying flowers certainly didn’t sound like a manly pursuit to him.

“It’s something I enjoy,” I told him. “Since I am and always have been a man, it must be a manly pursuit.” I then walked out of the room and haven’t talked to the clown since.

In the fall it’s a simple thing to love the trees’ bright foliage. Any person with a beating heart can look in any direction and, without any particular sensitivity, recognize the ironic beauty at the end of things.

To notice the flowers’ part in the dance, he must lower his vision and his expectations. Besides, perhaps, a wave of goldenrod, a fall flower’s beauty won’t smack him in the face as a glowing maple might. Besides, the trees’ blazing colors turn brown in a week or two; they’re good for a compost pile or to spread under trees to keep weeds from growing.

Excepting hydrangea, goldenrod, and globe thistles, I have no particular or extensive knowledge of the names of the plants I cut and hang bottoms-up in the shed to dry. Most of the time, I simply choose the ones I’ve always picked, the ones whose history suggests success in preserving the light days passed and the burst of spring to come.

It’s sad that rusty stereotyping might keep even one person from enjoying anything his heart and soul might urge him to do.

Russian premier Valdimir Putin in one of his manly poses.

Russian president Valdimir Putin in one of his manly poses.

If appreciating and preserving what the year’s left behind isn’t for alpha males, then what might be a manly pursuit?

How about backing up a trailer? Rescuing a capsized boater? Framing a wall? Fileting a fish? Mixing concrete? I am able to do each of these things, but so are millions of other people, very many of whom are women. So are these feats still manly?

To try to clear the matter up for myself, I checked out some stunts of that manliest of men, Vladimir Putin.

I discovered Putin often rides horses bareback: no saddle on the horse’s back, no shirt covering Putin’s. He also posed for photographers while sitting in a tree, wearing khaki pants, a T-shirt, and a canvas bush hat. He’s shot a tiger with a tranquilizer gun, flown alongside migrating storks, kissed a large pike, and posed with a deer.

I’m irrationally frightened of horses, would never be so foolish as to take my shirt off in public, nor to kiss a fish regardless of size and/or species. I have, however, posed with a deer, so I guess there’s a ray of hope for me and my manliness after all.

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