Rabbit Man is a friend of mine and a widely acknowledged expert in the field of Brisk Sport. I met him recently for a weekend of brisk pursuits including but not limited to: surfing, fishing, hiking, exploring, rock skipping, and bird watching. Some terms (like Dirt Bag) resist concise definition and it’s possible that “Brisk Sport” is one of them.
As he says, “‘Brisk’ and ‘sport’ are clear enough, but there’s a syzygy of sorts that happens when you put them together, an alchemy and fermentation simultaneously. Time and space are rendered.”
This is typical of Rabbit Man’s statements. Speaking to him, you get the sense he’s thinking of something else, that he’s in a rush to be someplace else, but isn’t entirely sure where. He ad libs. He bullshits.
The first known usage of the term Brisk Sport dates to 1880 and the New York Times writer PJ Donohue, a distant relative of Rabbit Man’s, a man who refereed boxing matches, competed in race walking contests and marathon ice skating events. Donohue was a restless soul. He was, broadly speaking, “up for it,” and was particularly susceptible to other people’s bad ideas as long as those ideas involved being outside, uncomfortable, and unsure of outcome, although the outcome seems to have been, invariably, an epic feast.
I met Rabbit Man ten years ago at a house on an island in a wind driven rainstorm. He greeted me cheerfully and strode out the door with fishing gear over his shoulder and a beer in his pocket. Lest you think he is some run of the mill sportsman, I have seen him wade into the swift, cold waters of a seaside channel to rescue an injured butterfly. I have seen him battle a seal for possession of a hooked, striped bass. I’ve watched him surf hurricane swells and hold pulsating, irridescing squid in the palm of his hand.
I tend to see Rabbit Man once a year, or more accurately, we find ourselves in the same place once a year. After a warm, initial greeting, he is normally busy rushing around, looking for fish, waves, or general adventure. In between quests, he naps spasmodically, bolsters himself with hot coffee and is off again.
I ask him, “Where are you going?” and he says, “I don’t know yet.”
One year, at the end of our island meeting, I watched him, after four days of non-stop movement, walk outside and promptly vomit bluefish into a patch of tall grass, then climb into the back of a pick-up truck headed for the ferry and fall asleep.
During the year he sends me cryptic texts about striped bass running near a bug light on a far flung beach. He gleefully chronicles the approach of hurricanes and the swell they bring to his local coastline. Randomly he sends photos of clams dug from brackish river or a bird he saw in a tree he was climbing, a bug he found stuck to his screen door.
Brisk Sport, as a concept, is chimeric, nebulous, and elusive. Attempts to properly define it flit about the basic concepts of outdoorsness, adventurousness, brashness, cultivated stupidity, audacity, dumb luck, refined experience, relentlessness, an attunement to the rhythms of nature, and a cheerful comradery that draws people into whatever boondoggle is afoot. Maybe brisk sport is like Fight Club. There is no brisk sport.
Rabbit Man is a real person, but he is also a fungible character. He is me. He is you. Often, he is not even a he. He is, in essence, anyone who finds themselves where the sport tips over from organized to brisk, and the outcome becomes wildly uncertain.