By conventional standards. Mason Smith, whose story on winter deer hunting, Without Elegance, After So Much Desiring, begins on page 98, would be considered an eccentric, a reputation for which many writers immoderately yearn. But Smith, whose chief "peculiarity" is that he lives happily on a rented farm 300 miles north of Manhattan and, therefore, is considered by some friends and editors a recluse—even a hermit—gladly defers to his colleagues on the eccentricity question. He does not consider himself peculiar, and he does not understand why other people should see him that way.
Smith lives in a wooded area near Nicholville, N.Y. (pop. 500) with his wife Ann and their sons Haze, Sean and Reuben. Though he has a furnace in his farmhouse, he prefers to chop his own logs and heat the place solely with two wood-burning stoves. He is an accomplished banjo player, was once a professional cabinetmaker and for a while taught writing and English at the University of California, Santa Cruz. And though he is not a trained mechanic, he insists on repairing his car himself, because he believes that "people should know something about the most important artifact of this century."
SI Special Contributor and Novelist Thomas McGuane (Ninety-Two in the Shade) is Smith's friend and occasional fishing companion, and he believes that Tim (as Smith prefers to be called) is an anachronism, albeit a gifted one. "He's not professionally old-fashioned," says McGuane. "With Tim, it's not an affectation. He just happens to think that the things he's interested in were done better 100 years ago than today."
McGuane says Smith practices another craft or art that has largely gone out of fashion. "He spends an inordinate amount of time just thinking," says McGuane. "I've never seen anyone who can sit and just think as long as Tim can."
Smith, who is 40 and at work on his second novel, finds the simple life well suited to his writing habits. It also affords him an opportunity to watch his children grow up. "I was raised around Nicholville," he says, "and though I've tried to live in other parts of the country, I keep coming back to this godforsaken place. I got infected with a love of simple things here, and I think my rejection of a lot of things about modern life is a result of that."
Smith has constructed several reproductions of a 19th-century wooden lap-strake canoe designed by master craftsman J. Henry Rushton, whose boats are considered among the best handcrafted canoes ever built. Last year Smith put a canoe on consignment with Abercrombie & Fitch in New York, then sat back to see how long it would take a connoisseur of real craftsmanship to snap it up.
"It spent the entire winter on display on the store's eighth floor," says Smith. "Finally I decided to take it back, but the store was in some financial difficulty and was evidently under court order not to let go of anything of potential value to its creditors. I threatened to walk out with it on my back, and when they saw that I was serious, they offered to let me 'buy' it back from them for $1 as damaged goods. I took the boat, but I refused to pay the dollar."
That's not eccentricity; it's principle.