Religion, Sport, and Water: Contemplation and Play in “Nature”

August 21, 2015

Posted below is the syllabus for the fly fishing themed course I’ll be teaching at my university this fall.

Religion, Sport, and Water: Contemplation and Play in “Nature”

Depiction of Juliana Berners. Lithograph by William Nicholson, 1898.

Depiction of Juliana Berners. Lithograph by William Nicholson, 1898.

HONORS 380.2, Fall 2015

Class Time: TU,TH 2:50-4:05

Class Location: AVER 8

Professor: Ken Lokensgard

Office: Plateau Center for Native American Programs, Cleveland 23A

Phone: 509-335-1055


Office Hours: TU,TH 4:15-5:00 pm and by appointment.


This course is an introduction to the literary history, religious significance, and socio-cultural impact of fishing. Students will read historically and culturally important texts ranging from those written in Ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, and in contemporary North America. All of these texts emphasize a relationship between religious experience, fishing, and the environment. We will explore this relationship, considering the cultural settings of each text while also learning about the overlapping aesthetic, ritual, and ecological dimensions ascribed to fishing—particularly fly fishing—by some of the most notable writers and intellectuals in European and Euro-American history. For comparisons’ sake, we will briefly examine religion and fishing in cultures outside of the European and North American literary worlds, as well. In addition to fishing literature, students will read relevant theoretical texts on religious experience, conservation, ecology, “play,” and “nature.”

As a whole, this course will serve as a focused study of the role that the extra-human environment and religious practice play in European, North American, and other cultural contexts. Thus, the course will introduce students to literature and ways of thinking that can be applied to any implicitly or explicitly religious phenomena that are practiced in so-called “natural” places. Moreover, the course will introduce students to the often religious significance that conservation and other ecologically informed practices play in the lives of many contemporary people.

This course is both reading and writing intensive. Most of the readings, however, were originally written for a popular audience. Also, the writing assignments will allow the student to incorporate his or her own, carefully examined reactions to these readings in his or her papers and essays. Therefore, this class is intended to be entertaining and engaging. Yet, it is designed for the student who is willing to consider religion within its broadest contours, who can devote concerted time to readings, and who is willing to engage in regular and thoughtful writing. If you are not such a student, then, this course is not designed for you.

Please note that Washington State University is committed to maintaining a safe environment for its faculty, staff, and students. Safety is the responsibility of every member of the campus community and individuals should know the appropriate actions to take when an emergency arises. In support of our commitment to the safety of the campus community the University has developed a Campus Safety Plan, It is highly recommended that you visit this web site as well as the University emergency management web site at to become familiar with the information provided.


Required Books:

Swearer, Donald. Ecology and the Environment: Perspectives from the Humanities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Browning, Mark, Haunted by Waters: Fly Fishing in North American Literature (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998).

Walton, Izaak and Charles Cotton, ed. Marjorie Swann, The Compleat Angler (New York: Oxford University Press, USA: World’s Classics, 2014).

Luce, A.A., Fishing and Thinking (Shrewsbury, UK: Swan Hill Press, 2002).

Maclean, Norman, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Duncan, David James, The River Why, Twentieth-Anniversary Edition (Sierra Club Books, 2002). NOTE: This book is not available through The Bookie.

Other readings are listed in the tentative schedule and will be accessible online, via the course’s Blackboard site.

Films, Guest Lectures, and other activities will serve as important resources. The films are listed in the tentative schedule, below. Informal guest lectures will be delivered by regional artists, authors, and anglers at dates to be announced. Each guest will address the aesthetic and “spiritual” dimensions of fly fishing, from his or her perspective as a craftsperson or author. We will also visit the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections reading room to examine exceptionally rare editions of texts read or discussed in class, which are part of the Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation Collection. Among these texts are several first and other 17th c. editions of The Compleat Angler.

Please note this course is designed to help students develop their critical reading and writing skills. Specific methods of critical reading and writing will be discussed in class at opportune times. You are also strongly encouraged to make use of the instructor’s office hours and of the Undergraduate Writing Center in Smith CUE 303.


Four three-page critical reaction papers will be submitted throughout the semester. Papers should be written in a 12 point font with 1 inch margins. Each of these papers is worth 5 percent of your total grade (5 points each). There will be two exams, which will include short answer and essay questions. Each exam is worth 20 percent of the total course grade (20 points each). Toward the end of the semester, a twelve-page paper, analyzing the treatment of religion in at least three of the assigned readings, or in three texts dealing with other “outdoor” practices sometimes characterized as religious (I will provide a bibliography), must be submitted. This paper is worth 30 percent of your total grade (30 points). Ten points are reserved for attendance. Attendance will be taken randomly 10 times during the semester; an unexcused absence during any of these days will result in the loss of one point. See the tentative schedule, below, for due dates and exam dates.

An accumulated 93 or more total points for the course will result in a final “A” grade (“A+” and “D-“ letter grades are not awarded at WSU).

90-92pts = A-

87-89 pts = B+

83-86 pts = B

80-82 pts = B-

77-79 pts = C+

73-76 pts = C

70-72 pts = C-

67-69 pts = D+

60-66 pts = D

0-59 pts = F

Reasonable accommodations are available for students with a documented disability. If you have a disability and need accommodations to fully participate in this class, please either visit or call the Access Center (Washington Building 217; 509-335-3417) to schedule an appointment with an Access Advisor. All accommodations MUST be approved through the Access Center.


Academic integrity is absolutely required in this course. Any student caught cheating, in any way, will fail the course and be reported to the Office of Student Standards and Accountability. Cheating is defined by Washington State Academic Code ((WAC 504-26-010 (3).) It is strongly suggested that you read and understand the definitions.

In this writing intensive course, you should be particularly mindful of avoiding plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined in WAC 504-26-010 (3i) as follows:

Plagiarism is presenting the information, ideas, or phrasing of another person as the student’s own work without proper acknowledgment of the source. This includes submitting a commercially prepared paper or research project or submitting for academic credit any work done by someone else. The term “plagiarism” includes, but is not limited to, the use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment. It also includes the unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or agency engaged in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.

All written assignments must be submitted by 11:00 pm on the day they are due. To do this, upload your paper as a document file in the “assignments” section of the course’s Blackboard site. The title of your file should be “HONORS 380.2 Paper #–your first and last name” (e.g., HONORS 380.2 Paper 1–Juliana Berners). Please put your name on the first page of the document itself, as well. Late assignments will not be accepted unless prior arrangements are made or if a documentable emergency occurs.

Tentative Midterm Exam Date: Oct. 6.

Final Exam Date and Time: Tuesday, Dec. 15, 10:10 am – 12:10 pm.


Week 1: August 25 and 27.

Academic Integrity, the Academic Study of Religion, and Religion as a Lived, Social Phenomenon.

Readings: Browning, ch’s 1 and 2, Haunted by Waters (skip “The Interludes”); Snyder, “New Streams of Religion (online); Primiano, “Vernacular Religion” (online).

Film: Prosek, The Complete Angler.

Week 2: September 1 and 3.

Water, Humanity, and Other-Than-Human Worlds.

Readings: Turner, “Liminality and Communitas,” (online); Jackson, “Cultural Readings of the ‘Natural World’” (online).

Week 3: September 8 and 10.

Ancient and Medieval European Fishing, Monasticism, Sustenance, and Leisure.

Readings: Hoffman, ed., Excerpt from Fernando Basurto’s Dialogo (online); Berners, “The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle” (online); James, “Mysticism” (online).

Paper 1 Due

Week 4: September 15 and 17.

King Arthur’s Knights, Celtic and Anglo Saxon Fishing, and England.

Readings: Walton, The Compleat Angler (Part I, ch’s 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 16, 21).

Visit to MASC.

Week 5: September 22 and 24.

The Enlightenment, Play, and the Escape to Nature.

Readings: Cotton, The Compleat Angler (Part II, letters, “Retirement,” skim ch’s 5-12).

Week 6: September 29 and October 1.

The Americas, Natural Law, and Romanticism.

Readings: Worster “Nature, Liberty, and Equality,” in Ecology and Environment; Seecombe, “Business and Diversion” (online).

Paper 2 Due.

Week 7: October 6 and 8.

Midterm Exam (Oct. 6).

The Americas, Romanticism v. Reality.

Browning, ch’s 5 and 6 (skip “Interludes), Haunted by Waters.

Week 8: October 13 and 15.

The Americas, Romanticism v. Reality.

Hemingway, “Big Two-Hearted River” (online).

Week 9: October 20 and 22.

Fishing, Religion, and Relationship.

Readings: Browning, ch’s 9, Haunted by Waters; Luce, ch’s 1-6, Fishing and Thinking.

Paper 3 Due.

Week 10: October 27 and 29.

Fishing, Relationship, and Ethics.

Readings: Luce, ch’s 7-12, Fishing and Thinking.

Week 11: November 3 and 5.

Lived Religion, Map, and Territory.

Readings: Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

Week 12: November 10 and 12.

Lived Religion, Nature Mysticism, and Ecology.

Readings: Duncan, The River Why.

Paper 4 Due.

Week 13: November 17 and 19.

Lived Religion, Nature Mysticism,and Ecology.

Readings: Duncan, The River Why; Browning, ch’s 7 and 8, Haunted by Waters.

Week 14: November 19 and 21.

Native American and other Religious Views of Water, Fish, and Fishing.

Readings: Browning, ch 3, Haunted by Waters; Tucker, “Touching the Depths of Things,” in Ecology and the Environment; Lokensgard, “One-Horned Serpents, Underwater People, and Fly Fishers” (online).

Week 15: December 1 and 3.

Religion, “Nature,” and the Environment.

Readings: Taylor, “From the Ground Up,” in Ecology and the Environment; Browning, ch’s 10 and 11, Haunted by Waters.

Week 16: December 8 and 10.


Readings: Ecology and the Environment, “Literature as Environmentalist Thought Experiment.”

Film: A River runs Through It.

Analytic Paper Due: December 10.

Final Exam Date and Time: Tuesday, Dec. 15, 10:10 am – 12:10 pm.

Copyright 2015 Kenneth H. Lokensgard

Southern Appalachian Fly Fishing and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

August 17, 2015
American Angler and Southern Appalachian Flies, including the Yellow Hammer.

American Angler and Southern Appalachian Flies, including the Yellow Hammer.

The other day, I had a few spare minutes between meetings on the Colville Indian Reservation and picked up the latest issue of American Angler (July/August 2015) to pass the time. In the “Headwaters section,” I came across an article by Beau Beasley, noting the grand opening of the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians. The museum is located in Cherokee, North Carolina. Cherokee is on the “Quallah Boundary”–the land trust of the sovereign Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Quallah Boundary functions much like the reservations of other federally recognized Native American nations.

Having lived in North Carolina, I know there is fantastic fly fishing in the Southern Appalachians. And I appreciate the rich history associated with Southern Appalachian fly fishing, though it is far less known than the history of fishing in Central Pennsylvania, much further up the Appalachian range. Many anglers have tasted just a hint of the former, in the writings of Harry Middleton. Middleton is the author of On the Spine of Time and several other beautiful books about fishing the Smokey Mountains (and Ozarks). Even though I am from Montana and have finally relocated to the West, I honestly miss some of the southeastern fishing.

Cherokee is an appropriate place for the Fly Fishing Museum. The tribe maintains their own hatchery and heavily stocks many local waters. Of course, there are wild trout in the area as well, which are far more appealing to people like myself. Scholar Heidi Altman, in her book Eastern Cherokee Fishing (2006) notes that fly fishing “exerts a strong influence in the area” and that it may be difficult to distinguish between environmental knowledge passed down traditionally and that which derives distinctly from fly fishing (79).  Moreover, many Southern Appalachian fly fishers claim that the Yellow Hammer or Yaller Hammer fly was developed by Cherokee anglers. Historically, however, the Cherokee primarily used traps, weirs, and spears to harvest fish (it does seem, however, that some other Native American peoples developed fly fishing practices independently from those brought by Europeans).

I congratulate the town of Cherokee and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for hosting this new museum, which is certainly a unique one in Indian Country. Congratulations to the founders of the museum, as well.


A favorite Southern Appalachian spot.


Speckled Trout (Brookie) or Unanvtsadv, in the Cherokee language.

Photo by Mike Sepelak.

Photo by Mike Sepelak.

Raymond Carver in Yakima

August 3, 2015

Northwest Public Radio aired a piece this morning on how author Raymond Carver is remembered in his hometown of Yakima, Washington. It is titled “Against Expectations, Yakima-Bred Raymond Carver Wrote for the Whole World.” Carver died at the young age of 50, in 1988, of lung cancer.  During his short life, the National Book Award nominee was credited with helping to revitalize the short story. He was also an avid angler, who sometimes fished with other literary figures of his generation.

Following is Carver’s “The River” (Ultramarine, Random House, 1986).

I  waded, deepening, into the dark water.
Evening, and the push
and swirl of the river as it closed
around my legs and held on.
Young grilse broke water.
Parr darted one way, smolt another.
Gravel turned under my boots as I edged out.
Watched by the furious eyes of king salmon.
Their immense heads turned slowly,
eyes burning with fury, as they hung
in the deep current.
They were there. I felt them there,
and my skin prickled. But
there was something else.
I braced with the wind on my neck.
Felt the hair rise
as something touched my boot.
Grew afraid at what I couldn’t see.
Then of everything that filled my eyes—
that other shore heavy with branches,
the dark lip of the mountain range behind.
And this river that had suddenly
grown black and swift.
I drew breath and cast anyway.
Prayed nothing would strike.

Hotel Reading

August 1, 2015


Kwagu’ł Hand-Carved Reel from PEETZ

July 27, 2015

PEETZ, in Victoria, British Columbia, has long produced mahogany and brass “Notingham” style reels for salmon and steelhead fishing. First made by Boris Peetz in 1925, even many of the early reels appear perfectly functional, despite being fished hard in salty Pacific Northwest waters. Recently, PEETZ introduced a three-inch diameter “starback” style fly reel. It looks like an excellent reel for minimalist fly fishers, like myself, who spend their time on smaller waters.

The fly reel, as featured on the PEETZ website.

The fly reel, as featured on the PEETZ website.

Besides the fly reel, what has really caught my attention is PEETZ’s new 5 inch Artist Series Handcarved Reel. The reel is their Evolution reel–a traditional “strapback” with bearings and an updated one-way drag system–featuring a hand-carved spool. The first 90 reels in this series are carved by Canadian First Nations artist Jason Henry Hunt.


The Artist Series reel, as featured on the PEETZ website.

Hunt is a descendant of the Kwagu’ł First Nation on Northern Vancouver Island, BC. He is part of a family known for their traditional artistry. For instance, his grandfather was the acclaimed Mungo Martin. You can see Hunt’s own stunning artwork at his Otter Bay Studio website. The theme of his carvings on the PEETZ reels is the “Circle of Life,” depicting salmon and roe.


A Mungo Martin Big House and Pole in Victoria, BC.

I do not see myself giving up traditional fly fishing tackle for steelhead or salmon. That said, the 4 inch PEETZ “Classic” reel looks perfect for trolling with flies for trout, at the lake I fish. And the fly reel is very appealing. 

While the large Artist Series reel is probably  not in my future, I really commend PEETZ for promoting First Nations artwork. It is appropriate that they do so, since salmon are so integral to the cultures of Kwagu’ł and other Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples.

Importantly, PEETZ donates a portion of the sale for each reel to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, a Canadian fisheries conservation organization. The lack of water and unusually high temperatures are having a major impact on salmon in the Northwest. Two days ago, The Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton described the overheated Lower Columbia River as a “kill zone” for salmon (July 25, 2015). This means that organizations such as the Pacific Salmon Foundation can use as much support as possible.

Following is a video of Hunt carving one of the PEETZ reels:

Other than fly fishing.

July 20, 2015

The heat in the Inland Northwest has been brutal this summer, and it has made fishing on my home waters pretty challenging. The reason I like fly fishing, however, is the fact that it requires one’s participation in the wider, non human world–the world that so many call “nature.” And, of course, there is much more to nature than rising fish. For instance, huckleberry bushes surround our cabin and run up the mountain behind it. In fact, the bush pictured below is right next to the spot where I beach the canoe, between the lake and cabin. So, while my mood could be better, after having my fly snubbed by the local cutthroats, turning from the beached canoe toward hundreds of ripe huckleberries is a great consolation.


I describe fishing and berry picking at my cabin as a form of “participation” in the wider world because they both involve real, physical engagement with the living environment. This engagement blurs the lines between “nature” and myself, which is one of the reasons I try to avoid the former term. It is true that most Americans now live very anthrocentric lives, but, even in urban centers, distinguishing what is “natural” and what is not is a difficult task. Thinking similarly, the 19th century romantic, Henry David Thoreau, actually described huckleberry picking and eating as sort of socializing that takes place between humans and “nature” (see quote below).  Traditional Native American friends, seeing the non-human world as a much more personal place than most of us, leave offerings to or attend ceremonies honoring the plants from which they take berries or other items. All of this explains why, for me, finding those berries upon returning from a fishless paddle around the lake is more meaningful than you might guess. And it doesn’t hurt to get rid of those berries before the bears come looking for them.

Following, you can read Thoreau’s thoughts on huckleberries:

“What means this profusion of berries at this season only? Nature does her best to feed her children, and the broods of birds just matured find plenty to eat now. Every bush and vine does its part and offers a wholesome and palatable diet to the wayfarer. He need not go out of the road to get as many berries as he wants, of various kinds and qualities according as his road leads him over high or low, wooded or open ground: huckleberries of different colors and flavors almost everywhere, the second kind of low blueberry largest in the moist ground, high blueberries with their agreeable acid when his way lies through a swamp, and low blackberries of two or more varieties on almost every sand plan and bank and stone heap.

“Man at length stands in such a relation to Nature as the animals which pluck and eat as they go. The fields and hills are a table constantly spread. Diet drinks, cordials, and wines of all kinds and qualities are bottled up in the skins of countless berries for the refreshment of animals, and they quaff them at every turn. They seem offered to us not so much for food as for sociality, inviting us to a picnic with Nature. We pluck and eat in remembrance of her. It is a sort of sacrament, a communion—the not forbidden fruits, which no serpent tempts us to eat. Slight and innocent savors which relate us to Nature, make us her guests, and entitle us to her regard and protection.”

Henry David Thoreau, Wild Fruits: Thoreaus’s Rediscovered Last Manuscript, ed. Bradley P. Dean (WW Norton & Company, 2001), 52.


My dog is a big fan of huckleberries too.

Pete Dexter and Norman Maclean

July 8, 2015

A celebration of Norman Maclean’s writings, “In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean: a Literary Festival,” about which I have written previously, will take place this weekend in Seeley Lake, Montana. A few days ago, The Missoulian (Missoula, MT’s mainstream newspaper), interviewed Pete Dexter, who wrote a well-respected profile on Maclean for Esquire in June, 1981. Dexter is among the many speakers who will be featured at the festival this weekend. You can find The Missoulian article here: Novelist Pete Dexter: Maclean put everything on the line with ‘River’.

Hoot-Owl Restrictions Update

July 6, 2015


I am sharing a post, below, from The Current Seam, the blog of the Crosscurrents Fly Shop in Craig and Helena, Montana. As the post indicates, the State of Montana began placing fishing restrictions on Montana’s waterways on Friday, July 3 , due to the heat. The restrictions will likely increase. If you are planning on visiting Montana, pay close attention to the updates.

Potential visitors might also look for some lakes to fish (but know that some of these can get dangerously warm for trout, as well). While the current restrictions limit fishing time on my own favorite river, they don’t affect fishing on the lake near which my sisters and I share a cabin. Thus, I, for one, will be doing lots of my fly fishing from a canoe, this summer.




Originally posted on The Current Seam:

Hot and wet, good when you’re with a lady, bad if you’re a fish. To state the obvious it’s hot out there and with little relief in the forecast Montana F.W.P has issued Hoot-Owl Restrictions on several rivers in the state. Hoot-Owl restrictions mean no fishing from 2 p.m util midnight on effected waterways. Here’s the complete list of rivers under fishing restrictions….

  • The entire length of the Big Hole except from Dickey Bridge to Maiden Rock F.A.S
  • The entire length of the Jefferson River
  • The entire length of the Blackfoot River
  • The entire length of the Bitterroot River
  • The Clark Fork from the headwaters to its confluence with the Flathead River
  • Flint Creek from the Highway 1 bridge downstream to its confluence
  • Silver Bow Creek from its confluence with Warm Springs Creek to the confluence with Blacktail Creek

This portion of the post strictly represents the opinion of the…

View original 314 more words


June 11, 2015

I’m sure the lake must have a name in the language of the Kootenai (Ktunaxa/Ksanka), upon whose historic territory it rests. The lake is just beyond the edge of a huge valley, through which the Big Blackfoot River runs. No doubt, it has names in other Indigenous languages too, as the path laid by the Blackfoot River was well travelled by Native Americans of several nations. In English, however, the lake is named for a long-passed miner, Charles Cooper.

I have no idea when the lake was given Cooper’s  name, though the area, still sparsely populated, was first settled permanently by whites around the same time that the Kootenai and others were being restricted to their shrinking reservations. In fact, the nearest town, Ovando, was named for a local settler who left his work at the Flathead Indian Reservation, after being spooked by the so-called “Nez Perce War” of 1877 (Margaret Ronan, Girl from the Gulches; The Story of Mary Ronan, 2003, 177),  Incidentally, this was a war that the New York Times said was “on our part [the whites], … in its origin and motive nothing short of a gigantic blunder and a crime” (“A Lesson from the Nez Perces,” Oct. 15, 1877).

I would like to know the name that the Kootenai gave to the lake. I will ask a speaker of the language about it someday, though I suspect the name is forgotten. As it is, I simply think of the lake as “home,” for my sisters and I share a cabin there.


Norman Maclean Literary Festival

May 29, 2015


This summer, there will be a celebration of Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, and his literary work.  The celebration, “In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean, a Literary Festival,” will take place in and around Seeley Lake. Montana, where the Maclean family still has a family cabin. Of course, this area is one of the settings in A River Runs Through It, along with the nearby Big Blackfoot River and the towns of Missoula and Helena.

The festival is sponsored by the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Big Blackfoot Riverkeeper, the Clearwater Resource Council, the Seeley Lake Community Foundation, and the Seeley Lake Historical Society. It begins with an evening reception on July 10 and runs through July 14. There will be daily presentations at the well-known Double Arrow Ranch, and numerous activities related to Maclean’s fishing and writing pursuits.

Seeley Lake is a beautiful community in the Seeley Swan Valley, between the Mission and Swan Mountains. It lies along Highway 83, in Missoula County. Because my sisters and I share a cabin in the area (about which I have written numerous times) and because it lies along the route to another family property in Glacier National Park, I have spent a fair amount of time there through the years. I recommend a visit, and there will be no better time for a contemplative angler to check out the area than during this festival. You can learn more at the festival website. And if you happen to attend, give me a shout.


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