7th Annual Hemingway Festival

February 10, 2016


As most of his readers know, Nobel Prize for Literature winner Ernest Hemingway lived in Ketchum, Idaho, just prior to his 1961 death. He visited the Ketchum area over the course of many years, before moving there. In Idaho, he skied, fly fished, hunted birds, and wrote. It is appropriate, then, that the Creative Writing Program at the University of Idaho in Moscow sponsors the Hemingway Review journal, which  “specializes in researched scholarship on the work and life of Ernest Hemingway.” UI also holds an annual festival to honor the literary legacy of Ernest Hemingway, as well as the recipient of the Hemingway/PEN award.

This year, the Hemingway Festival will take place from March 2 to March 5. You can purchase tickets here. If you happen to attend, look me up. Living in Moscow (though working in WA), being obsessed with fly fishing, and having read and taught Hemingway’s work, I will be there.

EH 4074P  Ernest Hemingway in Idaho, not dated. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Ernest Hemingway in Idaho, not dated. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

“To my Daughter,” on Burns Night, 2016

January 25, 2016

January 25th, when many of us celebrate the Scottish poet Robert Burns, is one of my favorite times of the year; I have indicated as much, in my many previous mentions of the bard. Tonight, as in most recent years,  I am spending the holiday at home. Earlier this evening, I read a Burns’ “To a Mouse,” to my daughter.

My daughter indulging her father.

My daughter indulging her father.

In explaining the poem to my daughter, I also explained my love of Burns. I told my Daughter that he was a modest man, who worked in the fields during certain periods of his life. I also told her that he was the sort who was literally moved to compassion–the state of “suffering with” another–when he realized that his plowing disturbed a mouse.

Of course, in reading “To a Mouse,” to my little one, I did my best to render the poem in modern English. So, I didn’t explain to her that Burns often wrote in his native Scots, and that doing so made many of his oft-oppressed, fellow country-persons proud. And I didn’t explain that his poetry was so forceful that the meaning of his words transcended the boundary of Scots/English to appeal to a huge audience, including those of us who read him over two hundred years later.


One day, I will explain these things. And I will tell her about the many other poets, artists, musicians, and scholars who have done similar things.  And, perhaps, as a means to do so, I will read her Burns’ song, “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” (published in 1795).

“A Man’s a Man for A’ That”

Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that?
The coward slave , we pass him by–
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine–
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might–
Guid faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Jim Harrison’s Calling

January 2, 2016

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Dean Kuipers, published on December 18, author and angler Jim Harrison (about whom I have written here) describes  being “called” to writing when he was 19-years-old:

I was out on the roof at night in the summer, stars, the Milky Way, and I got just absorbed into poetry,” Harrison recalls. “I thought it was actually my calling that night. And then, when my dad and my sister got killed [in a car accident] a couple years later, I realized that even though I was married there couldn’t be any higher obligation on earth. Because if people you love die what are you going to do?

As uneven and often rough as his writing can be, in my opinion, Harrison has taken his obligation as a writer more seriously than most. This is especially the case with his poetry. Judging by his talk with Kuipers, his new collection of poems, Dead Man’s Float (2016) will be no exception. You can order it directly from the publisher, Copper Canyon Press. And for more of the interview with an unusually introspective Harrison, read “Jim Harrison on spirits, bad poetry and the wonder of nature.”

Long Hallways

December 11, 2015

You’ve got to love them.


December 8, 2015

In preparing for the Honors class I teach today, I was rereading Mark Browning’s Haunted by Waters: Fly Fishing in North American Literature (Ohio University Press, 1998). Reading a work for a second or third time almost always reveals new passages of significance.  Today, I came across the following:

Ultimately, it seems, the best answer to the question why humans feel compelled to fish is that they fish in order to ask the question. Fishing is, by its nature, an uncertain and interrogatory endeavor, By engaging in this endeavor–or in writing, composing, painting, or any of a hundred other pursuits–the angler moves out of the realm of the known an into a creative realm of questions. (131).

This passage has significance to my class because we are exploring the reasons why there is such a large body of English-language literature devoted to angling and why so much of that literature has a religious theme.

IMG_2007 (3)

Some rods I shared with my students today.

Many authors of angling literature fished for food. Yet, even Dame Juliana Berners, the ostensive nun and author of the 15th c. A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle, suggests there is much more to angling than catching fish. For the angler who fails to procure her or his dinner with an artificial fly, Berners identifies several other benefits to trying:

And yet as the least he hath his holsome walke and mery at his ease, sweet ayre of the sweet sauour of the medow floures that maketh him hungry. He heareth the melodious armony of foules. He seeth the yonge swans, herons, duckes, cootes, and many other foules with their broodes, whyche me semeth better then all the noyse of houndes, the blastes of hornes, & the scry of foules, that hu[n]ters, faukeners, & foulers ca[n] make. And if the angler take fyshe: surely then is there no ma[n] meryer then he is in his spirite.

Browning, and other authors too, imply that a primary benefit of fishing is the sense of possibility that is part of each angling trip. This is the same sense of possibility that every reader feels when she or he begins a new book or rereads an old one. This is the sense of possibility that is represented by every blank page before the writer, every blank canvas before the artist, and so on. Most important, it the sense of possibility–of mystery even–that every religious person confronts through ritual and that some of us find in fly fishing.[1]

[1] Here I am thinking of Rudolf Otto’s concept of Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

“I stopped running, and hearing my friend, the terror, the pleading – my survival instinct subdued.”

December 2, 2015

Recently, via Adventure Journal, I came across the mention of a harrowing grizzly bear encounter that took place in Canada. The encounter involved alpine climbers Nick Bullock and Greg Boswell, from Wales and Scotland respectively. I have never had a great interest in climbing myself, but it has produced some excellent outdoor literature that I appreciate very much. Bullock, himself, authored Echoes: One Climber’s Hard Road to Freedom (Vertebrate Publishing, 2012). He also writes a blog, in which the reader will find some finely written pieces.

Ursus arctos horribilis

Ursus arctos horribilis

It is in his blog, Great Escape. Nick Bullock, that Bullock describes the bear encounter referenced in Adventure Journal. Having spent a significant part of my life in or near grizzly country, bears are never too far from my mind. Fortunately, I have never had any problems with them, nor have any family members. My attitude toward them, therefore, is one of wary admiration, rather than fear or even worry.  However, my attitude might change if I had an encounter like the one Bullock and Boswell did. Bullock’s account, which is harrowing, honest, and amusing–all at the same time– is worth reading. You will find it in his December 1 post, “From Dawn to Dusk. From Dusk to Dawn.” The words in the title of this entry are Bullock’s, and they give a sense of what you will find in his story.

Incidentally, Adventure Journal, now an online publication, will soon be available as a quarterly print publication. The print version will offer unique content and, I assume, some longer format essays. It will likely be an excellent publication. You can find more information here: Adventure Journal Quarterly Subscription.

Be Grateful for the Little Things, too.

November 26, 2015


Fiddles, Fly rods, and Fall

November 11, 2015

I was able to spend a few days at our cabin last week. I passed part of the time there reading A Thousand Mornings of Music: The Journal of an Obsession with the Violin (Crown Publishers, 1970),  by Arnold Gingrich. Of course, I spent time enjoying my family and fly fishing, as well.

 12195755_10206879307454150_3478103822401590742_n  IMG_1979

I have long been a fan of Gingrich’s writings, especially of The Well Tempered Angler (Alfred A. Knopf, 1965). In A Thousand Mornings of Music Gingrich writes about a passion that paralleled his interest in all things fly fishing–a passion for violins, which he playfully calls “fiddles” throughout the book. If you have read his angling books or Toys of a Lifetime (Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), you know that he had the tendencies of a collector. In A Thousand Mornings he describes those tendencies, as they were directed toward violins over a period of several years. At the end of that period (and at the end of the book) he had acquired violins made by some of the most respected luthiers in history. Among them was one made by Antonio Stradivari of Cremona (now a of part of northern Italy), in 1672. Gingrich named this violin “The Gudgeon,” after its second owner.

Gingrich’s Stradivarius was played for a period by Hungarian born virtuosa, Erna Rubinstein. Gingrich, himself, during his tenure as a collector, renewed his own studies of violin playing. For a time, he even spent early morning at the Rembert Wurlitzer offices,  playing celebrated, rare violins that passed through the company’s hands.


It is no surprise that Gingrich loved both violins and bamboo fly rods. Many people have made comparisons between them, emphasizing the care that must be exercised in forming both, the importance of varnish, and so on. Indeed, I know more than one fly fisher, who collects violins. That said, the work done by luthiers is certainly much more extensive than that done by any fly rod maker.

I recently came across a video that shows a French luthier, Dominique Nicosia, engaged in his craft. The video was made by Baptiste Buob and filmed at the Musée de la lutherie et de l’archèterie françaises de Mirecourt. No doubt, Gingrich would have loved such films. Yet, I hope that neither music nor his interest in instruments would have kept him away from the beauty that we find while fly fishing, a beauty that far exceeds that produced by of any violinist, luthier, or rod maker.


DiPietro Vises

November 5, 2015

During some recent virtual wanderings, I came across the website of Marlo DiPietro, who makes custom fly tying vises. His work is stunningly beautiful and unique. It might seem odd to some readers to think of vises as art. However, fly tiers can become pretty attached to their tools, and it’s not uncommon for us to appreciate their aesthetic beauty as much as their functionality (see my previous post on “form and function.”). Indeed, I prize my rather common Regal Medallion vise almost as highly as any reel, rod, or even painting in my possession.


“Imitura Natura” vice. Image © Marlo DiPietro

DiPietro’s custom vises exist in different realm than my Regal does. His gallery of pictures allows you to check that realm out, if, like me, you don’t have the means to actually purchase one of his vises.

“Form ever follows Function”

November 5, 2015

I have had limited time to post lately, due to a busy work schedule. Fortunately, I like my work, and it often takes me to places I like, as well.  Recently, I attended some meetings at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana. As is often the case with meetings and conferences in Indian Country, there were some vendors there. Among them was Dion Albert. He was displaying some of his art, which included the beaded rainbow trout knife and sheath pictured below. My picture is not great, but you can still see how amazing this piece is.


The beauty of this knife and sheath brings architect Louis Sullivan to mind. In an 1896 article, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” (Lippincott’s Magazine, March 1896, 408), Sullivan wrote the following:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law. (Sullivan’s emphasis).

To make Sullivan’s claim absolutely true, we would have to include our emotions as “functions,” since many contemporary expressions of art have no more purpose than to provoke feelings. Also, the Euro-American concept of “art” is not always applicable to traditional Indigenous crafts, of which Mr. Albert’s knife is an expression. But Sullivan was not really speaking of art, and his implication that there is beauty in functionality certainly apply here. They apply to hand made fly rods, artificial flies, and to many other things I love, as well.

Anyone interested in knowing  more about Dion Albert’s crafts can reach him via email at memsicemboy@msn.com. Besides doing beadwork, Mr. Albert produces functional and beautiful items from buckskin, birch bark, and more. He is a member of the Confederated Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille Tribes. Beneath the display board, upon which the knife is resting, you can glimpse beadwork done by another craftsperson. You can contact the “Native Artwork by Linda” at 406-531-5848.



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