Distance

March 25, 2020

I think most of us tend to enjoy some quiet, which is most easily found away from our human peers. Even Dame Juliana Berners, or whoever actually wrote the 15th century classic The Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle, emphasized that solitude or “social distance” is an ideal part of fishing. This is the case, at least, for those of us who fish for meaning as well as game. She writes:

For when  you intend to go to your amusements in fishing, you will not want very many persons with you, who might inder youu in your pastime. And then you can serve God deveoutly by earnestly saying your customary prayers. And in so doing, you will eschew and avoid many vices, such as idleness, which is the pricipal cuase of inciting a man to many otehr vices, as it right well known. (Modernization of text by Sherman Kuhn, and published in John McDonold’s The Origins of Angling, 1957).

I hope that each of you are able to enjoy some time outdoors–away from your germ-carrying fellow humans–during these challenging days. If not, perhaps consider rereading The Treatyse or some other classic angling texts. Soon, I will post an updated recommended reading list, in hopes that it may be of help in this pursuit. As always, I welcome suggestions from readers.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this helpful guide to social distancing, from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department.

Image may contain: text

 

Burns Night 2020

January 25, 2020

My grandfather’s copy of The Poetical Works of Robert Burns

Tonight, as my wife and I put my daughter to bed, I read and spoke a bit about Robert Burns. To my ten-year-old child’s credit, she indulged me as I explained the significance of Burns’ use of the Scots language, his condemnation of the pretenses shown by the wealthy in church, and so on. She may have a limited interest in such matters at her age, but she seems to appreciate a poet who apologizes to a mouse, after disturbing its home. And I think she appreciates a poet who can admire how that mouse can get right to building a new home; unlike humans, according to this bard, the mouse will not become so obsessed with this or other wrongs nor so worried about obstacles not yet encountered that it cannot carry on. I hope my daughter will learn from Burns, who wrote “To a Mouse, on Turning her up in her Nest with the Plough” in November of 1785. For she will experience wrongs, and she will encounter obstacles. But I trust she will carry on, like the mouse.

Following are the final stanzas of Burns’ famous poem.

But Mousie, though art no they lane,
In proving foresight may be vane:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang oft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an” pain,
For promis’d joy.

But thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only troucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, though I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Skinny Boats

January 6, 2020

I recently purchased a canoe manufactured by Wenonah. I bought an “ultralight” aramid model (aramid is probably best known by the brand name Kevlar), with the intention of being able to handle it for the rest of my life. This purchase had been planned for a while, since we left an Old Town canoe behind during our last move.

I have spent much my life near water. Around the time I was born, my parents purchased a place on a little lake, bordering Montana’ Scapegoat Wilderness. Growing up, there was always a Grumman or Coleman canoe handy. I think I was still pretty young, when my mom taught me the common canoe paddling strokes, such as the j-stroke and c-stroke. When I grew older, I spent an a a lot of my time on the lake, in the canoe casting flies to rising cutthroat trout.

My father’s extended family also shared a lake-front piece of property in Montana, at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. This “inholding” still remains in the family. Sadly, however, as a result of poor choices on my father’s part, my immediate family and I can no longer claim it as out own.

For years, I spent the spring and fall at the Glacier property, staining cabins, painting, and doing other work. These were times when family was not often around and tourists were scarce. For company, I would visit the bar at the Lake McDonald Lodge. Often, I was without a car, and driving after a few drinks was not a great idea anyway. On the other hand, biking or walking at night in the forest–home to so many grizzlies–was also a poor idea. So, I would paddle a canoe to the bar and back

The family had an old Core Craft canoe. It was heavy, but with three keels, it shot across the lake like an arrow. I often took it fishing, casting to trout along the north bank of the lake. I would also take it to the inlet of McDonald Creek There, I would beach it on a sandbar and cast to the huge fish that fed in the depths carved out by the force of the incoming water. Take note, if you are visiting Glacier, that’s a great place to fish (if a bit dangerous; there have been many drownings there).

The bar I would visit is about three quarters of a mile away, as the crow flies, across the lake from our cabins. I would stick to the open water, rather than the shore, since it was safest to avoid the massive flow of McDonald Creek and any animals watering along the shore. In retrospect, the whole venture was foolish; any paddling after a few beers or glasses of Bushmills is. But I still remember those trips fondly.

Of course, Lake McDonald has been traveled by paddlers for many, many generations. It is part of the traditional homeland of the Ktunaxa or Kootenai people (the east side of the park in Niitsitapi or Blackfoot territory), who have long used canoes. In fact, the great western artist Charlie Russell painted a wonderful picture of a Ktunaxa man with his traditional “sturgeon nose” canoe pulled up on the bank of the lake. In the painting, titled “Indian camp on Lake McDonald,” the resting paddler looks toward the north end of the lake, where our family cabins are now located. Russell happened to have a cabin on the lake as well, which still stands across the lake to the west or left of the paddler in the painting.

“Indian Camp at Lake McDonald or “Land of the Kootenai,” by Charles M. Russell, 1901

We still have our property near the Scapegoat Wilderness; my sisters and I were able to hold on to it, despite my fathers’s troubles, and we now share it. At this lake, there is no bar to visit via canoe or otherwise (The closest bar is 13.3 miles away by dirt road. Yes, I checked the distance, when I was younger). When I am there, however, I spend a lot of time fishing from the canoe or just enjoying a trip around a portion of the lake with my wife and daughter (they’re just pretending to look miserable in the following picture). For me, the canoe is just a fundamental part of life there.

Happily, my work often takes me to the water as well. As an academic, I focus upon Native American “research and collaboration.” Here in the Northwest, canoes play a huge role in Native culture. Therefore, our university often offers programming involving them. Indeed, canoeing is a somewhat regular activity for many students. A few times, we have collaborated with Spokane tribal member Shawn Brigman, a PhD and architect.

Shawn has researched and designed a contemporary “Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe” (the copyrighted name refers to canoes based on his design). Most of Shawn’s boats are covered in ballistic nylon, but he has also built traditional bark covered versions. He is very knowledgeable about regional Native American canoe culture, and often serves as a teacher for and consultant with other tribes, museums, and so on. Following is a picture of me and colleague Faith Price paddling a canoe graciously made available to students by Shawn (Faith is waving in the foreground; students are in the background).

Photo by Earl Aston

So, I looking forward to getting my new canoe from Wenonah out, as soon as the weather allows. For the near term, however, it looks like snowshoes will be my only form of alternative transportation, aside from walking and driving. By the way, I purchased the canoe from Paddle People in Oregon; owners Jeff and Russ are a couple of fine individuals. I highly recommend them.

Professor Maclean, in Montana

December 14, 2019

First, my apologies for the long absence. I offer my thanks to those of you those of you who queried about a new post during that time. I write today to let you know about another piece of writing you might enjoy.

Earlier this month, writer Rebecca McCarthy published an essay about Norman Maclean in The American Scholar. In the essay, she recounts meeting him in Seeley Lake, Montana, while visiting her brother. The essay is titled “Norman Maclean and Me: Advice for Living and Drinking from the Author of A River runs through It” (great title, eh?).

McCarthy describes spending time with Maclean, whose summer home was near her brother’s, during a pivotal time in her teen years. Maclean, who knew the young woman wrote poetry, offered her advice and convinced her to attend the University of Chicago, from which he had recently retired.

She describes a visit to the 7 Up Ranch Supper Club, near Lincoln, for dinner. The restaurant burned down years ago, but locals will remember it fondly. And many non-locals from small towns will relate to the discussion in the essay about how being an intellectual in rural Montana or in South Carolina, where McCarthy lived as a girl, can sometimes be a lonely or even limiting experience.

McCarthy paints Maclean as a kind but colorful man, and any fan of his work will enjoy the essay. The publication notes that McCarthy is currently working on a book about Maclean. Meanwhile, you can find other examples of McCarthy’s excellent writing in The American Scholar, at Long Reads, and elsewhere.

I’ll be back soon.

Paul Maclean, in Print

September 9, 2019
The image of Paul Maclean published that appeared with the Missoulian’s announcement of Maclean’s murder.

Today, in the Missoulian, Kim Briggeman dedicates the weekly “Missoula Rewound” column to tracing Paul Maclean’s life, as it appeared in the paper. The Missoulian, of course, is the local paper for Missoula, Montana, where Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs through It and Other Tales, and his brother Paul grew up. Briggeman’s article is titled “The rise and fall of a Missoula kid.”

In A River, Norman portrays his brother as an “artist” with a fly rod. He also portrays him as intelligent and caring, but far too attracted to gambling, drinking, and general risk-taking. The novella is largely autobiographical, but it does depart from the true story of Norman’s and Paul’s lives, at times. The novella’s implication that Paul would never leave Montana and that he died as a result of gambling debt’s are two of these departures. By citing news about the the two brothers, reported during their lives, Briggeman casts light upon these matters and many others. Fans of Norman’s literary work will enjoy the article.

Gierach on the almost religious devotion to bamboo

August 13, 2019

Most readers are probably familiar with Colorado author John Gierach. He has become one of angling’s most popular writers, in the years following the 1986 publication of his best known book Trout Bum (Pruett Publishing).

Gierach earned special affection from many bamboo rod fly fishers 1997, when he published Fishing Bamboo (Lyons Press). Since fiberglass and, later, graphite became standard rod-making materials, bamboo has become a niche material. Still, there are many contemporary makers of bamboo rods. And there are many older rods, having been produced for well over one hundred years now, in circulation. I sometime use some older rods myself.

Gierach recently published a new short essay on bamboo rods in the business news magazine Bloomberg. The essays is titled “The Quasi-Religious, Damn-Near-Irrational Appeal of Bamboo Fishing Rods” (August 8, 2019). You can find the article, accompanied by pictures of fine contemporary rods, here.

Summer

August 7, 2019

I’ll write a proper post again soon. It has been a busy season.

Following are pictures from the Dalmatian Coast, Dublin, Montana, and the Colville Indian Reservation.

 

Local

June 4, 2019

As lovely as old English-made Hardy reels are, I find myself more interested in tackle made closer to home these days. This means tackle made in Pacific Canada and the Northwest United States.

Pictured here are two beautiful fly reels from British Columbia, a Peetz (with art by Jason Henry Hunt, Kwakiutl) and an Islander IR.

Salmon Restoration, Congressman Mike Simpson, and Izaak Walton

May 28, 2019
 
 

Lately, Idaho Republican congressman Mike Simpson’s vocal support of wild salmon restoration and the need to address climate change has received a lot of attention. His willingness to consider the removal of the Lower Snake River dams, has been a particular focus of the media.

Of course, Simpson acknowledges the many pragmatic reasons behind his stance. For instance, he notes that current efforts of the Bonneville Power Administration to protect salmon is exceedingly expensive and results in high costs for consumers. Ultimately, he emphasizes that the current situation is not working well for anyone, including farmers, who have seen more water sent down stream help salmon smolts. What is also interesting, though, is that Simpson counts the salmon and other nonhumans, impacted by the blockages and high water temperatures caused by the dams, right alongside the farmers, outfitters, tribal members, and others who are impacted (Simpson seeks bold action, Idaho’s salmon need hope, Simpson stops short, and more).

In an article published by Grist, writer Nathanael Johnson describes comments made by Simpson at a recent conference:

Recounting a trip to a spawning creek in the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho, Simpson paused to swallow hard a couple of times. Only one salmon made it to those shallows, he said, to “create its bed, lay its eggs and die. It was the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. These are the most,” he paused for a deep breath, “most incredible creatures I think that God’s created. It’s a cycle God has created. We shouldn’t mess with it.”

In these comments, Simpson indicates that among the many economic and ecosystemic reasons to save the salmon, is his view that salmon are a part of our shared creation. His understanding of this world and its inhabitants as sacred creations of his god remind me of Izaak Walton’s references to a “God of Nature” in his famous 1653 text The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation. I should point out to any readers unfamiliar with the text–assuming there are any–that The Compleat Angler is often cited as one of the most published English language texts in history, alongside the King James Bible and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress.

Venator and Piscator, Arthur Rackham, 1931.

Walton’s most powerful reference to the God of nature, at least in my reading, can be found at the conclusion of his original text (which becomes the conclusion of “part one,” in later editions). There, Walton writes, in the voice of the character Venator:

And as a pious man advised his friend, that, to beget mortification, he should frequent churches and view monuments, and charnel houses, and then and there consider how many dead bones time had piled up at the gates of death, so when I would beget content, and increase confidence in the power, and wisdom, and providence of Almighty God, I will walk the meadows, by some gliding stream, and there contemplate the lilies that take no care, and those very many other various little living creatures that are not only created, but fed, man knows not how, by the goodness of the God of Nature, and therefore trust in Him.

Many people will criticize Simpson as having fallen under the spell of liberal ideology, global warming conspiracies, or some such thing. But Izaak Walton’s words tell us that Simpson’s view of the salmon as sacred creations is anything but new to EuroAmerican thought. Walton, a deeply learned Anglican living in seventeenth century England, saw the salmonids of his island in just this way. Importantly, Simpson’s views very much correspond to those held my members of regional tribes in areas affected by the dams, as well. Indeed, many tribes are just starting this year’s First Salmon Ceremony, in which their members honor returning salmon (with dwindling numbers of returning salmon, these ceremonies are often bittersweet). So, Simpson is not an outlier in his understanding that salmon have a value that rivals that of humans. In fact, historically speaking, those who have no reverence for wild salmon at all are the strange ones.

Mind you, some of Simpson’s views diverge greatly from mine, tribal members, and probably even from Izaak Walton. But that is another post….

Spring

April 15, 2019

Spring is the movement of the stonefly nymphs in the fast water and the hatching of the first stoneflies. It is the stirring of the salmon alevins up through the gravel, their emergence into huddled clumps still vaguely orange from the partially absorbed yolk sacs, their spread though the river as fry and the flight of most of them to salt water through a gauntlet of trout and mergansers, bullheads and loons and kingfishers and their own yearling relatives. It is in the slow warming of the lakes, in the steady increase of the rivers as the snow comes off, in the rain showers and mayfly hatches, in the occasional days of storm and bitter wind more savagely chilling than the worst of winter, other days of flashing life and color more brilliant than summer’s richest. Spring is bloom of dog-tooth violet and trilliums along the flood-swept river banks, it is the scarlet of the sapsucker’s breast, the flight of the bandtail pigeons, the return of the yellow warblers to alders and willows overhanging the water. It is the geese nesting on little lakes, mallards paired on the beaver ponds, frogs croaking in the swamps. It is the rediscovery of pools and shallows changed or unchanged by a winter of weather, sudden freedom from the heavier gear of winter fishing, freedom from the restraints of snow and ice and short days; it is the whole promise of a new season ahead and the new pleasures that one knows will come, all unexpected from the familiar sport of going out beside water with a rod.


Roderick Haig-Brown, Fisherman’s Spring, 1951

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