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

The Salmon do not Consent

February 18, 2019

Christi Belcourt is a Métis artist from Alberta, who was raised in Ontario. She is part of an artistic and family known for their art and Indigenous rights advocacy. For those who don’t know, the Métis are one of three peoples legally recognized as aboriginal or indigenous, by the Canadian government. The other peoples are the First Nations (Indians) and Inuit.

Belcourt is a visual artist, who draws upon her identity as an Indigenous woman. Following is a description of her work, from her website:

Like generations of Indigenous artists before her, the majority of her work explores and celebrates the beauty of the natural world and traditional Indigenous world-views on spirituality and natural medicines while exploring nature’s symbolic properties. Following the tradition of
Métis floral beadwork, Belcourt uses the subject matter as metaphors for human existence to relay a variety of meanings that include concerns for the environment, biodiversity, spirituality and Indigenous rights. Although known primarily as a painter, she has for years been also practicing traditional arts.

You can find many examples of varied artwork at her online gallery. Besides the pieces you can find in the gallery, Belcourt also creates a great many graphic pieces, related to Indigenous rights and environmental protection. She makes these available for public use. Once such piece, posted recently on her Facebook page, particularly caught my eye.

This image addresses the “Trans Mountain” pipeline system. The Kinder Morgan cooperation is attempting to expand the capacity of this pipeline system, which will increase the environmental degradation at the Tar Sands of Alberta, where it originates. The pipeline ends at the Salish Sea, in British Columbia, and thus crosses a great deal of aboriginal Canadian land. The majority of First Nations along its pathway oppose the construction, because of the damage done at the Tar Sands as well as the possibility of further damage along its route (the pipeline has had numerous leaks, in the past).

Belcourt’s art implies that the salmon of British Columbia also oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline. This may seem like an odd claim to mainstream Canadians and Americans. However, traditional Indigenous peoples typically recognize animals as non-human persons, with whom they maintain reciprocal relations. Ancient stories often tell of agreements made between the Creator, culture heroes, or game animals themselves and humans. Generally speaking, these agreements stipulate that the animals “consent” to give their lives to humans, if they, in return, are honored and their overall populations protected. For a far more detailed explanation of such reciprocal relationships, I recommend the book Animism: Respecting the Living World (Columbia University Press, 2006), by Religious Studies scholar Graham Harvey.

I think many anglers can understand the relationships described above, even if we do not necessarily see animals as fellow persons. After all, a concern for conservation is reflected in angling literature dating back over 500 years in Europe. Authors emphasize the need to care for fish habitat and even to respect the fish (the latter need is particularly clear in Izaak Walton’s 1653 Complete Angler, in order to enjoy their sport). Today, many anglers join organization like Trout Unlimited or Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in order to “give back” to the fish.

In general, though, most Canadians, Americans, and Europeans are not very cognizant of the impact their actions have upon others–even their fellow humans. Drawing from her own people’s views, and those of other Indigenous Peoples, Belcourt urges us to do otherwise. I should add that we must do so, being fully prepared to consume less energy (lest any readers accuse me of hypocrisy). Make no mistake, while I am not the perfect person, I do consider the consequence of my actions regularly.

Giant Bears and Fanged Salmon

February 4, 2019

Much of my attention at work, lately, has been directed toward a project involving grizzly bears. In thinking about the species of bears that roam the Americas, I was reminded of a piece of art I saw recently at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, in Spokane, Washington.  It depicts one of the ancient, now extinct “short-faced bears” (Arctodus pristinus and Arctodus simus) wrestling with the also ancient and extinct “sabertooth salmon” (Onchorhynchus rastrosus).  The massive sculpture, which is mounted on a wall, was created by artist Peter Thomas of entirely recycled materials. It is part of a larger, permanent exhibit of Thomas’ work.

Not surprisingly, these animals were massive. One species of the bear, Arctodus simus, may have stood 12 feet tall, while the salmon may have reached nine feet in length. Of course, the salmon is related to today’s Pacific salmon, while the short-faced bear’s closest living relative is the much smaller Andean “spectacled bear” (Tremarctos ornatus). Both of these animals roamed the waters and wilds of the Pacific Northwest. They were not actually contemporaries, but I still enjoy imagining what it might be like to land a giant salmon with huge teeth, while looking out for an even bigger bear that might want to steal my catch.

Watch and Learn

January 23, 2019

Trout Unlimited recently published a short article by Crystal Elliot, TU’s Washington state habitat director, titled “Mimicking beavers improves trout habitat.” In it, Elliot writes, “The emerging restoration technique of mimicking beaver dams with beaver dam analogs (BDAs) is booming in popularity because of its effectiveness, relative ease of construction, adaptability, and low cost.”

My regular job involves promoting Indigenous land-based knowledge, often called in academia “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” or “TEK.” This knowledge is typically rooted in observations of the non-human world that are passed down, interpreted, and applied over many generations by members of Indigenous communities. Often, I find hard scientists to be the most receptive to collaborations with these communities, that incorporate such knowledge. In fact, some of the collaborations that come to mind have involved beavers, and were led by a Native American professor.

It is encouraging to see fisheries scientists looking toward non-human models of trout stream restoration. Sometimes the best solutions to a problem are those that have worked in the past. The Western obsession with human ingenuity sometimes distracts us from this fact.

The video accompanying Elliots’s article is below.

Book Recommendation: Moving Water, by Dave Hall

January 5, 2019

Many anglers are attracted to the aesthetic aspects of fly fishing. I refer not only to the spiritual or contemplative qualities of the pursuit, written about so often by Isaac Walton and others. Nor do I refer simply to the careful study or, in some cases, apprenticeship required for one to fish well–a phenomenon that is also written about extensively. Rather, I refer primarily to the sense of beauty, experienced visually and otherwise, in the places we fish. Sometimes, of course, this sense of beauty intersects with the spiritual. Indeed, over five centuries ago, the author of The Treatyse of Fyshingn wyth an Angle told us that smelling the flowers and listening to the melodies of the birds along the river bank, and even catching the occasional fish. is good for the “health of our body and soul.”

But this beauty is not easily conveyed in words or other images. Occasionally, however, someone succeeds in doing so.  For instance, I have previously written about my appreciation of friend Claudiu Presecan’s paintings. Today, I write about the work of Dave Hill, who lives in the Rocky Mountain West. Hall is a rare individual, who has been able to capture the beauty of the places we fish in brushstrokes as well as words. He shares both in his new book, Moving Water: an Artist’s Reflections on Fly Fishing, Friendship, and Family (Blaine Creek, 2019).

Moving Water is a hardbound book with dust-jacket, that includes both single-page and full-spread, color reproductions of Hall’s paintings. Many of these depict the Yellowstone area of the American West. Along with the paintings are autobiographical reflections upon Hall’s life.
Hall’s paintings are both ethereal and very realistic, at the same time. Thus, they convey the sense of beauty that I describe above. In the paintings, anyone familiar with the West, or similar landscapes in other parts of the world, will recognize their own experiences of such beauty immediately. Because the written narrative accompanying the pictures is rather poetic, the words complement the pictures perfectly, and they provide an understanding of who Hall is, how his family influenced him, what his friends and fellow anglers were like, and so on. As a result, the words, along with the familiarity conveyed by the paintings, almost make you feel as if you are reacquainting yourself with an old friend, in the shape of Hall.

Rather than share my own, inevitably poor photographs of Hall’s work, I share an image from the artist’s website. This painting is featured in the book, and it is titled “Dawn on the Henry’s Fork.” It is one of my favorites.

I urge you to visit the Dave Hall Landscape Art to see more paintings. And you should visit Dave Hall’s Moving Water to learn more about his book and to place an order. You can also order postcards, posters, and more.
Hall’s paintings really do capture the Montana and Idaho with which I am acquainted; I can almost smell the flowers and hear the melodies of the birds, as recommended by the Treatyse’s author, just by looking at Hall’s paintings. Take a look; you may feel the same.

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