Archive for the ‘Environmental Literature’ Category

Jim Harrison’s Green Man

May 11, 2017

Green Man carving, circa 12th c., from Church of St. Mary and St. David in Kilpeck, England. Wikimedia Commons.

Jim Harrison portrait by Andy Anderson, from Dead Man’s Float.

In Jim Harrison‘s final book of poetry, he includes a piece on the Green Man. This figure appears repeatedly over the centuries in European and Euro-American literature and art. His exact origin is unknown and interpretations of his symbolism vary greatly. Historically, from certain Christian perspectives, he represented the base world, Paganism, and the devil itself. From more mystical Christian perspectives, he represented the Holy Spirit and the life God breathed into all that lives. The best known manifestation of the Green Man may be in Arthurian tales, particularly in the 14th c. Middle English “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” (author unknown), wherein his meaning is as ambiguous as ever. In the 1990’s he was romanticized by poet and so-called “Men’s Movement” founder Robert Bly. Today, he receives positive attention from many neo-Pagans. Regardless, the Green Man is most often associated with “nature,” wildness, and similar concepts. Certainly, this is the association Harrison has in mind. In his poem, titled simply “The Green Man,” the figure embodies knowledge of how one should live in the non-human world. But if we consider the poem in the context of Harrison’s other non-fiction work, we might argue that his Green Man embodies knowledge of how one should live always.

Illustration of the Green Knight (holding his severed head), from the original manuscript containing Sir Gawain and the Green Night. Wikimedia Commons.

“The Green Man”

Since early childhood I believed
in a door in the forest. I looked for it
for more than a half century
and it evaded me. The Green Man
lived there, part tree and part human.
Keeping his distance he told me a lot.
Walk mostly sideways in the wilderness
to confuse those who would track you.
When outside, sleep with your eyes open
And see the coyote pup approach out
of curiosity, the small bear resting
against a stump a hundred yards away,
a warbler standing on your toe singing.
When I lost he howled at me from a tree, “Wrong way.”
I dreamed where he lived, high on the steep
bank of the river concealed under a thick drapery
of tree roots but I skidded on my tummy
down into the river, a sign to give up.
There was a stinking wolf den close by so my dog
wouldn’t stay with me. The Green Man, alone, forever.

Jim Harrison, Dead Man’s Float (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), 54.

Montana Books

March 13, 2017

Online magazine The Montana Mint published a list of recommended books about Montana recently. The post is titled “The Greatest Books Ever Written About Montana.” The claim implied in this title is quite a stretch, but they do recommend some wonderful books. Some of these I recommend to you, in turn.

Of course, you are already familiar with Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and Other Stories (1976). Maclean fans might also enjoy Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western World (1980), in which the author is nearly as poetic about the Montana landscape as Maclean. The Montana Mint lists several other Doig titles, as well.

The Big Sky, first edition data (fair use image, from Wikipedia)

Another worthwhile read is A.B. Guthrie, Jr’s The Big Sky (1947). This classic novel is a deeply engaging and sometimes disturbing fictional account of the mountain men, set during the first half of the 1800s. It left quite an impression upon me, as a young man. Its 1949 sequel, The Way West, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

For a Native American perspective upon the sort of Indian/white interactions described by Guthrie, read James Welch’s Fools Crow (1986). Welch was a Gros Ventre/Blackfeet author, who remains a looming figure in Native American literature. In Fools Crow, he tells the story of a fictionalized Piikani Blackfoot man. The story culminates with the 1870 Bear Creek (Marias River) Massacre, during which the US Army murdered approximately 200 Piikanis. Fools Crow does not mesh perfectly with Blackfoot oral histories, but it is a compelling book that certainly conveys Native emotions about such devastating events as that which occurred in 1870.

For the full list of books recommended by The Montana Mint, see their post.

 

 

2017 Hemingway Festival

January 28, 2017

The dates and schedule for the 2017 Hemingway Festival have been announced. The event, hosted by the University of Idaho, will take place on March 3 and 4 in Moscow, Idaho. The annual festival celebrates the work of the deeply talented, if sometimes controversial writer, as well as the latest recipient of the PEN/Hemingway Award. This year, the award was given to Ottessa Moshfegh, author of the acclaimed novel, Eileen. Hemingway, of course, needs no introduction to readers and anglers. But for more information about the festival held in his name, I refer you to last year’s post.

The Shape of the Voyage

December 6, 2016

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Cover Art by Russell Chatham, from 1989’s The Theory & Practice of Rivers and New Poems (Clark City Press).

Jim Harrison (1937-2016), of whom I have written before, published The Theory and Practice of Rivers (Winn Books) in 1986. He included the poem of the same name in a later collection, as well. Here, I offer an excerpt from that lengthy poem–the first two stanzas. They appeal to me on this wintry December day that provokes the same sort of self-reflection found in Harrison’s poem.

The Theory and Practice of Rivers

The rivers of my life:
moving looms of light,
anchored beneath the log
at night I can see the moon
up through the water
as shattered milk, the nudge
of fishes, belly and back
in turn grating against log
and bottom; and letting go, the current
lifts me up and out
into the dark, gathering motion,
drifting into an eddy
with a sideways swirl,
the sandbar cooler than the air:
to speak it clearly,
how the water goes
is how the earth is shaped.

It is not so much that I got
there from here, which is everyone’s
story: but the shape
of the voyage, how it pushed
outward in every direction
until it stopped:
roots of plants and trees,
certain coral heads,
photos of splintered lightning,
blood vessels,
the shapes of creeks and rivers.

 

 

End-of-Day

August 29, 2016
Night at the Cabin

The Evening Scene, at the Cabin

 

“When Day is Done”

If the day is done,
if birds sing no more,
if the wind has flagged tired,
then draw the veil of darkness thick upon me,
even as thou hast wrapt the earth with the coverlet of sleep
and tenderly closed the petals of the drooping lotus at dusk.

By Rabindranath Tagore, 1913 Nobel Prize-winning Bengali poet.

Book Announcement: By a Thread: A Retrospective on Women and Fly Tying

August 2, 2016

Erin Block has written a book dedicated to the subjects of women and flytying. Titled By a Thread: A Retrospective on Women in Fly Tying, the book is published by Whitefish Press. Block previously wrote The View from Coal Creek, also available from Whitefish. She is also the Editor-at-Large of Trout Magazine and has published numerous articles.

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Dust jacket image from Whitefish Press website.

Marketers in the tackle industry and other areas of fly fishing and outdoor commerce pay increasing attention to women as consumers. Sometimes this is a good thing. Other times it is transparently trite and commercial. For instance, marketing a pink version of a production fly rod really just draws great attention to the supposed gulf between men and women and reifies our often inaccurate views of gender. That said, if a pink rod appeals to you–no matter your gendered identity–enjoy.

What many marketers and fly fishing enthusiasts forget is that women have been involved with fly fishing since its late medieval growth in popularity as a leisure activity in Europe. In fact, generations of writers and anglers attributed authorship of the “Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle”–the first major work devoted to fly fishing and printed in the English language –to a woman.

There is no clear evidence that Berners was the author of the Treatyse or even that she existed. It was first printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1496, who included it in the The Boke of St. Albans. Berners (then spelled Barnes) was already identified as the supposed author of The Boke. So, she became the supposed author of the Treatyse as well. What really matters,  however, is that generations of readers were content with the idea that a woman wrote the Treatyse, whether it is historical fact or not.

Other women–real ones–played important roles in fly fishing and other field sports in subsequent centuries. For instance, I wrote earlier about Megan Boyd and Kiss the Water, a recent film that honored her place in history as a master salmon flytier. Blocks discusses many other such figures. The reader who wants to look beyond pink rods to the real contributions that women have already been making to fly fishing and other outdoor activities should therefore read By a Thread. Clearly, I am eager to do so.

Just to drive my point home, I share a wonderful 1955 British Pathé video about fly fishing on Scotland’s River Tweed. Notice the flytier, who features so prominently.

KL

Book Announcement: Backcasts: A Global History of Flyfishing & Conservation

June 30, 2016

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On July 11, The University of Chicago Press publishes a book that will interest a wide variety of readers. The book is titled Backcasts: A Global History of Flyfishing & Conservation. It is edited by Sam Snyder, Bryon Borgelt, and Elizabeth Tobey. The 400 page book considers fish and fishing from overlapping recreational, cultural, and scientific perspectives.

The U of Chicago Press is publishing Backcasts exactly 40 years after they published Norman Maclean’s famous A River runs Through It and Other Stories. That publication was seminal, not only because of Maclean’s fine writing, but also because Chicago had never published a non-academic book before (though Maclean, a professor at Chicago, was an academic himself). Backcasts certainly qualifies as an academic book, but it should appeal to a much broader audience. The writing is accessible and the topics are wide-ranging. Just take a look at the table of contents (from U of Chicago Press’ publication webpage):

Foreword: Looking Downstream from A River
Jen Corrinne Brown

Acknowledgments

Introduction. A Historical View: Wading through the History of Angling’s Evolving Ethics
Samuel Snyder

Part One: Historical Perspectives
1 Trout and Fly, Work and Play, in Medieval Europe
Richard C. Hoffmann
2 Piscatorial Protestants: Nineteenth-Century Angling and the New Christian Wilderness Ethic
Brent Lane
3 The Fly Fishing Engineer: George T. Dunbar, Jr., and the Conservation Ethic in Antebellum America
Greg O’Brien

Part Two: Geographies of Sport and Concern
4. Protecting a Northwest Icon: Fly Anglers and Their Efforts to Save Wild Steelhead
Jack Berryman
5 Conserving Ecology, Tradition, and History: Fly Fishing and Conservation in the Pocono and Catskill Mountains
Matthew Bruen
6 From Serpents to Fly Fishers: Changing Attitudes in Blackfeet Country toward Fish and Fishing
Ken Lokensgard
7 Thymallus tricolor: The Michigan Grayling
Bryon Borgelt

Part Three: Native Trout and Globalization
8 “For Every Tail Taken, We Shall Put Ten Back”: Fly Fishing and Salmonid Conservation in Finland
Mikko Saikku
9 Trout in South Africa: History, Economic Value, Environmental Impacts, and Management
Dean Impson
10 Holy Trout: New Zealand and South Africa
Malcolm Draper
11 A History of Angling, Fisheries Management, and Conservation in Japan
Masanori Horiuchi

Part Four: Ethics and Practices of Conservation
12 For the Health of Water, Fish, and People: Women, Angling, and Conservation
Gretel Van Wieren
13 Crying in the Wilderness: Roderick Haig-Brown, Conservation, and Environmental Justice
Arn Keeling
14 The Origin, Decline, and Resurgence of Conservation as a Guiding Principle in the Federation of Fly Fishers
Rick Williams
15 It Takes a River: Trout Unlimited and Coldwater Conservation
John Ross

Conclusion. What the Future Holds: Conservation Challenges and the Future of Fly Fishing
Jack Williams and Austin Williams

Epilogue
Chris Wood, CEO, Trout Unlimited

Appendix. Research Resources: A List of Libraries, Museums, and Collections Covering Sporting History, Especially Fly Fishing
Contributors
Index

Readers of angling or other environmental literature will recognize the names of many contributors. My own name is among them. I am particularly pleased to be a contributor because editor Dr. Sam Snyder is a friend. Like me, he has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. His academic emphasis is upon the relationship between religion and the environment. In recent years, he has worked with several organizations protecting Alaska’s rivers. Sam’s co-editors are Dr. Bryon Borgelt, principal of St. Rose School in Perrysburg, Ohio and scholar of sport fishing and conservation, and Dr. Elizabeth Tobey, who has worked for the National Sporting Library & Museum and is an authority on field sports and religion. Of course, the cover artwork is by angler, author, and artist James Prosek.

I have yet to receive my complimentary copy of Backcasts, but having watched this book take shape, I am confident that it is going to represent a real contribution to existing literature and that it will be an entertaining and informative read, as well.  Books published by university presses can be pretty expensive these days, but the hardcover version of Backcasts is currently priced at a reasonable $45.00. You can order it from the U of Chicago Press, from Amazon.com, and hopefully from local bookstores.

Stan Lynde, Mountains, and our Creator

June 18, 2016

LATIGO-SUNDAY-02-19-12As a kid growing up in Dillon and, later, Helena, Montana, I loved the nationally syndicated newspaper comic strips of Stan Lynde (1931-2013). Lynde’s best known characters were Rick O’Shay and Latigo. Both of them were “Old West” lawmen, hunters, and gunfighters (fishermen–not so much).

In his full-color Sunday comics, Lynde often addressed religious matters. Numerous times, Rick O’Shay and Latigo made clear that “nature” was their church–the place where they were closest to their Creator (which Rick referred to as his “Boss”).

Lynde, himself, was a Montanan. He grew up in Lodge Grass, on the Crow Indian Reservation, and later lived in Helena. I remember meeting him when I was pretty young, before my own family moved to Helena. While he may have preferred the mountains to a church, he was certainly a strong Christian in his later years. Perhaps my dad’s role as a Presbyterian pastor has something to do with my meeting the artist.

I suspect Lynde held many views I don’t share (his early portrayal of Native Americans is questionable, for instance). Still, his view of nature left an undeniable impression upon me. Time and again, when I am at our cabin, near a stream, or even just admiring the view of the mountains from home, I find myself remembering those old comics and agreeing with Lynde’s characters. Nature, the world-less-touched by humans, their greed, and their ignorance, is where I feel closest to my Creator.

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Mr. Lynde signed my Dr. Seuss Book of Autographs, when I was little.

North Idaho

June 15, 2016

I spent last weekend with a local friend, AJ Morris, fly fishing his favorite river in North Idaho. He has fished it for years and seems to know its every nuance. I have visited the river only a few times since moving to the region, myself, though I have enjoyed fishing there each time. Since fishing, for me, consists of more than catching trout, this means I have also enjoyed the beauty surrounding the river, the animals giving life to that beauty, the companionship of my friend, and so on.

My views are not unique. Archaeologists have confirmed that the river’s drainage has been inhabited for some 12,000 years. The Nez Perce or Nimiipuu, descendants of those ancient inhabitants, live there still. And I know that my Nez Perce friends find the area just as important to their lives as their ancestors did, despite profound changes brought by settlement, dam-building, and other damaging activities.

Author and Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Hunt describes Northern Idaho, from a fly fisher’s perspective, in Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Rivers (The History Press, 2014). He writes:

From a fishing standpoint, northern Idaho is defined by the Clearwater River drainage. The Clearwater itself is a legendary steelhead river, even today, with all the impediments facing Idaho’s oceangoing rainbow trout. But all the rivers and streams that come together to form the Clearwater have a fishy legacy that rivals that of any system in the state.

Hunt is the Director of National Communications for Trout Unlimited, and his words ring true. In fact, these rivers and streams really rival those found in many other parts of the world, too. The same can be said of their beauty.

Octavio Paz, the Break, and Nature

May 12, 2016

 

Octavio Paz besökte Malmö Internationella Poesifestival 1988, John Leffmann.

Octavio Paz besökte Malmö Internationella Poesifestival 1988, John Leffmann.

Octavio Paz (1914-1998), the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, was a Mexican poet and intellectual. He served in the Mexican diplomatic service, lectured at Cambridge and Harvard, and was awarded many prizes for his writings. While I do not support some of his later political stances, I find his poetry insightful and occasionally intoxicating. Here, I share a short poem, from a larger series of similar poems, first published in 1955. It is titled “Objetos” or “Objects.” In three lines, Pas captures our tendency to objectify the world around us, in our daily lives. And he indicates how powerful it is, when we break this tendency and recognize the vitality of our surroundings, human and otherwise. For me, fly fishing and spending time in “nature” (by which I mean “places-less-influenced-by-humans”) provides that break.

 

OBJECTS

They live alongside us
we do not know them, they do not know us
But sometimes they speak with us.

(this translation from the Spanish is taken from Selected Poems, Eliot Weinberger ed. (New Directions, 1984), 6.


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