Archive for the ‘Environmental Literature’ Category

April 28, 2016

The following poem is by John Stoddart, published by his daughter Anna. She included it in he 1899 collection, Angling Songs, with a Memoir.

Stoddart

A PICTURE.

We listen by the waters blue to voices that we love;
Sweet flowers are twinkling at our side, and willow leaves above;
Before us feeds the fearless trout, emerging from the calm,
And bleats behind the fleecy ewe upon its wandering lamb.

Delicious musings fill the heart, and images of bliss;
Ah! that all pictures of the past were innocent as this,–
That life were like a summer trance beneath a willow wide,
Or the ramble of an angler lone along the river-side.

Book Binder, Fly Fisher

April 4, 2016

A former student sent me a Pittsburg Post-Gazette article today, about S.A. Neff, Jr. Mr. Neff is an avid fly fisher, and he is well-known for his custom bindings of angling texts. His work has been exhibited at the American Museum of Fly Fishing and elsewhere. Anyone familiar with antiquarian books will know there is a long history of collectors having favorite texts rebound with high quality covers. Of course, there are also those angling authors, who had certain of their own editions bound in unusually high-quality, hand-worked boards. I have seen Neff’s work before, but I did not know anything about the craftsman himself.

Neff 2

The article sent by my student is titled, “Fish or make books? S.A. Neff Jr. of Sewickley does both (April 3, 2016). Its author, Marylynne Pitz, provides a bit of information about Neff, but describes his book binding and angling texts collection in greater detail. Of his complementary passions–book binding and fly fishing–Pitz writes:

The same hand-eye coordination required in trout fishing has served the 78-year-old well in pursuing his piscatorial passion. Hand-tying a fly takes skill and patience. Creating a leather-bound book or a drop-back box that holds letters requires artistry, craft and a microscopic level of attention to detail.

Pitz also notes there is a documentary about Mr. Neff and announces an upcoming showing (see picture). The film is The Bibliophile as Bookbinder–The Angling Bindings of S.A. Neff, Jr. (2014). I have not seen the film, but I look forward to doing so, now that it is on my horizon. In the meantime, you can read more about Mr. Neff in the Spring 2000 issue of the The American Fly fisher: Journal of the American Museum of Fly Fishing (26, 2: 2-11) and in the January 14 issue of Sports Illustrated. In the former, you will find numerous pictures of his work.

 

The International Trout Congress

March 24, 2016

Last year, I posted information about the first meeting of the International Trout Congress. That meeting had to be postponed, but it is now scheduled for October of this year. Called The World of Trout, the meeting will take place on October 2 through 6 of 2016, in Bozeman, Montana. Following is a description of the meeting from their website (featuring their logo):

trout-congress_no-bg_final_forwebNative trout are found in a variety of habitats in North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. While no trout species were native to the southern hemisphere, trout have been widely introduced, and are now resident throughout its temperate zones as well. This dichotomy of native northerner and exotic southerner provides just one example of the rich fabric that The World of Trout will explore during this 5-day event, bringing together some of the world’s leading thinkers to synthesize knowledge about the species and discuss its future across the globe. At the same time, trout are the passion of non-scientists who spend time angling for them, writing about them and capturing them on canvas and on film. Probably no other species have been written about, painted and photographed more than trout. As technology has changed, trout in the blogosphere, in film festivals, and now captured on social media has allowed everyone to be part of the trout conversation. The World of Trout is organized both as a congress and a celebration.

As a congress, the aim is to assemble an international body for a series of structured lectures and discussions on the relationship between trout and humans. The World of Trout will focus its discussions on themes that include the diversity and role of trout worldwide, conservation issues, and trout in the literature, in the arts, and in the classroom. One unique feature of The World of Trout is “Trout Conversations” where discussions around a “place” that brings together all of the conference themes will be explored. There will be a number of these discussions throughout the event. A partial list of themes to be explored through invited papers, workshops, and informal gatherings included [sic]:

The rich diversity of trout
Trout in the literature…..then and now
What do trout teach us about ourselves?
The role of trout in outdoor and indoor classrooms
Conservation challenges to protecting trout
The economic benefit of trout in communities worldwide
Trout on canvas and in film – expanding artistic expression through multiple media
The role of trout in social and ecological communities
The future of trout in the next 100 years
Developing an international network for trout conservation

The International Trout Congress has issued a “Call for Sessions.” Proposals are due on April 1. Submit yours here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A “Dog Song”

March 14, 2016
IMG_2050

My somewhat faithful fly fishing companion, “Bear.” He displays a look of indifference, after I fell into the stream. In his defense, he has witnessed this many times before.

In Dog Songs: Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay (Penguin, 2013), the best-selling poet Mary Oliver captures the sense of wonder that dogs awaken in many of us, and which the other-than-human world in general, still awakens in at least a few of us. Her 1984 collection of poems, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize. And her 1992 collection, New and Selected Poems, won the National Book Award. Dana Jennings of the New York Times describes Oliver as an “old fashioned poet,” inspired by nature (“Scratching a Muse’s Ears,” Oct. 6, 2013). Oliver certainly has her critics, as any poet–especially an unusually popular one–does. Perhaps because I lean toward the “old fashioned” and because I’m a great fan of dogs as well, I enjoy her Dog Songs. Following, is one of them.

 

The Storm (Bear)

Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the new snow
with wild feet.
Running here running there, excited,
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.

Oh, I could not have said it better
myself.

 

John Donne on the Lures of Love in Difficult Times

March 2, 2016

John Donne was a gifted poet and reluctant religious figure. Donne was born in London, to Roman Catholic parents, in 1572. His family suffered directly from the Church of England’s repression of Catholics. Donne, himself, converted to Anglicanism, and subsequently received financial support for his poetry and even served in Parliament.  He became an Anglican priest, at the insistence of King James I. He died n 1631, just as James’ son and successor, Charles I, was experienced increasing resistance from religious and political dissenters, especially the Puritans and other Calvinist Protestants. Charles, of course, was beheaded in 1649, by the then Anglican dominated Parliament.

John Donne, c. 1595. Artist unknown.

John Donne, c. 1595. Artist unknown.

Donne lived a full life; he was well-educated, he travelled extensively, and he served in the navy. No doubt, these and other experiences, and the forced self-examination of his religious stance, contributed to the quality of his poetry. He is perhaps best known for his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. “The Bait” is an earlier poem and is written in response to Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (1599).

Illustration of Piscator and Venator, by Arthur Rackham. From Rackham's 1931 illustrated edition of The Compleat Angler.

Illustration of Piscator and Venator, by Arthur Rackham. From Rackham’s 1931 illustrated edition of The Compleat Angler.

Donne was clearly a respected author in his lifetime, though his fame was no doubt helped along by Isaac Walton. Most of us know Walton as the author of The Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation (1653). However, he also published a biography of Donne in 1640. Moreover, Walton later included “The Bait” in The Complete Angler. In this text, his character Viator says he loves Donne’s verses “because they allude to rivers, and fish, and fishing.”  Following is “The  Bait.”

The Bait

Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.

There will the river whispering run
Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the sun;
And there th’enamour’d fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be’st loth,
By sun or moon, thou darken’st both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleave-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes’ wand’ring eyes.

For thee, thou need’st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait:
That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,
Alas, is wiser far than I.

7th Annual Hemingway Festival

February 10, 2016

12485872_540178289484657_1603676783309305617_o

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.

IMG_2037

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.”

Possibility

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.


%d bloggers like this: