Archive for the ‘The Arts’ Category

Heist

December 21, 2020

I love a good old-fashioned heist story. I wrote about one that involved my university’s library, before, in the post “Public Access and Threat of Theft.” If some of you share my fascination, you might be interested in a recent article written by Mark Wilding, titled, “Tome Raiders: Solving the Great Book Heist.” It was published by The Guardian on December 13. In the article, Wilding describes a 2017 theft of rare books worth 2.5 million pounds from a customs warehouse in England. Fortunately, the subsequent investigation led to the arrest of the thieves, though not to the recovery off all the books. If a first edition of The Complete Angler is among the books that remain missing, please be assured that I do not have it.

Halloween 2020 Repost: Ichabod Crane and the Angler

October 31, 2020

Painting of Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809 (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Painting of Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809 (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

At this time of year, Washington Irving’s well-known “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is often brought to mind. This, of course, is the classic tale of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, his romantic rivalry with Brom Bones to gain the affections of Katrina Van Tassel, and his terrifying encounter with the Headless Horseman. It was originally part of a much larger collection of works by Irving, titled The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., published in 1819 and 1820. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has subsequently been published many times as a solitary work.

The person who actually reads “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in the Sketchbook, will find that it is preceded by a reminiscence entitled “The Angler.”  Here, Irving shows a very clear familiarity with fly fishing and angling literature.  He first describes his initiatory fly fishing trip “along a mountain brook among the Highlands of the Hudson.”  He admits to fishing poorly at the time and finding more pleasure in setting aside the rod and reading “old Izaak” Walton’s The Compleat Angler. Later, he also mentions reading the famous “Tretyse of fishing with an Angle” (Irving’s spelling), as well.

Irving goes on to narrate his later encounter with an old, retired mariner and expert fly fisherman in England. He writes:

I could not but remark the gallant manner in which he stumped from one part of the brook to another, waving his rod in the air to keep the line from dragging on the ground or catching among the bushes, and the adroitness with which he would throw his fly to any particular place, sometimes skimming it lightly along a little rapid, sometimes casting it into one of those dark holes made by a twisted root or overhanging bank in which large trout are apt to lurk.

In the text, Irving accompanies the old seaman home to learn more about fishing and to simply hear about the man’s fascinating life. He notes that “the old angler” kept a book on fishing, the Bible, an “odd volume or two of voyages, a nautical almanac,” and a song book as his library. Irving is explicit in showing his respect for the old man and states that his interest in fly fishing in theory, if not in practice, is renewed. Like Walton before him, he romanticizes all fisherpersons–particularly those in England–as individuals who understand the less-cultivated world of “nature” and who benefit spiritually and otherwise from such understanding:

The sweetness and serenity of Nature and the quiet watchfulness of the sport gradually bring on pleasant fits of musing, which are now and then agreeable interrupted by the song of a bird, the distant whistle of the peasant, or perhaps the vagary of some fish leaping out of the still water and skimming transiently about its glassy surface.

It is worth noting that Irving admits nature is a bit more tame in early nineteenth century England than it is in America. Indeed, his description of the Hudson Highlands is markedly less positive than his description of the English countryside.

Regardless, it is a curious thing that Irving’s recollection of “The Angler” is followed by his tale of the very nervous Ichabod Crane, who is is greatly afraid of so many things rightly and wrongly associated with nature. In Irving’s world, it is likely that Crane would have met a more certain and happy end, if he had been a fisherman, at peace in the woods during his ride home from unsuccessfully wooing Ms. Van Tassel. In fact, in Irving’s world, a more peaceful Crane might have been more successful in his wooing, in the first place (and perhaps it was the demeanor supposedly achieved through fly fishing that made Irving the rumored object of affection to the likes of the widowed Mary W Shelley and others).

Ken Burns on Hemingway

September 10, 2020

Readers may be interested in a six hour documentary on angler and writer Ernest Hemingway, which will air on PBS in April of 2021. The documentary is produced by well-known team Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. While Hemingway and Burns have their detractors, albeit for very different reasons, I look forward to watching this. Over the course of six hours, I’m sure there will be some treatment of his fishing life, and it’s influence upon his writing. For a preview, click here.

River Voice: Poems by Gary Metras

July 26, 2020

I have shared the poetry of Gary Metras before. His latest collection of poems is titled River Voice. Gary happens to own and run Adastra Press. Sadly, this book will be the press’ last publication. All of the books Gary releases-those he authored himself and others–are printed by letterpress and bound by hand. So, Gary is not only an artist with words, he is also an artist of ink, paper, and thread.

Like most people, I read a fair amount of digital texts. These range from articles I read for work, retrieved from my university’s library website, to books that my wife and I read for pleasure with each other, on a Kindle, in the evening. Yet, for me, there is no substitute for physical books. If there is a text that I know I may turn to again-and-again, or even which I would simply like to be reminded of, I typically by a hardback copy and put it on my shelf. Sometimes, I even buy a physical copy of a book I initially ready in digital form.

In a world were relationships to our fellow humans, to the animals, to the plants, and to the water are mediated through the glass of a car window, the glare of a computer screen, a phone to the ear, and so on, I value materiality. Without it, I think, we can forget how fragile the world around us is and how fragile we often are when faced directly with it.

So, a physical book–particularly a letter-press book like Gary’s that is manifestation of his hands and heart–is special. I suspect Gary feels much as I do. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have founded Adastra Press back in 1979. There is evidence of his appreciation for the material in his poems, as well. Consider the following, from River Voice.

A Strand of Partridge Feather

The pleasure of small tasks,
tying some trout flies,
reading some pages
of a friend’s new book of poems.
I pick up a pencil to mark
a line beautifully formed
and stuck to the knife-sharpened point,
a single strand of partridge feather
clinging to the graphite.
Some forces need be unseen,
the way words can by-pass
the mind and adhere the heart. Five flies, five poems.
Just enough.

When I read this poem, I can feel myself sitting at a desk, like the author. I can smell the incense cedar of the freshly sharpened pencil, I can feel the crispness of new books pages. Of course, I can see the scene that is the setting of the poem as well. But Gary reminds us the materiality is often more than what we can see.

This is one of the reasons I love books. I can see words just as well on a screen as I can on a leaf of paper. But, reading the former, I lack the touch, and smells, and sounds that remind me the words are written by a person like me. Thus, it is easier for me to enter into a relationship with the author when I read their words on a page. Admittedly, this relationship may be an imaginary one. After all, written words are a form of abstraction themselves.

Even in fly fishing, though so many authors have described it in nearly mystical terms (I’ll spare you the scholarly lecture on mysticism), there is a degree of abstraction–a distance–that prevents us from truly knowing the non-human world around us. I cannot know everything that the water carries from the places it previously traveled, I cannot know what the trout truly feels, and I cannot even be certain what the angler around the bend is thinking about. But I can feel their impact upon me. And I can see their vulnerabilities and their strengths. And that allows for a type of relationship I cannot achieve, when sitting sitting on my ass at home watching fishing videos on YouTube (honestly, this is not something I do).

The colophon of River Voice tells the reader that is was “letterpress printed from hand-set metal type,” in 100 copies signed and numbered by Gary Metras. “Printed sheets were gathered, collated, sewn and bound from July to October 2019 as the poet continued his fly-fishing quest for the perfect trout.” There is also an expended, trade version of the book, titled River Voice II, available through Amazon. I recommend it highly.

 

Quarantine, Hemingway Style

April 16, 2020

I have previously posted about Ernest Hemingway, who–love him or hate him–is impossible to ignore in the world of angling literature. If you didn’t know he wrote about fishing outside of “A Big Two-Hearted River” Parts I & II and The Old Man and the Sea, I recommend reading Hemingway on Fishing (The Lyons Press, 2000). This is a compilation of his angling writings collected and edited by Nick Lyons.

Town & Country published a short piece by journalist Lesley M.M. Blume recently about a quarantine endured by Hemingway’s small family in 1926. Blume adapted the essay, titled “Hemingway was once Quaratined with his Wife.. and Mistress,” from her 2016 bestselling book, Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises (Eamon Dolan/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt). There is no fishing in the piece I’m afraid, but it is an amusing read during this time when we’re all holed up, to one extent or another. I only hope your situtaion is better than Hemingway’s was and that you treat your partner far better.

If you need further entertainment, you might read Blume’s book or listen to an interview with her, just published on March 18. You can find it at the Hemingway Society’s One True Podcast. You might also enjoy the interview with Susan Beegal on Hemingway, blue water fishing, and taxidermy.

Stay safe and respect others.

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.

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.

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.

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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