Archive for the ‘The Environment’ Category

In the Name of the River

July 22, 2018

The waters symbolize the universal sum of virtualities; they are fons et origo, “spring and origin,” the reservoir of all the possibilities of existence; they precede every form and support every creation.

Mircea Eliade, Romanian Historian of Religion. From the Sacred and Profane: The Nature of Religion, translated by William Trask (Harcourt, 1957) 130.

Summer sometimes involves trips to Hungary, where my wife grew up. Sometimes I fish there, near my brother-in-law’s house, on the Danube or on a little-known trout stream. Other times, I visit friends in Transylvania to fish much deeper in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania

Claudiu Presecan, whom I have introduced to readers before, is one of these friends in Romania. Claudiu is a devoted fly fisher, as well as an artist. He cares deeply about the environment from which he draws artistic and spiritual inspiration. Some time ago, he made a short video sharing the beauty and potential threats to one of his favorite rivers, the Somesul Rece.

Understandably, the environmental concerns most of us have revolve around places and issues in our own regions. It is good to remember, however, that people in other parts of the world have similar concerns about their own regions. Just as we have come to view the land as an ecosystem, we should view humans similarly (after all, we are part of the ecosystem). Our rivers ultimately mingle through the aquifers and oceans, and our humanity mingles as we drink from or fish those same waters. So, take a look at Claudiu’s video about the Somesul Rece and remember that our fights to preserve the health of the world extend far beyond our own home waters.

You can see Claudiu’s paintings, including a series also titled ‘In the Name of the River,’ at ClaudiuPresecan.Com. He will also be showing his work in Seattle this fall. If your interest in art does not extend much beyond tackle, you might take a look at the rods built by his friend Paul Sas, of Xander Flyrods. Paul also hand makes lures, knives, and, I’m sure, much more. Paul and another angler, Dr. Mihai Vasilescue, appear in Claudiu’s movie.

Home Again

June 1, 2018

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University Angling Literature Honors Course

April 25, 2018

Next year, I am happily offering my course on angling literature and culture again. I look forward to sharing some thoughts, as the students and I move through some great texts and discussions together. It’s a great pleasure to teach this course here at Washington State University, where we have a huge collection of fishing and other field sports literature.

Lokensgard Honors '18

Shrinking Salmon

March 1, 2018

All fly fishers have seen the old black-and-white photos of long-gone anglers, displaying the giant salmon they just caught. KUOW, a radio station serving western Washington and Southern British Columbia, has produced a news story that helps explain why we rarely see salmon of that size today. It came to my attention through the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Department of Environmental Protection. You can read or listen to the story at the following link.

http://kuow.org/post/why-don-t-you-see-people-sized-salmon-anymore

International Handwriting Day

January 23, 2018

Today is International Handwriting Day. Like many such holidays, I suspect it was created by marketers. Of course, the marketers’ greatest innovation of the modern era must be “disposability.” As manufacturers were able to produce cheaper products from less durable materials, the sellers of these products convinced consumers that the less expensive versions were “convenient.” This was because consumers could simply discard the products after a short period of time and then purchase brand new ones. Sure, these disposable products were a bit cheaper for the consumer, but their replacement costs would soon outstrip the costs of higher quality versions.

One of the most common of these “convenient” products is the disposable pen. In my world–academia–these are everywhere. You can find used pens on desks, on classroom floors, and obviously in the garbage.  This adds up to a lot of discarded plastic that will never be recycled.

On International Pen Day, you might consider switching to a refillable pen or even a good old-fashioned wood-cased pencil (biodegradable wood and recyclable tin erasure ferrule). Kaweco, a German company, offers quality fountain, ballpoint, and roller ball pens, as well as mechanical pencils, at affordable prices. The popular Kaweco “Sport” fountain pen–a small, durable “pocket” pen– has been around for over one hundred years.  A new one will run you twenty to twenty-five dollars, and it will last a long, long time. If you use a felt-tip highlighter pen, consider switching to a highlighter pencil. The one pictured below is a “Wood Note” pencil from the Japanese pencil-maker Kita-boshi. You can find many other highlighter pencils online.

If you are like me, you care about the impact that you have upon the earth and it’s inhabitants. You want that impact to be positive. Avoiding disposable products and using longer-lasting and/or biodegradable products is an easy way of at least making your impact less negative. A nice pen might even motivate you to improve your handwriting, create a poem, send a letter to someone you love, or do some other thing that will impact others positively.

Ink

Noodler’s “El Lawrence” ink and Kaweco “Sport” fountain pens.

Pen

Kita-boshi pencils and Kaweco Skyline Sport.

Help

December 29, 2017

Most of us have friends, who have found themselves in dark places. Sometimes the reasons our friends are in such situations are obvious–the reasons are “environmental,” psychologists might say. Other times, our friends are lost for more complex reasons. Occasionally, we can still identify some causes–grief, trauma, mental illness, or a combination of these and other things.

Regardless, we want to help our friends find their way out of the darkness. Sometimes, a gift of money or even just emotional support can provide our friends the nudge they need to find the right direction. But other times, especially in the more complex cases, we just don’t know what to offer. And when we finally find something, we aren’t sure if it will be of use.

Time spent out-of-doors is what often gets me through the rough patches in life. Such time helps me reorient, to find my bearings, and to continue on through the difficult terrain waiting for me at work, home, or wherever. Not surprisingly then, when friends are disoriented and depressed, I often suggest they spend some time away from their busy lives. In many cases I suggest they go fly fishing.

In the great semi-autobiographical novella, A River Runs through It, we find author Norman Maclean struggling throughout the story to help his brother, Paul. Paul Maclean is troubled by an apparent gambling addiction and perhaps by alcoholism. At one point, Norman discusses this problem with his father. Readers will recall that the father, John, is a Presbyterian minister in Missoula, Montana. Like his sons, he is also a flyfisher. Indeed, he taught his two sons to fish. The following passage describes the discussion between Norman and his father. Norman, of course, is the narrator.

He went to the door and looked out and when he came back he didn’t ask me any questions. He tried to tell me. He spoke in the abstract, but he had spent his life fitting abstractions to listeners so that listeners would have no trouble fitting his abstractions to the particulars of their lives.

“You are too young to help anybody and I am too old,” he said. “By help I don’t mean a courtesy like serving chokecherry jelly or giving money.”

“Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.

“So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, “Sorry, we are just out of that part.”

I told him, “You make it too tough. Help doesn’t have to be anything that big.”

He asked me, “Do you think your mother helps him by buttering his rolls?”

“She might,” I told him. “In fact, yes, I think she does.”

“Do you think you help him?” he asked me.

“I try to,” I said. “My trouble is I don’t know him. In fact, on of my troubles is that I don’t even know whether he needs help. I don’t know, that’s my trouble.”

“That should have been my text,” my father said. “We are willing to help, Lord, but what if anything is needed?

“I still know how to fish,” he concluded. “Tomorrow we will go fishing with him.”

(Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 81-82).

So, Norman and the Rev. John Maclean give “parts of themselves” to John and go fishing. They give their time, their passion, and their love as family members and fishermen. In the story, Norman indicates that this fishing trip was meaningful to all. Perhaps it was helpful, too. However, it was not so helpful that Paul was able find a path away from his troubles. In the story, he is beaten to death at Lolo Hot Springs. In real life, he met a similar end in Chicago.

I recently lost a friend. Her passing was a shock to all, especially to her family. Still, many of us knew she was struggling, and we offered those parts of ourselves that we thought might help. Admittedly, my friend and I never fished, though we certainly discussed it. Of course, I did offer other parts of myself–pieces of my life and practices that allow me to live successfully from day-to-day. I had hoped these offerings might help reorient my friend and find strength through her new connections in nature. Unfortunately, the reasons for her struggles were many and complex. And the help that I and other friends offered was not enough. As John Maclean says above, of all the parts of our lives we can offer to others, sometimes we just  “do not have the part that is needed.”

Rest easy now, Matoyaaki.

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Acknowledgement

November 27, 2017

“The Trout” and old Peetz “Reel Time” clock.

The items in the picture above usually sit on a shelf above my desk, at home. The reel on the left and the flasher in the background feature designs by Native artist Jason Henry Hunt. Hunt, a Kwaguilth descendant, collaborates with Peetz Fishing & Outdoors to produce their “Artist Series” of products. Hunt’s hand-carved 5-inch reel, called The Hunter, is particularly nice. Peetz offers laser-engraved versions of Hunt’s designs as more affordable alternatives to the hand-carved reels.

“The Hunter.” Photo from Peetz website.

The native fish of the the northwestern United States and western Canada are particularly important to many Tribes or First Nations. Therefore, some of the Tribes are actively involved in fisheries rehabilitation and conservation. Many Nonnatives simply consider tribal members as competitors for the same fish; they don’t understand the roles that Tribes play in ensuring the fish are there in the first place. Nor do they understand the sacred value the fish have for most tribal members. Peetz does understand these things. If you do too, you might look into ways that you can help support Native crafts-persons like Hunt or otherwise acknowledge the First Nations in the region, who help protect the waters we now share and the denizens therein.

Repost: Ichabod Crane and the Angler

October 30, 2017
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).

Fishing the North Branch of the Lamoille

August 18, 2017

This following essay is written by guest Jed Feffer, who is a mutual friend of North Carolina bamboo rodmaker Munsey Wheby. Jed is a retired teacher, and  he has been fly fishing for nearly 20 years. Like me, Jed often feels a strong sense of connection, while fishing.  “It can give me a heightened sense of the small details around me,” Jed writes.  It’s my pleasure to share his great piece. Both the writing and the pictures are his.

 

Fishing the North Branch of the Lamoille

Driving up over Eden Mountain Road is a joy.   There is the cooling of the air, and at the peak a stained barn, stately and dark.   The bark of the bordering maple trees are like the barn wood.  The inhabitants have built on the wall, and by the border trees statuaries of stone.  These are pillars of varying sizes and shapes, that add a fanciful touch to Eden Mountain Road, and the neighboring woods.  Someday, I will stop there to gaze over the southerly view, where the mountains, hills and farm fields fan out.

Usually, I am in a hurry to the town of Eden Mills, then farther to Belvidere Center, where the North Branch of the Lamoille begins its sparkling descent to the Lamoille.  Today, I pay more attention to the northerly view.  I consult my map, and find the peak to the north is Belvidere Mountain.  The Long Trail winds its way to its peak and beyond.  I note its closeness to our home in Greensboro.  It would be an easy day hike.  I think how brilliantly alive the trees would be in the fall, and how bracing the air with the sweet smells of leaf dryness and decay.

Below and out of sight is Lake Eden, the source of the Gihon River, and beyond that the bog that gives rise to the North Branch.  I remember the loss of a large Brown in the pool off Bog Road.  I was using a weighted stonefly nymph, and as it swept into the current I felt the snag of a rock.  Pulling up on the rod tip the snag began to move across the pool.  I was tight to a large fish.  As I drew it to the lip of my net I could see its mottled back and hooked jaw.  The net sent it shooting behind a rock wedged against the riffles.  It only took the pressure of the water and the stone to pry loose the hook.

That loss I note whenever I pass by Bog Road south into Belvidere Center, and then downstream to Back Road.  The section of the North Branch paralleling Back Road is one of its prettiest.  Back Road runs on the other side of the river from Route 109.  But Back Road carries with it a peaceful sway that Route 109 cannot possess.

It is a dirt road with curves and shadows, and houses set  along its length, and even a single covered bridge.  My first stop is where the road veers to the woods.   Across the way is the prettiest white house and barn you can imagine.  Rarely is anyone home, yet the house is clearly furnished, and the lawn  always trimmed.   The house is newly painted, and the other out buildings are well spaced.  Today, while walking back from fishing, I notice the screened in porch, and the shaded kitchen with table and appliances.  You know, a home away from home for a weary fisherman.

I have not forgotten fishing on the North Branch, but the details surrounding water, roadway, mountain, and house are all part of it.  They are at least half of the reason for going.

Today, it has just passed 1:00 p.m.  I have already eaten half my lunch under a blue spruce near the Eden General Store.  I’ve passed the upstream spots I’ve previously fished, and the others that I have ignored for lack of easy access.  I like stopping by the white house and its garage.   The road’s sway beckons the fisherman out of his car, and into the woods bordering the stream.

Today, I string up a 3 weight fly rod with a 4 weight line.  I am going to wet wade because the air is 75 degrees.  I tie on a small muddler minnow to my leader.  It’s been so long since I used a muddler minnow.  It has a cleanly cut deer hair head and a thin body of tinsel.  As a teen-ager I used them to catch brook trout.  All the stones in the North Branch must have sculpins darting amongst them.  The muddler minnow is a good sculpin imitation.

Bamboo and Nickle Silver: the Tools of the Trade

I’ve spotted a couple of nice runs that should have fish in them.  I wade over to a deep run, but multiple casts of the muddler yield no strikes.  I notice that in this fast run the muddler doesn’t have the weight to achieve any depth, and it swims only a few inches below the surface.   Midday fish are likely hiding down close to the rocks.

Inspection of the bottom reveals many caddis homes, one large stonefly nymph, and many mayfly nymphs.  I decide to nymph with split shot, a yellow plastic “indicator” and a gray and brown pheasant tail nymph, highlighted by a gold bead.  This is a good imitation of the nymphs on the underside of the  rock.  I swing my line upstream, so the nymph sweeps into the run.  This I do a half-dozen times without a strike, so I adjust the indicator to achieve more depth when the nymph hits the run.  I cast further upstream to give the nymph more time to gain depth.

Then it happens, a fish is on before my brain is aware of it.  My hand knows it, as the fish peels line out of the old Hardy reel.  This fish fights hard for its size and puts a good bend in the cane rod.  In a few minutes, I have a gold bellied trout to net.  It has big irregular spotting on its back.  I notice its eye has that subtle awareness of its surroundings.  I hold him in the water to release him.  He quickly clears my hand with a friskiness that speaks health and vigor.

I make my way downstream appraising the depth of the water, and adjusting the leader length accordingly.  Water depth is constantly changing in a stream, and for my nymph rig to be effective I have to change the distance of the indicator to the nymph.  The indicator keeps my nymph moving in a straight line as it flows with the current.  Separating the indicator further from the nymph allows it to move at a greater depth.

Now I am in water inches deep, and I get strong, rapid slashes at the nymph.  The fish are hungry and they are spotting the nymph quickly and grabbing it.

As I fish these riffles I notice the tall, red barked Hemlocks that shade the river, and the light, new green growth of their leaves.  The bank is thick with birch and beech trees.  There’s a bench above the river bordered by pink and purple lupines.

I’ve brought in 3 fish so far.  The last one jumped suddenly in the riffles.  I’ve also lost four or more fish to insecure hook sets.  Still, the action is frequent and surprising.  These fish are holding in small water among the rocks.  They are getting the shelter and aerated water they need.

The Eye of Awareness

I’m so immersed in the fishing I fail to grasp how my nymph gets caught on the back of my shirt.  When these things happen in fishing they prove all but overwhelming.  I see the direction the hook has taken, but tugging on the hook only creates a tear in the material.

I decide finally to take off my shirt.  Standing bare chested I try and find a way to remove the hook.  It’s too late.  All my tugging has broken the hook and my pheasant tail nymph can no longer be used.  I don’t have another one like it.

Fishermen are inclined to invest supernatural powers to flies.  When they are working they exert magical power.  I have placed my trust more in this fly than is warranted, and my confidence drops.

I try any number of other nymph varieties: a beaded black nymph, a hare’s ear with green irridescent sides, and a brass beaded pheasant tail.  None produce like the dull brown and gray nymph.  I attribute this to “Fisherman’s Magic”; the desire that imbues a fly with magical enchantment.  A logical explanation is that the little nymph is like all the common mayfly nymphs that cling to river rocks.  These are the nymphs the trout know and expect.  Enough of reasonable conclusions.  Better to have a talisman, a lucky rabbit’s foot, an enchanted trout fly.

As I work my way downstream a boy emerges by the shore on his bicycle.  “Catch anything”? he asks.

“Yeah,” I call back, “3 and lost 4 or 5.”

“If you caught them, where are they?” he asks incredulously.

“Oh, I let them go.”

“My dad makes me do that.”  He adds sorrowfully.

He continues to ask me more questions about the fly, about the rod, the leader and tippet.  I satisfy most of his questions, and he pushes his bike up some steps to a dirt path and disappears.

I realize by now that I am getting tired.  I am slipping more on the rocks.  I find myself less patient with the surrounding flow of the water, and I am getting hungry.  It is really time to leave, but as the light wanes I imagine the large browns moving from their hiding places, and assuming evening feeding lanes.  How can I go home now, just as the biggest fish of all are beginning to stir?

I walk up the stairs, down the path to Back Road, and to my car across from the white house.  I will drive down to another spot.  I find one about a half mile down the road.  After getting out of my car, I can see a large, shaded pool.  I find a way to the river, careful to take my wading staff.

I approach the slow, dark pool and see the faint rings of a rising trout.  As I watch, the back of a fish breaks the surface.  This trout is rooting for nymphs.  As these fish feed, a couple mayfly spinners dance on a column of air.  A few white mayflies rise casually above the water.

On the far side of this dark pool a trout makes two gulping rises.  I take off my mayfly nymph, and tie on a lightly colored mayfly dun.  It’s a tricky cast to this rising fish because the fly has to pass over the fish, just as the water speeds up over some debris.    When I retrieve the fly back over the lip of wood, it intercepts a branch sticking out of the water.  This branch proves to be a graveyard for my flies.  I lose three flies in a row to this branch.

The Last Pool of the Day

I have nothing complimentary to say to this branch.  The rising fish knows just how to keep me interested in this difficult target.  On one of many casts he seems to boil near my fly as I retrieve it.  I am never sure whether he is chasing a real insect, or pursuing my fly.  This mystery, and the difficulty of the cast keep me casting to him.

If this fish proves irresistible, then another huge fish to my left increases my interest in staying.  The fish looks to be the size of a small beaver, as its back and fin come out of the water.

I continue to cast my dry fly first to the fish by the lip of wood, and then to the giant who just showed himself.  But my hunger, and the growing darkness are playing on my nerves.  I am beginning to dream of a warm dry place with plenty of food.  I reluctantly turn toward the shore, and wade in the direction of my car.

The drive back down Eden Mountain Road will be in the opposite direction, but the stone statuary will still be there, and the darkly stained barn.  I will keep in my memory that one riser by the lip of woody debris, and his tag team companion boiling in the center of the pool.  They will keep me coming back to the North Branch for another day of fishing.

 

 

 

 

 

Magic Wands, Castles, and Fly Rods

July 18, 2017

The other day, my daughter caught her first trout with dry flies. She has fly fished in the past, catching trout with streamers and pan fish with dries. Indeed, I drag her to my favorite rivers, streams, and lakes regularly. More often than not, however, she is more interested in looking for tracks, watching birds, and spotting four-legged wildlife than she is in fishing.

Her second trout on a dry fly.

She caught these recent trout using a Hardy “Flyweight” reel and a Hardy fiberglass rod, named the “Aln.” These were given to her, when she was only three or four months old, by dear friends. During the morning of the day we fished, I happened to tell her about the River Aln and the town of Alnwick, in Northumberland, England. 

Most readers probably know Alnwick as the location of Hardy’s domestic tackle factory and museum. My daughter, however, was more interested to learn that Alnwick is the home of Alnwick Castle, which was used as the fictional “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” in the first Harry Potter film. We had just watched this movie the previous day, and we were still talking about it.

The author, at the Hardy Tackle Museum.

My daughter just recently began reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. So, it was fun to tell her I visited the Hogwarts of the first film with the very friends who gave her the rod and reel she used later that day. I also took pleasure in showing her that the the castle logo on her rod and reel actually refer to that same place.

My daughter’s rod and reel, with a Bozeman “SC” reel.

The Hardy castle and other imagery.

Like author and fly fisher, John D. Voelker (pseudonym Robert Traver), I sometimes view trout fishing with flies as a type of magic. Seeing my daughter catch her first trout with dry flies was one of the greatest manifestations of this magic. At that time, her rod was almost like the wands used by the characters in Rowling’s books. Therefore, it makes a strange but perfect sense that her rod carries the stylized image of Alnwick Castle, or, from my daughter’s perspective, Hogwarts.

Alnwick Castle, as seen by viewers of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001). Copyright Warner Bros Pictures.

Alnwick Castle, as seen by the author.


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