Saturday, May 13, 2017

Coming Books

I may change the Coming Books notice, since I've my doubts they'll become available so soon. The book about the salmon egg method I began three weeks before Opening Day, but of course with all this fishing and my job, haven't got much done. As related in the recent Spruce Run Creek post, I had read some of my first published fishing articles, and this book--which I conceived more than a decade ago--confronted me as something I must do.

Walking Sadie minutes ago, I realized my first article published in The New Jersey Fisherman was the perfect choice of subject--early season largemouth bass--because I met my fishing mentor two years prior at just that sort of fishing. He was no writing mentor. More like the opposite--a fair trade, since he not only taught me a great deal about fishing; he got me motivated to fish even more than I had been fishing.

I paid a Devil's Bargain. Ernest Hemingway and Jim Harrison were just about the only great literary writers also anglers. Today's literary community seems especially detached from the outdoor writing community, and my welding of both pursuits is an unlikely proposition. When I began fishing as an eight-year-old, at first with a friend and his father, that's when I learned about literary classics. My mother eagerly introduced me to Izaak Walton, 17th century author of The Compleat Angler, the most bestselling book of all time besides the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. She introduced me to Walton's book as a classic perhaps on that day I first went fishing. The qualification went straight to my brain. I fished Little Shabakunk Creek regularly that year, and I remember--yet aged eight--walking in on my parents to tell them about how I took fishing seriously, and yet without confusing the objective order of greater and lesser values.

My father comes from strong West Virginia mountain people. I never met my grandfather on his side, but my great-great grandfather came from somewhere deep in the farming wilderness before seeking the modern adventure. I can't say Dad's not anything like a farmer, but he is a world-class musician. So growing up, I understood our lives depended on music, since that's how Dad got paid. But of course, more than that; to grow up steeped in sacred and classical music was to develop a great understanding of art's value. Not only music. My mother was a chemist for Esso, now Exxon, but she minored in English. So when I laid claim to fishing that day, we all understood I did not place the value above genius.

Caught in the Devil's Bargain of having invested my life in the outdoors, while all the while struggling to create art, I think of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock." She implied that we're all caught in the Devil's Bargain, and the way out is to get back to the Garden. So this problem I have is very ironic, in light of Joni's prescription. The Bargain I made took me all the way back. From fishing 250 days a year in my teens, to clamming commercially, which paid so well I often didn't have to labor much. Most of what that adventure was about wasn't beach bumming or even studying, though I studied a great deal. It was about going as deep into nature as I possibly could.

Maybe Joni was sly. Maybe she dreamt of a future when some fisherman would catch us all in the Devil's Bargain. But I've never believed in "back to nature." I always understood; I was trying to conquer nature itself. "Nature, to be conquered, must be obeyed." I studied Francis Bacon in not every detail, but seriously. Bacon was one of the very greatest. The father of the modern age. He challenged Aristotle and won the battle that led to modern science. As the result of this science, we have entered a new geological epoch. The Anthropocene. Nature is conquered enough already for us to have begun reshaping the planet. What is yet to be seen is beyond imagination.

A book on fishing salmon eggs may seem beneath what I can really do, and it is. But everything is interrelated as one effort affirms another, and I can't help but feel I believe in people who come out and fish trout in the spring. Democracy gets a lot of lip service. Why it's so threatened now can only be the result of false belief in it, if we assume the standard of belief is equal to practice. So what I am doing with this book is more than just explaining how to catch trout with salmon eggs. Centuries of scholars have pondered what it was Walton really did. I am not Walton, but what I'm doing with my book on salmon egg fishing is more than just explanation. Nevertheless, I'm free to say more in America than Walton felt free to say in his 17th century England.

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