I’m learning to fish as part of a current writing project. The allure is two-fold: First, I’m exploring new ways to be in nature. Fishing – fly-casting, in particular – appeals to me for both its contemplative quality and for its required knowledge of entomology. I used to keep bees, but they attracted bears. The right imitation of insects (flies tied to look like the hatch of the moment) should attract fish. That’s the theory, anyway. I’m just starting to practice.
The second enticement to learning to fish is the literature that fishing has inspired. I like literary sports and have read a great deal about baseball, which has inspired both poetry and prose.
So it only made sense to visit the library, seek out where the fishing books lurked, and pull half a dozen likely candidates off the shelf. That’s how I happened on the irresistible title, Brook Trout and the Writing Life, by Craig Nova.
Ever since attending a weekend workshop to learn how to fly cast and catching my first-ever brook trout, it’s become my all-time favorite fish. That this particular seven-inch brookie got away has only magnified its significance to epic proportions in my fishing career. (You can read about this adventure here.)
It also turns out that I’ve met Craig Nova on several occasions. His daughters were a few years ahead in the same school my daughters attended, and for a while, we both sculled out of the same club. We know people in common; after all, Vermont’s a small state.
So, Sunday afternoon, after a brutal weekend of biking and gardening in the exhausting manner that passes around here for fun, I stretched out on the porch with a tall glass of weak lemonade and started to read.
I don’t know what I expected from the title, but I was hooked from the first sentence, Often, the connection between things is not obvious to the eye, and even when it is, it can take years, if not decades, for me to see just what is associated with what. Nova continues to explain how the events of his life and that of the brook trout often meet at the line of demarcation between the world of the fish and the world of the fisherman, between the seen and the unseen.
One could say the same about the relationship between the writer and the reader, so I read on. I spent all afternoon in the stream of this autobiographical narrative, delighted by fishing stories, about falling in love, becoming a father, surviving life-threatening blackmail, and fishing on remote ponds in Maine, accessible only by float plane.
Nova describes hiking to beaver ponds by himself, boating across lakes with a physician friend eager to escape the range of his pager, and teaching his daughter to tie flies. He explains again and again, how he finds brook trout at that place where slow water meets fast, where cold water pours into a lake, where shadows deepen and branches hang over a pool. These are the liminal places trout lurk, and the stories of finding them. In fact, Nova writes very little about writing itself, but he tells a good story, which is what fine writing is all about.
Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award winning love story, Into the Wilderness and a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio. Her blogs, Living in Place and The Middle Ages, can be found at www.deborahleeluskin.com