I am deeply fortunate to be able to able to identify the symphony and serendipity in ordinary things, or perhaps I am fortunate in that overtly serendipitous things do in fact befall me more than others. Either way, these things are not lost on me. Far from it…I savour them.
So here’s one. You tell me if this is a delightful chance, or if its just me being a sentimental fool:
So…I found myself in Stockbridge, in a fly shop, being served by a fellow South African. And the shop had a better collection of books than the one over the street. In fact I found myself with a pile of “must haves” that would simply not fit in my luggage on the return trip, and I had the agonising choice of which ones to put back. One of those was a book called “The Healing Stream” by Laurence Catlow. It is a book I had not heard of before.
I read a few pages, and decided it was on the “keeper” list, and by that night I was reading it. My decision was an unequivocally good one. The book is a delight and a treasure, with words that flow like pure prose.
A short way into the book, the writer starts to suck the reader into his love affair with one particular river. He rights lyrically. I quote:
“….drive up Garsdale to Hawes, where you turn left and head up through Gayle and over Cam Houses; then it is down to Oughtershaw and Beckermonds before following the beginnings of the river through Yockenthwaite, Hubberholme and Buckden, through Starbotton and Kettlewell and so, after the rough poetry of these northern names, down to the main beats of the Kilnsey Club.”
Those names washed over me as I put the book on the nightstand and fell asleep.
The next day, I found myself on a bus, travelling up a river valley in the Yorkshire Dales. The purpose of that bus ride is the topic of another discussion, but suffice it to say that it was not directly fly fishing related. The bus wound its way up a river valley in ever tightening bends, and over bridges that hardly seemed wide enough for a bus. As we progressed the valley became more and more lovely, until it started to literally take my breath away. The rain spattered on the windows of the bus. That was an excuse not to take photos, but at some stage I took a decision not to attempt a photo, because the beauty was so stunning that I knew that a weak attempt to capture it all, would in this case, serve only to tarnish the memory of such a heavenly place.
As we made our way, I started to take note of names. The village of Kilnsey. Kettlewell. Starbotton. Buckden. Hubberholme.
I am a bit slow, and putting something in reverse is sometimes quite adequate a move to fox me, but at this point I did awaken to the fact that I was travelling the valley I had read about the night before.
Of all the valleys in that fair land, I was in the one I had read about the night before. This freak event deepened my sense of appreciation for where I was. It awakened in me an awareness of how special this beautiful trout stream is to at very least ONE angler. An angler and writer, who I might add is brave enough to admit that his own sense of nostalgia and appreciation on the banks of this river regularly drive him to tears. He even comes a little unhinged.
Having seen his valley, I completely understand those tears. The beauty of the Wharfe River valley in the Yorkshire Dales defies description and capture on celluloid.
It is other-worldly , and to visit it is an experience bordering on the religious, especially when you have by sheer chance read the paragraph describing it the night before.
Perhaps its just me? My mates say I am a little unhinged myself.
My brother gave me that coffee pot. Solid silver and as heavy as a boat anchor. The lid is bent too. There is little point in making the coffee, then pouring it into the ornate pot, and then pouring it into a cup. But I do. On cold days, with a good book.
Speaking of which, Jerry Kustich has written some fine stuff. I don’t yet have his latest one ( “Holy Water”) , but I am re-reading one of his early ones (2001) “At The Rivers’ edge”, from which I take this quote:
“The older I get the more it seems that every river I fish is a mere fragmentation of one great flowing ribbon of consciousness where the limitations of space and time have no meaning”.
I often grind some cardamom (elaichi) with my beans. It is something I read about, and which is not uncommon in the levant. My local coffee shop once offered a “copperccino” , which claimed to be cardamom coffee, but I was disappointed to discover that they scattered a few pinches of powder on top of the milk foam. I say go big. Throw a few pods in the grinder…say 3 in a double shot, and taste the stuff. It gives it a warmth and smoothness which is difficult to describe.
Warmth and smoothness is a fair description of the feeling I get when I sit down with my cup of coffee, open the pages of a book by Ted Leeson, and relish in the richness of his writing.
From “Inventing Montana” on the subject of fishing being a form of play:
“Modern angling is uncomfortable with the idea and prefers to regard itself more along the lines of modern medicine, as an acutely specialized body of knowledge dispensed by a priesthood of of experts. It tends to operate in the oxygen-depleted atmosphere of high gravitas or, more recently, in the overstimulated public displays of cultivated fanaticism. Those deficient in the requisite intensity – who fail to mount a sufficiently strategic angling campaign, do not whoop in ecstatic wargasm as the battle rages or pump the air with a victory fist at the climactic moment of conquest – are left to marinate in the unpleasant secretions of their own inadequacy”
“Two blank days: Not a very interesting subject? Perhaps not. But if you feel like that about it, pass on”
The coffee is “1000 hills”, a bean from Rwanda. When I stopped in at Ground Coffee House the barista persuaded me to have a flat white, and not my normal cappuccino. “Cappuccino is just all milk….you really want a double so that you can taste this bean, because its brilliant”. he said
I agreed, and while I was there I bought a bag of beans. A good move! The coffee is well rounded and rich without being overpowering. Did I taste strawberries or plums or vanilla? Hell, I don’t know…I think I just tasted good coffee. But if I had to guess it was less fruity and more toffee and caramels. The barista will probably scoff…..I really don’t have sophisticated taste buds, but I know good coffee when I taste it!
“The whole thing about fly fishing is that it’s supposed to be fun. If you have more fun not catching fish on a dry fly than catching fish on a nymph, then fish a dry fly”
Gary LaFontaine, from Paul Arnold’s book “Wisdom of the Guides”
(and that is Al Troth on the cover by the way)
There is a story to this hut! LINK.
I eventually got someone to do one for me !
The coffee is a cappuccino, made with “Nonmara” beans, from the Coffee Merchant.
“Non- “not” and Mara – “bitter” = not bitter! A multi continent blend that is roasted medium/dark. An intense espresso experience, great body and is vibrant and snappy, without any bitter after-taste”
Read more about Oliver Kite here
It was a very disappointed thief who broke down my patio door in the middle of the night with an axe, in search of a flat screen TV.
All he got was an angry Great Dane and a sea of books. I only wish we had managed to give him some fast flying lead too….the bastard!
But let me put the angry thoughts of retribution aside for a moment and focus on his disappointment, and my delight: Books.
I hadn’t realised it, but books, and more specifically flyfishing books, have been in my blood for a long time. I remembered this favourite from my school days:
And I remembered my delight at being mentioned in one of Tom Sutcliffe’s newspaper articles, when I was just a schoolboy, that later became part of his first book: “My way with a Trout”.
I remember taking fly-fishing books out of the school library …the same titles, repeatedly: “Where the bright waters meet”, by Harry Plunkett-Green, and titles by Skues and Sawyer.
And looking at my own collection now, I realise that it has swelled somewhat over the years.
And I think how I relish the titles by Middleton and Duncan, and Grzelewski and Rosenbauer and Engle, and Gierach, and French, and Traver, and Leeson, and where do I stop……. I have read them all, many several times.
“Where do you get the time!” proclaimed a friend the other day. He wasn’t expecting an answer, but I gave him one anyway: “I don’t own a TV” I said. And I realise now that while the man in the dark of night who threatened to shoot our dog spoke impeccable English, it can’t have been Graeme, because he knows I don’t own a flatscreen. (One step closer to catching the thief, you might say.)
My wife and I were out to breakfast one day, and I had parked the car out front of the restaurant. I was about to lock the car when Petro pointed out that I had left something of value in full view. I re-opened the door and hid whatever it was under the floor mat. Then she opened her door and together we hid a few more items….you know, used handkerchiefs, toothpicks, that sort of thing. The sort of thing that people break car windows for. Then our eyes moved simultaneously to the back seat where I had a stack of secondhand fly-fishing books that I had just collected from the post office. We looked at them and then at one another and fell into laughter.
Later over coffee we discussed which country we might emigrate to, if ever we did that, and we decided that we would choose a country where one’s fly-fishing books were at risk of being stolen.