” …..a light that is abstract and tender, just the right light to shield the fickle, often mysterious movements of the brown trout” Harry Midleton; The Spine of Time
This morning was cool. In the garden, I noticed that the little crocosmia “falling stars” have started to lose the brilliance with which they greet hot February days. A stroll to the rain gauge revealed yellowing leaves on a London Plane across the road, but only on the southward side of the giant tree. The gauge itself was full from the last week’s rain, and I remembered that the cicadas have been sounding for days now. I don’t recall hearing them this late, and I know that they were not active in time for the Christmas just passed. Yesterday the Diedericks Cuckoo was competing for the airwaves, and as I sit on the porch to write this, the heat of the day is presenting itself beneath a bright sun. Last night friends reported over a cold beer that they had measured water temperatures of 22 degrees C in recent days. These are signs of mid-summer. But as we chatted we agreed that signs of autumn were suddenly getting difficult to ignore.
On Thursday the Inzinga river was a raging torrent, and quite unfishable. The uMngeni was not quite in that category, but I judged it too fast and too coloured to warrant a visit. A friend listened to the broken English of an inhabitant of one of our upland valleys in which he was told that the river was both clean and dirty. He decided he would drive up there today to see for himself, and of course he is taking a fly rod and will send me pictures later. I told him to watch out for an apparently innocent pothole near a stream crossing which caught me off guard last week, and saw my bakkie bottom out on a hidden rock. The flooded stream had washed it out more severely than was apparent!
In the heat of the day, the riverside veld is alive with hoppers but the air temperatures up in the berg are suddenly markedly more pleasant than down in the towns. The light is somehow almost imperceptibly softer. I have a trip to the mountains coming up in just a few weeks, and I know it will be autumnal by then. The change of season is upon us, and there are Trout to be caught. I am fixing my leaders today and putting my fly tackle back in my bakkie again. I have some flies I need to tie. It is time!
Reading my way through the tomes that cascade from my over-full bookshelf, is something I take great pleasure in doing. There is something satisfying in reading a message that resonates, written in so beautiful, and poetic a style that it causes you to lower the book and nod or mumble something. I mumble and nod a lot. It is a way of wallowing in a thought well presented, a way of immersing yourself in a moment shared eruditely in print.
My family have stopped responding with questions to all my mumbling and nodding. So I will share some with you:
“How often fishing leads a man to find beauty otherwise never seen! I am rich in having a treasure store of such places” Zane Grey, Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado
“The man who hurries through a Trout stream defeats himself. Not only does he take few fish but he has no time for observation, and his experience is likely to be of little value to him” George La Branche The Dry Fly on Fast Water.
“The secret of successful fishing is to expect it….Hope should be in the fisherman’s heart , expectancy in his hand , and his motto should be “you can never tell” “ Robert Hartman, About fishing
“Now that I care less, I fish better” Andrew Brown, Fishing in Utopia
“Fisherman who care too much about the size and numbers of fish they catch are insufferable on good days and as harried as overworked executives on slow ones. On the other hand, it is possible to be a happy angler who doesn’t catch many fish; its just that no one will ever say you’re good at it” John Gierach, Dumb Luck and the Kindness of Strangers.
“Perhaps the power of fly-fishing (and the comparisons it invites) lies not in its confrontation with meaning, but its escape from it.” Maximillian Werner , Black River Dreams
“Flyfishing has many attributes , but none more pleasing than its ability to find and liberate the young boy that still hides within me and to let that boy live again without embarrassment or regret, sorrow or anguish” Harry Middleton, On The Spine of Time.
“Several times she has fallen asleep during my diatribes and I know perhaps the largest truth of this business of angling: it is private, and teaches privateness and the quiet satisfaction of something sweet and full inside” Nick Lyons, Seasonable Angler.
Let me stop there, lest you fall asleep during this diatribe, but I think you get the idea: An immersed fisherman who doesn’t read, achieves immersion in shallower water.
You may nod and mumble now…
I know. It is a contradiction. But consider the richness of contrast.
Just look at the contrast: of shade, texture, light and dark. Think of the feelings and depth of thought that it invokes.
And then, having done that, employ the technique of introducing colour, and relish the richness of it. No one does that quite like Middleton:
“With each breath of wind the landscape shuddered, became almost liquid, a geography of colors rather than of fixed landmarks and boundaries, colors endlessly mingling one with the other. On the far west ridge, damask reds and vermillion giving way to softer Chinese reds and the blunt reds of aged wine, and these in turn, mixed with leaves of moody sallow and the dull yellow of sulphur and raw cream, and among these were newly fallen leaves still bright as jonquils”
and he goes on with
“ ……pumpkin orange….daring blotches of apricot…wrinkled browns….and the colour of tarnished copper and well-worn leather “ Harry Middleton, On the Spine of Time”
Now look again:
It’s been fun exploring some quotes from books recently read and re-read. And exploring “Pewter and Charcoal”, but I will end this little series here, for a while…..
I hope you have enjoyed it.
I don’t always fish alone, and I often enjoy company. But some days are hermit days, full of thought and reflection, in which one becomes just a little misanthropic.
“Since fly fishing is a solitary sport, its hard not to think of other fishermen- collectively, if not individually – as the enemy” John Gierach: A Fly Rod Of Your Own.
“In trout fishing, and especially in mountain trout fishing, one angler and trout borders on the idyllic,or some version thereof. Two anglers and trout is a crowd, claustrophobic and unbearable.” Harry Middleton, On The Spine of Time”
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.
I have an old friend who, when he is sitting comfortably in our lounge, and a truly classic piece of music comes on the stereo, closes his eyes as he listens.
I think he sways a little too.
He certainly zones out.
He escapes the confines of our simple human surroundings, switches off the world around him, and allows his mind to soar to lofty and beautiful places in which the depth of his appreciation knows no bounds. He transcends those in the room who nod in his direction and snigger, and he rises to a place above us all.
I may have sniggered along with the others at one time. I don’t know. But I no longer do.
I too now know that lofty place. I think we all need such a place, given that to go there is all we can do in this broken and often painful world.
That place is one in which the things you choose to immerse your consciousness in, take over from all else. It is a place where the love your soul has for images, and words, and music, and beauty holds sway. It is a place that defies description, and which is unique to you alone. It is a place that acknowledges and reveres your fondest memories, and houses your own aesthetic blueprint.
My such place encompasses mountains, landscapes, weather, trout (and the waters they live in), set against a watermark of stories, and songs; all in the context of very personal memories.
I am taken to that lofty place by images. Not just any images mind you, but collections of images played out in the context of personal connections, complete with birdsong, and the sounds of a rushing mountain stream.
Those images, and everything that goes along with them, are I suppose well represented by what I post on this journal.
Here is a fairly random and possibly representative sample of those: Image Library.
I identify with John Gierach when he says “The modern depictions of fly fishing in print and video are accurate as far as they go, but they usually run heavy on gratuitous fish catching and light on the long silences that characterize the sport”. I don’t suppose it is a coincidence that McGuane writes about “The longest silence”
My silences on the water, while they are just that: Silences; can be represented by favourite music.
- The sounds of silence: Disturbed …..no, not Simon & Garfunkel, although I love that version…but you’ve gotta listen to this!
And while their names don’t fit the topic quite as poetically, take a listen to these ones too.
- Sacrifice: Sinead O’Connor
- American Pie: Madonna Its just a pity she doesn’t sing the whole thing
- Favourite mistake: Cheryl Crow
- Thumbing my way: Pearl Jam
- The Boxer: Mumford & Sons
- You and me: Lifehouse
And beautiful stories are the echoes of my own stories:
Reading list….books in which, when I got to the end I felt I had “ just finished sucking the last precious drop off the last page of a beautiful book.” (to quote Robin Douglas)
My list of such books: It is difficult to single out just a few books of all those I heave read, but here is my attempt to do that:
- On the spine of time: Middleton
- The River Why: Duncan
- Chalkstream Chronicle: Patterson
- Hunting Trout: Sutcliffe
- The Habit of Rivers:Leeson
- Where the Trout are as long as your leg: Gierach (I know, they are all brilliant)
You are a flyfisher. You are reading this blog. I think you will get it. No one else will. Close your eyes. They will snigger.
To hell with them.
“..the river moves on and on ; the heart follows, willingly, always glad to be Hunter, discoverer.” Harry Middleton
We describe rivers as living beings. The concept resonates and it allows for the attachment of a personality to a thread of water in Trout country. That seems appropriate. Yet rivers, if they are to be living things, are an anomaly, because they never die. Sure, in the lowlands, some factory may dump waste and the river “dies”. But even there, look at the Thames and its tributaries now compared to how they were in the industrial revolution! When man has burned out and imploded in millennia to come, I suspect the Thames will still be there, and I suspect it will have a healthy run of salmon.
A berg stream, will in all likelihood have a an easier go of things. Up there in a steep sided kloof there is a more evident timelessness. A recent rock fall: a fresh slab of white sandstone, skidded to a halt half way down the mountain, is still fresh thirty years on. The word “recent” takes on a new timeline. We can go back up there and throw a fly as we did half a generation ago, and it is still as it was.
In a pretty run of water a small trout will be finning, as it was back then. Its presence and purpose there as meaningless and beautiful as a dazzling brushstroke on a canvas. As one can stand in an art gallery and contemplate a work of art, in order to discover its meaning, so too, one must hike into the mountains and watch that finning Brown. In so doing you will give it meaning, but you will not be able to describe it, and every man will find his own meaning. You have to go there for yourself. Years on, you will need to go back there again to place another dot on the map of life. Two points on the page set the trajectory. They point you to where you are going.
…..thirty two years later:
My photographic equipment improved in the intervening years. I aged (a bit!). My fishing improved.The farm got expropriated. The government changed. The tree grew.
And the river stayed the same.