First, a Santiam Pass June 5 weather report: freaking cold! It was in the high 70s when we drove over from Salem last Saturday. The car thermometer read "36 degrees" early this evening. Some snowflakes were mixed with the rain.
Which will fall to the ground. And become a river, teaching us all sorts of stuff that books can't.
Nonetheless, today I visited one of my favorite bookstores, Paulina Springs Books in Sisters. My first stop was the Nature table. I spent quite a bit of time thumbing through David James Duncan's "My Story as told by Water."
I loved his most recent book, "God Laughs and Plays." Blogged about it here and here. But I wasn't sure whether I wanted to buy a book that had a lot more about fly-fishing and a lot less about the absurdity of religious fundamentalism.
So I walked across the street to get a latte carrying only a title about the interplay between Spinoza and Leibniz back in the 1700s. Yet while I was waiting for Laurel to get done scouring the stores of Sisters for fused-glass earrings, a few paragraphs from Duncan kept breaking into my philosophical reading.
I couldn't get them out of my head. Partly because Duncan is a terrific writer. Partly because I resonated with the end of his "In Praise of No Guide" essay.
I thought a bit about the contradiction of going back across the street and buying a guide that'd encourage me not to rely on guides. Screw it, my latte-fueled brain eventually decided. Fork over the $16.95. It's just the equivalent of a few lattes. Even more energizing, though, given the passion with which Duncan writes.
Here are the paragraphs that drew me to buy "My Story as told by Water." This is some terrific writing. Ordinarily I'd look askance at fourteen sentences in a row where twelve of them end in exclamation marks! But Duncan pulls it off! Beautifully!
Every summer and fall, on hundreds of quiet, user-friendly Western rivers, millions of fly-strafed trout spend the day cowering beneath flotillas of identically hot, claustrophobic craft rowed by battalions of identically unneeded guides for the simple reason that Americans have been taught not by common sense, but by advertising, that guides are indispensable. Ads once said the same of beaver hats.
Before hiring your next indispensable guide, ask yourself this: How many guides shell out for an "indispensable guide" when they go fishing? The zero that answers this question is the truly indispensable fly-fishing advice. Any self-respecting guide is exactly as likely to hire another guide to take him fishing as a self-respecting groom is likely to hire a horny pal to help him jump his beautiful bride's bones on his wedding night. To fly fishers everywhere, I say: Steal this knowledge! The guide's lack of guide while fishing is the greatest lesson most guides have to teach!
Consider the osprey, the heron, the kingfisher. How much verbiage and instruction do these fish-catching geniuses bestow upon their unschooled young? None. These prodigies pass on the primordial art by feeding their young vomited-up trout, which naturally makes the young yearn for nonvomited trout, which in turn makes the young sit up in the nest and observe their folks more and more closely, till it hits them: Eureka! I don't have to squat in this shithole eating puked-up fish all day! Look at Mom and Dad out there catching fish! Look at my wings, my beak, my talons! I've got everything they've got! What the hell have I been thinking? I CAN GO FISHING MYSELF!
Anglers! Look at your guides on their days off, unguidedly catching fish after fish! Look at your legs, your arms, your rod! Feel the heft and synaptic whir of your big cerebrum! You've got everything they've got! What the hell have you been thinking? GO FISHING YOURSELF! We are a nation plagued with self-annointed experts, pundits, middle-persons. Away with them! Dare to be the bumbling hero of your very own fish story! Chop your psyche in half, make a guru/disciple relationship out of it, seat your humble self at the feet of your sagacious self. Read like a fiend; practice like a fool; find the best possible river on the best possible map; read about it; explore it; stick your body in it; cast into it. If you fall in, get out. If you hook yourself, unhook yourself. Make mistakes! It doesn't matter! Make a half-drowned, half-thrashed rat of yourself. Forgive yourself. Regroup. Do it all over again. And at the end of the day, pay yourself. Charge an arm and a leg. Leave yourself huge tips. Remarkably painless, isn't it?
Anyone who teaches that solo experience is not the best teacher is not the best teacher. Solo experience now and then teaches the hard way, but the hard way is the unforgettable way. The moment you're capable of finding water without drowning and of making twenty-foot casts, trust your primordial instincts, your fertile interior, the wisdom of ospreys, herons, and kingfishers, and good company of rivers — and go catch a beautiful fish all by yourself!