Thursday, June 6, 2013

Notes From the Field -- Gone Fishing

Sometime during our 14 month 26,000 mile Odyssey around Superior, I realized that I’d need to reestablish a relationship with the place that wasn't primarily intellectual and strictly about work.

Then when a too long winter was followed by a recalcitrant spring, an injury suffered early on in the fieldwork necessitated surgery and convalescence chained me indoors just as the seasons finally turned. I suffered greatly for the timing. No intellectual appreciation for the cultural, historical and natural landscape of the Superior Basin could sustain me.

What’s true is that the overriding value of wildness to humans isn’t what we think of it, but how it makes us feel. Landscape exists within as well as without. It informs us.

That’s a deeply personal connection -- an intimate, ancient and ongoing relationship with the real world that’s unique to each of us. This is why we've so much collective difficulty protecting wild landscapes, as their profound value resists easy translation via reductive formulae everyone can understand -- like resource extraction vs. wetland preservation. Measured strictly by dollars, wetlands inevitably lose.

It’s while fishing that my most intimate relationship with the real world is consummated, especially so on my beloved Presque Isle River, just up from where it pours its heart into Superior. So that’s where I’ve headed, after my winter of discontent.

I've a bit of work to do while here, places to go and people to see, all of which will end up on these pages in one form or the other in time. But mostly, I’m just hanging out on my favorite landscape in the world and will encourage it to fill me once again with that sense of wonder and awe and magic and quietude that set me off in search of perfect light to begin with.

Norman Maclean closed his magnificent “A River Runs Through It” with these sterling paragraphs, among the most evocative in all of literature. Would that I could write so well but I can’t, so I’ll lean on Norman to help see us through:

Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, though some friends think I shouldn't.  Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening.  Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

Of course, I’m no fly fisherman and my river is the Presque Isle in Michigan, but Norman nailed it and for all time. He knew, as do I, that wildness is the best medicine for what ails us.

The Presque Isle too, suffered through a long, tough winter. Evidence of that is everywhere, in the form of shattered slate and tumbled trees. But she’s running as healthy now as anytime I've seen her in years. The river is heavy, like when it tried to claim Dick from Wakefield or my friend Johnny.

And just downriver from that, at the edge of the maelstrom, I coaxed out this:

The photo is through the kindness of a passing tourist who couldn’t help but notice when this trout cleared the water five times before coming to the net. A moment later the fish was back in the river. A few moments after that, she was out of my hands and again cruising the depths -- unhurt though perhaps a bit wiser about the deceptions of man.

What’s true is that after today I’m a bit wiser about the ways of trout and the Presque Isle.

The afternoon turned sodden and cold. Near nightfall, clouds rose from the Bessemer Bluffs in the way that they do.

It’s dark now, chill and wet. The spring chorus of frogs is in full and celestial voice all the same.

And this morning from the grey ash of objectivity and intellect I rekindled the flame of true love, on a wild river at the big lake. I’m a better man for that, no matter how unwell. More healing to come it’s hoped, in the days ahead.

Geez but it’s good to be home…