Suckers And The Writing Life
A trusted work colleague and friend of mine is both helpful and ornery, often all at once. Having known and worked with me for almost ten years now, she recently brought in a book for me to read. She accompanied the book with this verbal observation: "if he (the book author) can get a book like this published, what are YOU waiting for?".
Being the laid-back, dry-humored sort I oft-times feign, my reply was what she expected: "For the price of gas to drop below a buck a gallon". That elicited her patented *head shake* and smirk, as we move onto other subjects.
The book she brought me was Brook Trout And The Writing Life by Craig Nova. According to the book jacket, Nova is an accomplished novelist with 9 books to his credit as of 1999 (when this particular book was published). And, like "accomplished" folks who publish a book, this one has plaudits from someone from the Washington Post, as well as from four other commenters who laud Nova as "one of America's finest novelists".
Absolutely none of whom I've ever heard of before, including the author.
The autobiography ties major events in the author's life to his many years of fishing for brook trout in the states of Vermont, Maine and New York, including his marriage, children, dealing with a threatening extortionist, and his early struggles as an aspiring writer. It is obvious that, as one navigates the pages like a fly fisherman navigates a stream for the perfect "hole", the author has a particular respect and reverence for his fish of choice, as well as the environment that he spends time in, to catch them.
I note that his respect doesn't prevent him from eating the focus of his reverence, either.
It's not a badly-written book, and if you like imagery, he does a great job word-painting the fishing scenes. He probably deserves to have 9 (or by now, more) novels published. Certainly his editor and publisher think so.
It doesn't surprise me that I'd never heard of this writer heretofore. Never let it be said that I am a widely-read consumer of the cornucopia of literary wares. I don't even read many of the humor books written by the recognized "giants" of humor book legend. And when it comes to the great contemporary novels and novelists, name the last few (dozen) novels that have done the best seller rounds on Oprah or the New York Times Best Sellers List, and I'll wager you that I haven't heard of or read any of them.
It has nothing to do with literary snobbery; I simply read what interests me.
So reading books about how fishing for brook trout intertwines with a writer's life, is just not high on my priority list. But I'm generally a good sport when it comes to my friend, so I read the book to see what it is that intertwines fishing for brook trout, with this particular writer's life.
The answer: much, as it regards the book author. Precious little, as it regards me.
Perhaps I could use Nova's format, and come up with a variety of life intertwines between my days of fishing in Iowa and Colorado, and other events of my writing and non-writing life (like that noted above). Unfortunately, the fish of focus wouldn't be something as aquatically handsome as the brook trout; I don't recall having caught a single or married one. Rainbows, yes; but never a brookie.
I've caught a fair share of other fish types in my time: a load of large mouth bass, catfish and bullheads. Sunfish, bluegills and crappies. Perch. One fresh water drumfish. A crawdad (noted in a recent column). A snapping turtle (about a 30 pounder, who was no more pleased about it than I was). More than a few carp. On one ocean expedition, three halibut, a slew of rock cod and the weirdest shrimp I've ever seen (it looked like a foot-long giant centipede, and the crew wanted no part of it in the boat). And of course, enough underwater snags, overhead wires and tree branches to build a palatial beaver dam.
No, the subject fish I would have to use that best exemplifies and intertwines the events of my life and fishing -- the fish that I saw most of in those early years, and what some people try to play me for today -- is the sucker.
'Splains alot, some of you are snorting just now. I reckon you'd be right. Especially my very first encounter with a sizeable specimen of catostomus catostomus (the long nosed sucker, named by some biology afishionado who needed to justify those years of college Latin somehow, and I digress).
In my pre-teen youth, I lived in rural Iowa. Lots of farm ponds aroundabouts, with meandering creeks cutting through farm fields and groves of trees for a young fisherman to explore. Along the gravel roads that patterned and connected the rural countryside, bridges allowed the passage of dirt road and muddy creek to co-exist. In some cases, the water was up to six or more feet deep underneath those bridges.
And it was there that I learned there was fishing aplenty. Generally nothing like fishing the larger lakes round abouts, or the nearby Cedar and Wapsipinican Rivers; but good enough for a lad of my easily-entertained kind to kill an afternoon with. And occasionally, eat.
On one summer afternoon, a friend and I were fishing at one such hole near his farm. The creek ran pretty narrow through the treed strip in the field, but tended to open up and deepen as it approached the road and bridge it meandered under, and it was here that we found our pot of gold, so to speak. We'd caught a couple sunfish, a few fish he called "creek chubs" and one mangy bullhead (all of about 6" long). But he assured me that there were more and bigger fish in this particular creek. After about an hour, I affirmed his assertion by catching one: one that I had not really expected in these waters, at least for size. It was over a foot long, and from my even younger days, I had this vague memory of a big-eyed fish my folks had caught in Minnesota, called a walleye.
My friend had no problem fuelling my illusion, masking his smirk while encouraging me that this was, in fact, what I'd caught. So I put it reverently on a stringer, proud to take it home and show off an unexpected catch from a muddy Iowa creek to my folks.
When I got home, I proudly displayed it to them; they scoffed. "That isn't a walleye" my dad pronounced. Eager to uphold my honor and dignity, I grabbed a pictorial book of fresh water fish of North America I had at the time and looked up the illustration of a walleye, ready to defend myself.
Unlike Perry Mason, the defense never came to bat; whatever I'd caught, wasn't a walleye.
I kept looking until I found an illustration of my specimen, and had conclusively identified it from the photo, beyond any chance of my up-to-then denial: a long-nosed sucker.
If Eric Cartman of South Park notoriety had existed in mid-1960s Iowa, you can imagine what he'd of said. As for me, I'd been raised to not use that language, at least not around my parents. So I was left with a shattered illusion, guffawing parents, and a sucker.
Looking back on that seminal fishing experience, I can't begin to tie the sucker to major events of my life, other than when I was played for one, like email scammers try to build upon what my fishing buddy pulled off back then. Thus, I can't see doing a book intertwining my life with that or subsequent fishing expeditions in those Iowa creeks. And if I ever get around to adding The Poseidumb Adventure to this blog, you'll see why it might be best if I avoid using any of my fishing anecdotes for an intertwining life-lessons book.
"Screw you guys...I'm going home".