Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why Fly Fishing (and Do We Really Want to Know?)

Midcurrent recently posted a clip from an American Museum of Fly Fishing video that deals with the literature of fly fishing. The video itself is titled Why Fly Fishing(no question mark) but the clip doesn't get into that particular question. Rather it focuses on the facts of the literature: the who and the what, really. From A River Run's Through It to The Big Two-Hearted River (no mention of Hemingway's As I Lay Dying, which is perhaps even more about the whole fishing and life equation than The Big Two-Hearted River). There is mention of McGuane and The Longest Silence. John Gierach gets a nice moment right at the (abrupt) end of the clip.

The primary figure in the clip is Nick Lyons*, who is of course a seminal figure in fly fishing literature himself. Nick says that in this era we have one masterpiece (A River Runs Through It), though I would argue that his own Spring Creek approaches that level, and some might argue just as passionately for The River Why. Ted Leeson's The Habit of Rivers also deserves some consideration, I believe. Also, Harry Middleton's The Earth is Enough...but I digress.

*My favorite part of the clip was when Nick Lyons says that the title essay in the Longest Silence is the greatest fly fishing essay of all time. I almost stood and cheered because I have long felt the same way, and who doesn't want to suddenly find out that they share some obscure opinion with one of their heroes? McGuane's tale of desperately chasing after a permit on the fly (for years) captures the essence of the sport in a way that, for me, has never been duplicated. And Nick Lyons is most definitely one of my heroes.

The whole time I watched the clip, I kept thinking about that title: Why Fly Fishing (with no question mark). It was as if they answered it, or at least they thought they had. And maybe so. Maybe, if I purchase and watch the entire 31 minutes I'll come away with the answer, I'll suddenly be able to verbalize why I find myself driving to work in the middle of January, when its ten below zero, and yet I'm thinking about the first blue wing olive hatch of the year (still a few months away). Or why the day before a big trip I am basically unable to hold a meaningful conversation with anyone about any topic other than the next day's trip. Perhaps all those things will be clear to me if I only watch and listen.

But the more I think about it--about this quest to answer the question why--the more I find myself thinking back to a quote by a man named William Goldman (who penned, among other things, the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride):
I don't understand the creative process. Actually, I make a concerted effort not to understand it. I don't know what it is or how it works but I am terrified that one green morning it will decide not to work anymore, so I have always given it as wide a bypass as possible.  
And I realize that this quote describes exactly how I feel about Why Fly Fishing (question mark or none, I feel the same). I don't want to know why, because simply knowing might ruin the whole enterprise, it might suck out the mystery and magic and whatever else fires the synapses in my brain in just that way, and I'd be standing there, mouth agape, saying: "Really, that's why?" But deep down in my gut I might know that everything just changed for the worse.

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