I took my time with John Gierach’s latest work “Dumb Luck and the Kindness of Strangers,” which is not my usual program with his books. He’s written 20 over his career, and I usually reach the back cover in a week or two.
His books are about life and fly fishing, so they don’t grab you and pull you through a linear plot like a thriller does. Instead he’s at the oars of a casual drift through the life of a fly fishing angler. I found a dosage of one-two essays per week, taken with fishing, hiking and camping myself was the perfect way to make it through the summer. It’s not that I avoided what was going on, it was that I wanted to keep from being so upset and or paranoid and taking it out on others.
Anyway, Gierach takes up a substantial portion of my home library and all of his books get a second read not so much because they are ground-breaking or life changing, but because they are an enjoyment and bring simple value to my day.
The man fly fishes and writes about it, but none of his books are 225-page ego strokes. He’s not the guy who writes about exotic trips to Mongolia or Belize. He’s still surprised, overwhelmed and impressed with the process of catching a fish with a fly. It’s a perspective that’s good to be reminded of in a culture obsessed with online signaling.
Gierach is a link to the old world of fly fishing, before “A River Runs Through It” (the movie), state-of-the-art graphite technology and $1,000 waders. He’s a man who was alive during and through the transition, a primary source who lived a period of history I can only guess at. I’ve never met him, but he introduced me to Thomas McGuane, Russell Chatham and Jim Harrison and the idea that reading can be both an intellectual stimulant and a break. As an English teacher, the idea that on my free time I sit upright and proper in a leather chair, entrench myself in academic writing or absorb deep ideas tangled in ornate language and misdirection, is inaccurate. I sprinkle in personal growth and non-fiction with books about the outdoors, many by Gierach, because life happens away from work.
At some point, Gierach will write his last book, and in a year filled with eulogies of cultural icons, sporting icons and even traditional or historical ideas, I wanted to sit for a while in the moment of living appreciation. Gierach will write more books, but life happens.
As long as he is writing, I will be buying. He’ll write about rivers I’ve fished, rivers I’d like to fish and rivers I’ll never find out about because he’s sworn them to secrecy. And that will never get old.
From the big fish to the introspection, things like fly fishing are endless springs of inspiration if you do them right, and Gierach puts the right words to those moments.
“Everyone wants to hook a big fish…it’s everything it’s cracked up to be, but it’s not, you know, what the sport is about.”
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.