Back in the nineties, I plowed through every book John Gierach had written and snatched up his new ones as soon as they came out. Since his break-through Trout Bum (1986) he has been incredibly prolific and, even more impressive, consistent. Although I’ve liked some Gierach essays better than others, I don’t recall a single one I’ve finished and thought, “Well, he’s finally showing some strain.” Not to say he doesn’t sweat over every piece. They’re all tight and elegant, never pretentious.
If I had to pick a favorite Gierach Book, I’d grit my teeth and go with The View from Rat Lake, (1988) published by Pruett, the small, respected regional publisher that also published Trout Bum. (Simon & Schuster has been his publisher for the past couple decades.) But if I had to choose a favorite essay – a just-short-of-impossible task – I’d have to go with “Neither Snow, nor Rain, nor Gloom of Night,” the ninth essay in his Sex Death and Fly-Fishing (1990). If you’ve spent a significant portion of your life hunting, fishing, or birding, you know that good things often happen in weather sane people call “miserable.” Which brings to mind another great Gierach line, one I can’t find at the moment. But I love it and quote it from memory:
“Then the weather turned really nasty. It was perfect.”
I’ll quote precisely from “Neither Rain …”:
“The Blue-Winged Olives happened at least once, either on the Frying Pan or the South Platte: a dank, hideous day of wild fishing at the end of which we wring out our clothing, drive to a bar, and sit in a corner steaming, sipping coffee, looking mean and crazy.”
Been there? I’m thinking of quail hunting in the hills south of the Middle Pease on days so cold your teeth hurt when you got winded enough to breathe from your mouth, and you’d drive back to a certain little diner to sit among other quail hunters and drink a gallon of coffee, knowing the day was growing even colder and you couldn’t miss the late afternoon hunting.
In the last and best part of “Neither Rain …” Gierach describes several days of autumn fishing on the Frying Pan, with his buddy A.K. Best:
“The clouds were low enough that I couldn’t see the lip of the canyon, only where the red cliffs, now more of an antique rust color, dissolved. The rocks were wet and shiny, with rainwater running over them, sometimes in flat sheets, sometimes in little eroding streams that you could hear over the noise of rain and the river.”
The fishing was fabulous, and Gierach landed a big rainbow .
“There had been no other fisherman, and all day only two or three cars had passed on the road, but as we climbed out of the river a guy in some kind of sports car pulled up. He rolled his window down two inches and said through the crack, “Getting any big fish?”
“’I just landed a five-pound rainbow on a number eighteen dry fly,’ I said.
“‘No no,’ he said. ‘I mean really big fish.’
“The guy was young, well-dressed, dry, warm, sitting in a sports car with the heater going.
“’You’re an asshole,’ I said.”
As I quote John Gierach, summer solstice is less than a week away. It’s getting hot in North Texas. I’m looking forward to that first cold, drizzly, perfect day of fall. In the meantime, I plan to reread a bunch of Gierach essays.
Here's the likely cover. Layout is nearly done. Wyman and I are about to start a photo captioning marathon. Wyman shot some 33,000 photos for this project. We're down to a couple hundred plus my 20,000-word essay.
"I wanted a good shot of Leon showing his eyes ( bluer than Leo's ). He is Leo's nephew. Leon was a slow starter. He was two years old before he knew I was in the cattle business. He would go with me, but he was just on a lark. He was just running and being happy, while the other dogs worked. He reminded me of Marmaduke, in the cartoons. Then the last few times I took him out with the other dogs he started to work. The light switch came on."
Funny how that happens. How many potentially good dogs are wasted because of our lack of patience? Good for Randy for giving Leon time to grow up.
With dear friend Cathy Bishop. No trip to Bowling Green is complete without seeing Cathy and Mike Bishop. (Thanks to Mike for snapping the photo.)
I spent last Saturday at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green. What a great day. I met and chatted with David Madden – one of my literary heroes – and sat next to Dana Chamblee Carpenter, whose new novel, Bohemian Gospel, is selling briskly and receiving strong reviews. Over the course of the day, Dana and I covered a lot of conversational ground, ranging from Southern literature to football (she wanted to play in high school) to the merits of introversion to the virtues of coffee.
This was one of the nicest, best organized literary events I’ve attended; big enough to draw a good crowd, but not so big as to be hectic and confusing. My thanks to event coordinator Sara Volpi and other staff members and volunteers. Of course I’m proud of the festival’s association with my beloved Western Kentucky University.
J. and I spent four of the happiest years of our lives in Bowling Green. We left, reluctantly, only because the careers we’d prepared for weren’t available there. It’s hard to convey the feeling of peace and gratitude I experience whenever I visit familiar places in my old home. Driving from Louisville, where I enjoyed a long lunch with my niece Courtney Chappell Boyer, I got off I-65 as soon as I could, and took backroads to Bowling Green. As I drove into Edmondson Country, Grayson County, and Warren County on once familiar roads I hadn’t traveled in 34 years, the dogwoods blooming in the greening woods and the familiar accent at stops for gas and coffee brought on something close to heartache.
So his April 25 email, accompanied by a photo of another Catahoula at work, with the question “Does this dog remind you of another dog,” made my day.
According to Randy, “He is a nephew of Leo. He is not the dog Leo was, but there is still hope. Happy!” Of course no dog is ever as good as the great one that died too young. But I know Randy, and he won’t put up with a sorry dog. I’m betting Leon will make a good one.
All of my writer friends have seen this, but It's a classic and worth posting again. I wish I had a dollar for every time some pleasant person has told me how much free exposure I'll get if I'll allow the use of an article or essay at no charge. Or, "Yes, we'd love for you to drive 300 miles to do a 45-minute talk to the Society of Semi-Literate People who Want to Write Books About Themselves. We can't pay you or even reimburse you for gas and lodging, but you'll get a good meal out of it, and you can bring books to sell to folks who don't read, let alone buy books."
Yes, it occurs to me that Ellison probably isn't getting anything for this YouTube clip. (Yes, but just think of all the free publicity ...)
Just back from the Southern Kentucky Book Festival, where I made new friends, enjoyed the company of old friends, signed plenty of books, and had an all-around fine time, I'm feeling like quoting a great writer from my beloved home state. James Still, Kentucky's first poet laureate, feels just right:
“The flat fruit of the locust fell, lying like curved blades in the grass. August ripened the sedge clumps. Father began to come home from the mines in middle afternoon, no longer trudging the creek road at the edge of dark, with the carbide lamp burning on his cap. He came now before the guineas settled to roost in the black birch. We watched the elder thicket at the hillturn and plunged down to meet him as he came in sight. The heifer ran after us. Euly was the swiftest, reaching him first and snatching the dinner bucket Father carried. She hid in the stickweeds to nibble at the crusts in the bucket, scattering crumbs for the field-larks seeding the grass stalks. Fletch waited halfway down the path and Father would swing him to his shoulder, packing him to the house like a poke of meal.“
We’ve kept it under wraps for the past three years. At last we can talk about it. My newest book, with the great Wyman Meinzer, Horses to Ride, Cattle to Cut: The San Antonio Viejo Ranch of Texas, will be out late this summer. This has been the most challenging and satisfying non-fiction project of my career, and our most ambitious collaboration yet. San Antonio Viejo, one of the world’s greatest ranches, has been closed to outsiders for generations. The East Foundation gave Wyman and me full access to the ranch and the family archive. What a privilege and blessing to introduce this great ranch to the world. Currently the book is in the design phase. I’ll post updates and short passages in the coming weeks. Of course I can’t wait to share the cover. For now, I’ll send you to Wyman’s site for more info. Just click on the photo. Thanks!
Two hailstorms and a late frost have been rough on the Chappell garden this spring.
The second hailstorm of the season hit last night. Golf ball-sized hail did a number on the family garden, never mind the roof, garage door, and my daughter and son-in-law's Honda.
The plants in the photo are my second planting. A late frost and the first hailstorm destroyed all twenty-six plants. Those in the foreground are Early Girls, an indeterminate variety that produces well here in North Texas, where the big beefsteak varieties won't set fruit. Even though several of the plants were effectively topped by the hail, I should be able to coax out suckers to replace the damaged main stems. In the other bed, I have an determinate variety - Bush Early Girls. Those tend to come in all at once and are tremendously productive. The plants then go into decline. Although they're just as tasty as the indeterminate version, we can most of them because you just can't keep up otherwise. Such damage as these plants suffered will probably translate into lost tomatoes.
Little black-eyed pea plants and pepper plants came through fine. Cantaloupes, cucumbers, and beans aren't up yet. I may have to cut back the damaged onion leaves.