Category Archives: My thesis was about fishing

OLD MAN RIVER, Installment 4, Thesis

Another from the thesis. I spend a total of two months in the Delta doing research for a book about the Delta Blues. One day I had a chance to paddle on the river in a dugout canoe, hand made by John Ruskey. There’s only a handful of natural wonders in this great country that can grab you by your soul and fill you full of a profound new perspective. The Mississippi is one.

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Yesterday on the river, the Old Man spoke in roiling current & half buried bleach-white branches. Heading upstream, hugging the shoreline to avoid thousand-yard barges & the Coast Guard tug snagging stranded buoys, we paddled past lifetimes of conversation gouged out of the rip-rapped banks, past forty, fifty foot trees beached thirty foot above water-line, like broken toothpicks discarded after a dinner of catfish, fried okra, black-eyed peas & sweet tea.

When you’re on the Mississippi you’re on river time.
I kept waiting for something to happen.

We made a fire among driftwood on a sandbar & boiled water for coffee while the river slipped past silent as the smoke from the black walnut we were burning. I crossed the tracks of beaver that had gnawed down brush-branches & dragged them to the water, a raccoon’s small hand-prints following the waterline for dead fish, the ghosts of coyotes wrestling around higher up the bank—tails swishing sand, paws, bellies, backs & snouts imprinted. The river is down 18 foot from normal for this time of year & we’re all taking advantage.

When spring sends its run-off from the Continental Divide & Ohio River valley, from Canada & the northern plains, our tracks here will be washed away—disappearing in that immense breath.

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Filed under Blues from the Delta and the road, In the water, In the woods, My thesis was about fishing

FLY FISHING IN HOLLAND, Installment 3, Thesis

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I once fished a brackish water lake in Holland near the Port of Rotterdam for rainbows. Bought a train ticket & boarded at Den Haag Centrum at 6:21 for a twenty-two minute ride to Rotterdam, catching a subway at Rotterdam Centrum bound for Spijkenisse to meet Harry, who would drive to Oostvoornse Meer & show me how to fish the lake.

Meer is Dutch for lake.

I traveled with my waders, boots, vest, rod case & wore my Stetson.

The train & subway rides were like this:
Buildings in their geometric slumber.
Steel wheels switching track, screaming & switching again.
Gray-violet sky & street lights over efficient cars parked in impossible spaces.
Graffiti. O the heavenly, decadent graffiti.
Tiny seasonal shacks & greenhouses splitting a canal with a factory, both
sending blooms skyward.
Bridges & irrigation canals & bridges & graffiti & clean architectural lines & a
low skyline & two white geese & poplar windbreaks & crazy single lane streets &
high voltage power line towers.
Light in the clouds like the blood of God.

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Standing in saltwater that big, playing the odds with a bet that’s the size of a gorged mosquito, I felt pointless & foreign.

Beyond the dunes lay a highway, beyond that rail-cars carried armored personnel carriers to be shipped out of the port; ships moored on the horizon, stoic iron architecture below the labor of cranes & smoke stacks.
This lake is protected, the fish introduced.
I dipped my hand & tasted the water.
Here they are trying to find ways to include nature within the crowd.
Harry showed me a tern’s nest in the cattails, full of eggs–explained how the lake would be completely freshwater in thirty years due to springs throughout the shallows.
Warm air blew in from the east & emptied me.

The fish were immense & beautiful. We hooked them on size 16 green nymphs & hawthorn fly imitations.

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Filed under In the water, My thesis was about fishing

BY THE LAKE, Installment 2, Thesis

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Deep evening.
I light my pipe & pull up a chair by the lake.
Geese are arriving, one pair at a time, sometimes two.
Their song in flight echoes as they pass
on my side of the island. It is different
than the song that signals their circling,
different still than their song as they finally descend.

Into the water they careen feet first, wings wide as spring,
breasting the water & pollen film, a cacophony
of clucks & growls & sharp honks,
haggling with geese that have already settled in the water.

To sit close enough at waters’ edge is to hear
their pinion feathers rattle like playing cards in spokes,
& with ample light, to see muscles working at their shoulders & breast,
to see the outstretched tongue of the loud lead bird as he wails,
to see each white belly feather as they arc around a bend,
to see water spatter ahead of their webbed feet on the still surface.

After a time they float, still & silent as decoys,
as the few remaining pairs arrive. Some land directly
on the island. Others sing & circle & sing & splash down.

8:45 & like clockwork they have all made their way to nests
in the shadow that is the island, have had one last blaze of voices
& assured that all are accounted for, have gone silent
or murmur beneath my hearing.
A bullfrog sounds.

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Filed under In the water, My thesis was about fishing

MY THESIS WAS ABOUT FISHING

My dad told me a long time ago that one of the things he admires about me is that I always do things 30-degrees left or right of center. I’ve managed to find or create my own path, no matter how arduous or easy it may turn out to be… and more often than not, I come out just peachy in the end. Hell, what fun is life if you don’t get some dirt under your fingernails or find your way into the weeds every now and again along the way?

Choosing my thesis topic when I was getting ready to finish my MA in poetry at George Mason was the same way. I could’ve gone with a highly academic investigation/critique of some literary topic… something like:

Stop. What’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.
An exploration of the use of imagery, sound and cultural reference among the New York Avant-garde school of poets.

OK, so maybe I did actually write a paper with that title. But my thesis– the baby I was to birth as the culmination of my academic career, the printed and hard-bound proof of my time there– was a book-length poem about fishing, titled All Water.

52 sections. 60-some-odd pages. Modeled after Whitman’s Song of Myself. I wrote about the change in our American landscape–physical, spiritual, cultural, socioeconomical–through the eyes of a fisherman, father, husband and veteran. My research was stream-side and in books like Sand County Almanac, Founding Fish, Walden and My Secret Fishing Life; stories like Big Two-Hearted River and A River Runs Through It; the humor of Patrick McManus and Gordon MacQuarrie. I wrote while listening to The Dead, Paul Simon, Van Halen, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, Robert Earl Keen, Radiohead, The Stones, Zeppelin.

I wrote in first light and evening’s slow exhale. Before the kids woke up and after they gave in to the sandman. I wrote high on wine. I wrote depressed. I wrote and started to figure out who I am and my place in this shifting landscape that is America…and I’m still writing.

That said, I’ll be posting some excerpts from time to time. Just a heads-up.
Here’s the first:

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Once I saw a gator snatch a deer by the head & drag it flailing into a small lake in Georgia.
We were fishing for bass in a boat along a weed-bed fifty yards from the explosion.
The deer was quietly sipping at the shore.
We left the water ringing with the noise-memory & blackbirds lighting out from the trees.
Ten years later blackbirds still remind me.
Even on this stream, their calls crash through sun-up or mid-day or dusk quiet & my hackles raise & I look to the water at my feet.
All the while, trout snatch mayflies from the surface around me, splashing, leaving ripples & small bubbles, noise-memory & blackbirds lighting out from the trees.

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