Nymphs Volume II
Hardbound: 800 pp.
The Lyons Press $60
I think it is safe to say that Ernest Schwiebert has brought more to the sport and history of flyfishing than any writer this century, last century, and maybe a few more centuries to boot. His paradigmatic tomes on insects and their imitators weigh down more book shelves than other authors in recent history, and history not so recent. His latest book, published posthumously, is his swan's song for the rest of us. Preciously few other writers have ascended the heights of our fine sport's literature.
Schwiebert's approach toward flyfishing and its literature is one of complete inclusion. The reader finds himself immersed in an incredibly amount of detail about an insect, right down to the shade of the third thoracic segment. He also finds himself in numerous contexts spanning not just history, geography, and climates; but cultures, chemistry, biology, and politics. The hundreds of quotes from great writers who have thought about nature and fishing help to garnish the book with a feeling of continuity through the centuries. You can either choose to become overwhelmed by the contexts, or you can become absorbed yourself. The process of learning and appreciating the complexity of our sport encourages the latter. A simpler approach is sometimes appropriate. The danger though, is that you don't grow.
Flyfishing (like life, dare I say) is as complex or simple as you chose to make it. Putting aside this potentially trite comment, what strikes me about Schwiebert's approach toward our sport is a deep appreciation that encourages the reader to explore the complexity him or herself. The first thing I did, for example, when I learned of net-spinning caddis, was to search them out. I'd heard of them, but finding spider-like creatures in the water has to be one of the more difficult activities to undertake while fishing. You don't discover them by picking up rocks. I ended up donning a mask and snorkel like a field biologist in slack water until I began to spot them.. I don't have to tell you what my fishing buddies thought of this when I pulled my extra equipment out of my vest, stuffed my head in the water, and came up exclaiming, "Hydropsyche."
No other flyfishing writer can turn a sentence like Schwiebert. His background in architecture may be at work here as well. Something more than the sentence structure is important here, however. Lots of people can write complex sentences. What Schwiebert puts into a sentence is the unity of experiences. Only Schwiebert can talk about a lowly caddis in a single sentence that also brings to bear the entire planet. In the chapter on Rhyacophila, Schwiebert observes that "Summer evolves swiftly, from the Salmon river of Nova Scotia to the steelhead fisheries of Oregon." No one can lay down in large verbal brush strokes like these and get away with it.
Another writer who approaches his or her subject in a similar breadth of context is James Michener. Both writers could never look at their subject material exclusive of numerous relationships that fully involve the reader. As it should be. Seeing how everything is different and disparate is easy. We do it every day. Seeing contexts and continuity is where the learning starts to happen.
--Toney J. Sisk
|Thoughts on this book review? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org|