Had a busy Father's Day, so this is a day later than I originally intended.
My favorite bookshelf in the home was the one that lined the wall of my dad's “study”: the place where my father relaxed, knocked back a beer or two, tied flies and cleaned his hunting rifles. It was his own quiet place; a home-within-a-home. On the rare occasion as a boy in which he would invite me inside, I was most immediately drawn towards what had to have been my father’s greatest possessions: that shelf full of pastoral novels. Filled with vibrant green images of far off places. Lakes, streams, mountains. From my father’s shelf, I read Jack London titles. I read old brochures and pamphlets about various monuments and parks. Dad must have kept his own father’s literature; for I found much older how-to books on hunting and fishing. I was always a hunter, Dad was the fisherman. I still remember so many of those illustrations and images from those days. They are forever burned into my memories. Though a set stood apart from the rest. Pictures of English fly fishing. What seemed to be an Arcadian paradise where men in flat caps, ties and Wellington boots stood in waterbeds clear as gin. Tall men of character who cast ties of dry flies to the grayling amongst the watercress. And then there were the chalk streams.
The chalk streams, my father always was talking about England’s grand old chalk streams. One day we’d go fish one of England’s chalk streams. That trip would be The Big One. Some days, my dad would call it The Big Trip. Where we would finally get to fly fish the way that those old books said we should. In a place filled with rolling green hills. Something entirely alien to my eyes at the time. New Mexico had its own peculiar beauty of course, but nothing in my backyard landscape that looked like what I had seen in those books. The Big One would happen in my father’s golden years. Those far-flung decades in which a man lives out the last of his days in peace.
Throughout these works, the spirit of England revealed itself to me. Stories of blue-eyed, sharp-nosed Anglo peasants baiting hooks with worm, frog, and grasshopper along meadow streams, legs dangling above the water, sitting atop ancient stone footbridges, carefree and basking in their mythical heritage. Accounts of six- and seven-pound trout, crown jewels of the natural world, leaping and raging against ultra-light tackle, told matter-of-factly with the stiffest upper lip. Years later, I finally managed to make it to Jolly Old England.
All this was gone.
It isn't easy to keep beautiful trout and salmon thriving. They need space. They need clean water, clean air, clean runoff. Perhaps most importantly, they need natural barriers between themselves and coarse fish. Coarse fish can tolerate conditions that trout and salmon can’t. Coarse fish don’t mind tarred, brackish waters loaded with chemicals.
What was once every English peasant boy’s birthright had either been overtaken with the new or else bought up so that groups of big city men could pretend they were still experiencing the whole part of the fishing experience at exorbitant prices. I did not see many of those endless meadows that extended far behind the clear running streams. Dad would be disappointed; having such an endless sea of grass meant that a man had plenty of room for his back cast.
Here I had just helped the New Knights of the Round Table save the UK. But that small part of England that I felt that I had known through my father’s books had not been preserved. I felt angry. I felt sad. Did these people not know what swam in their waters? Everything about London seemed dim, dull, and depressing. Perhaps as an American from the Southwest I had become too accustomed to seeing a vast clear blue sky, but the fogs of London were too heavy for my heart to bear. I felt as if these people didn’t deserve England. I wanted to tip the whole island over, but I don’t think even I could do that. Worst of all, I would have to tell my father.
We did finally do The Big One. It was nice. There were still a few streams left in that place. We had to look hard, but we found one. I’ve always put a lot of stock into continuity. Between my grandfather, my father, and myself there was more than a century of experience outdoors. I couldn’t imagine losing that.