River of Dreams

River of Dreams

... and rivers of shadow and sun

  • By: Seth Norman
River of dreams: Essays and stories By Lani Waller (West River Publishing: 2004; 716-773-2543) 240 pp.; hardcover; $24.95 You might think it's all very well that Lani Waller has spent decades chasing steelhead around California and British Columbia, trout in New Zealand, and marlin off Mexico-until you realize the man could have devoted more of his time to writing for the rest of us. Books like River of Dreams, a collection of surprising essays and short stories full of well-turned prose, refreshing sentiment, self-deprecating humor and a conspicuous joie de vivre.Given a few of the incidents described herein, I suppose it's possible the author was waiting for statutes of limitation to expire before putting some of them down on paper. Still…Dreams begins with pathos, as perhaps it should: Waller was already a West Coast angling icon when he survived a floatplane crash into the Babine, an accident that killed two friends and the pilot, and left the author clinging to life. In "Trotter's Pool," Waller revisits the site and event vividly enough that survivors of other kinds may recognize the surreal pastiche such tragedies embed in memory-the tangle of mundane detail and disbelief as your world suddenly changes forever. Readers might expect this would lead to the seize-every-moment epiphany that confrontations with mortality often provide. Instead, the author flows with the river into an ethereal mist, creating a paean to lost companions ending with an embrace both wistful and fond. It's a risky bit of writing that worked for me; also a prelude to other gambles. With "The Shadow Knows," Waller rocks. His intent is to delineate the three-part pilgrim's progress of an angler's life. In the process of describing his own life, he deftly peoples his childhood with vignettes remarkable for their quality, candor and mercy. The idolized father, woodsman and womanizer; a mother whose "fingers were beautiful and her eyes full of light and unlimited patience;" and a first fish that's greeted as "a kindred spirit," which ultimately "remained in the minnow bucket for some time, still dead, unmoving despite my best efforts to revive it…" Then there's the Shadow, who knows, and will speak to a boy willing to listen. Waller writes with surety, but sans the restraint of an "icon" obliged to protect an expert image. He cringes at casting disasters, laments how many marlin he's missed, admits he's usually the last of his party to the boat. Far more perilous for fishing fiction-per my own experience-Waller reveals that not all of his thoughts are entirely chaste. We're talking PG-13, really, but at one point I thought to myself "Good! Here's a new voice for these young buck and babe anglers I meet on rivers." A chapter later, Waller admits he's past 60. There's the wisdom: The author's daring doesn't diminish him one bit. Rather, it suggests the pleasure of remaining vital in spirit and implicitly urges us to seize every moment on the river. Rivers of Shadow, Rivers of Sun By Norm Zeigler (Countrysport Press: 2004; 800-685-7962; www.countrysportpress.com) 295 pp.; hardcover; $24.95 Every year we hear more about European fly-fishing-news from the Continent, including nations walled off from the West for half a century. While several recent efforts have discussed destinations (James Prosek's Fly-Fishing the 41st Parallel), most of this information is either personal-reports from or about talented anglers-or more or less technical, pertaining to patterns and techniques. Partly as a result, most American angler's "where-to-fish maps" of countries such as Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland and Spain remain almost blank. Even emptier is our collective cache of information about the fly-fishing cultures of these regions. We're interested in what's available to a tourist, of course-pragmatic considerations about access, licenses and the kind of fishing we'll find. But there are larger questions as well, like how does a sport once reserved for landed gentry fit into the lives of people who don't own castles on the shore? In Rivers of Shadow, Rivers of Sun, author Norm Zeigler colors a wide selection of rivers and streams, and the denizens therein. He also paints the country where he finds them, along with towns and cities through which he passes, including attractions unrelated to angling; and sketches people he meets, from guides and fellow anglers to wardens, lodge owners and restaurateurs. Zeigler brings to these travelogues a unique set of skills: An American who learned to cast on a lake near Cape Cod, the author "suffered from a serious case of that singular affliction the Germans call Fernweh- the yearning for faraway places," which led him to long residency on the other side of the Atlantic and a career in journalism. Travel and outdoor assignments took him "from Moscow to Edinburgh, from Copenhagen to the Greek Isles," before he moved on to cover major news stories such as glasnost and perestroika. All that background shows in Rivers, from a familiar perspective-an American sensibility, for lack of a better phrase, to the research and writing craft he employs to add ambience, history and insights into the complex rules and politics of a new Old World. To these he adds his own art, as when visiting the Kehlsteinhaus, built for Hitler by "the dictator's wealthier sycophants…high above the Obersalzberg, atop the rocky pinnacle…an airie for the supreme leader of the Master race…" Zeigler also has abiding appreciation for dry flies, friendship and the unfolding of time: Rivers serves as memoir, as well as sampler and guide, presented by an author able to show fishing as you'll find it today, and willing to ask and tell what it was like under the Soviets, or the Nazis.