No Shortage of Good Days
By John Gierach
Simon and Schuster, May 2011
The name John Gierach is probably familiar to most fly fishing readers. And I bet most of you have probably read at least a book or two by the well known trout bum and author. If you have, then this new book will feel comfortable and familiar to you. If you have not, then this book is as good a jumping in point as any. No Shortage of Good Days consists of twenty short chapters and comes in at just over 200 pages. Typical of a Gierach book, each chapter is a separate vignette without any over-arching theme except for the obvious fly fishing commonality. This can be a good thing or a bad thing (or no thing at all). Personally I have mixed feelings about this format. It is nice if you don’t have big blocks of reading time. You can pick this book up read a chapter or two, put it down for a few days, or weeks, pick it up again and you won’t be lost. On the other hand I find that this kind of book is not very compelling. I don’t feel the urgent need to read on after I finish a chapter. I can read a chapter and be content to let it sit for a while.
The chapters deal mostly with trout fishing, but there are a few forays into salmon, steelhead and saltwater. The subject matter is, in general, pretty mundane stuff. That is not meant as a criticism however, quite to the contrary. The ability to write about the everyday, average fishing trip and somehow make it interesting is where Gierach’s sneaky genius lies. He can take the type of trip that we all have and delicately transform it into something worth reading. He is able to put words to the partially formed thoughts in my own head and leave me nodding in recognition. We’ve all had moments like this one described below.
…I involuntarily visualized a trout stream I’d fished two years earlier high up in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado. I could clearly see a size 16 parachute dry fly drifting perfectly down an idyllic pool below a small waterfall. (Accurately recalling an entire day of fishing is like trying to put smoke back down a chimney, so you settle on these specific moments.) When a fifteen-inch cutthroat calmly ate the fly, I realized that I had driven six blocks in a trance and had missed my turn.
Gierach is a master of a certain literary slight of hand. He writes about fly fishing as if he knows on the one hand that it is a frivolous activity with no real meaning in a modern catch and release context, but on the other hand it’s as good an activity as any to dedicate your life to. My favorite chapter in the book deals with this idea. In this chapter, called Firewood, Gierach describes a long, cold winter where the firewood he needs to heat his house is in short supply and he spends much of his time checking for wood that has been thinned from the forest (for fire prevention) and dumped along the road. It just happens that there is a small trout stream, with small trout often rising to tiny midges, in the vicinity of the wood piles. So he takes along the fishing gear when he goes to check for wood.
So this became an almost daily routine for the next week and a half. I didn’t always find a fresh load of wood and rising trout on the same day, but as luck would have it, I always found one or the other.
The important search for life-sustaining (or at least plumbing sustaining) firewood and the apparently frivolous activity of fly-fishing for small, midge-sipping trout are somehow equally important. If you have the fly fishing bug, then you probably have a sense of this yourself. This feeling that fly fishing is both meaningless and all important. Or maybe more specifically that fly fishing is what it is – that the entire meaning of fly fishing lies within the act itself, only in doing it do you understand it. Or maybe, zen koans aside, it is just your preferred form of escapism.
It’s not that you could – or would – spend the rest of your days standing in cold water swatting deer flies, it’s just that the detritus of daily life has been piling up while you were gone, and by contrast traveling and fishing seem so, you know…uncomplicated.
When you cannot get yourself on the water, which for many of us is all too often, then reading a book like No Shortage of Good Days is a good substitute – a good way to lose yourself in cold water and trout and for a while ignore the “detritus of daily life”.