About 2.5 years ago, I reviewed my dad’s book, Beautiful Like a Mayfly (or ‘BLAM’), calling it “beautiful, honest, frequently poetic writing” that “made me reflect fondly on time spent with my family exploring the wild places of the world.” While BLAM, unsurprisingly given its title, explored fly fishing as just one important facet of my father’s relationship with the natural world, his latest prose offering, titled Streamwalker’s Journey: Fishing the Triple Divide, is almost entirely dedicated to his life on the water.
To say that Walt Franklin (the Rivertop Rambler) is into fly fishing is somewhat akin to saying that the Pope goes to church, or that Brazilians like soccer. It’s often said that everyone has their nerdy obsession, and it’s safe to say the rhythmic art of casting an artificial fly into a sparkling riffle sometimes goes beyond the level of a passion for my dad. He’s been known to drive from Upstate New York to Montana—by himself!—nearly getting mauled in his tent by a desperate momma grizzly, all to soak his waders in America’s most renowned fly waters.
But Streamwalker’s Journey is closer to home for him, and he speaks about his local waters—mostly in Upstate NY and northern Pennsylvania, and rarely much further afield than Virginia’s Blue Ridge—with a sense of intimate familiarity. Each chapter is a mini quest of sorts, intended to both advance the loose overall narrative and stand on its own, if a reader chooses to read it as such. For example, two separate chapters follow the fisherman as he exhaustively documents every step of beloved Pennsylvania trout streams, from mouth (bottom) to source (stream’s beginning).
Sound a bit task-oriented to be appealing? Don’t worry—Franklin generously intersperses his stream notes with salient observations about the natural world, humanity, and history. One of my favorite moments comes in a chapter about fishing the Pecos River in New Mexico, one of the few book settings outside the greater northeastern U.S. There, deep in the wilderness, my dad met and chatted with a Hispanic fly fisherman who shared an insider’s tip on what fly pattern might work best to entice the local trout.
Weeks later, back at home in New York, my dad blogged about his experience on the Pecos, only to have the other angler himself reach out after encountering the post via a Google search. They’ve maintained a correspondence since then. Something like fly fishing (heck, or sports, or music, or food!) can bridge a lot of gaps between people, and offer some close common ground between an older white guy from rural New York and a young Latino from diverse Santa Fe.
Unfortunately, not everyone’s been impressed by the ecological pan-humanist spirit expressed throughout Streamwalker’s Journey. A handful of trolls reviewing on Amazon have resorted to ad hominem attacks based not on the book’s literary merits, but on their defensive perception that the work is overtly political—and “leftist” to boot. Politically conservative outdoors types truly need not fear; Franklin has no interest in mixing politics (the profane) with fishing (for him, the sacred). It’s a sad day when a writer who merely comments ruefully on the presence of bigotry and destruction in the world is considered offensively political.
Digression aside, I’ve always found my dad’s writing to be pretty optimistic. Even for folks who aren’t explicitly interested in fly fishing, Streamwalker’s Journey is a highly recommended read. Just as his non-fishing son often accompanied him on fishing outings, walking and playing along the stream banks, readers who love the outdoors will see their own reverence for the natural world’s beauty reflected in Franklin’s writing, almost as clearly as a clean mountain stream reflects the grace of a cast fly.
You might go [to a place of beauty] to find another green world—a place to renew your hope for all mankind. If you do that, my advice would be to stay open-minded. Nature doesn’t care to work with us or to conform its ways to fit our personal needs. Be prepared for small surprises and the need for adaptation. (pg. 78)
[Struggle and stress] keeps me casting and pushing on in places like Cedar Run, to learn more and to share what’s left of beauty, however minuscule the contribution. That’s what keeps me looking for that happy place where I can fish and shake off most of life’s calamities, other than the willow boughs that seem to snag every third back-cast in an open area along the run. Today, that “happy place,” if you will, seemed here and now. (pg. 171)
You can purchase Streamwalker’s Journey on Amazon (a bargain at $13.95!).