Samuel Allcock, owner of the great tackle company that proudly bore his name, once derisively referred to the British fishing writer Henry Cholmondeley-Pennell as a "literary fisherman." Most knowledgeable outdoorsmen know exactly what Allcock meant by this; indeed, few pursuits (with the possible exception of baseball) attract so many "metaphor-for-life" writers as field sports. But unlike Cholmondeley-Pennell, far too many of these writers lack the literary skills necessary to pull of this style without sounding stilted, arrogant, or just plain boring.
This is why I perform a minor celebration when I discover an author that avoids the trap of literary pretense and instead tries to tell an engaging story in as direct a style as possible. Gregg Stockey is just such a writer. His work Guests at the Buck Falls Club: An Outdoor Memoir (Cold Tree Press, 2007) is both an original and interesting work that delightfully recalls a number of stories from Stockey's nearly four decades as an outdoor enthusiast.
Reading this book is like retracing the steps of my youth. The book is framed by the author's experiences learning woodcraft in the famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) of Northern Minnesota, in the backyard of my hometown of Duluth and where I got my first experience as a fishing guide on the Gunflint Trail. Like the author, I went to college in Central Illinois and spent much time in Chicago, and again like Stockey, I whiled many a month away prowling the woods and waters of Northern Wisconsin. So this is intimately familiar territory for me.
While I may have these geographical reference points in common, Stockey's life and experiences are in many ways unique. A trained counselor who uses the outdoors as a way to help adolescents better find their way in the world, he takes the reader on a very personal and introspective journey from his first experiences catching fish with his father to giving a group of kids a singular lifelong memory in the chapter from which the book gets it title.
What Stockey understands and notes in every selection, whether it is about fishing for smallmouth in Northern Michigan, climbing Mount Rainier, or taking photographs of a particularly docile young buck, is that nature changes a person in both obvious and imperceptible ways. If there is a book published in the past year that better illustrates this point, I haven't read it.
Coterminous with this is Stockey's refreshing lack of bravado. Here you will not find the intrepid explorer single handedly saving a lost group of kids from a grizzly bear, or the stoic angler boating the record-breaking bass. Instead, you'll read about a Mepps Musky Killer imbedded in his brother-in-law's head, getting lost on a U.S. Navy Bombing Site while hiking, and a father who, in a refreshing bit of honesty, reproaches Stockey for not keeping every fish he catches. From some of the memoirs I've read, you'd think most fishing writers were raised on Walden's Pond.
The book is illustrated with period photographs taken by the author that represent literal snapshots of Stockey's life. At a slim 148 pages, Guests at the Buck Falls Club flows effortlessly, and while it may not reach the status of a classic in the field, I can't imagine anyone reading it and not finding something to enjoy. It also marks Gregg Stockey as an author to watch in the future.
Guests at the Buck Falls Club is available from Cold Tree Press and from Amazon.com.
-- Dr. Todd