Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday Review: Kathy Scott's Brook Trout Forest

Reading Kathy Scott makes me want to go fishing.

I know that is an inarticulate way to begin a review of Scott's latest love letter Brook Trout Forest, but it's true. Like many readers, after three books I feel like I've come to know her through her writings. We've walked along side her through the teeth of a blistering Maine winter, wept over her elegy to a dying dog, and followed her as she explored the rodmaker's craft. This time, we are privileged to experience the kaleidoscopic forest of the book's title, which serves as both a very accurate description of the Maine woods that she frequents and as a metaphorical term for the way in which she views the world. And reading it made me want to grab a 3 weight bamboo rod and start walking until I hit the kind of cool, clear stream that begins and ends Brook Trout Forest.

It's a bit difficult to describe what her latest book is about. If Moose on the Water introduced us to her world, Headwaters Fall as Snow showed us the effervescent life found inside the frozen north woods, and Changing Planes chronicled her quest for contentment, Brook Trout Forest is anchored in the here and now. Of course, you are never far from nature when you read Kathy Scott, but more than her earlier works this book allows us to see a side of her that has not been seen. For example, it is as much a story of her teaching career and how it intersects her fly fishing (in more ways than you may think) as it is about the fly angling world in which she and her husband David van Burgel, a rodmaker of genuine talent, are well known and in demand.

Perhaps because it was written in an older literary form – the book takes the form of a journal, a favorite literary style of the author’s -- it also comes off as a mature work. I don’t mean this in an “adult have-no-fun” way, as there are still the delightful excursions of exuberance, such as when Scott describes a play her students wrote based on one of her books, or when she takes flight for the first time in a de Haviland Otter float plane. But there is a graceful maturity to the prose that is refreshing to see in an author of significant talent. Scott is clearly working hard to become a better writer, and it shows.

There are many examples I could cite but the one that sticks out is a particularly moving series of anecdotes about an elderly man named Wesley Sanborn who over the course of time donates his fly tackle in bits and pieces to Kathy’s student fly fishing club. It is a wonderfully crafted description marked with the poignant contrast of a dying man's tackle finding new life in the hands of novice anglers. The theme of life, death, and renewal is a familiar one in Scott's writings, but is never more carefully crafted than in this section of her new book.

If Changing Planes was about finding your groove in life, Brook Trout Forest is a reminder that life without challenges leads to stagnation. So we discover, to our delight, Scott taking on novel (and sometimes frightening) trials, from teaching middle school kids to fly fish to building (and fishing) a big water fly rod to putting her trust in a guide on a fast moving Canadian river. “My heart said that if I was going to take some risks,” she writes of that experience, “there was no better place to do it.”

In a lot of ways, that one sentence best sums up Brook Trout Forest. In a way, it is a risky book, in that I suspect it was not easy to write. The subject matter goes far afield, from Chicago to Labrador, but fittingly is bookended by the clear water streams of the Maine woods she knows so well. Full circle. Contented sigh.

Kathy Scott is rapidly becoming one of the most distinctive voices in the cluttered concert of outdoor writing, and Brook Trout Forest is a delightful read sure to charm all of the author’s many fans and admirers. If there is any justice in the world, after a few months, her readership will have grown by leaps and bounds.

Brook Trout Forest makes me want to go fishing. Right now. And that may be the best thing I can say about any book, fishing or otherwise.

Brook Trout Forest, as with all her books, is beautifully illustrated by Kim Mellema and is available in hardcover ($24.95) from the Alder Creek Press. Their home page is

-- Dr. Todd

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