Dan Callaghan’s North Umpqua — photos, conservation and friendship

A couple weeks ago, I received a copy of Dan Callaghan’s North Umpqua, a book of photographs of the river, its character and inhabitants, posthumously published by his wife, Mary Kay Callaghan.

It’s a beautiful book, 156 photographs taken over 50 years. And the layout is perfect, designer Jennifer Huckins does a great job of arranging the palette of this river — a shot of green sunlight filtering through the moss on tree branches across from a photo of the emerald edge of a plunge pool, a sunset matched with red October maple leaves. It’s a great print job on heavy paper with a nice finish.

Dan Callaghan's North Umpqua

This is Callaghan’s first book of collected photographs, though he’s been published in magazines like Fly Fisherman, Outdoor Life, and Outside for years.

According to Jim Van Loan, Callaghan’s close friend, proprietor of the Steamboat Inn on North Umpqua and author of the forward of this book, Callaghan has 3-4 books worth of photography. He said if the book sells out in the next two years, they would have the funds to start the second book — Yellowstone photos. A collection of photos from Northeast Oregon’s Grande Ronde River could be the third book, but Van Loan said that would likely be a smaller run publication.

Callaghan originated the classic steelhead fly, The Green Butt Skunk (Mildred Krogel originated the skunk in 1938 and Dan’s edition was the green butt). He was a lawyer, fly fisherman and photographer — but most importantly a conservationist. He was a founder of the Steamboaters and the North Umpqua Foundation and a member of every conservation group you can imagine from the Federation of Fly Fishers, Oregon Trout, Trout Unlimited and 1,000 Friends of Oregon.

It’s the conservation ethic that really comes through in this book — the protection of something wild in a special place that could literally be loved to death by the masses. The water and light, the geology of the river, the fishing photos — all of these are beautiful. But the images that stand out for me are the mother ouzel sharing a stonefly with her babies, the massive pod of wild steelhead stacked up at the bottom of a pool, the family of otters going about their business, as they’ve done for millennia on this river.

There is not a lot of text in this book, but what you take away from the writing is that Callaghan was loved, by his wife and friends like Van Loan; by Lee Spencer, volunteer guardian of steelhead for the North Umpqua Foundation who still drives Callaghan’s customized photography van, patrolling and protecting. It’s a great legacy and I find it hard to imagine that with Callaghan’s huge network of conservation-minded friends, they won’t sell out of those 200 copies sooner than expected.

Our blog pal Stu at Palouse Diary reviewed the book and had the following to say:

I feel that I know the man through his photographs of the river he loved, a river which enchanted me the first time that I saw it, and that calls me back despite the more than 400 miles and almost 8 hours of driving between here and there.

The forests of west of the Cascade mountains are beautiful places, verdant year round from the rains, and even more beautiful when threaded through by a pristine river. The Umpqua cuts a dramatic groove though columnar basalt as if makes it was from it headwaters near Crater Lake to the Pacific Ocean at Reedsport, Oregon. Much of the river bed is made up of jagged slots in the bedrock, and the bottom drops off precipitously from streamside ledges. The gorge is forested through most of its length with cottonwoods, alders, hemlocks, spruces, and firs. Each season has its own serene beauty.

Van Loan shared the following story about Callaghan: “Dan rarely met anybody he didn’t like. When he did, it was pretty explosive. One time he was fighting a steelhead out here, a log truck driver stopped and watched him land the fish. Dan let the fish go and the guy yelled, ‘Why’d you let him go?’ Dan said, ‘I didn’t need him.’ The guy said ‘I would’ve taken him home,’ and Dan said ‘Well, I guess I like that fish better than I like you.’”

There are a few copies of the book in the shop, stop by and check them out. -MS

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1 Response to Dan Callaghan’s North Umpqua — photos, conservation and friendship

  1. mike Lewelling says:

    I’m sitting on my patio reading the book.
    We have beautiful rivers here in Oregon. Bless people like Dan, who cared enough to give
    time and love. I hope my grand girls enjoy his work like I do
    thank you, Dan

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