Closer to the Ground: Parenting, fly fishing, food

When Patagonia wrote me a note about reviewing Dylan Tomine’s book Closer to the Ground, I had no idea how much I needed this book.

A lot of us know Tomine from his articles in The FlyFish Journal or The Drake, and I thought “I need another fly fishing book like I need a hole in my waders. With three kids under six, I’m barely fishing as it is, and I really don’t want to feel worse about it than I already do.”

Turns out, I was wrong. The book describes how someone addicted to fly fishing might shift focus and retain a connection to the sport, but more importantly, the spiritual core of the experience, of the land and its wildlife.

Tomine describes exactly how I’d been feeling for about the past five years:

“I spent every weekend fishing and my allotted two week vacation traveling to various outdoor destinations. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never quite shake the sensation of being a tourist in the activities that meant the most to me. It was unsatisfying, like coming into a theater in the middle of a movie and leaving before the end…”

Before fatherhood, I fished 200 days a year. Now I seriously fish about 20. I could probably fish more, but they would be as Tomine said, unsatisfying jaunts, short spurts that prevent any actual connection to anything. So I fish when I can make it count. But what the hell do you do with the other hundreds of days you would want to spend outside?

Unless you’re Chris and Shauna Daughters, fly fishing with little kids is hellish. Yes yes, I’ve seen the great shots of Patsy and Cash with bonefish and New Zealand’s badass looking trout, but if my kids where out there, one would be choking on a cidada while the other would snap a $600 fly rod, and the third would be messing a diaper. This folks, is not relaxing. I’d rather watch back-to-back episodes of Thomas the Train than do that.

God bless the people who run fly fishing for kids events. There just isn’t enough booze and Xanax in the world for me to do that.

But if you adjust expectations a bit, make it about food, then you’re in business. Tomine brings his kids along to gather shellfish, to garden, to gear fish for salmon. These are all of the kinds of things I could probably do with little kids. I wouldn’t feel that crazy pressure — DON’T SPOOK THE FISH, OH GOD SET THE HOOK — that seems to come over me when fly fishing. I could do those things without emotionally scarring my children.

The writing is fantastic. You get to watch Tomine’s kids gather clams, his daughter catch her first salmon, and you get to see a realistic version of living close to the land from a suburban life. It’s a year long exploration of seasonal moments, different aspects of life well-lived in the Northwest. It’s also a book about patience and parenting.

I’d highly recommend it for any parents, recovering fly fishing addicts or just folks who want to exist within their landscape in a more meaningful way.

I’ll close with this great quote from another fly fishing writer.

“So this is leading by example, and the quiet message is to learn to live with the things that really matter; the eternal things about the earth, and about each other.” –from the foreword by Thomas McGuane


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