Program Particulars: Fishing with Mystery

August 06, 2009

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to Web version of audio

Album art

(02:12–03:36) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale


James Prosek experiences dapping first-hand in this segment of his film The Complete Angler.

(05:05) Darwinism

James Prosek refers to the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin. We explored Darwin's life and work in the SoF program "Evolution and Wonder: Understanding Charles Darwin." Like Prosek, Darwin often wrote about the almost religious experience of contemplating nature. In the his book The Voyage of the Beagle about his trip exploring South America as a young man, Darwin writes,

Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests, undefaced by the hand of man, whether those of Brazil, where the powers of life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where death & decay prevail. Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature:— No one can stand unmoved in these solitudes, without feeling that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.

(05:34) Portugese Word for "Craziness"

Krista refers to the Portuguese word loucura, which James Prosek wrote about in his book Fly Fishing the 41st.

My father's heroes were seduced into learning by a curiosity about the natural world, and he described the on going process of that seduction as a person's loucura (Portuguese for craziness). Darwin's was beetles, Nabokov's butterflies, Audubon's birds. As a child in Brazil my father fell in love with birds, and birding continued to be his raison d'être in New York, where he grew up, married, and had children, and in Connecticut, where he divorced. You are lucky to have one too, my father said. Yours is fish.

(07:55) "A Particular Fish Called the Trout"

Trout are among the most prized freshwater game and food fish. They are also among the most widely distributed families of fish in the world, in part because British colonizers brought brown and rainbow trout with them whenever they set up new colonies. Recently there have been efforts to return native trout species to their natural habitats, and native trout are beginning to return to American rivers and streams. Among the difficulties scientists and conservationists face in studying trout is that they extremely difficult to classify by species.

Album art

(09:34–11:36) Music Element

"VI. Bells and Whistles" from Serenada Schizophrana, performed by Danny Elfman


(09:40) Reading About Trout

This reading comes from James Prosek's first book, Trout: An Illustrated Story, which was first published when he was nineteen years old:

The instructive nature of the trout stream is not forced upon its visitors, but held candidly by the water and the trees. The angler must make an effort to hear the stream's messages and see her beauty. I had learned superficially how to catch a trout — first with a worm and then by tying and casting flies… But my education really began once I'd spent enough time near my local stream that I could begin to understand her language. Only after I'd become comfortable with her modes of speech — winter silence, springtime growling roar, lazy summer trickling, and autumn calm — did I begin to understand that the stream was not only a place where I fished but also a living breathing celebration of hardship and joy. … For me, the trout in its stream is the essence of life — encompassing survival and beauty, death and birth.

Another passage from the same book celebrates the trout in less abstract terms:

Having seen several thousand trout and painted hundreds of them, I have found that each one has its own personality. By that I don't mean simply that every type, strain, form, variety, species, or subspecies is different, but that every individual trout is different. Not one trout has a spotting pattern that is duplicated in another….In fact, because of the trout's tendency for intense variation, it is sometimes difficult to identify a fish by species. I've caught the same wild brown trout from a small local stream four times, each time taking a picture before releasing it….I can now identify him streamside by the double spot just to the front left of his dorsal fin.

(12:04) Questioning the Naming of Things

James Prosek has written that his study of trout led him to lose faith in the ability of scientific names to categorize and order nature.

I began to understand that species were less static than the fathers of modern taxonomy—those like Carl Linnaeus—once believed. That nature was static and classifiable was an idea perpetuated by the natural history museum (repository for dead nature), the zoo (repository for living nature), and the book (repository for thoughts and images related to nature). These mediums were all distillations of nature, what individuals of authority deemed an appropriate cross section to present to the public. None had adequately represented Nature—at once chaotic, multifarious, and interconnected….Naming gives us the illusion that nature is fixed, but it is as fluid as the language used to describe it. It is a challenge of the artist (if no one else) to un-name and re-name the world to remind us that fresh perspectives exist.

» Enlarge the image A carving of Ureia, guardian taniwha of the Haurakai M?ori people

A carving of Ureia, guardian taniwha of the Haurakai M?ori people.
(photo: Wikipedia)

(13:15) Taniwha

The online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Te Ara, has put together a cultural history of taniwha:

Taniwha are supernatural creatures whose forms and characteristics vary according to different tribal traditions. Though supernatural, in the M?ori world view they were seen as part of the natural environment. Taniwha have been described as fabulous monsters that live in deep water. Others refer to them as dragons — many taniwha looked like reptiles, had wings and ate people. They could also take the shape of animals such as sharks, whales, octopuses, or even logs. Some taniwha could change their shape, moving between different forms.

(13:40) The Linnean System of Classification

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist who invented the binomial naming system of classification that gave rise to modern taxonomy. National Geographic magazine explored his legacy on the occasion of his 300th birthday.

If you read a thumbnail biography, in an encyclopedia or on a website, you're liable to be told that Carl Linnaeus was "the father of taxonomy"—that is, of biological classification—or that he created the Latin binomial system of naming species, still used today. Those statements are roughly accurate, but they don't convey what made the man so important to biology during his era and afterward….Here's what makes him a hero for our time: He treasured the diversity of nature for its own sake, not just for its theological edification, and he hungered to embrace every possible bit of it within his own mind. He believed that humankind should discover, name, count, understand, and appreciate every kind of creature on Earth.

(14:28) The Power of Naming in the Bible

Krista refers to the passage in Genesis when God gives Adam the responsibility for naming all the animals (New Revised Standard Edition, Genesis 15, 18-20).

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it….Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.' So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field.

Album art

(16:00–17:29) Music Element

"Jowelbinna" from Woolunda - Ten Solos for Didgeridoo, performed by David Hudson


(16:15) Bruce Chatwin's Songlines

The British travel writer Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989) was an art collector, working for Sotheby's auction house in London, when he suddenly abandoned his career to travel to Patagonia and wrote his first travel book In Patagonia (1977) about the trip. He went on to write many more books about his travels, including The Songlines (1987), which is a mixture of fiction and memoir about his journey to Australia to research the aboriginal creation stories and explore his ideas about the nomadic spirit. Krista reads two passages from the first and third chapters of The Songlines.

[There is a] labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Austrailia and are known to Europeans as ‘Dreaming-tracks' or ‘Songlines'; to the Aboriginals as the ‘Footprints of the Ancestors' or ‘The Way of the Law.' Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path – birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes – and so singing the world into existence….In theory, at least, the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score. There was hardly a rock or creek in the country that could not or had not been sung. One should perhaps visualize the Songlines as a spaghetti of Iliads and Odysseys, writhing this way and that, in which every ‘episode' was readable in terms of geology.

» Enlarge the image

"Isaak Walton and his scholar" by American illustrator Louis John Read.
(image: Wikipedia)

(17:47) Izaak Walton and The Compleat Angler

Izaak Walton (1593-1683) was a prosperous tailor in London who educated himself and began to write biographies, the first of which was a biography of his fishing partner, the poet John Donne. When civil war broke out between the Anglican King Charles II and the Puritans, Walton retreated to the countryside, where he spent most of his time reading, writing, and fishing. He came out with The Compleat Angler in 1653, and it was an immediate success.

(19:31) "Jesus Chose Fisherman"

The story of how Jesus chose fishermen as his disciples is nearly identical in Matthew and Mark. The version in Luke is slightly different and more detailed.

Matthew 4:17-22 (New Revised Standard Edition):

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11 (New Revised Standard Edition):

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

The Gospel of John does not tell the story of how Jesus chose fishermen as his disciples, but in this passage from John 21:1-12 (New Revised Standard Edition), Jesus reveals himself, after his death and resurrection, while his disciples are fishing.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord.

James Prosek's and Izaak Walton's ideas about Christianity and fishing are echoed by the opening of Norman Maclean's classic novella about fly fishing, A River Runs Through It.

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.

Album art

(19:58–21:20) Music Element

"When Daphne, The Most Beautiful Maiden" from Eyck: Der Fluyten Lust-Hof, performed by Marion Verbruggen


(22:35) The "Timelessness" of Rivers

In his film The Complete Angler, James Prosek quotes from Alfred Tennyson's poem “The Brook” on the immortality of streams and rivers.

Excerpt from “The Brook” by Alfred Tennyson

I steal by lawns and grassy plots, I slide by hazel covers; I move the sweet forget-me-nots That grow for happy lovers. I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance, Among my skimming swallows; I make the netted sunbeam dance Against my sandy shallows. I murmur under moon and stars In brambly wildernesses; I linger by my shingly bars; I loiter round my cresses; And out again I curve and flow To join the brimming river, But I go on forever.

(25:13) Reading from Henry David Thoreau

The extended passage of the reading in the program is excerpted from Henry David Thoreau's book, Walden, about the time he spent living in a simple cabin in the woods:

Sometimes, after staying in a village parlor till the family had all retired, I have returned to the woods, and, partly with a view to the next day's dinner, spent the hours of midnight fishing from a boat by moonlight, serenaded by owls and foxes, and hearing, from time to time, the creaking note of some unknown bird close at hand. These experiences were very memorable and valuable to me — anchored in forty feet of water, and twenty or thirty rods from the shore, surrounded sometimes by thousands of small perch and shiners, dimpling the surface with their tails in the moonlight, and communicating by a long flaxen line with mysterious nocturnal fishes which had their dwelling forty feet below, or sometimes dragging sixty feet of line about the pond as I drifted in the gentle night breeze, now and then feeling a slight vibration along it, indicative of some life prowling about its extremity, of dull uncertain blundering purpose there, and slow to make up its mind. At length you slowly raise, pulling hand over hand, some horned pout squeaking and squirming to the upper air. It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again. It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward into this element, which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook.

James Prosek reads a passage from Izaak Walton's book in The Complete Angler.



Album art

(24:47–26:07) Music Element

"Err" from Music for Films, Vol. 3, performed by Michael Brook


Album art

(26:04–27:17) Music Element

"The Angler's Song" from Sitting by the Streams — Psalms, Ayres and Dialogues, performed by The Consort of Musicke


Man's life is but vain; For 'tis subject to pain, And sorrow, and short as a bubble, 'Tis a hodge-podge of bus'ness, and money, and care; And care, and money, and trouble. But we'll take no care, When the weather proves fair Nor will we vex now tho' it rain; We'll banish all sorrow And sing till tomorrow, And angle, and angle again.

Album art

(27:18–30:35) Music Element

"Fishin' Blues" from The Best of Taj Mahal, performed by Taj Mahal


">» Enlarge the image ">An image from James Prosek's exhibition ">

"An image from James Prosek's exhibition "Life and Death: A Visual Taxonomy".
(photo: James Prosek)

(30:57) "Life and Death: A Visual Taxonomy"

James Prosek's most recent exhibition was profiled in the New York Times. You can see more images from the exhibit here here.

(31:30)"Content, Simple, Quiet"

Much of Walton's book, The Compleat Angler, is concerned with the idea that angling can help a person achieve a simple, peaceful nature.

No life, my honest Scholar, no life so happy and so pleasant, as the life of a well governed Angler; for when the Lawyer is swallowed up with business, and the Statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on Cowslip-banks, hear the birds sing, and possesse ourselves in as much quietnesse as these silent silver streams, which we now see glide so quietly by us. Indeed my good Scholar, we may say of Angling, as Dr. Boteler said of Strawberries; Doubtlesse God could have made a better berry, but doubtlesse God never did: And so (if I might be Judge) God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than Angling.

» Enlarge the image James Prosek (right) with Joe Haines (left).<br><cite>(photo: James Prosek)</cite>

James Prosek (right) with Joe Haines (left).
(photo: James Prosek)

(32:40) Joe Haines

James Prosek wrote about his friendship with Joe Haines in his 1997 book Joe and Me: an Education in Fishing and Friendship. More recently, he wrote about making good on a promise to someday take Joe Haines fishing in Alaska.

(33:53) Drawing Creatures on Cave Walls

James Prosek refers to the earliest known human works of art, the cave paintings of animals in southern France and northern Spain, including those at the cave of Chauvet and the cave of Lascaux. All of these paintings are believed to be about 30,000 years old.

(36:54) Mythical Creature Stalls Traffic

James Prosek refers to a road construction controversy that occurred in New Zealand in 2002, and which was covered by the BBC and the New Zealand Herald.

(41:55) Conservation Project with Yvon Chouinard

James Prosek has written about founding World Trout with Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, and the mission of the organization.

Need we attempt to explain why it is important to preserve native trout? For one thing, the existence of wild trout means clean water, arguably our most precious resource. Their disappearance would not only be a physical loss, but a loss to the human imagination….Conservation is a natural part of being a predator (which all fly fishermen, like it or not, are). A genuine affection for the animal from which we once gained sustenance is part of our evolutionary fabric. So let's get to it.

(47:44) The Eel's Mysterious Life

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand describes what is known about the life cycle of the eel:

For centuries, larval eels were thought to be a separate species: they occur in the ocean and look different from adult, freshwater eels. Then in 1896 the Italian zoologist Giovanni Grassi reported that Leptocephalus brevirostris, known as a saltwater fish, was in fact the larva of the European freshwater eel. But just where at sea they bred was a mystery. In a 1923 paper, Danish biologist Johannes Schmidt stated that American and European eels spawned in the Sargasso Sea, in the Atlantic. In 1926, after sailing his research vessel Dana II to Australia and New Zealand, he concluded that New Zealand eels probably bred somewhere east of New Caledonia. But the exact locations are still not fully known.

Album art

(46:09–46:47) Music Element

"Another Momentary Suspension of Doubt" from History, Mystery, performed by Bill Frisell


» Enlarge the image A map of the Federated States Micronesia (FSM), where James Prosek studied eels on the island of Pohnpei. Click on the map for a larger version

A map of the Federated States Micronesia (FSM), where James Prosek studied eels on the island of Pohnpei. Click on the map for a larger version

(48:40) "Speak Now in Hard Words…"

James Prosek quotes famous essay Self Reliance by the transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. The full passage reads:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

Album art

(48:50–50:30) Music Element

"Them Buried Standing" from Prezens, performed by David Torn


Album art

(48:50–50:30) Music Element

"Fisherman's Reel" from Fast Texas, performed by Steve James


Share Episode

Shortened URL

Voices on the Radio

is an artist and author who has written several books on fly-fishing, including Fly-Fishing on the 41st Parallel.

apples