|A CONVERSATION WITH...|
July 4 , 2000
MARGARET WARNER: The book is "Fly-Fishing for Sharks: An American Journey" by Richard Louv. It's his account of his two years traveling around the country, exploring how and why anglers fish, and why they love it so. An avid fisherman himself, Louv is also a columnist for the "San Diego Union Tribune." Welcome, Richard. Why did you embark on this book? It's hard to imagine a journalist traveling around the country talking to, say, ordinary people about why they play tennis. Why fishing?
RICHARD LOUV, Author, "Fly-Fishing for Sharks:" Well, first, for personal reasons. I was going over some new book ideas with my agent. I had written five books prior to that, and I said, "you know, all I have here are depressing social issues again, and every time I think of writing another book about a depressing social issue, I get a headache." And he said, "well, have you ever thought about writing a book about fishing?" And I said, "why?" And he said, "Because your affect changes. Every time you talk about it, it makes you happy." And that really, I think, is the key to why one would look at America through this window of fishing. I also wanted to look at America in a new way. I'd been all across the country on two other books, and when you look at America through this window, this very strange and unique window of fishing, you see an entirely different country, and it's a much better country than I thought existed.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain that. What do you mean?
RICHARD LOUV: Well, it's a very generous country. I mean, really the truth about America isn't in the headlines. It's in the small details. It's in the folks you meet, you know, when I walked up the East River into Spanish Harlem, and then the next day over to Harlem and talked to the guys that fish along there. You know, it's in the folks who are so passionate about fly- fishing in Montana. It's in the women who have learned that fishing is a terrific thing to do, and that they're often better at it than men are. It's in the stories that people tell about their lives, and about America. And this isn't a cynical country when you see it through the window of fishing. These people are passionate. They're not cynical. They're engaged with nature, which is something we're also losing in the country, I think.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, I was fascinated to read in the book that... Even though I love to fish, I didn't realize it's the number-one American outdoor pastime. What did you find is the appeal? Why do people love fishing so? What does it give them?
RICHARD LOUV: Well, you're right. 44 million people fish regularly. It's a $50 billion industry. It's grown a lot over the last 15 years. The best way to explain, I think, why people fish is a Montana guide I was with going down a river in Montana. We spent all morning fishing and hadn't caught anything. And there was an old guy in the front of the boat, and I was in the back. And this old Montana guide, we finally caught one-- the old guy in the front caught one-- got all excited. He was grinning; I was grinning. I turned to the guide and said, "you know, what is it about fishing?" And he looked at me and says, "well, it changes everything." And I said, "what do you mean, it changes everything? Do you mean that literally or metaphysically?" And he says, "well, both." And I think that is kind of the key to why people fish. In that moment when you catch a fish nothing else matters. The past disappears. The future doesn't exist. You don't think about it. You don't think about work. It really puts you in connection with something really greater than yourself.
MARGARET WARNER: You quoted one... I think he was a guide who talked about that you almost enter something he called river time through the intense concentration.
RICHARD LOUV: Right, an altered state, really, and anglers all over the country talked about that altered state. And also, women who fish often talked about their interaction with nature being different than men's. I was impressed by that. I have a phrase in the book called "deep fishing," and this is when people really... everyday life disappears. They are so in touch with nature and so aware of all the life, not only in the water, but around the water. I mean, to be a good fly-fisher, you've almost got to be an entomologist.
MARGARET WARNER: Sure. You have to know what the bugs there mean about which... what the fish are eating and...
RICHARD LOUV: Right, right. But this river time or this deep fishing, this altered state goes really beyond kind of intellectual knowledge about nature. It goes into another space.
MARGARET WARNER: People often talk about the spiritual side of fishing, and I noticed that in your book, in your conversations, a lot of people talked about their connection with God and nature and their place in it. But, I mean, did you find that really exists, that really is for real f a lot of people?
RICHARD LOUV: Yeah, it is. Some anglers will go out of their way to put that aside and not talk in those terms, but many, many did, from all walks of life. And by the way, that's one of the issues, one of the reasons why fishing is a good window to look at America through, is this really is our common language. I mean, every family has somebody who fishes in it who tells stories about fishing.
MARGARET WARNER: How did you find that fishers who are, many, so in touch with nature, how do they resolve the conflict between that and the fact that fishing is hunting and often killing, though a lot of people now catch and release the fish?
RICHARD LOUV: I think the folks who think about it as the spiritual endeavor probably understand that more deeply. And PETA, the organization, a leading animal rights organization, has targeted fishing and in fact e starting to go into schools, starting to stand outside the schools that won't let them in, and convince kids that this isn't a good thing to do. I think they raise good ethical issues, but so have anglers, f for a long time, about catch and release. And, you know, I think the animal rights folks fail to put this in a wider context, which is who is it that cares about those streams? I mean, there are dams coming down in America because people have kept fishing journals for hundreds of years that go back... in their family, they've watched how rivers and streams have changed, and they present that as evidence. And dams have been brought down because of that.
Also, there's this whole issue of direct experience of nature. Children are, I think, losing that sense of direct experience. I mean, as by boomers, we're probably the last Americans to have some kind of direct familial contact with agriculture, with nature. You know, we all had an uncle or an aunt or a grandfather who lived on a farm. Maybe we visited them. In 1993, the U.S. Census Bureau quit giving out its report on the farm population in America because there isn't any left, for the most part. So we may be the last generation that really, you know, had that direct experience. Now, as we begin to urbanize more, two things happen when we urbanize. One is we tend to romanticize nature on the one hand, or we forget about it and we don't care about it. I think kids today in particular are starved for some direct connection with nature, and fishing has been a traditional way to for them to do it. And the truth is that it is messy. It's morally messy. And I don't think that anyone can really learn truly about nature through binoculars or on videotape; they have to get their hands dirty.
MARGARET WARNER: So when you say morally messy, because you do have to confront this issue of whether you're taking a life
RICHARD LOUV: Yes, yeah. And you have to understand too that that life that you may or may not be taking may have taken a life that morning. I mean, that bass may have eaten a duckling three hours earlier.
MARGARET WARNER: What are the consequences of children losing this familial or intimate connection with nature, a whole generation that doesn't?
RICHARD LOUV: Well, first, to describe that loss, in interviewing kids around the country, I think the polarity of that relationship between children and nature has reversed. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the woods, in the fields, and along the creek, and they were my woods and my fields. I owned them in my mind, to the extent that I pulled out hundreds of survey stakes that I knew had something to do with the bulldozers. But I didn't know anything about global warming or any of the great ecological issues, didn't know that my woods were connected to other woods. Kids today can tell you anything about global warming or the Amazon Rain Forest. What they can't tell you is the last time they went out and experienced the woods in solitude. So with that reversal comes all kinds of implications. What happens to a kid's emotional health, given that disconnection? What happens to a kid's creativity, given that disconnection? What happens to environmentalism? I mean, when you look at the studies of where environmentalists came from, they all had that direct experience with nature when they were kids.
MARGARET WARNER: So we'll give them all a fishing rod. Thanks, Richard Louv, very much.