Book Report: Remarkable tribute to trout, language

Here’s how to start a great love story:

“She was waiting for me there, in the shade of a tall oak beside the river.

“ I turned off the highway into the Ellsworth Rod and Gun Club and let the big green truck roll to a stop by a line of whitewashed posts at the brow of the slope leading down to Wisconsin’s Rush River.

“I wasn’t surprised to see her. I expected she would be there in the very heart of June, just as I expected the eternal river to be there, and the mayflies, and the trout.

“But catching her scent as I pulled on wading brogues and strung a long willowy fly rod evoked a flood of memories, of other rivers and other years long past, and of other late spring days as perfect as this one.

“I went over to see her as soon as the leader was rigged with a pair of nymphs and I’d donned the trout fisher’s uniform of burnt khaki, pale green and nut brown that helped keep me invisible to the fish.

“By contrast she was dressed in a crown of vivid lavender petals atop tall green shoots, as befitted one whose name was Hesperis matronalis in the ancient tongue, “lady of the evening star,” as near as I could make it in English.

“Dame’s Rocket is her common name, and the bloom of her presence by the waterside meant that large numbers of yellow mayflies, known as sulphurs, would dance over the broad riffles of the Rush at twilight.”

Thus begins page 94 of  “Troutsmith: An Anglers Tales and Travels” (Terrace Books, $24.95), by Kevin Searock, a talented wordsmith, trout fisherman and biology teacher at Portage, Wis., High School.

This book is not just about Ellsworth’s Rush River, but about trout sites in the U.S. and abroad where Searock has dipped his line.

I find it refreshing that a central Wisconsin writer would get over this far west because many of the books about Wisconsin culture seem to dribble off once one leaves the Madison area.

Am I paranoid? Probably so; nevertheless, I find this book a remarkable tribute to trout and to the English language.

Searock’s prose is a wonder to behold as it ripples along, just like the Rush River.

Here’s a quote from the national scene that’s long overdue:

“He so far overshadows all the other ‘statesmen’ in Washington who have held high office of the last decade.

“That John Hay has been the main wheel of the [Theodore] Roosevelt administration has long been made manifest to everybody who has observed the numerous instances wherein Mr. Roosevelt’s strenuous, headstrong actions have been deftly smoothed over by the quiet, notoriety-hating secretary of state.

“There have been a score of instances…where the president in his happy, devil-may-care, we-can-lick-the-world style has overstepped the bounds of diplomacy and the presidential prerogative only to be rescued from a difficult predicament by [his secretary of state], who has performed greater and more substantial service to his country than any Republican since Abraham Lincoln.

And this from a Democratic-leaning newspaper, New York’s Evening Sun!

“Who was this miracle worker who kept saving Teddy Roosevelt’s chestnuts from the fire?

None other than the notoriety-hating John Hay, the Cleveland Ohio lad who served presidents from Abraham Lincoln through William Howard Taft.

He wasn’t only a politico, but the friend of cultural giants like Henry Adams and even the lover of Henry Adams’ mistress.

It’s all told in the first full-length biography since 1934 in “All the Great Prizes, by John Taliafierro (Simon & Schuster, $35).

It’s a fascinating read about a fascinating fellow who lived in a fascinating time called the Gilded Age and the early twentieth century that followed.

Editor’s note: Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critic Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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