Thursday, February 21, 2013

The View From Coal Creek


The cane tells you what it wants to be… It’s length, space between nodes and bug damage, speak a natural inclination. Just like people, I think. Its soul not evident in perfection, but in its imperfection. Its character, shaped by scars.

Few hear the cane. Fewer understand it. Only a handful can translate, can pass along what’s said so that the rest of us can begin to understand. Erin Block is one of those handful and her debut book, The View From Coal Creek: Reflections on Fly Rods, Canyons, and Bamboo, is a Rosetta Stone carved in bamboo. More importantly, it’s a tribute to and celebration of the beauty in our natural imperfection, in “hand made,” and in all that is odd and unique in each of us. For me, and I suspect for many, that’s a great comfort.

Coal Creek is the story of the building of an eight-and-a-half foot 5wt Garrison 202-E taper, a classic bamboo trout fly rod, by hand. But really, it isn’t…

… it’s not about making a rod, it’s about seeing your life through the process. It’s about the journey… It’s about tradition and friendship and alchemy, and about not completely understanding why six strips of bamboo glued together mean so much to you… And at long last, it’s about the rough, ugly, and uncut, refined into something beautiful, through a hell of a lot of hard work. And that – that is life...

The View From Coal Creek spans the winter and early spring of 2012 as Erin travels the roads between her cabin in the mountains of Colorado and the shop and home of her rod-building mentor, Frank. The book is full of the comings and goings of friends, the passage of season in her remote canyon, and day-to-day alpine life as the snows obliterate, then surrender, her perch in the hills; all relayed with loving backdrops of local lore and family history, told with warmth and insight…

Dark eyed Juncos are out early this morning, getting their fair share of breakfast before the Jays wake. Landing on snowbanks, they make angels like children, imprinting their faith in flight.

…not to mention a healthy dose of self inspection and deprecation.

The snow has fallen evenly in no wind, as if a dump truck cloud has parked over the opening of pines above the cabin and evenly distributed its contents. A blanket on a bed with no lumps. No forgotten books, socks, or stocking caps. Smoothly pressed, tucked and trimmed as a bed always should be and mine never is.

And, to my delight, Erin also gives us scribblers some candid looks at the trials of a writer’s world…

Jay pecks behind me on his computer, like a chicken at grit and gravel, fed for digestion, editing photos and writing. It’s a comforting sound, that of writing. But I know better than to think it’s a comforting thing to actually do. Rather, it’s only comforting once it’s out – once you’ve thrown it up and are sipping ginger ale.

… and almost always with her delightfully quirky perspective on things.

I’d had nightmares about the glue not setting right and everything going to hell in a handbag. Which, I’ve always thought is an appropriate place for handbags to go, however odd the saying.

Erin writes like she builds a fly rod. She lets her materials, her stories, her bamboo, choose their weight, their length, and then carefully and precisely shapes them into perfectly fitting pieces. She wraps the guides, giving the book direction, in fine, tight analogies and strong insight, and varnishes the lovely thing with coating dips of humor and heart. Her cork, her prose, is comfortable in our hand and in our mind. It all casts, it all reads, like butter.

And then I switch out for my rod and write my name very slowly and thoughtfully on the flat and below that I pen the length and weight and taper. My hand begins to shake a little bit. Then the month and year – I’m nervous – whereupon I have the secret hope that several hundred years from now someone will find this rod in an attic, or woodshed, or closet with a secret door, and will wonder who Erin Block was.

If she keeps writing like this, they'll surely know.



13 comments:

Steve Zakur said...

I'm working my way down the ready stack to the book...maybe it's time to move it up in the stack.

Mike Sepelak said...

It'll go by in a flash, Steve. Move it up.

Seth said...

Mike, I also gave it a read and found it to be a fantastic read!

Howard Levett said...

Erin does an amazing job when she describes herself and her canyon. As a friend and neighbor I can say that Erin is the real deal...no airs or pretense and a great smile.

Mike Sepelak said...

Indeed, Seth. It's beautifully done.

I have no doubts, Howard. None whatsoever.

e.m.b. said...

Goodness...thank you, all.

Mike Sepelak said...

We only speak the truth, Erin. Yeah, that sounded funny to me too.

Kirk Werner said...

Your review is in and of itself a piece of fine word smithery, Mike. Makes me realize I better order a copy—might even see if I can get it signed by the author. And then I realize, oh yeah— I already did! Just have to sit down and get to it. Congrats, Erin!

Mike Sepelak said...

Thanks, Kirk! I was inspired by what I was reviewing. And by all means, get to it!

e.m.b. said...

Yes Kirk, that book is supposed to be thoroughly coffee-stained by now! :) And thanks!

Kirk Werner said...

Oh, it is, Erin. I've dribbled coffee throughout the pages several times, I just haven't read it yet. I like lookin' at the pictures.

Mike Sepelak said...

My paperback copy is highlighted, annotated, and scribbled extensively in the margins. It has so many colorful post-it flags sticking out of it that it looks like a florescent hedgehog.

I also have the hardback, which I hope to drag to Colorado one day and get further autographed by the author. Actually, now that I think about it, I'd wager that Erin would more enjoy signing the other.

e.m.b. said...

You have no idea how happy all of those scribbles and post-its make me, Mike. Wait, actually...I think you do indeed.