WITHEROW AND TURNER
Open Season - An Anglers Life in New Zealand
Random House 2014
When this book arrived, on the SwampThing desk for review, the Editor exclaimed “Fly fishing!?” But then I saw that the author was Dave Witherow - Brian Turner's best cobber. Brian describes Dave's writing as “funny, insouciant, wacky, ascerbic, lyrical, political.”
With those literary skills he could write a book about anything. Witherow has chosen his passions: life, philosophy and fly fishing. It is so readable I consumed it in a weekend away, often laughing out loud in public places. It was guilt-free reading about guilt-free recreation.
Open Season is an excellent field guide to Turner's Into the Wider World - A Back Country Miscellany (Random House 2008). More a philosophy on life, blended with daring-do and some anglers' specifics, than a fishing how-to. I've absorbed some knowledge and lots of respect for fly fishing although Witherow never patronised me by lecturing.
His hilarious retelling of his and *Turner's near disastrous trip up the Thomas River is the highlight for me:
“He [Turner] knew very well that the rain would stop sooner or later, that nothing was permanent, even on the Coast. That the skies would turn blue and the rivers return to their tractable beds...Until then it was the simple ritual of survival: hunker down, stay warm, stay alive.” p.47 Open season
“How little we need to defy the elements. Tea and whisky in a tin mug: friendship and disputations.” p.39
That's a way to weather life.
My own fishing experience is limited to a childhood in Otematata. As a kid I used worms for bait (philistine!), lures and a spinning rod (quelle horreur!). At seven with my own rod and license I thought I was the bee's knees, as did Witherow's nephew Angus. After reading Open Season I long for days up the Ahuriri waiting for the duns to rise. While we are walking from Tekapo to Twizel I will think of Brian and Dave and maybe spot them heading for the Dingle Burn. I hope our through-hike does not disturb their idyll.
* Turner tells his version of the same trip in Into the Wider World.
Into the Wider World.
Turner's book is not like Witherow's. It's a much longer read that one can dip into it again and again. Like driving across a landscape with the weather changing the view each trip. I still feel I have not encompassed it all but have along the way collected some of my favourite quotes. Reading this book was one of my first in preparation for the long walk. I dreamt of the wide dry landscapes of Otago and Canterbury. I wrote Mr Turner a letter. He has not replied. Never mind. I still carry some of the quotes with me. And having read Witherow's account of the Thomas as well, I feel I know the value of friendship and untouched terrain.
As I said in my letter “Please pass on my regards to your friend Dave Witherow. His Open Season was the perfect dessert to your main. Especially the retelling of the tale of the Thomas.”