Somewhere Else

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 12:00am

Somewhere Else

by Charles Rangeley-Wilson

Yellow Jersey Press $188

Don't be fooled by the green marsh-fellers, the beer-toting armchair fishermen lolling in 'leanbacks' under prepaid umbrellas watching corks bobble and battle for space between the flotsam.

Angling has a mystique: geographical mazes and mysteries of the mind to navigate, a bamboozling biological diversity to contemplate.

And there is no angler more keen to inveigle himself of these flights of fancy and fact than the freshwater fly-fisherman - he who revels in the path of piscatorial righteousness, who prefers the wisp of the windmill to the efficiency of a modern water pump, or the kind swish of a curving rod and gentle rush of a shooting fly. Not for him the grunt of the spinner's cast, splosh of lure and ratchety clack of a geared-reel's retrieve.

It is into these morning mists that Somewhere Else leads the reader, down byways dappled with dawns and dusks, through rustling grass and bulrush heads that seem to breathe in the breeze.

From the salmon streams of Canada to the trout tributaries of Croatia, veld creeks of Lesotho to the high waters of Bhutan, the angler is taken on an elegiac experience of, at once, a world gone by yet the world of today.

Pensive moments litter this compilation of globe-trotting reveries. Questions of the universe are pondered as the waterways are entreated to relinquish their own secrets. Yet finally, when offerings are begrudgingly proffered by the water gods, odd, juddering phrases invade the author's often entrancing soliloquies and narratives.

'The vast fish opened its jaws and docked the fly like a mother ship,' smacks more of Dr Spock or galactic strife than Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler (1653), to which Somewhere Else plays the complete paean.

As an avid angler, I am grateful a kindred spirit has endeavoured to portray the contextual beauty of the practice. All too often, the art is bestowed with bloody savagery, the sweat of battle and conquest of the giants ... all death and glory, machismo and machine.

Here is a text of love undoubtably, yet troublingly, the book ultimately reveals in the author an uncomfortable schizophrenia.

Scattered between Rangeley-Wilson's adoring understanding of British backwaters and poetic observations of Alaskan whales lies an uncomfortable plethora of profanity - as if he were not confident enough in his lyricism, his call to the past, and feels compelled to lure a new reader with every example of the profane: often, alas, only resulting in the mundane.

But in the ensuing duality of the book, there are also moments of great delight. 'When it is misty, and it often is, the trees disappear and reappear in a way that divorces them from the land ... The water seems to sigh, coiling ... When I fish this river I feel I am fishing in a world slightly removed from ours - that beneath the hard rocks under my feet there is a band of air. I feel like I'm fishing in a Chinese watercolour.'

Therein lies the dream, and leaves me expectantly, wanting to be there. Not here, but certainly somewhere else.