Author Tags: Fishing
At age eighty, Tony Taylor returned to British Columbia from his home in Sydney, Australia, to fish the Cowichan River with his eight-year-old grandson, Ned, teaching him fly-fishing. In the realm of Thoreau, Taylor offers meditations on the natural world in Fishing the River of Time: A Grandfather's Journal (Greystone 2012). Taylor pays tribute to the natural history of the area; its geology and its earlier fishermen. 978-1-77100-058-1
Paperback publication date: April 20, 2013 $19.95 978-1-77100-057-4
Review of the author's work by BC studies:
Fishing the River of Time
Fishing the River of Time by Tony Taylor (Greystone Books $19.95)
from Mark Forsythe
Whether scaling peaks in the Alps or working as a geologist in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, Tony Taylor has experienced his share of remote places, leading him to comment at the outset of his memoir.
“Life is an adventure searching for answers. They are best looked for in remote places where civilization hasn’t taken hold.”
Having been closely connected to landscape for most of his professional life, Taylor has now fashioned a memoir to take its place alongside such wilderness-inspired classics as Gilean Douglas’ River for my Sidewalk and Eric Collier’s Three Against the Wilderness, as well as George Szanto’s new Bog Tender.
Written at age 80, Taylor’s recollections “from the bush,” Fishing the River of Time, is chiefly concerned with memory, nature and the flow of time. As Mark Forsythe makes clear in his review, it was inspired by Taylor’s return to Cowichan Lake where he’d lived in an abandoned cabin at the end of a failed marriage in 1968.
Forty years after his marriage collapsed, Tony Taylor has flown to B.C. from his home in Australia (feeling guilty about his carbon footprint trailing behind) to finally meet his eight-year-old grandson Ned. His relationship with his own son fizzled with the end of his first marriage, so he’s now hoping for a second chance to “pull the beautiful from the invisible” by going fishing with Ned.
While waiting for Ned to arrive at a cabin on Cowichan Lake, Taylor’s memories and stories bubble to the surface from deep springs. He recounts two years living on the Cowichan when the river ran thick with all five salmon species, and the logging of old growth Douglas fir, spruce and cedar was the mainstay of the local economy.
“The men who understood the situation best were the fallers—the men who cut the trees. I remember talking to Swanson, the giant Swede, who cut down the biggest trees of all... He told me sometimes he couldn’t bear to think about the way he earned his living and I was staggered to see a tear appear in the corner of his eye.”
Originally from Britain, Taylor saw that many English people had preceded him on southern Vancouver Island. The nearby town of Duncan had its own lawn tennis scene and Victoria’s Oak Bay was famous for expats living “behind the tweed curtain.” Writer, conservationist and angler Roderick Haig-Brown lived just to the north at Campbell River; others drawn to the Cowichan wilderness included an Irish doctor who served with the British army named Dick Stoker, brother of Dracula author Bram Stoker.
Rather than meeting more Englishmen, Taylor was more interested in climbing mountains or getting to know local natives like Big Arthur, a Nitinat fisherman with a killer instinct who knew where all the best fishing spots were—if you could keep up with him in the woods.
Taylor also wrote a local newspaper column under a pen-name, ostensibly about fishing and hunting, but it was really more about his evolving values around conservation—a dirty word at the time.
Taylor’s stories, observations and philosophy meander and merge like a braided river. We learn why old silk fishing lines are superior, we experience encounters with wolverines, we stare down a cougar and we consider the arrogance of re-stocking wild rivers with hatchery-raised fish.
Taylor also takes a solo sailing expedition up the B.C. coast to learn more about salmon. All of these experiences had a powerful influence on his thinking about the natural world; he later taught at universities in the U.K. and Australia and helped set up environmental policy in British Columbia.
Grandson Ned arrives on the scene about halfway through the book. The eager and curious eight-year-old is enthralled by the size of the logs in their rented cabin. The roaring spring freshet is too high for any real fishing, so the two of them do much walking, talking and observing along the river, which Taylor contends is what fishing is really about.
Ned agrees: “You know, Grandpa, when we do get a fish, because we know how hard it is, it will be even more exciting.”
As all geologists know, continents drift slowly across oceans and time. Taylor’s continental drift from Australia to Canada was less ground-breaking but no less profound, forging a relationship with a boy and reuniting with his past.
Drawn by B.C.’s geologically youthful rivers, granite and batholiths, Tony Taylor’s return to the B.C. wilderness “turned out to be the best thing I ever did.” 978-1771000574
Mark Forsythe is host of CBC radio’s Almanac.