Norman Maclean was 73 when, in 1976, he published his first and most famous piece of writing, A River Runs Through It. The longish short story quickly came to be seen as one of the most powerful works in American literature. It told the tale of a minister father who teaches his two sons about religion, literature and fly-fishing. Amid the exquisite writing and storytelling came a powerful life lesson about how important things—like connection to family and nature—often get lost as people follow the paths of their lives.
After reading the first draft of this week’s cover story and looking at some of the early photographs that accompanied it, I went and pulled the Maclean book off the shelf for the first time in a decade.
Though obviously dissimilar in cast and goal, the wonderfully written essay by Jeffrey Ewing has a similar understated quality and a reverence for the Zen of fishing. Though Ewing’s tale revolves around ditch fishing in the herbicide-ridden drainage canals that weave through Sacramento instead of fly-fishing in the clean river waters of Montana, both beg consideration of the hidden places, the pursuit of joy and loss of time.
“It’s not easy going back to work,” writes Ewing about returning after a lunchtime fishing expedition along the drainage ditches that run through Natomas. “There’s a faint chemical tang to the air. This is spring on the ditches. All things reborn. Billy and I each have a couple new lures we haven’t tried yet, and the boundless hope of fishermen and idiots. Anything is possible.”
How did Ewing come to write the essay about his unusual leisure pursuit? He was urged to “come up with a draft” by longtime SN&R contributor/photographer Noel Neuberger, who happens to be Ewing’s brother-in-law. Neuburger had heard his relative tell stories about ditch fishing and thought here was something to shoot. One thing led to another, soon a cover package took root.
We present the results to you here. Don’t miss reading Ewing’s piece, reviewing Neuburger’s photographs, considering the hidden worlds that live right where we do.