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Casting a Spell: The Bamboo Fly Rod and the American Pursuit of Perfection [Anglais] [Séquence inédite]

George Black


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Description de l'ouvrage

8 août 2006
Thirty-five million Americans–one in eight–like to go fishing. Fly fishers have always considered themselves the aristocracy of the sport, and a small number of those devotees, a few thousand at most, insist upon using one device in the pursuit of their obsession: a handcrafted split-bamboo fly rod. Meeting this demand for perfection are the inheritors of a splendid art, one that reveres tradition while flouting obvious economic sense and reaches back through time to touch the hands of such figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Henry David Thoreau.

In Casting a Spell, George Black introduces readers to rapt artisans and the ultimate talismans of their uncompromising fascination: handmade bamboo fly rods. But this narrative is more than a story of obscure objects of desire. It opens a new vista onto a century and a half of modern American cultural history. With bold strokes and deft touches, Black explains how the ingenuity of craftsmen created a singular implement of leisure–and how geopolitics, economics, technology, and outrageous twists of fortune have all come to focus on the exquisitely crafted bamboo rod. We discover that the pastime of fly-fishing intersects with a mind-boggling variety of cultural trends, including conspicuous consumption, environmentalism, industrialization, and even cold war diplomacy.

Black takes us around the world, from the hidden trout streams of western Maine to a remote valley in Guangdong Province, China, where grows the singular species of bamboo known as tea stick–the very stuff of a superior fly rod. He introduces us to the men who created the tools and techniques for crafting exceptional rods and those who continue to carry the torch in the pursuit of the sublime. Never far from the surface are such overarching themes as the tension between mass production and individual excellence, and the evolving ways American society has defined, experienced, and expressed its relationship to the land.

Fly-fishing may seem a rarefied pursuit, and making fly rods might be a quixotic occupation, but this rich, fascinating narrative exposes the soul of an authentic part of America, and the great significance of little things. George Black’s latest expedition into a hidden corner of our culture is an utterly enchanting, illuminating, and enlightening experience.

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Chapter 1
Wilderness with all the Comforts

My wife’s hometown, Stillwater, Oklahoma—population forty
thousand, home of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys and
the National Wrestling Hall of Fame—is not the kind of place, at
first blush, where you would expect a fly fisherman to have a lifechanging
experience. The old downtown is much like the core of a
lot of American towns whose original logic has been bypassed by
time and Wal-Mart. There are a few bars that cater to the student
clientele from OSU, a couple of banks, an upscale home-furnishing
franchise, a Christian bookstore or two, an ersatz Starbucks, some
boarded-up storefronts, and a multidealer antiques mall, the kind
you see these days in almost every town of comparable size.
The mall is much as you’d expect. Knickknacks and collectibles
of all sorts. The stuff Grandma left in her attic. Used books. Farm
tools, costume jewelry, fifty-cent ties, incomplete sets of glassware.
A room full of ticking wall clocks. Barbie dolls and Star Wars action
figures, as the cutoff line for the term “antique” creeps
steadily forward. And then a dealer’s stand I’d never noticed before:
vintage fishing tackle.
At this point I’d been fly-fishing for three or four years, I suppose—
long enough to graduate to my first hundred-dollar graphite
fly rod and make the transition (in my own mind, at least) from
rank beginner to semicompetent amateur—by which I mean that
once in a while I even caught a few trout. So I stopped to take a
look.
In one corner of the booth was a narrow wooden box about
three feet long, its hinged lid secured with two brass clasps. I
popped them open. Inside, boxwood partitions divided the con-
tainer into several compartments, on much the same principle as a
case of wine. Seven sections of hexagonal bamboo were nestled
into the notched dividers. The handle was reversible. There was a
stout butt section, two midsections, and three tips of varying
thicknesses. This meant you could configure the rod a couple of
different ways, as either an eight-foot fly rod or a five-and-a-halffoot
bait caster—a kind of rod that is used for throwing heavier
lures. This struck me as a neat arrangement.
Each segment of the rod was coated in a deep cherry red lacquer.
The ferrules—the male and female parts that connected the
sections—gleamed as chrome-bright as the trim on an old Cadillac.
The snake-shaped line guides were attached to the bamboo
with silk thread windings in elaborate patterns of lime green and
lemon yellow. The guides themselves were of some gold-colored
alloy. An inch or two above the cork grip, a lozenge-shaped acetate
decal depicted a snowcapped mountain, perhaps a volcano, against
a blue sky, with the initials “NFT.” You could be forgiven for calling
the whole thing gaudy, but to me it was magically redolent of
the 1940s, a decade for which I’ve always felt a special affinity, perhaps
because I was born at its tail end.
Suffice it to say that I fell in love with this fly rod, even though
it would end up jilting me. The price tag said $87.50. I paid cash.
I fished the rod a couple of times that spring. Once I took it out
on a smooth-flowing chalk stream in the south of England, where
it landed a handsome sixteen-inch rainbow trout. After that I used
it to catch some wild brook trout in Connecticut.
Feeling quite pleased with myself, I took the rod into a local fly
shop to get the reading of an expert. He took the pieces from the
box, sighted along each section in turn, put them together,
squinted at them some more, made small humphing noises to
himself, then gave me a long, appraising look. “Well, it’s very
pretty, isn’t it?” he said. “The lacquer’s nice, very decorative.”
“But?” I said, knowing from his tone that the real verdict was
still to come.
“Well, of course, as a fly rod it’s worthless, it’s a piece of junk.”
He pointed to the volcano decal. “NFT—Nippon Fishing Tackle.
That’s Mount Fuji in the picture, I guess. They churned these
things out by the thousands in Japan after World War Two, for
G.I.’s to take home as souvenirs, mainly. It’s not even the right kind
of bamboo. . . .”
The man in the fly shop went on talking some more. I missed
most of it—no doubt because embarrassment had kicked in. But
I do remember the gleam in his eye, the lyricism in his voice,
and the gist of what he said. The right kind of bamboo, he told
me, was something called Tonkin cane. The raw material was
Chinese, but the art of transforming it into a fly rod was a peculiarly
American accomplishment; and in the hands of a master
craftsman . . . well, if I ever had the good fortune to experience
the real thing—as opposed to the piece of junk I had just
dumped on his counter—I would surely agree that it was a kind
of perfection.
I resolved then and there that I would go in search of this peculiarly
American vision of perfection, never suspecting that it
would take me all the way back to Henry David Thoreau.
In July 1857, Thoreau set out on his third journey from Walden
Pond to the Maine woods. He’d traveled there for the first time in
1846, to Bangor by railroad and steamship and thence up the West
Branch of the Penobscot River to Mount Katahdin, the second
highest peak in New England. His second trip, in 1853, had taken
him via Moosehead to Chesuncook Lake. But it seems to have been
a little anticlimactic after the ascent of Katahdin, which had inspired
his celebrated meditation on raw nature as
something savage and awful, though beautiful. . . . Here was
no man’s garden, but the unhandselled globe. It was not lawn,
nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor
waste-land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet
Earth, as it was made for ever and ever.
Thoreau and his companions dined on Maine brook trout,
freshly caught. “In the night,” he wrote, “I dreamed of trout fishing;
when at length I awoke, it seemed a fabled myth this painted
fish swam there, so near by couch, and rose to our hooks the last
evening, and I doubted if I had not dreamed it all.”
There was something restless and improvised about Thoreau’s
third trip to Maine, and he was debating his itinerary right up to
the last minute. At first he considered exploring the Saint John
River from its source to its mouth, but then he changed his mind,
opting instead for Moosehead, the lakes of the Saint John, and the
Penobscot again. Just nine days before he left Concord, he was still
casting around for a traveling companion. He wrote to his cousin
George Thatcher, of Bangor, asking for suggestions. Perhaps his
nephew Charles would agree to join him, since he had “some
fresh, as well as salt, water experience?” But in the end, Thoreau
settled on his Concord neighbor Edward Hoar, late of California.
The interesting thing about Thoreau’s account of this third
journey is that Hoar—his companion for 60 miles by stagecoach,
another 265 by canoe, and twelve rough nights under canvas—is
virtually invisible, never once mentioned by name. From Thoreau’s
subsequent correspondence, you can infer that his neighbor was a
bit of a pain. Two weeks after his return to Concord, Thoreau
wrote to a friend that Hoar had “suffered considerably from being
obliged to carry unusual loads over wet and rough ‘carries.’ ” Hoar
came back from Bangor with a set of moose antlers, a gift from
George Thatcher, which he used as a hat stand, and that’s the last
we hear of him.
In contrast, another character, with whom Thoreau had only
the briefest of encounters, positively leaps from the page. It was
July 23, and Thoreau, Hoar, and their Penobscot Indian guide, Joe
Polis, had just boarded the stage that would take them from Bangor
to the remote outpost of Greenville, which lies at the foot of
Moosehead Lake.
Given the number of guns on display in the coach, Thoreau
wrote, “you would have thought that we were prepared to run the
gauntlet of a band of robbers.” But it turned out that the occupants
were the members of a hunting party who were embarking
on a six-week trip to the Restigouche River and Chaleur Bay, in
the remotest reaches of the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
Their leader was a handsome man about thirty years old, of
good height, but not apparently robust, of gentlemanly address
and faultless toilet; such a one as you might expect to
meet on Broadway. In fact, in the popular sense of the word,
he was the most “gentlemanly” appearing man in the stage,
or that we saw on the road. He had a fair white complexion,
as if he had always lived in the shade, and an intellectual
face, and with his quiet manners might have passed for a divinity
student who had seen something of the world.
Thoreau subsequently discovered that appearances were deceptive.
Far from being a divinity student, his coach mate was in
fact a celebrated gunsmith, and “probably the chief white hunter
of Maine.” But he never learned the man’s name, which was
Hiram Lewis Leonard.
Leonard belongs to that great American series of heroic archetypes—
the lineage that includes Johnny Appleseed and Horatio
Alger, but above all Daniel Boone and Natty Bumppo. One historian
described him as “a millwright, gunsmith, daguerrotypist,
flutist, trapper, moose hunter, taxidermist, and one of the very
early manufacturers of split bamboo fishing rods”—which we’ll
come to in a moment. You could add a string of other ...

Biographie de l'auteur

George Black did not pick up a fly rod till after his fortieth birthday–and he has seldom willingly put one down since. He was born in the small Scottish mining town of Cowdenbeath and was educated at Oxford University. Black is the author of four other books, including The Trout Pool Paradox: The American Lives of Three Rivers. A journalist and editor for more than twenty-five years, he has written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New Statesman, Mother Jones, The National Law Journal, Fly Fisherman, and many other publications. He lives in New York City with his wife, the author and playwright Anne Nelson, and their two children.

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Amazon.com: 3.9 étoiles sur 5  18 commentaires
20 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Casting a Spell 12 août 2006
Par Iron Blue - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Séquence inédite
I myself am a maker of bamboo rods, so I may be somewhat prejudiced, but Casting a Spell cast a spell over me. Black has caught the spirit of our craft in his telling of the story of the development of the fine bamboo fly rod and the people involved in making them from the late 19th century until the present. He begins at the beginning-- that is, with H. L. Leonard and the group of marvelous rod makers who worked with him in the late 19th century. This core group of rod makers served as the wellspring of all bamboo rod making in the United States. Eustace Edwards, Fred Thomas, Edward Payne and the Hawes Brothers, and of course, Hiram Leonard himself.-- though each of them had distinct personalities, they all had one thing held in common; a drive for perfection.

It was not Black's intention to write a complete history of American bamboo fly rod making. Rather, it was his intention to trace the quest for perfection shown by lives and work of the original Leonard crew as they dispersed and established their own shops and their own versions of perfection in fly rod making. Black believes that Eustace Edwards, with his restless quest for the perfect fly rod, epitomizes all that is best in craftsmanship. Therefore, his book focuses primarily on Eustace and his offspring, their contributions to the art of rod making and the personal and professional interconnections among the great rod makers.

Black does not attempt to explain how the bamboo fly rod is made, but it is really unnecessary to know much about that to understand the book. There is really very little new in the book in terms of the history of the bamboo fly rod and its construction. What Black has accomplished here is to bring life to these remarkable men and put the history of bamboo fly rod making into the context of changes in the social and economic climate of the United States in the last century. Industrial mechanization changed the way in which many products are manufactured, marketed and consumed. Originally, bamboo fly rods were a luxury item, but mass production in the machine age, and the creation of the middle class changed all that. Then, almost anyone could afford a bamboo fly rod, but only the very rich could afford a rod hand-made by a fine craftsman driven toward perfection. And even then, a rod maker could only earn a pittance to keep the price of a rod competitive with the finest machine- made rods. These pressures relentlessly forced craftsmen to compromise their ideals to make a living. One can only describe this as agony and ecstasy. With these economic and social changes, the embargo on Chinese bamboo and the introduction of fiberglass and graphite, one would expect that the craft of fine bamboo rod making would be extinct -- not so. Black finishes his work with a whirlwind tour through rod shops of many of the modern makers who are carrying on the craft, portraying each as a distinct personality having a distinct approach to perfection in rod making.

For some bamboo rod history enthusiasts, there will be disappointment in that many of the large rod manufacturers -- Heddon, Granger, Chubb, Montague etc. -- are left out of the story. The book is an easy read, is well-written and the style is novelistic. Black's enthusiasm for the subject is obvious -- and quite contagious. However, the reader must have some appreciation for the useful beauty inherent in a fine bamboo fly rod in order to appreciate this book. The book should be all on the shelf of any bamboo fly rod enthusiast.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 They aren't 'poles' anymore 1 septembre 2006
Par Jeffrey Knapp - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Séquence inédite
Regardless of whether you don't know the difference between a fly rod and a cane pole, or whether you not only know the differences but you've made your spouse learn about them, there's a place on your book shelf for Casting A Spell. George Black's investigative trail took him all over the country on a merry chase after the fly fishing equivalent of the Holy Grail: the perfect bamboo fly rod. Is there a piscatorial equivalent to the Stradivarius? George is convinced the best were from the hands of Eustis William Edwards, and he goes on to show the reader that the excellence that began in the mid 1800's flourished under the stewardship of makers like Billy Edwards as the new century began. Fly fishing in America certainly didn't start with A River Runs Through It and today the bamboo fly rod is alive and well as the new generations of rod crafters strive to create the next Strad. There are good reasons why the bamboo rod has enjoyed a renaissance in recent decades and when you've finished this book you'll understand both the craftsmen and their customers a bit better. This is a good read from an investigative writer with a proven track record in this area.
5 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Marvelous Book!!! 14 novembre 2006
Par Paul T. Shultz - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Séquence inédite|Achat vérifié
George Black has written a most literary and enjoyable history of the bamboo fly fishing rod. Unhurried, with frequent fascinating digressions, he takes one through the history of the development of this remarkable sporting instrument, beginning in the mid 1800's and coming down to the present. He provides much color to persons whose names were all we knew before: Leanard, Edwards, Hawes, Thomas and more. A grand book by a great author. You will really enjoy this book, even if you are not a fly fisher.
4 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Chasing the Perfect Dream 12 novembre 2006
Par John Matlock - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Séquence inédite
While the nominal subject of this book is the banboo fly rod, it's really about art. There are those who can look at the Mona Lisa and be enraptured. There are others who hear a piece of music and almost leave their bodies behind.

Then there are others who look at the Mona Lisa and see a picture not as good as a photograph, and to whom music is basically noise. (Of course to a lot of music lovers, that 'other kind' of music is just noise.)

This book goes a long way to explaining that there's another approach to art. The art of the bamboo fly rod 'casts a spell' on George Black. And as a professional writer he has the gift of words to explain just how it does. His poetic prose takes the reader from the technology and the reknown makers to little known streams across the country to make the perfect catch with the perfect rod. Will he ever reach the untimate? Of course not. Life is a journey not a destination.
5 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fun, informative book 5 décembre 2006
Par Tacul - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Séquence inédite|Achat vérifié
This is a terrific book. It covers the history and personalities that shaped the evolution of the craft of bamboo fly rod making.

I bought this book thinking it would be informative, and it was. What was pleasantly surprising was how interesting and fun the book was to read. It gave me a real appreciation for the great bamboo rod makers and some insight into their lives. The author's careful research and enthusiasm for the subject matter is evident throughout. Highly recommended.
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