Gierach on Dumb Luck and Kindness

Gierach’s latest.

Father’s Day came early this year. 

Back in late March, a package came in the mail and my wife said, “Happy Father’s Day! Do you want to open it now or wait until June?”

I suggested it could wait until the official day in June, “So I’d have something under the tree.”

A few weeks later I was going through the hourly collection of wisdom and garbage on Facebook when an advertising posting caught my eye. My wife was walking by the door of my office (or what passes for an office at our house), and I said, “Guess what, dear. John Gierach has a new book.” She didn’t say a word. She just went in the other room and brought back that package that came a month earlier and said, “Happy Father’s Day.”

She said I’d might as well have it then, before I went and ordered a copy myself. It also demonstrates that it’s best to be cautious about buying anything any time remotely near some kind of gift-giving occasion, such as birthdays, Christmas, or Father’s Day.

It came at a good time, with the Public Library being mostly closed during the Pandemic. I’d just finished re-reading Lonesome Dove, some 34 years after I’d first read it. 

So, it’s Dumb Luck and the Kindness of Strangers, published this year by Simon & Schuster.

Gierach, by now, has a long string of books to his credit, starting with his first breakout book, Trout Bum, going on to titles such as Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders, or All Fishermen are Liars. You might guess by some of the whimsical titles of some of his books that if you’re looking for instructions on fly-fishing or where to go, you’d might as well look at some other authors. 

For examples, there is one full chapter on fishing dogs he has known over the years. He notes, from the outset, that something common to most dogs is they love things, such as a bite of bacon from the breakfast table, adding, “Anyone who says you can’t buy love has never spent time around dogs.”

He also tells of Buddy, a blue heeler and a ranch dog where the owner has leased out fishing rights on a spring-fed pond to a local outfitter. The dog had figured out what fishing was all about and when anglers came to fish the pond Buddy would walk a few paces ahead of them looking for cruising trout. When he spotted one he’d crouch down, with his tail wagging. Gierach reflects that you’d think a six-foot tall man wearing polarized sunglasses would be better at spotting fish than a dog, but you’d be wrong. The best he could do was spot the trout at the same time as Buddy.

In the opening chapter, Gierach tells of a friend he’s known as long as he’s fished the streams in his home area of Colorado.  “We don’t see that much of each other anymore, but when we do get together—usually to go fishing—we pick right up in the middle of a nearly half-century conversation that will end only with one of our funerals.”

Reading Gierach’s books is a lot like that, picking up on an interrupted conversation with an old friend, even if it’s several years since the last time.

I’ll also mention another book I’ve been reading in quarantine, Thomas Jefferson – the Art of Power, a biography of Jefferson by historian Jon Meacham.

One chapter follows Jefferson after he left the presidency, and his happy life at Monticello, the home he designed and had built to his specifications. The house had three indoor privies, one conveniently close to his bedroom. Meacham tells that Jefferson used scraps of paper for hygiene, as toilet paper didn’t come along until 1857. 

On the day of Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a family member rescued several of those paper pieces. 

Those scraps of (used) paper are still preserved at the Library of Congress.

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