Dublin, Ohio, USA
On Ray Rasmussen's "Fly Fishing"
"Sometime during the long Canadian winter, I begin to dream about southern Utah's canyon country," Ray Rasmussen writes in his Canyonlands Journal. These dreams become reality as the author hikes through the canyons of Southern Utah speaking to the reader through haibun written as first person narratives where universal aspects of the human condition are often revealed.
"Fly Fishing" is one such example. The setting is Lost Canyon—a place, the narrator reports, "remote enough to offer the twin pleasures of solitude and daydreaming." The haibun is primarily a dialogue between two strangers, the narrator and a fisherman who is "casting a fly line in sweeping arcs along the curved sandstone walls." Rasmussen offers readers insight into two different but similar individuals. The fisherman's behavior is bizarre. His response to the narrator's inquiry about why he is fishing where there's no water and no fish is to tell the narrator that they are the same. They are both "Fly fishing."
The stranger is in many ways the narrator's opposite. An extrovert, he dominates the dialogue and intentionally shares his evaluation of the narrator. The narrator, on the other hand, has only a few simple lines, primarily questions. He reveals nothing to the fisherman, sharing his thoughts with only the reader.
A third character is introduced via the fisherman—Justine, coincidently known to both men. She is a poet and also a beautiful woman. While the fisherman knows her as the poet who "writes poems in matchbooks and leaves them in bars with her post box address included in case someone wants to respond . . .," the narrator shares with the reader that he knows her as well. He "walked with her just last week in Moab, her black hair flowing over a flower-print dress . . . ."
The fisherman assertively links all three of them to fly fishing:
The best of them cut the barbs off their hooks, making it almost impossible to land a fish. It isn't the fish they want—many neither keep nor eat them. It's the perfect and immediate communication with another being.
When Rasmussen cast his line with this unusual haibun, he pulled me in. The writer made a good choice when selecting Lost Canyon as the setting. One can infer by the end of the work that the narrator realizes he is also lost. The joys of "solitude" mentioned in the opening paragraph are now replaced with "empty places" and an "empty post box." How the narrator feels about all that is revealed to him is never spoken, however. Loneliness and uncertainty are implied in the closing haiku where the kokopelli, both a fertility deity and a story teller, fills an empty canyon with flute music.
The heart of the work is Rasmussen's description of the poet Justine and her use of unconventional methods to submit her poems. She represents, for this reader, a need universal to all writers—the need to know if one's work was read and how it was perceived. I can assure Rasmussen that he is read and that his creative investment in "Fly Fishing" resulted in one of my favorite haibun.
Lost Canyon, remote enough to offer the twin pleasures of solitude and daydreaming. I'm surprised to encounter a man casting a fly line in sweeping arcs along the curved sandstone walls. We nod and I ask what he's doing.
"Same as you," he replies. "Fly fishing."
Is he deranged? Since he's carrying nothing more harmful than fly rod and tackle, I risk saying: "But, there's no water, no fish here."
"I know that you think it's strange. There's no use denying it. I can see it in your eyes. But Justine's approach to fishing is even stranger."
The Justine that I know? I walked with her just last week in Moab, her black hair flowing over a flower-print dress, with all males regardless of age turning to gape.
"Justine is a wonder to look at, isn't she?" he says, reading my thoughts. "Did you know that she writes poems in matchbooks and leaves them in bars with her post box address included in case someone wants to respond?"
"But how is that like fly fishing?"
"Fishermen use a slender rod and colorful flies strung together by a spider's filament. The best of them cut the barbs off their hooks, making it almost impossible to land a fish. It isn't the fish they want—many neither keep nor eat them. It's the perfect and immediate communication with another being."
"And why mention Justine to me?"
"You too cast your lines into near empty places and most often you open an empty post box."
in an empty canyon
First published in Haibun Today, January 20, 2008.