Gordon Hall Wasley Austin RIP

When my old friend and editor at Gray’s, Reed Austin, wrote a piece on how he met his wife, Gordon Hall Wasley, on a business fishing trip in which he ended up getting a treble hook bass plug stuck in his butt, and Gordon had to remove it, I thought it was hilarious and wrote him to tell him so. (Link TK; Anglers Journal Vol 2 no 4)). It wasn’t until last week that I learned that he had written it originally as a love letter to Gordon to celebrate their 30th anniversary, never imagining it would serve as the centerpiece to her eulogy four years later at her funeral.

It was inexplicable. For me they are the very image of WASP golden youth, forever young. That they were happy grandparents is hard for me to get my head around. I remember all the years that Reed and I spent doing crazy versions of fishing and hunting. Once he jokingly asked me not to tell Bill Sisson, our editor at Anglers about our high times. (What he actually said was “Buy anything he writes, and don’t believe a word about anything we ever did.”)

I remember Gordon’s aureole of golden hair around her face when we were jumps- hooting ducks on Duxbury Marsh.(Duxbury Marsh was so much native habitat for Reed; his grandfather Francis (Frannie) was one of the three young men hunting Duxbury Marsh in van Campen Heilner’s canonical duck hunting book; another was Reed’s then landlord, Parker).

But mostly what I remember of Gordon Hall Wasley was her genuine interest in everyone else’s passions. A brash and somewhat insecure kid from what was very much the other side of the tracks in those days at first could not believe this exotic creature was asking questions about my passions, with interest. By the time they were married I was with Betsy Huntington, and another interesting virtue was added to the Austin repertoire: utter loyalty. Betsy was of a haut-Boston background and was much older than me; this made us a little too odd for some of the more conventional gatherings we were invited to. Somehow,inevitably, Reed and Gordon would end up at our table where they would spend the rest of the evening. No fuss was made — they just came and sat with us and had fun. As I said to Reed this week, “Do you think we never noticed?”

I last saw Reed at Betsy’s funeral. He had gotten out of his hospital bed, and slashed the leg of his Brooks Brothers suit to fit it over his cast. It was a typical gesture. Through the years we stayed lightly in touch but were involved very much in our own pursuits. It took Gordon’s death to bring us together. I told him “We all loved her, and she loved you.”

Now he has his own battles to fight, alone. I hope the children and grandchildren are of comfort. Meanwhile, I grieve with you, old buddy — she was glorious. Keep writing, and hang in there.

Gordon fishing the Battenkill

Coming Attractions

Back from almost a week in Boston, where I went to see and hear Tom Russell’s debut of his new Ballad of the West, The Rose of Roscrae; also to see my 90 year- old mother, whose birthday I had missed, my siblings– 4 of out of 8 of them still live there, as well as any number of splendid nephews and nieces: and to eat sea creatures, as well as have any other adventures possible for an impoverished 65 year old writer badly in need of brain surgery.

It was a success, from music to family encounters to food, and paid what may well be an unexpected dividend; my brother in law George Graham, avocational naturalist- localist and photographer,introduced me to his town’s restored herring (alewife) run, and our mutual fascination with it became my unexpected second theme for the visit- who knows what may come?

Tonight, a preview and glimpses; I have an assignment to write on Tom, and many herring photos too, all to come.

 Coffee house nostalgia– I went to the predecessor of Passim, Club 47, (47 Palmer Street in Harvard Square) from about 1966 or 7 on. I saw Ian Tyson, who is now 82 and who I met when he played with Tom in Santa Fe, with his then wife Sylvia there, before 1970 anyway…

On the subway with K:

Sideman Thad Beckman; later, local singer Barrence Whitfield, who recorded more than a few songs with Tom back when… Cuban Sandwich!

My mother: “You look OLD”, she said to me. “And I am NOT convinced I’m 90, either!”

Sisters Alicia, Anita, Karen…

The blurred one below is, I believe, my sisters (and niece Stella) expressing solidarity with their geographically wayward brother, or something equally hilarious. Beware the Sister Posse…. (sorry for blur), and me with Wendy, closest in age to me.

The run- got an article’s worth, but some highlights– restored urban anadromous fish spawning, with predators! (Comorant by Lisa Erwin, Weymouth MA)

Anglers Journal

Simply this: the best sporting mag since Ed Gray styarted the “real” Grays in the mid- seventies. Real writers known and unknown– the last interview with Peter Matthiessen– and superb graphics and art. And despite bonefish and other stars of the flats, NOT just fly fishing– commercial fishing even (Matthiessen’s interview accompanied with a cut from his Mens’ Lives, on the last Long Island net fishers); surf casting, offshore fishing…

New and old stuff by Chatham and McGuane and writers you don’t know yet, photos that make you gape with awe, two- page spreads of Meltzoff paintings- the real deal. Now if someone would do one on hunting. I am not holding my breath…

Subscribe here; oddly, no home page I can find yet. This should take you to a digital sample. It reminds me of days long past; below, my Dad (left) on Salt Water Sportsman in ’57.

Big Fish

Cap’n Rick Rozen, one of my oldest friends and a sport AND professional fisherman (charters, tuna), is up from Costa Rica to go after big bluefins off the Mass coast. He is already having some success (that is him at the top); seeing whales too.

Rick is one of my few high school friends who shares my interests, and when not fishing and birding and living the good life in Costa Rica has been known to hunt ruffed grouse with an old LC Smith…

Costa Rica:

Old Anglo Indian Books

For bibliophiles mainly.

Conversations with Walter Hingley prompted me to bring out my favorite old fishing book: a copy of Thomas’s The Rod in India that I got from fishing writer Datus Proper, with its gold embossed figure of an Indian angler and a mahseer on the cover.* (Click all to enlarge).

The mahseer was sometimes called “The salmon of the Raj” but it is more like a tarpon (though known for strength more than aerial acrobatics). Walter found the photo; the other from Thomas.


I wrote to Walter, who had told me of another book with “Circumventing the mahseer” in the title: “My copy of Rod In India is pretty remarkable — I haven’t looked at it in a long time. It apparently belonged to someone named Woods who was a member of the Rangers in Meerut and signed the flyleaf in March 1899; he also has some tackle opinions with which he has annotated the text. The illustrations are fabulous and there is a chapter on fishing with otters which compares, perhaps, with the one on cormorant training in Salvin’s falconry book of the same era. The chapter “Circumventing the mahseer” seems to be his own writing; perhaps it was an irresistible phrase.”

They also have a version of my favorite, if never chic, fish, the monster cat.

Today they still fish for several species of the mahseer, these days mostly catch & release. I am piscivorous, but the magnificent and threatened (and allegedly inedible) mahseer needs help…

Books like this transcend fishing and evoke a lost world. They sit on my shelves with contemporaries & friends like Kipling & his father and “EHA”‘s whimsical natural history (last a gift from David Zincavage).


* Notice BTW the swastika- like pattern on the Navajo rug in the background, a common motif in both American Indian and Indian design– both Kiplings used it– before the Nazis perverted it.

Book And Review Preview

The Gos & Claret again, appropriately added to cover of an advanced reader’s copy to preview the forthcoming US publication, by Skyhorse, of Luke Jennings’ Blood Knots.

When it was published in England a few years ago it blew me away– a melancholic, elegiac meander through several lives, beginning with a scene of urban slum pike fishing at dusk and moving through.. oh, fathers, sons, wars, terrorism, prep schools, mentors, Catholicism, falconry, and, always, fishing. I will write about it more than once but for now, a gratuitous and absolutely true quote: this is the best book with fishing in it since A River Runs Through It.

Yes, that good.

Michael’s fly; more connections…

As promised, the “Goshawk & Claret”, on its cover letter from Michael Simon back in 2000 [I had put 1990, meant to type 1999, and it was actually 2000!]

The reason for the Khyber Pass falconer- with- Gos in “Teaser”, below, is that Michael spent a good bit of his youth in Afghanistan before war tore its ancient and (if perilously) balanced society apart, as did several of my friends from the west and one long distance falconry mentor, Sirdar M Osman.

John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard’s father and the model for the old curator of the “Treasure House” in Kim, wrote about Punjabi and”Border” Goshawk falconry in Man and Beast in India, here, with Pakistani bell and Afghan snuffbox of Lapis:

Cover:

So once again shared interests and the mysteries of the Intarwebz connect old friends; unbelievably, an incoming message from him crossed mine to him in the same ten- minute period. Michael at 65 in VA, in the style of Picasso; his “Art” side? He also has a self- portrait in his other persona, as Edwardian fly fishing giant and “father of nymph fishing” G E M Skues; if he sends it I’ll post…