I first met the Juno Award-winning songwriter Garnet Rogers in 1984 or ’85 at the Brantford Folk Club. His brother Stan had died in June of 1983 in a plane fire in Cincinnati and Garnet was honouring the concert commitments confirmed before Stan’s death. I interviewed Garnet many times over the years. I wrote profiles—I was one of the first journalists he told about writing his own material—reviewed concerts and new album releases as well as his memoir, Night Drive, spanning the years he spent on the road with his brother. I asked Garnet if he would read Casting into Mystery in draft form with the aim of writing a blurb because I admired his songwriting, including wordcraft, so much. Also, he had also written ‘Shadows on the Water,’ a deeply moving song tribute to his late friend, Bill Morrissey, who was an avid fly angler, as was Greg Brown, a close friend of both Garnet and Bill. Instead of knocking off a few words for a back cover blurb, he passed along a lovely meditation on family, music and fly fishing. Whether he knows it or not, Garnet has the soul of both a poet and a fly angler.
‘A fly rod is equal parts compass and passport,’ writes Robert Reid in Casting into Mystery.
I come from a family of passionate, nearly rabid fly fishers. I have a blurry black and white photo of my maternal grandmother, standing up in a canoe built by her son on a lake in Nova Scotia, sometime before the Second World War. She is smiling and proudly holding the string of a half dozen trout she had caught that summer evening in the lake behind her home.
One of my aunts kept a careful log of every trout she ever caught. She would note the time and place, the fly she used. Then she would trace the fish on paper, paint it in watercolours and carefully store it away so this elegant creature would never be forgotten—or simply thought of as ‘lunch’.
A cousin, an avid catch-and-release guy, told me last year that he took 104 trout out of the water at his camp back of the beyond in Nova Scotia’s Guysborough County. It broke the record for one day’s fishing at the camp–held since 1903–where careful logs have been kept since before the turn of the last century. He fishes with his father’s gear, in the single-seat cedar and canvas canoe his dad built some forty years ago. It weighs a mere sixteen pounds, and Steve has been known to cast his line in the middle of a portage, holding the delicate craft over his head, while carefully setting the fly where only he, apparently, can see the furtive, graceful movement of his quarry beneath the lambent surface of the evening water.
Like I say . . . passionate.
Oddly, despite having spent much of my life in the woods, and near what the author calls ‘Sacred Water,’ the bug never bit me; however, having read Casting into Mystery, written by Reid with evocative engravings by Wesley W. Bates, I understand better than ever the allure and the magic that lies waiting for the dedicated angler.
I know better the connection with, and the reverence for, trout. The deep connection with the river and the delicate ecosystems that support not only fish, but every living thing an angler might see during a day on the water. The zip and ratchet of the reel as the line runs through it. The graceful curve of that line as it arcs and flashes and snaps through the air. The waiting, the careful watching, the ever so gentle tug telegraphing along the filament as the fish makes up its mind. The setting of the hook and the sudden living bond with the yet unseen fish that is frantically spooling out yards of that precious line as he makes his bid for freedom. The camaraderie between brothers and sisters who share his passion. The tall tales in fire-lit cabins. The grateful taste of a rare single malt that warms toes nearly frozen from a day in the river. It’s all here.
‘The rod is equal parts compass and passport.’ Yes, that fly rod. Reid writes: ‘The rod comes alive in my hands. I feel the transference of energy, of soul, from rod to body’.
I once played violin for a living. And the feel of a hundred-year-old Italian bow, lovingly and expertly carved from rare Pernambuco wood from the forests of Brazil, strung with prepared horsehair from Russia, and drawn across the strings of a finely crafted old-French violin that has been both your closest companion and bitterest enemy over the years; to produce music, some good, some bad, has to be very much like the hopeful experience of dropping a fly into that precise spot on the river, using a split-cane rod, made from bamboo from a tiny region of China, and in the end, feel that same energy transference. You feel the bond, not only to what you are trying to catch, and a love for the secret universe it inhabits, but with the stranger whose expert hands so carefully made this frail, yet supple, connection to the eternal.
It is a lucky soul, a blessed soul, who can find poetry and love and wonder in the quotidian. Had he never set pen (a fountain pen, of course) to paper, Reid would have been one of those luckiest of people, seeing, as he does, with such a keen, detailed and loving eye.
This book is the proof.