Thursday, December 8, 2011

Worth One Thousand Words; or, Life Abbreviated.

Cameras keep us honest, and photos keep us straight, narrowed in on a 6x8 chiaroscuro or jpg attachment of place -- the condensed cream soup of our day’s doings. Perhaps the camera’s advent was the demise of storytelling as it had been; at the very least, it helped usher in the start of it. Now, we can see for ourselves...we don’t have to be told. And it’s much faster this way (easier too) -- getting right to the point so that we can get on with tweeting, texting, and facebooking -- our life’s stories, incomplete in structure, sentence, and punctuation, showing us as we are --> abbreviated. A picture can indeed sometimes be worth a thousand words, but all too often, we let it do all the talking -- and while talk is cheap, stories are not.

On a Sunday afternoon, warm by late November standards, I walk past a man standing in a river -- the river which I thought I had to myself. Silence echoes above the current, as waters move quietly through the winter months; perhaps not wanting to call attention to the fact that they are still running, and the ice hasn’t quite got the better of them yet; they hibernate, hunker down, and the rest of us.

A small English Springer Spaniel bitch greets Banjo first, and then me. Her dock tail looks frantic and her eyes smile in chocolate. The wet fringe of her legs and ears clump together into soon to be frozen dreadlocks and Banjo eyes her suspiciously -- as he does every dog who likes getting wet. If she fell in, well ok then, she gets a pass. But her willful romps back to her master through pools which are on her, neck deep, erase entirely the possibility of falling in. Banjo backs away. The man turns around: eyes as chocolatey as his dog’s, a blue-bobble stocking cap and a camouflage canvas jacket. He looks every bit of what my grandmother would describe as a “nice young man” -- yet the kind none of her granddaughters ever seem to bring home to her.
This, a result of The Anne of Green Gables complex: wanting Gilbert Blythe, not Fred Wright. But now, I’m on a tangent.

With a wave and a smile, I keep moving on downstream.

Downstream far enough to where I am sure I’ve given the man and his dog enough room and won’t run into them again. He’s moving upstream. I’m moving upstream. All’s well, although it hadn’t ended yet.

I wade in. The water is low, barely over my boots in places, and Banjo follows me out to some rocks forced into the middle from strong spring runoffs. I work a pool, deep with eerie glacial blue-green, its basin boiling up aspen leaves that have been kept underwater between and under rocks, like specimens in formaldehyde. And as the lid is loosened, they float away, looking like the soft yellow underbelly of a brown trout; sumac blushing like the gill plate of a stream-born rainbow -- convincing shadows at which, I set the hook.

The nymphs sink further than I think they will, and on the third drift they snag on the bottom. My annoyed and impatient roll-cast frees both flies, and I shorten up my line a bit before casting again. There’s always some amount of reticence after a snag -- like falling off of horse: you always climb back on, but it takes awhile to get back to a full-on gallop again. Now, I know that the yellow mountain willow branches are behind me, and that the rock at the bottom of the pool is angled upstream, and that the ground, as I learned as a youth, is hard to fall upon.

Mindful of these things, I make another cast and feel the weight of a take and see the flash of a rouge side. I land her, a nice rainbow, and hold her gently in the water as I fumble for my camera in an inside zippered pocket of my vest. She gets away.   

“Any luck?”

I look up, and into the face of the man I’d seen earlier in the day with his spaniel, already greeting Banjo again.

“One rainbow. A nice one for this stretch here....eight to ten inches, I’d say. In that pool back a ways, there by that rock face....they make nice deep pools. And you?”

“18 inch rainbow, right around that bend there!”


“Took me 4 minutes to land her......7X tippet on and all. Ya know at first, I thought I’d snagged the bottom....she just held deep down there. Frozen. Glad I didn’t try to snap her off!”

I chuckle. “That’d be my luck.”

“It’s usually mine. Hey, what’re you using for flies by the way?”

“Nymphs...little tungsten beads for heads.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Guess we’re doing the right thing then” I smiled, still halfway out in the creek.

“Yeah. Guess we are. Well, see ya around, maybe...”

“Yep. See ya around....”

He turned and with a high careless whistle, the spaniel followed -- and I watched them both until they camouflaged back into the landscape and movement evaporated.

And as I did, I thought about how 100 years ago, we certainly wouldn’t have been lugging cameras around in our fishing vests and pockets. Our catch-of-the-days -- even lives -- would be documented only through memories and words. Often, orally. We would have no physical proof. No evidence. Instinctively though, we want someone to know what we’ve done and what we’ve caught (however not, always, where we’ve gone). We want to tell our fishing stories, and when you don’t have a photograph, words must come out of the darkroom -- as they have for ages past, and will continue to do in ages to come. Why am I so sure? Well it’s really quite simple: I am sure, because fishermen love stories, admiring and relishing one well-told as we admire and revel in a fish well-played. Fly fishing has a history riddled with great literature -- Juliana Berners, Izaak Walton, Robert Traver, Ernest Schwiebert, Norman Maclean, Thomas McGuane, John Gierach, Ted Leeson, Kathy Scott -- it’s shaped our sport. And besides, fishermen also seem to have the creative tendency of developing their own unique standard of measurement (something which making the move to metric wouldn’t fix). You can’t really embellish a photo, now can you ---> but you can in a story to a stranger on a stream.

While photos do capture a sense of place, emotion, and time -- the words said, things learned, and thoughts entered into, and then exited -- these things, no photograph can tell. Not in a thousand words.

Which now, I have gone over.


  1. Hey! I think I'm first in line! Really nice Erin. I'm so glad you choose to be a storyteller instead of a photographer. Although your photography isn't too shabby either.

  2. I think that many aspects of our lives are like echos. Some are louder than others and last longer but all fade with time. One of the greatest inventions, in my opinion, is the camera. It may, in some instances, take something away from one's imagination when listening to a story but it allows us to hold onto that "echo" for a much longer period of time. Photography is one of the few ways I have to be able to "capture or bottle up" the essense of a special trip. Great post!

  3. Nicely done. I'd argue the whole "worth a thousand words" cliche, though, and your post would serve quite nicely as exhibit one. I'd print it - yes, print, Luddite that I am - wave it madly in the air and challenge the jury to "show me this in a single image."

    I work a pool, deep with eerie glacial blue-green, its basin boiling up aspen leaves that have been kept underwater between and under rocks, like specimens in formaldehyde.

    I rest my case.

  4. A picture IS worth a thousand words. It's a cliche because it is often true. Then again, it depends on whose words we're talking about. So well done Erin...

  5. The right word ('s), can be worth a thousand pictures. Nothing like the minds eye.

  6. Cofisher - You ARE first! Many, many thanks...and photography is much too hard in the cold months. ;)

    Kiwi - Ah indeed. I would much agree in that I love being able to capture and hold an image. Nothing beats old photographs....except sometimes, words. Thanks, as always!

    Mike - You'd have been a good lawyer! Thank you very much, as always, for your good words.

    Mr. P - It's all a matter of perspective, eh? As in anything. Thanks so much for the kind words.

  7. Phillip - Nothing indeed. And it's amazing how it can take letters and shapes and images and turn them into memories.

  8. I've always fancied myself more of a photographer than a writer though I'm working on the latter. The challenge with a photo on it's own is the lack of context from the person behind the lens. We're all left to interpret it and to interpret what the photographer meant when taking the picture. Though I do cede the point that sometimes a picture of a Brook Trout is just a picture of a Brook Trout.

    Well written. And Mike's point is spot on, but don't tell him, his ego is big enough.

  9. Steve - The lack of context in a photo can often be a wonderful wilderness for the imagination...and that, I love. I just love words more. And don't worry...I won't tell Mike. ;) Thanks so much for the comment!

  10. You are GOOD! .....her eyes smile in chocolate" is just one of many gorgeous bits.

  11. Nice piece! Funny, when telling (mostly non-fishing) people about my trips I often state how my photos tell a story about my day of fishing, but a very abbreviated one indeed.

    One thing though, a hundred years ago that rainbow probably ended up on your plate. ;)

  12. Hart - Thank you! And I think I may have had a subconscious craving for chocolate during this piece's writing.

  13. PdeW - Thanks! And you're quite right about which case, photos wouldn't have been necessary anyway, eh? :)

  14. I couldn't agree more, the best camera rests squarely between two ears. Proven by the story you just told. There is something comforting about not carrying a camera all of the time...what story needs to be kept in check like that?

    "and I watched them both until they camouflaged back into the landscape and movement evaporated."


  15. Mike - You'd have been a good lawyer!
    Sigh... Erin, I thought you were my friend.

    And Mike's point is spot on, but don't tell him, his ego is big enough.
    Steve, I'm cut to the quick. I'm too good to have a big ego. :-)

  16. Sanders - "the best camera rests squarely between two ears" I really like that image...thanks for it! And thanks, as always, for the good words.

    Mike - I'm sorry...I suppose that was kind of a backhanded compliment. ;)

  17. I've often thought many artists have held the camera in suspicion. I love all the storytellers. Ansel Adams, John Stienbeck, Marc Chagall,Bob Dylan.....

  18. Herringbone - I think perhaps so...and I love them all to, but am partial to a few...

  19. Pictures or words? Both can provoke deep reaction - beauty, drama, horror.... the endless list. In a world where everybody seems to have a camera in their pocket pictures have become cheap but, like the words that you write Erin, with care and attention masterpieces are formed.

    I love to read my old diaries and poems, I love to look back through my thousands of photo's - which is best? No contest, its a dead heat.

  20. I find that my camera has a funny way of making my fish look smaller than they really are.

    Funny how that works. :)

  21. Dave - And at different times, different ones win. Everything can be cheapened if we let it, and I refuse -- as, I know, do you.

    Master of Kung Fu - I've noticed that too. Wonder if it's some sort of malfunction with our cameras? Perhaps we have the same make and model? ;-)

  22. Hello Erin,

    Your expos'e painted a nice picture, I didn't need a camera. Though, I carry a disposasble, always, write in my fishing journal and note the trip on a calendar, always. I think they compliment one another. As an aside, I saw daguerreotypes of Revolutionary War Veterans, imagine that. Winslow Homer painted The Civil War, but photographs showed the public the true horror of war's carnage. Aside from those that would alter photographs, I see the use of them most places ranging from nice to advantageous.
    Either way, your tale didn't need a photo at all.


  23. Effing awesome... as usual. Nice job.

  24. "condensed soup of the day"
    Banjo and the Bitch, a possible soap.
    Grandmothers wish.

    Classic e.m.b.
    Well done.

  25. Erin I hope you knew I meant there are a lot of pictures worth a thousand words and more but that YOUR words are worth a picture.

  26. Gregg - Ah, I always carry a camera with me as well and sometimes they indeed say what words cannot. Although I must say, some of the most moving of "pictures," I have read in old Civil war diaries and letters. Thanks for your thoughts and good words!

    Chris - Thanks!

    Brk Trt - ha! Although I have a feeling Banjo might ixnay the soap idea! ;)

    Mr. P. - Although something may be of worth, it can't always be had.

  27. Honestly, I'd write more and take fewer photos if I could write like Erin! Another great piece :)

  28. Good thoughts. (I agree, by the way, with your implication that if you had looked at that guy's photo of the fish it might have been somewhat less than 18 inches. But it does make a good story.)A few times I've forgotten my camera and I felt strangely free. Think I'll plan periodic camera-less days, so I can focus more on how I'll tell the story. Thanks.

  29. River Mud - Well thanks! And if I was a better photographer, I would probably include more. ;)

    Jim - I found it freeing too...and a good mind exercise to boot. Thanks as always!

  30. I'm glad you opened the door to the darkroom. I do worry about the the small fry swimming through this fast paced stream of life...FB, tweets, texts...will they live only a life of echoses?

  31. You have certainly painted a picture in just over a thousand words that I won't soon forget.

    A beautiful picture...

  32. Photos and pics have their part, but one of things I enjoy most is sitting around a camp fire after a day of fishing, listening my friends share stories from the day. Stories that we still tell years later. Is there anything finer?

  33. Who the hell needs pictures when your creativity and vocab match your imagination and vision?

    Having the ability to accurately translate thoughts into words is a skill I envy. Even this comment isn't saying exactly what I want.

  34. Love the writing and the message. Reminds me of that song by John Mayer (and redone blue grass style by the Infamous String Dusters) 3x5. Sometimes cameras just can't do our experiences justice, but words are powerful tools that can paint a picture and evoke emotion...a gateway to our imagination. That's why I love a good book and good writing. Thanks Erin!

  35. Maybe i am the odd one out, i love pictures always have done, perhaps it my limited imagination.

    I also find i need pictures to bring back the memory of a fish or places that i have been too, without them i think i would have forgotten so much of my fishing.

    Well used words are lovely too read but sometimes people use too many words.

    Lovely post as ever Erin, thoughtful and provoking................. and not too many words :):)

  36. This may be my favorite. Of course, I think that nearly every week, and then you just keep setting the bar higher. I take a camera, and subsequently lots of photos, nearly every time out. Mainly it's just so I can remember what to write about later, but I find that even the most marginal of photos can be good filler material—a substitute—when lacking the gift of being able to write good like you. Thanks for this!

  37. i wish we could exchange eyes for a day. some of us see a poetry that no words could ever express because there are no words to express them. ; )

    lovely post nevertheless !

  38. Well, I do know it was a helluva lot easier to lie about my fish before modern cameras.

  39. After 22 years of playing with Photoshop, I can make photos lie through their teeth.

    My friend Bob Long, Jr. has figured out a way to combine the two, image and words, and he does it quite well. An image that conjures up words, which in turn, create more images in your mind.

    It's a matter of combining the two and letting each have their own power, and yet compliment each other.

    Harder than you would think to accomplish.

  40. If only my pictures could tell the story as well as your written words. I know it's been said probably 40 times in comments before mine , but really nice post...I enjoyed that day on the water with you and Banjo as much as any in recent history. Thanks....Jeff

  41. sgb - I think your small fry are doing ok...and you're filling the next generation's heads with stories and songs. :)

    Rebecca - Thanks for stopping by, and for the good words.

    Ty - No, I don't suppose there is either...

    Neil - Many thanks!

    Clif - Thanks...although I didn't quite get the whole point of your comment. ;) hehe

    Andrew - Thanks so much! I hadn't thought of that Mayer song...but now that you bring it to mind. Yes. Perfect! Thanks again for reading.

    Tom - Oh surely, we are all odd. Often I've lamented the fact that most "grown-up" books don't have illustrations. I love illustrations. There's a balance, of course, but they certainly add...I with you on that. Thanks, as always!

    Kirk - I am definitely in agreement on the filler material, and I sometimes find that taking a photo is almost like me tying a string around my finger. I'll go back to it, someday, and write. Thanks, as always for reading and leaving your thoughts.

    Marc - That would be interesting, wouldn't it. ;) I know what you mean about expressing what words cannot, and do appreciate photography for that reason, among many others.

    Should Fish More - I bet it was! And I bet you have some good stories.

    Ken G - Mr. Long's work is amazing...he's definitely figured out the combination. I think I'm still working on it!

    HighPlains Jeff - It was a pleasure having you along. :) Thanks so much!

  42. Erin, I wasn't worried about you and your small fry sister. I didn't raise you two to be stockers, you are feral and free like a cutthroat.

  43. sgb - Thank you...for raising me without schoolroom walls, in books and imagination, and in flannel shirts not caring what anyone else thought or what expectations for "being a woman" are. Thank you, for raising me feral. :-)

  44. Erin,

    I'm not the least bit surprised you've read Civil War diaries. You're correct, they did and do paint a vivid picture of life endured as a soldier then.


  45. The image provides the outline, but the words give the colors context and vitality.

  46. prpark - Well put...precisely. Thanks for stopping by...

  47. Really enjoyable and thought provoking Erin. I reckon the burden of carrying in the cameras have changed the fate of many a fish, once upon a time , people wouldnt think twice about taking a trophy trout home just to show there Mum, partner, pal.

  48. I started thinking about this a bit ago, watching the gulf weather and wind. Photos and words, pictures and sentences. A great photo can evoke feelings, and even inspire the viewer to create his or her own backstory. Annie Liebowitz comes to mind. A great photo can be taken by accident or chance, not often, but possible. Great writing is rarely, if ever, accidental. It does not have to be lengthy, witness the famous shortest story:
    Baby shoes
    For sale
    Never worn
    Conjures up several possibilities, yes? Many sad, it's all up to the reader.
    Some of the great 'fishing' writers, and I'm thinking specifically about Roderick Haig-Brown, used fishing as a vehicle, or backdrop to their writing. the great joy in reading him is his craft, and clear love of writing.

  49. Col - Indeed...cameras probably have extended the life of many a fish. Thanks a bunch for stopping by!

    ShouldFishMore - Yes, that "short story" is a perfect example and does indeed make you think. And Haig-Brown, another perfect example of a master of the craft and writing. Thanks for your thoughts!

  50. Fun, witty, insightful post, Erin. I could see your stepwork clearly!

  51. Emily - Thanks so much....very much appreciate the comment and kind words!

  52. While I enjoy your pictures...I come here for you words...and what a picture they paint.

  53. Firstlightofdawn - Thank you for reading them, as always, and seeing their picture.

  54. Fantastic writing, much better than a picture

  55. danontherock - Many thanks -- for stopping by and the kind words.