Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was carved by the world’s great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.–Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
The final two paragraphs of Maclean’s first story, written in his seventies, may be one of the most-quoted chunks of literature about the west, maybe because it’s an anthem to an original wildness we continue moving away from in ever-accelerating fashion. Maybe it’s just beautiful and has to do with water that moves (all water moves, but at least we can watch and listen to it move in rivers, and feel it if we get in it). I connected with this story when I was much younger and falling in complicated love with fly fishing, a romance that’s recently been rekindled for some reason I’m not sure about. But I am sure that it (the book and its final paragraphs) connects to chukar hunting in some ways that might resonate with other bird chasers. The connections are visible: whether it’s on Instagram or in the flesh, we see people fly fishing accompanied by bird dogs; we see other drift boaters on the Missouri with big, bearded German breeds; in the “off season,” we see Idaho Chukar Foundation posting pictures on Facebook of what he calls “water chukars” he’s landed in some mysterious aqueous artery. There’s a stereotypical ethic, I think, that each activity shares: a honed-down pursuit of elusive, beautiful prey, based ninety percent on knowledge and the other half on patient perseverance. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why. But there is a connection. It’s centered on the people, and cultivated in them. In a way, all things we experience as people eventually merge into the one person we are. We’re like rivers.
Earlier this spring we received the following message on Chukar Culture from a reader we’d never met.
“Hey Bob and Leslie, I feel like I know you at least a little from your blog. I have commented a few times. I live in Butte, MT and have spent the last 22 years “researching” trout populations within a 60 miles radius of my home. I would be pleased to take you out for a day or two this summer on some of my favorite streams.”
Chris and his wife Becky took us to a special place dear to them, where he knew we’d have a good chance of catching some Arctic Grayling.
The reader, Chris, knew from reading our blog that we’d be in Montana fly-fishing for much of the summer as soon as school got let out. After some emailing back and forth, Leslie and I took a day off from fishing the Missouri and drove down to Butte for our fly-fishing blind date. We put the coordinates of Chris’s house into our GPS. As we got closer and made the right turn into his subdivision we had a deja vu moment. The previous year, driving from Missoula to Bozeman we detoured into Butte to buy fishing licenses, and after leaving one of the local sporting goods stores to continue our journey out of town our GPS took us by mistake into the same neighborhood and down the same street past Chris’s house.
The main reason we continue this blog is because of the real connections we make with people who are also passionate about it.
Next upland hunting season will be our 10th sharing stories, photos, and occasional videos. This blog, and the videos that sometimes accompany it, continue to thicken the web of life for us. Just today, a Turkish man who’s coming to hunt Hells Canyon with his son this fall, sent me a comment asking about the Turkish music on one of our videos. I loved this chance to share a connection with a stranger through both bird hunting and music. The musician, Arif Sağ, whose music I used for the sound on this particular video has a song called “Erzurum” (which I’ve used on another video), which is one of the most memorable places I’ve ever been, and pretty remote, in the mountainous, arid eastern part of the country, which reminded me a lot of the area between Bozeman, Helena, and Butte. Chris, from Butte, was stationed in Erzurum when he was in the Army. I’d never imagined I’d meet another person who’d been to Erzurum, much less catch Arctic Grayling with him in a high mountain lake in Montana.
Then there’s Haris from Cyprus, and our emailed conversation about Brittany puppies, which has led to a regular correspondence. Someday I hope he’ll be able to visit us with his Brittany Molly. And Larry of Moby Goes fame, who’s become a kind of guide for me about the ideal; he knows he’s at least responsible for several of my students eating chukar legs at lunch. And of course Gabe and Katie of Sunburst Brittanys, whose dogs have upgraded the foundation of our lives, and — I imagine — will continue to do so.
The longer I survive, the more connections strike me, and the more I look for them and, usually, appreciate them. In a way, they’re the only things which matter, and have everything to do with how we see things. Connections we miss hurt us sometimes (but often we have no way of knowing), although some we know will hurt us but we make them anyway; dogs are like that for sure. This blog has connected me, very favorably, with so many people and experiences real, digital, and otherwise that I feel I owe everyone who reads this a big “thank-you.” So thank you: the connections Leslie and I have made through Chukar Culture make our lives bigger and better in lots of different ways. I tried to express some of this six years ago when I made a video for a class I took after my first year of teaching. It’s called “Only Connect,” after the mysterious epigraph from a novel. The fact that each of us is the connector of all the things that make us who we are means that we need other people (and animals and hobbies and curiosities…) to make us who we are. I share it again because its main idea, as obvious as it is, still haunts me, just like this blog and Norman Maclean’s water.