When my father-in-law passed away one item from his garage collection of life’s detritus fell into my hands. It was an old bamboo fly rod. Since I am the only fly fisherman in the immediate family, it was naturally assumed that the fly rod would find a home in my fishing collection. Of course I was happy to have it both as a potential additional fishing implement, and, more importantly, as a memento of the life of a hard-working, decent, caring and intelligent man.
Alas, after taking it to a local fly rod shop which specializes in restoring old bamboo fly rods, the rod is essentially unusable due to years where it appears to have soaked up so much water that it has de-laminated to the point of structural failure. Still it remains valuable in non-fishing ways.
But the whole episode exposes the atavistic side of my own personality, a side which is surprisingly strong for a person who is totally into technology in virtually all of its forms.
I don’t own a functioning bamboo fly rod. It turns out that you can buy one for about $100, which is quite comparable to modern graphite fly rods, of which I own several. So there is no reason, other than financial limitations, for my next fly rod purchase not to be a bamboo rod. Of course if you buy a bamboo rod, you really need to buy silk fly line to go with it if you truly want to complete the “traditional” picture of the compleat angler. And I admit, I have a strong desire to do exactly that.
There is something very appealing to me in the idea of using a traditional bamboo fly rod along with flies I have tied myself using traditional patterns, materials and techniques. Doing so provides a sort of link back to generations of anglers and to a simpler, slower world that we’ve all but left behind, and which will likely disappear entirely within this century. To catch a fish, especially a spunky sixteen inch trout, with such gear would be a proud moment.
Again, back to that quiet, contemplative, atavistic side of my personality, at such moments I can understand how some people view modern technology as dehumanizing and spiritually destructive. This is the side of me that makes me pick up a flint rock and try to make a functioning knife, arrowhead or spearhead. Or the side that wants to one day build a canoe out of traditional pre-technological materials and go fishing in it.
Isaac Asimov once wrote a short story about human civilization which had forgotten simple arithmetic because technology had developed to the point that it was self-sustaining and humans no longer participated even in the production of technological devices, they simply used them. With ubiquitous calculators available from cradle to grave, humans had forgotten how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. In this world one man eventually became curious about how calculators worked, and essentially reverse-engineered simple mathematical rules. He attempted to educate others about his discovery but the common reaction was a deep aversion to his “parlor tricks”. Calculators were, after all, free and made no errors.
Sometimes I contemplate the far future and see a time when human civilization (perhaps with or without actual “humans” involved) has colonized a large portion of our galaxy. I wonder if there will remain even the tiniest fraction of historical knowledge about humanity’s past and the long, arduous struggle from the muck and mud of pre-historical hunter-gatherer societies. At some point whatever beings have replaced the humans we know today may try to determine the point of human civilization that provided the most rewarding lifestyle which balanced the human’s connection with nature against their utilization of technology.
And I think the bamboo fly rod and hand-tied flies just might epitomize that perfect blend of the two sides of human nature.
It seems to do it for me anyway. Yeah, I’ll be getting a bamboo fly rod, and I’ll be using it with silk line and hand-tied flies, and I will quietly revel in the contemplation of the simple fusion of nature and human ingenuity as I reel in a spunky cutthroat trout.