Barich (Big Dreams: Into the Heart of California, 1994, etc.) returns to the trout stream, and it's high time. Few can compete with Barich in the writing of spare, elegant, beguiling fishing tales, and the paucity of his output makes the appearance of this book most welcome. Life isn't quite so airy here as it was back on Hat Creek, the McCloud, and the Russian (venues of his earlier writings), and the streams are as much solace now as they were seductions then. But it's inconceivable that Barich would let anything go ponderous, and he handles his miseries with aplomb, knitting their darkness into the picture as part, not a condition, of the story. It is an autumn in which he gives himself over to the witchery of rivers in a way that he hasn't for too long. While he drinks in the place and the fishing, he marvels at the life that brought him there; in particular, the fishing he had as a kid with his father and brothers, and ""how a past experience can touch us deeply, can shatter us or set us free, even though we've never reckoned with its power."" Bits of melancholy drift by, seemingly weightless (""A long, healthy marriage went untended and collapsed""--his own, that is), though you can feel the thin ice of emotional vulnerability crack slightly beneath him. Then again, when he utters those sacred words ""and we were the only guys around,"" you can hear the glee in his streamside voice. And because he is such a reproachless storyteller, you know that ""It was a warm Sunday toward the end of September when we set out, and the sky was cloudless and omenles"" means with absolute surety that El Niâ€žo will beat them like a gong. In Barich's hands, the fish story exists as a state of grace.