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Journeys into Driftless Country

by Ted Leeson

Pub Date: July 1st, 2002
ISBN: 1-58574-554-5
Publisher: Lyons Press

A prepossessing journey through Wisconsin’s driftless area in search of fish—though not only fish—that’s as pleasurably meandering as any of the spring creeks found there.

In the southwest corner of Wisconsin lies the driftless area, where the glaciers, for reasons still not understood, failed to reach. Unlike the smoothed country surrounding it, the driftless area is punched, crumpled, and unleveled. Through it, a number of spring creeks run, lovely miniatures: immediate, vivid, intimate waters that Leeson (The Gift of Trout, 1996, etc.) makes it his job to get to know. And he does, acutely. The fish might have drawn him to these locales—to Jerusalem, Emerald, and Mariposa creeks, though the names are all changed to protect the innocent waterways—but it’s not long before Leeson enters into a discriminating rapport with the entire landscape: the clarity, steadiness, and quiet beauty of the water; the hummingbirds; the jewelweed and wild mint; the lay of the land. He gets to know the place by beating the bounds, discerning the areas of specific streams and their environs as they fit his personal notion of perfection, then ranging out, “riding to the hounds of possibility,” with fishing as the spur but not the real deal: The sense of place overrides the throwing of a line on water. Leeson chinks his story with bits and pieces of Midwest sociology and Wisconsin history, stories of his chums, and recountings of those particularly rare days on the streams that “transport us outside of ourselves and envelope us in a kind of perpetual present.” These aren’t the elite spring creeks of Pennsylvania, California, or Montana, but they well afford Leeson a chance to take his bearings and patrol the borders of his own sensibilities. They’ve made a humble transcendentalist memoir of a fly fisherman.

A wonder-working landscape, appreciatively rendered.