Thursday, 25 March 2010

On This Day 1916: Ishi Died

In europe we have Otzi the iceman, we have a few artifacts, some of his EDC if you will, but the languages we speak were not due to be heard for thousands of years after his death. He's a Polaroid, a snap shot, just one frame (in not too sharp a focus) of a world we can only imagine and even then imagine only through the distorting lens of a viewpoint far far removed from anything Otzi would have known. His world was long gone before ours was born or thought of. We'll never know the date of his death, or the shape of his life, we just get a tantalizing glimpse into the day he died on. A glimpse that asks a lot of questions and answers very few.

On the other side of the pond there's an actual date, a day and a time when the last stone age man in North America saw the door close behind him, and breathed his last. His friends put some of his tools in a simple bag by his side, and committed his empty body to the flame. I like to think of his spirit going to the happy hunting ground. Wherever he went, his body turned to ash and his brain went to medical school.

A lot of things flicker to life in my imagination, but very few have consumed me like Saxton Pope's book about his friendship with Ishi the last of the Yahi people - the last north american to live in the stone age - literally a time traveler who came to the 20th century.

A victim of genocide, born on the run from an encroaching culture that was totally alien to the frame of reference he'd have known. Fresh out of options, he turned to face the very thing he'd run from his whole life, and one afternoon bewildered and exhausted Ishi stepped out of the stone age and into the 20th century.  He was imprisoned, poked, prodded, and gawped at. Then at last, protected, befriended and given the welcome such a stranger deserves.

None of us can ever know the 'real' Ishi. We can only project the Ishi that we wish for onto his legend, but that probably makes him all the more special. I've read Pope's book several times now. It's not a very well written book, its in the style we might now call 'blogging' (it slips from history, to how-to, to eulogy, to call to adventure), but there's something about it. Something beguiling. I sometimes feel it's the book I'd been waiting to read. Pope and Ishi's friendship is a reflecting pool can I see myself in, and if you ever played at Robin Hood with two sticks and a shoelace you too may hear the call Pope was so compelled by.

At the end, against the express wishes of those who knew and cared for him, his brain was taken to medical school with what intent we can only speculate.  Ishi's legacy hasn't come from that bag of cells and inanimate neural pathways, it's come from the fire he lit in the hearts and minds of Dr Saxton Pope and Art Young.

If I couldn't have my hearts desire and become more like Ishi, I'd settle for being more like Saxton Pope and consider it a life well spent.

How you treated that stranger might just be how you really are.
PS: "Ishi felt Western society was essentially silly - the only things that impressed him were matches and glue,"  

A bit more about Ishi

Friday, 5 March 2010


This afternoon as I was standing in a suburban garden wondering if there was any hope of getting the Runner Beans off the windowsill and into their beds I noticed, at my feet, the rite of spring was, if not sprung already, certainly about to be.

That we should be all so lucky this weekend
your pal
The Bushwacker

Monday, 1 March 2010

Spinning: A Yarn With An Urban Fly Guy

Some lesser known species of ‘trout bum’ found in the mud

A long-time ago another blogger had given me my first lesson on the fly, we’d stalked wild trout inside the M25 (the orbital road that encircles London), a summers day in the garden of england, a delightful afternoon spent on the banks once fished by Dickens, out in the further reaches of the ‘burbs but still technically within the city. 

Ah Mr Quinn I Presume?

After much to-ing and fro-ing we’d set a new challenge, fishing the lowest pool of the Ravensbourne, where it meets the Thames, just as the tide turns and starts to fill it with salt water – as the big-uns came to snaffle up the little-uns. Cold enough to snow, wet enough for the constant light rain to keep it from ever settling, welcome to urban fishing, in London, in the mud, in February. Brrrrrrrrr! 
'Where the Ravensbourne meets the Thames' sounds kind of classy doesn't it? 
It's also known (somewhat more figuratively) as Deptford Creek.

'And for my next trick..............'

We’d both attended the Creekside Centres excellent Low Tide Walk (my version of events here) and seen first hand evidence of the juvenile Flounder, Mitten Crabs and Urban Detritus. The tackle shop didn't have a 'caddice of old bike flys' so  Jeremiah had armed himself with a Flounder Fly. He's an optimist.

The history books are full of mentions of the Eel fishing industry that flourished in symbiosis with the tanneries the area was also known for, even all these years later the mud is still throwing up plenty of evidence both of the tanneries and of course the south londoners inbred impulse, that when disposing of almost anything, lobbing it in the river is best practice.

There is very very little solid ground in this part of the river mouth. Armed with 9 ft of spinning rod I cast out a sprat intending to freeline the current. I was temparily fascinated, and distracted by Jeremiah's vigorous casting.

I thought I was standing on the only other bit of solid ground, I took his photo and suddenly I relaised that my bait had crossed the river at 90 degrees to the current and my line was now disappearing into a mud bank. I stuffed the camera into a pocket, pulled and pulled at the line, but before I could get any back my legs had sunk beyond the tops of the famous YELLOW wellies! Opps!
The guys from the building site on the opposite bank were pissing themselves laughing, and shouting. [As yer do].

Building Site Guys: “Should we come and get you out?’
                                  SBW: “No No I’ll be fine”. [gives cheery wave]

I literally had to use my hands to dig out my boots, thankfully with my feet still in them. The mud really stank. It sucked.

Defeated but not disheartened, we retreated to The Birds Nest to plot further adventures, where our arrival was celebrated by another group of builders.

Building Site Guys: 
"Fishing in the morning, pub in the afternoon, that's the life boys"
I made him about right.
Your pal
The bushwacker