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Michigan Bookmark: Sage of bonefishing takes “Body of Water” author on mythic journey

Jan 12, 2017

If you have fished, or wanted to fish, or thought about fishing, or just stepped out of doors with some expectancy, Body of Water is the book for you.

Though Montana is his home now, Michigan poets know Chris Dombrowski from his elegant poetry collection, Earth Again, published by Wayne State University Press. Michigan anglers know Dombrowski as a stellar fly fishing guide. 

Body of Water: A Sage, a Seeker, and the World's Most Alluring Fish, takes Dombrowski to a new and distant place. In the middle of a Montana winter he is offered a fishing trip to the Grand Bahamas, all expenses paid, it's an easy choice. His wife sends him off with this advice, "Be where you are."  

He finds himself in a place unlike any he has known.  How better to learn a country than to fish it?

Dombrowski soon hears the story of David Pinder, a native of the island, who grew up with his eleven siblings in a two room house.  Pinder, the sage in the book's title, made his living as a young man gathering sponges and lugging rocks in construction work; in his spare time he was fishing for bonefish, then a little known sport.

The bonefish is a puzzle, not overly large, not very tasty, but a fighter, very quick, difficult to see, and hellish to land, testing the skill and stamina of the angler.  Dombrowski describes its illusiveness, "The shadow of the fish nearly always more visible than its body, its scales varying in hue from moment to moment to match its environment." 

Pinder was taken on as a guide for a rustic camp, Deep Water Cay.  That was forty years ago. Deep Water Cay has grown to become one of the world's most fabled sporting lodges. Bone fishing is now an annual $141 million dollar crop, its impact on the island enormous.  

In talking about Pinder, Dombrowski also talks about the relationship between guide and patron, and what "hiring" means when two men are side by side focused on a mutual goal, but Dombrowski reminds us that when something goes wrong; it's always the guide's fault.  Pinder, himself, says, "No matter how quiet a guide gets, he always wants to catch fish more, far more, than his client does."

Dombrowski returns to the Bahamas and becomes friends with the owners of Deep Water Cay, as well as the elderly Pinder, now retired and with little money left.

In a talk recently, at the Ann Arbor book store Literati, Dombrowski called Pinder “The most holy man I have ever met.”

Attempting to tell Pinder's story, Dombrowski says, is like the persistence of the horizon, "You take one step toward it, and it takes one step back.  Precisely where does the water stop and the sky begin:  lines between biography, story, and myth seem even less definable, more arbitrary."

Ever since the days of Isaac Walton the angler has attempted to express his love of fishing.  Dombrowski quotes Meister Eckhart, the 13th century mystic, "Meditation is our far country, and we return from our solitudes with kingdoms, but allow these kingdoms to be usurped by our worldly desires."

"Fishing" Dombrowski says "is a perfect job for those who prefer talking to themselves to talking to others."  He reminds us the Buddha said “Days spent fishing do not count against ones allotted days.”

Body of Water tells us why.   

Gloria Whelan won the National Book Award for her young adult novel, Homeless Bird.  Her fiction has appeared in Prize Stories: O. Henry Awards, and her short story collection, Living Together, was a ForWord Review Finalist, and received the 2014 IPPY Silver Medal in the Short Story Fiction Award.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.