Monday, March 7, 2016

The Incoming Tide: Review

Fishing isn't only about catching fish. One of the things it's about is how a fish fights -- and just as importantly, how you fight a fish.

I've known of Cameron Pierce for some time. I've seen his name mentioned on many Facebook updates and passed around in various literary circles. When I read that he was an avid fisherman whose stories heavily revolved around fishing, I said to myself that I would purchase one of his books and give it a read. I noted before in my review of Steve Rasnic Tem's story, The Fishing Hut, that I have loved fishing ever since I was a kid. And while I don't get to do it as often as I used to, I still enjoy the occasional fishing day, whether it's with my family or by myself. Now having a son, I look forward to taking him fishing when he is old enough. 

Published by Broken River Books, The Incoming Tide is a pocket-sized book that is less than a hundred pages, consisting of flash fiction and poetry. While fishing is at the heart of Pierce's writing, it's used as a means to explore themes of life, death, parenthood, man and nature, maturation, memories, the simple things in life, and even the strange and alien. The stories and poems are also broken up with passages titled Beer Commerical, serving as a sort of brief intermission for the reader, where the joys and sorrows of life are reflected through having a beer. 

Reading the passages within The Incoming Tide, you can feel the warmth and passion that Pierce writes with. The writing blanketed me with a sense of tranquility, and, at other times, nostalgia and even mystery. Pierce also does well in exploring the unknown, and emphasizes that we do not just find horror and the grotesque in it, but we can also find beauty and wonder. In the story, Ragged-Tooths, a few fisherman hike out to the sea to catch some sharks. Pierce sets the mood by having the story take place at night, wording it in such a way that conveys mystery and darkness:

What I am saying is there were four of us in the nighttime, miles from anyone else, except for the hermit who lives in a cave at the river mouth. His cave was dark this night.

Just four men and the night, fishing for one of the most feared predators in the sea. Yet, when the narrator finally catches one and releases it back into the dark waters, it's described as "the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen." We may fear the dark and wonder what lurks just beneath the surface, but that doesn't always equate to horror; sometimes the most beautiful things can emerge and stay with us forever. In Winter Rainbow, beauty in the form of rainbow trout are pursued on a chill December morning. The narrator and his wife, K, catch rainbow trout and bring them home to make trout sandwiches:

There's nothing better than waking before first light in December, then returning home in the afternoon for hot coffee and a fresh trout sandwich. That's why in the darkest part of the year, you'll find me pursuing rainbows.

Even the the coldest, darkest parts of the year hide beauty in its depths. It's also about the simple joys that can be found in sitting down with a loved one over a cup of coffee and a trout sandwich. These are things that should be cherished the most, yet we sometimes take them for granted; we get caught up in the stresses and chaos of life, causing us to miss out on what's right in front of us; causing us to overlook the little things. In Even if the Earth Floods, you get the sense that Pierce is conveying to us to enjoy the good things we have:

                    Someday the dead sailors may rise up.
                    Someday we may even drown.
                    For now, let me hold you.
                    Even if the dead sailors flood the earth,
                    let me hold you

                    Let's dig one more clam before dark.
                    Let's drink one more beer before dawn.
                    We can always climb onto the roof
                    if the earth floods.

You get the feeling that we need to enjoy the here and now. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow. Go ahead and have one more beer with that special someone. Go ahead and meet your friend for a late night cup of coffee. Enjoy the times with your friends and family. Life can be crushing, but we mustn't allow ourselves to be weighed down all the time. You can really glean that from the story, Fishing Derbies, where the narrator says, "Fishing isn't only about catching fish. One of the things it's about is a how a fish fights -- and just as importantly, how you fight a fish." I take this as a meditation on how we go through life; it will sometimes put up a great fight, and how you fight back will dictate the outcome. 

Elements of spirituality can be detected in some of the writing. My favorite poem in the book, The Promise of Water, puts an emphasis on man and nature; being alone outside, just you,  your thoughts, a cup of coffee, and your fishing rod:

                    Some mornings I wake before the sun rises
                    to fish the Willamette.
                    I fish on cold winter mornings, alone.
                    Coffee thaws the frost on my lips
                    as I walk the desolate downtown streets.
                    I cross the river to the Eastside
                    to fish under Burnside Bridge
                    where sturgeon lurk in the deep water.
                    I bask in the frozen glow of Old Town's neon sign
                    as I make my first cast,
                    heaving squid-on-hook into the dark.
                    And yet I don't wake early just to fight with dinosaurs.
                    I wake because the promise of water
                    isn't a thing a man can hold for long,
                    like a love song from another world.

My interpretation is that there is a hint of spiritual oneness here, being outside, alone, on a cold winter morning. The day promising to bring water. Just being there, at the water, is enough to uplift your spirits and make you feel truly at peace. It's a true appreciation for nature and the privilege to experience it in that manner. It may, perhaps, be akin to a religious experience, but not quite. Although I think spirituality is more appropriate here. The water being older and more primal than the dinosaurs you are fishing for. This theme of fishing alone, and that spiritual feeling, can be found in other stories and poems in the book as well. Alone Among the Driftwood projects that same theme, along with the give and take nature of the seas, as the narrator watches a dog jump in the water and under the channel, only to never surface. A similar incident happens in Fishing on the Jetty After Midnight, where the narrator witnesses a man scuttling "like a crab across the rocks and splashed with the roiling dusk." Rather ambiguous, as you know nothing about the man except that he went into the water. It's enough to make you wonder why he did it, and exuding an element of strangeness to it all. The things you see (or think you see) while fishing at night. 

Stories and poems explored are but a fraction of what can be found in The Incoming Tide. The poem, Mother Steel involves a pregnant woman having a mother-to-mother moment with a pregnant fish on a wooden dock, telling the silver hen that her children will be all right. It's a short, yet powerful piece on the universality of motherhood, and the caring, nurturing nature of one mother to another. Blood for Blood is another short poem that revolves around fishing to feed your family; you're trading your blood for the blood of another. Pierce even charts a course for our absurd little rituals that are unique to each of us, in the story, Cooking Shellfish in My Underpants. Or how we all have that one special fishing spot that you can't divulge to just anyone, as told in XXX Creek. Through fishing, beer, rituals, haunted lawnmowers, Pierce has written an evocative, reflecting and though-provoking book that can be appreciated by anyone who has ever stopped to take the time to enjoy the little things. Anyone who has taken the time to savor that beer with your friends; anyone who has taken the time to stop and tell that special someone that you love them. It's for anyone who has endured the hardships of life and came out stronger. This is a book that appreciates life for it's beauty, mystery, strangeness, and all the stuff that happens to us in between. 

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