Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May Bones

On Aruba, April showers don't bring May flowers, because it rarely rains. (Not in April, May, June, or July, for that matter.) But this year, May brought bonefish to the inshore reefs, where I found them busting schools of glass minnows against the rocks.

The fish hunted in packs, their dorsal fins creasing the surface. And when they began feeding in earnest, some leaped clear of the water in pursuit, just like tuna or mackerel. I caught several by stripping a small minnow imitation very fast, and several more by twitching it like a crippled baitfish.

The bones were beautiful specimens, sleek and strong, with prominent bars of darker green on their backs.

Fighting in relatively deep water, each fish treated me to a series of short, fast runs, surging between boulders and changing direction at whim. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway)—I am looking forward to summer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What to Read When You're Absolutely Buried

Sometimes you feel like two vast and trunkless legs of stone standing in the desert, even if you actually make your home on a tropical island. In that state of mind, the thought of opening a full-length novel can seem like an invitation to despair.

Rather than submit to such hopelessness, I've been reading short books. On the nightstand for the past few months: The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, and The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide.

The Invention of Morel was first published in 1940, with a prologue by Jorge Luis Borges. Though Borges called it "perfect," I think that description misses part of the book's great charm. It's science fiction in the same sense that Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" is science fiction, and has inspired adaptations for screen or stage by many notables, from Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet to Richard Colton and Jared Green.

One of my favorite passages occurs as the fugitive-narrator contemplates the possibility of an afterlife: "this island," he thinks, "may be the purgatory or the heaven . . . (the possibility of several heavens has already been suggested; if only one existed, and if everyone went there and found a happy marriage and literary meetings on Wednesdays, many of us would have stopped dying)."

The 2003 edition from New York Review Books includes the original illustrations by Borges' sister Norah.

The four so-called chapters in The Red Pony were written from 1933 to 1937 but did not surface in print together until 1945. Understanding this fact up front might help you to negotiate the expectations created by the title story. I was unaware of the book's publishing history and read it with a combination of awe and wonder: in awe of its power, and wondering how in the world it would end. In a line like "Jody liked the things he had to do as long as they weren't routine things," Steinbeck reveals great sympathy for human frailty but offers scant comfort.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide first appeared in 2001, although readers of English had to wait for New Directions to publish a translation in 2014. The book's rise to bestsellerdom has been attributed to a review by NPR's Juan Vidal, which might be true. On the surface, it's the story of a copy editor and his wife, living in the suburbs of Tokyo, hunting for a new apartment, making friends with a neighbor's cat. Perhaps I found it so affecting because all of those details once applied to me, personally, but the more likely source of its success are sentences like these: "They were the color of topaz, and several iridescent violet streaks ran down their backs. If you poured boiling water over them, the purple streaks turned to bronze." Or: "I'd read in a book that the male of the species is solitary and tends to stake out a fairly extensive territory, and prefers being near water."

Friday, April 25, 2014

Angling for an Addiction

You can read my story on the addictive nature of taimen fishing in the newest issue of Fishing Fanatics, available for iPad, iPhone, and Android.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Aruba's Bonefish Nursery?

Schools of juvenile bonefish are again cruising Aruba's beaches—in some places so abundant that they show up in the cast nets thrown for sardines and other baits. While this individual was released unharmed, it's a sad fact that many are destroyed as bycatch, in the same way that adult bones are often killed in set nets.

Last week my father caught a dozen in one evening. Each was returned to the water, and all were surprisingly powerful for their size: a tantalizing hint of the fun they could provide if allowed to reach adulthood.

This periodic abundance reminds me again of how lucky we are in Aruba, of how significant our island's nursery areas are for the life of the surrounding seas, and of how much more productive they could be with even the minimum of resource management.

A small marine protected area—stretching from the new Ritz-Carlton to Arashi Beach, for example—could provide an invaluable sanctuary for young fish that would later repopulate the island's flats and reefs. Area regulations would ban netting, spearfishing, wastewater discharge, and the anchoring of boats. Diving (on approved moorings), snorkeling, and catch-and-release fishing would be encouraged, and displaced commercial fishermen fairly compensated.

The proposed park would include some of the island's most popular tourist sites, including the wreck of the Antilla, visited last year by the Catlin Seaview Survey, part of an ambitious project to create a baseline record of the world's coral reefs. In their expedition report, project scientists were amazed at "the plentiful juvenile fish that roamed" the island's waters, "an indicator that these reefs are ecologically important." And, like others, they expressed concern that "the reefs of Aruba aren’t currently protected, especially because we have clear evidence of the great potential."

Since 2010, the Aruba Marine Park Foundation has been working to build public and government support for a protected area, so far with limited success. You can add your voice to the chorus by visiting their Facebook page and donating to the Save the Reef program.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Days Gone By

My favorite new book, Richard Wilbur's Anterooms, was a gift from my niece, who works at the Yankee Book Shop in Woodstock, Vermont. In the title poem, this stanza nicely captures the feeling I have right now:

Still, it strains belief
How an instant can dilate,
Or long years be brief.

Camping on Mongolia's Delger River, August 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another 36 Hours in Aruba

Elaine Glusac's story in the November 10 New York Times was well-informed and entertaining, but not everyone's circumstances allow for a stay at the Ritz. This is what we did last weekend.


3 p.m.

Still at work. Luckily, most Aruban commutes are short. (It's a small island.)

6 p.m.

Take the dog for a sunset swim at Eagle Beach. Park in the paved lot and walk north or south until you find the right combination of sand and solitude.

7:30 p.m.

Yes, you could go out to any number of tasty restaurants in the hotel district, including Amazonia, Papiamento, and Le Petit Café. Or you could do take-out from local favorites like El Chalan (Peruvian), Sultan (Lebanese), or Baby Back Grill. But sometimes it's just as relaxing to have dinner at home. Mix a martini with the duty-free gin you purchased in the baggage claim area at the airport. Then combine whatever the refrigerator has to offer in a stir-fry. Today's options: chicken, shallots, garlic, kale, endive, cilantro. Wash it down with a Spanish or Chilean red, which are reasonably priced here (unlike the French and Californian wines).


8 a.m.

Beach cleanup with students and faculty of the International School of Aruba, sponsored by AHATA, the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association. We worked on a stretch of Grapefields Beach, on the east coast, just north of Boca Grandi, one of the island's best kitesurfing spots.

12 noon

Cold beverage on Costa Riba's last weekend (they lost their lease). But Kamini's cooking will still be available for take-out.

1 p.m.

Lunch at home with a selection of fresh bread, cheese, and salad from Super Food, an immense market with a selection that will remind you of Amsterdam.

5 p.m.

Take your fly rod for a stroll along the uninhabited north shore. Watch for diving pelicans and hope the fish gods smile on your efforts. This horse-eye jack took a blue-and-white Clouser.

7 p.m.

Sashimi dinner, with Venezuelan avocado, Aruban cucumbers, and South Korea's Yangban Seasoned Laver.


8 a.m.

After breakfast, put the kayaks in north of the Ritz-Carlton and paddle along the lee shore. If you reach Boca Catalina before the tour boats, snorkel among schools of juvenile grunts, sergeant majors, and blue chromis. If not, take a leisurely swim south, towing the kayaks behind you, and watch for sea turtles, reef squid, and schools of bar jacks.

12 noon

Sashimi again, even better this time, as the fish has become more tender after overnighting in the refrigerator.

1 p.m.

Another clean-up operation, this one sponsored by FlyFishingAruba and focused on the mangrove shoreline south of the airport. We're very fortunate that so many islanders feel strongly about protecting the environment, but there's still plenty of work to be done. The roots of some mangroves were completely shrouded by layers of discarded plastic. (I've written elsewhere about other conservation-related efforts on Aruba, including invasive boa control.)

5 p.m.

On the way home, wave goodbye to King Willem and Queen Maxima, on their way back to the airport after a week on the island.

7 p.m.

And finally, another dinner at home, this time using the roasted cubanelle peppers that we neglected on Saturday, when the fish gods smiled. What's not to like about chile rellenos and fresh papaya salsa?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

South Florida Takes Notice of A Novel

Well, maybe notice is too optimistic a word, but the book did receive a little press while I was working in Mongolia. Pompano Today, a regional magazine (you can find the complete file here), published this interview:

And earlier in the summer, the Key West Citizen ran this bit: