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From the Bottom Up: One Man's Crusade to Clean America's Rivers
From the Bottom Up: One Man's Crusade to Clean America's Rivers
Chad Pregracke
National Geographic, 2007
320 pp., $26.00

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The Norman Maclean Reader
The Norman Maclean Reader
Norman Maclean
University Of Chicago Press, 2008
304 pp., $30.00

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Todd C. Ream


Fly Fishing with Heraclitus

Restoring rivers and memories.

If you're fortunate enough to fly fish with Heraclitus, you don't quibble over details. I initially suggested we cast our lines onto the waters of Montana's great trout streams. I knew he admired the work of Norman Maclean and figured he would appreciate the opportunity to wade into the Blackfoot. Heraclitus insisted, however, that if he was going to come all the way to America, he would fish the quintessentially American river—the Mississippi. Yes, A River Runs Through It was a very impressive book, but he wanted to stand on the banks of the river where Mark Twain learned his trade as a pilot, the river that inspired Huckleberry Finn. Heraclitus knew we would have to cast streamers into the Mississippi—on the Blackfoot, we would have used dry flies—but that was a compromise he was willing to make.

As we approached the Mississippi near Hannibal, Missouri, I could tell that my companion's mood was shifting from great anticipation to something pretty close to despair. Certainly, the man who famously said that "one cannot step twice into the same river" knew ahead of time that we wouldn't be fishing in the river Mark Twain described. But he wasn't expecting what we found: a river teeming with garbage, littered with beer cans, cigarette butts, shreds of plastic, and unidentifiable scraps of metal, and topped with a thin residue of motor oil. The changes that had taken place between Twain's day and our own were gradual, perhaps imperceptible day-by-day, but their cumulative result was jolting.

We were about to leave when we noticed a group of barges working their way down the Mississippi. As they stopped in various places, their crew appeared to reach into the water and draw out some of the larger items fouling the river: tires, oil drums, discarded appliances. We hailed them when they came upon us. Their leader, a young man by the name of Chad Pregracke, told us they were cleaning up the Mississippi—and working more generally to raise awareness amongst ...

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