I recently reread Burton L. Spiller’s Fishin’ Around. Many know Burt Spiller as “the poet laureate of [ruffed] grouse hunting,” a sentiment to which I whole-heartedly agree. Even though he died just a few months before I was born, Burt’s writing speaks to me like few other authors have. When I found out that Spiller wrote a book about fishing, I immediately got on abebooks.com and ordered Fishin’ Around. I would recommend it to anyone without reservations.
In this “politically correct” day and age it seems that it is almost taboo to speak or write about things of a spiritual nature. In fact, some books in the outdoor sporting genre are actively preaching that there is no God. I don’t know about you, but reading books with such themes just leaves me feeling empty.
One of the things that I appreciate most about Burt Spiller is that he was not afraid to share his faith in God in his writings. Now Burt did not try to shove religion down anyone’s throat, but he certainly did not try to hide his faith either. It was just a part of him that comes through in his stories. I deeply appreciate his writings as I too believe that the outdoor sports that we pursue are–to some degree–spiritual in nature.
It being Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” I thought I would share with you an uplifting passage from Fishin’ Around. I hope that it brightens your day as it did mine. In “Fisherman’s Luck,” Spiller writes about a parson who became one of his favorite fishing partners:
I met my [parson] at a Boy Scout jamboree. He was breaking eggs into a giant frypan, which was something any Boy Scout could do, but he was picking them up three at a time with his right hand, cracking the shells against the edge of a saucer which he held in his left, forcing them open with a clever twist of his thumb, and sliding them, with a sort of assembly-line motion, into the saucer for a quick check for an overripe specimen, and then, with the yolks still unbroken, sliding them into the sizzling frypan.
“Look, brother,” I said. “Are you really doing that, or do I just imagine that you are? Why, the thing’s impossible. It is a miracle. How did you learn to do it?”
“Working my way through college as a short-order cook,” he said. “It required a lot of practice–with the other fellow’s eggs. But miracles do happen. I’ll tell you about one after we have taken care of the boys’ inner needs.”
So it was that later in the day when the tents were all set, and the fires had begun to twinkle along the sandy beach, that the parson told me the story that marked the beginning of a friendship which I still highly prize.
“I was plug casting for bass,” the parson said, “and I had taken the boy with me. He’s four, and has already shown some interest in fishing. I was a hundred feet out in the lake, casting toward shore when it happened. A backlash! The plug came back like a bullet. I didn’t have time to move an inch before the plug with its treble hook struck the boy full in the face. He was screaming hysterically as I got to him and got him into my arms and held his hands, which were clawing for the plug. The hook, I could see, was buried in his eye.
“It was a minute before I realized what a predicament I was in. I had intended to make only a few casts and I had no pliers. I had to hold the boy’s hands, and that left me only the other one with which to handle an oar. Did you ever try to row a boat with only one hand and one oar. and with a four-year-old boy screaming from pain? I tried it, and I’m telling you it can’t be done. I prayed. Believe me, I prayed! And then the miracle happened. Doc Brown, our town doctor, had come out to fish for a half hour before going to his office. He heard the racket and came over. he had his tackle box along, and in a minute he had the hook out. It couldn’t just happen. Something that was not mere chance took over in the next few seconds. The hook had pinned the upper and lower lids together over the eye without touching the eyeball.”
That was the beginning of our friendship.
And it is writing like this that makes Spiller one of my favorite outdoor authors. In closing, I want to share one of my favorite quotes from Fishin’ Around: “I believe that the intimate contact with nature which all fishermen enjoy works a change in the inner man, and makes of him a humbler and wiser person.” To this I say, “Amen, brother.” From all that I’ve read by and about Burt Spiller he was a humble and good man. William Tapply’s stories about hunting with Burton Spiller are some of my all-time favorites (see “Burt’s Gun”) and his goodness shines through. I wish that I could have met the man myself! Maybe someday. I completely agree with Burt and the parson that miracles still happen!