WILD SOUTH BY PETER RYAN
One of my favorite outdoor writers of all times is Charley Waterman. He was one of the last “Jack of All Trades” outdoorsmen who did and loved it all and wrote about it: Big game, upland game, waterfowl, fishing, camping, etc. The great thing about Charley was that he admittedly was not the best hunter or fisherman, (or writer for that matter), but his love of the outdoors and the pursuit really came through in his work. And furthermore, Charley could tell a good story, which is an art that is lost on many new hook and bullet writers.
I recently had the good fortune of reviewing the new book by Peter Ryan entitled: Wild South: Hunting & Fishing the Southern Hemisphere. As I read, I was instantly struck by how much Peter Ryan reminded me of Charley Waterman, except his book covers hunting and fishing in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Papua New Guinea, and South America. As Charley Waterman was to the North American continent, Pete is the man who has done it all in the Southern Hemisphere and has written about it. And I would add that he writes well and tells a great story.
One might think that after having traveled so broadly and accomplished so much that Pete might be rich or prideful, but his humility really comes through in the book. Peter is not a rich man who uses money to buy trophy hunts in far off places, but rather is family man who worked hard and saved for his trips abroad and took advantage of the hunting and fishing opportunities that were available to him. From his book, we learn that Pete doesn’t hunt and fish to boost his ego, but rather does these things because he loves it and because it is an essential part of who he is. I can relate to this. Of himself, Peter humbly reports:
I was never as good as the best fly-fisher, tracker, marksman or dog-trainer. There was always too much to do, so many different disciplines that to master them all was impossible. It was enough for me to be the bumbler, Mr. Nobody from Nowhere, who loved it all and never gave up, not once. Maybe there’s a kind of honour in that.
Although I’ve always loved to hunt deer, I’m not much of a big game hunter. With that said, I really enjoyed Pete’s tails of chasing big game in the Southern Hemisphere. Pete has a way of transporting his reader to these remote wild places. One of my favorite things about this book is when Pete goes into detail about the people, their culture and languages. For example, he states regarding the Swahili’s interpretation of the lion’s roar:
To the Swahili-speaking peoples the lion’s long roar and finale of descending grunts is said to be “Nchi ya nani? Yengu. Yengu. Yengu” Whose land is this? Mine. Mine. Mine.” It’s stunning up close, especially if the cat is using a rock, hard ground or some other object to work his wall of sound.
Such detail shows a love and respect for the game animal as well as the different cultures he’s experienced. For Peter, hunting is not about the kill, as the story about his only lion hunt shows. Pete passed on a younger lion that most hunters would have taken and this was the only hunt for lion he will ever have. That says something.
My very favorite parts of the book are about fishing and bird hunting. Pete shares tales of hunting quail and pheasants in Australia and New Zealand, Perdiz in Argentina, and Francolin and Guinea fowl in Africa with his German Shorthair Pointer, Saxon. He also writes of fishing for Peacock Bass in the Amazon, Dorado and massive trout in Argentina, Trout in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (which really surprised me). I’ve read about all these great game fish before, but learned for the first time about Papua New Guinea’s Black Bass in this book. I was intrigued by the following description:
If you ask a mad-keen fly-fisherman what the toughest river fish in the world might be on a pound-for-pound basis, you’ll get a variety of answers – dorado, tigers, Saratoga, barra. Few will name the Papuan black bass, which is a pity. By any measure they may be the dark horse of the bunch. It’s only their remoteness and difficulty that has kept them out of the limelight.
Such description makes me want to strike out upon a quest to tackle such a fish. Heck, all of Pete’s stories about fishing stirred within me a bit of wanderlust to see the world and to experience such wild and beautiful places.
But this book is more than just about hunting and fishing. It is really about life and man’s place within nature. Peter had the rare opportunity to become a hunting guide in Africa, but he shares that he turned this down because of his desire to raise a family. On the flipside, in the Epilogue, Peter tells of another instance of a job offer with excellent pay halfway across the world in a big city and the choice he made:
Everyone has a choice like this, in some way, at some stage. It’s a battle between the head and the heart.
It would be impossible to match that kind of income locally. If we took it we would never again have to worry about getting a new car, or fixing the hot-water system, or retiling the bathroom . . . the thousand and one cares that wear you down. There were other advantages too. The job offered a new beginning after some hard times. On the other hand, life in a sprawling industrial city wasn’t the dream we’d been working towards. VJ and I talked about it all night and got lost in the details, but in the end realized the only advantage the offer had was the money. It was that simple.
Nothing else about it was better than the dream we had been pursuing. There didn’t seem to be any point to slaving away to make more money to buy a place we liked when we already had one. Some would call it foolish but we stayed.
When shall we live, if not today?
Amen, Pete. I don’t call that foolish one bit. On the one hand, he could have chosen all nature as an African Hunting guide but no family, and on the other, had he accepted the good paying job in the city, he could have chosen money over his beloved outdoors. I totally understand why Pete made the choices he did. There are so many things in this beautiful world that are more important than money. As an outdoorsman and a father of six kids, I greatly admire Pete’s decisions and believe that he has his priorities in order and has found a balance between his two loves: His family and the outdoors.
In short, for those who love the outdoors for the right reasons, this is an excellent book. I am glad to have the opportunity to review it and I highly recommend it. Follow Peter Ryan on Facebook at the following LINK.