"Body of Water" is set in the Bahamas and focuses on fly fishing for the speedy, elusive bonefish. The lyrical narrative strikes a delicate balance between reflective memoir and reportage.
At a challenging time of his life, author Chris Dombrowski traveled to the Deep Water Cay Club, where he met David Pinder, a world renowned fishing guide. Return visits follow as the author is drawn to Pinder as a mentor, a guide whose patience, honesty, insight into humanity, simplicity and faith Dombrowski holds up as ideals.
Bonefishing is done in shallow water along tidal flats where the sun reflects on a surface that changes moment to moment, and keen sight is essential to both guide and fisherman. Yet in one of several ironies, Pinder — whose remarkable ability to see bonefish was instrumental in establishing the successful industry — develops cataracts and is sidelined with a meager pension.
But while fishing, the author discovers that even with cataracts, Pinder "sees" — an intuitive act based on long experience and a Zen-like attentiveness to his surroundings.
The ironies multiply. Pinder's guiding prowess attracts an influx of wealthy fishermen eager for the adrenaline rush that a bonefish strike brings. But more anglers mean fewer fish, and the booming development threatens the supporting ecosystem.
In addition, bonefish, as their name suggests, are not high on anyone's list of edible fish. The anglers practice catch-and-release fishing. They are not interested in where their next meal is coming from, unlike the guides, who are not even allowed into the famous fishing clubs. But without skilled guides and the promise of strikes, there would be no customers.
"Body of Water" is about bonefishing, but it is also about ecosystem exploitation, class conflict, wealth inequity, race relations, Bahamian history, mentor-mentee relationships, nature as the catalyst for self-awareness, and more.
Thoreau and Aldo Leopold loom large, and the author is familiar with principles of Zen. Dombrowski's language is often metaphorical and impressionistic. And most important to the author, fishing demands attention, patience, wonder and balance. It is praying.
John Schifsky is an emeritus professor of English at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.