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Boys by stream with fishing rods.

Embedded History

...for the boy liked the headmaster and had fishing expeditions with him that brought back some of the old activities of the Strath...On the three-mile Saturday walk to the loch and the more subdued three miles back new aspects of the world were opened out to the boy......This kind of conversation was sporadic...The boy was not being taught, he was learning by the way from a grown man who knew the traditions of the tribe.

Neil Gunn (1956)

Fishing .... is not a rite of solitary purification, a leaving of everything behind, but a rite of companionship.... Fishing, here, is understood as an art, and as such it is emblematic of all that makes us companions with one another, joins us to nature, and joins the generations together. This is the connective power of culture.

Wendell Berry (1988/1990)


Wendell Berry is using the example of fishing to describe how rural cultures express, embody and take forward the relationship between their environments and history. This transmission Path between trees. A bedrock of cultural transmission comes in the form of the story. of culture is inter-generational. In doing so he describes well the interaction Neil Gunn had had with a mentor 80 years previously in a country some 4,000 miles away. Both writers see that a comprehensive understanding of the world in which we live needs to be deeply rooted. And that those roots develop best when they form within cultures that still cleave Looking across Ha Noi from a tower block. Underlying much of Berry’s writing is the tension between urban and rural cultures. to nature, Two lambs looking out from behind a tree. What is this ‘nature’ to which we may cleave?

and are nurtured by the learning Man guiding the hands of a child using a lathe. Are our cultures subject to the same kind of guided re-invention as skills? of previous generations and the life around them.

The Gunn quote is from his autobiographical The Atom of Delight, pages 144/5 of the 1986 Polygon edition, Edinburgh. The Berry quote is from his What Are People For? on page 66 of the 2010 edition published by Counterpoint, Berkeley.

The boys were fishing in a seasonal river which during the winter was a mere stream. The photo was taken in the town of Tĩnh Gia, Thanh Hóa Province, Vietnam. Since the photograph was taken the stream has been canalised under a dual carriageway; and the town has been ‘promoted’ to the status of a ‘district level town’ and renamed to Nghi Sơn - very un-embedded history at work.

Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 8th July 2023

Murphy on duty to this site