But it’s a temporary thing, only until I finish his latest book, Fish Won’t Let Me Sleep — Obsessions of a Lifelong Flyfisherman. Mr. Babb is one of the most entertaining writers in the fish-lit genre, and that’s saying a lot because ever since Dame Juliana Berners’s Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle emerged in the pre-Amazon days of 1486 there has been a steady pardon-the-pun stream of books about fishing, a stream that has grown to Kennebeckian proportions in the past several decades. I would guess-timate that more books have been written (or at least typed) about fishing than any other sport, and I would place a small wager on that guess but I don’t want to have to be the one to count them.
A sampling of this body of literature perches on my camp’s bookshelves, and many more of the genre reside with me at home in Rockland. Babb’s book went with me to Upper Dam on the 20th of May when I opened the camp for the season.
It’s the same every season, a bit of excitement, a smidgeon or two of apprehension: turning the key, opening the door and stepping into my camp for the first time since closing the door the previous fall. The first sensation is usually relief. It’s just as I left it! Closer inspection determines how much fun the mice had while I was away, and how much stuffing they pulled out of the elderly armchair by the stove and how much bathroom soap they ate (why do they like to eat soap??) and how many little droppings they dropped. This year, minimal stuffing, some soap gnawing, few droppings.
Note that my camp is unelectrified. It has propane lights, propane range, propane water heater, propane refrigerator (I am still mystified by the refrigerator — I light a flame at the bottom and it makes ice!). Water arrives through a 2″ PVC line that runs more or less above ground from the Upper Dam Camp Owners Association water tower.
Each fall I have to drain the Rube Goldbergian plumbing, about half of which I am responsible for Goldberging, or face busted pipes in the spring. Each fall I think I have drained the plumbing completely. Each spring I face busted pipes. This year the Bronze Age faucet manifold behind the ancient enameled cast iron kitchen sink had cracked. One of the connections in the shower was squirting water. A joint in the cold-water line running off the main from the tower had popped open. Repairs required hardware, the hardware store was closed until Monday. I decamped and went to the venerable old Rangeley Inn (and its cozy tavern) for a night, and on Monday patronized the venerable Rangeley Lakes Builders Supply and returned to camp to do battle with the plumbing. The tide of battle ebbed and flowed, but at last the beast was subdued and the water flowed through the acceptable channels. As did the propane, providing light, hot water and hot supper. The woodstove provided the heat — May never did warm up much — and at last I could sit on the mouse-depleted cushion of the armchair and read Mr. Babb’s latest book, which I had acquired at the May meeting of the George’s River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, in their usual second-story meeting space at Flatbread in Rockport. Babb was the featured speaker, and he read a couple of chapters from the book, in a quiet voice that despite his many years in Maine still carries traces of his Tennessee boyhood. He later signed copies of Fish Won’t Let Me Sleep for purchasers, myself among them. When it was my turn I reminded Mr. Babb that he had published a story of mine in Gray’s almost 20 years ago, titled “Blue Dot Trout,” about fishing in tiny hike-in ponds that show up as little blue dots in the DeLorme’s Maine Atlas & Gazetteer. He professed to remember that story, which of course flattered me, and I did not remind him that he had rejected my next submission, which of course had crushed me at the time.
James Babb is a bit of a character, in the best sense of the epithet, and that character rises like a West Branch caddis hatch off the pages of this, his fourth book. Am I wading too deeply into simile? One of the most winning facets of Babb’s character is his regular-guy-ness and his frank amazement that his self-taught writing skills led him to the editorship of the elegant quarterly Gray’s Sporting Journal and to bucket-list fishing destinations around the world. Whether speycasting for salmon in Scotland or cranking in giant brookies in Labrador, Babb sometimes has to pinch himself when he realizes, “Hey, this is my office! Workin’ here!”
James Babb didn’t keep me awake the whole week at camp, but in my waking hours when I wasn’t fishing I was reading, and I can report I did sleep better after finishing his book.