“In an attempt to understand, sometimes you don’t need to know more, you just need to know different”…Isaak Greenhart.
SPIRIT of the SYCAMORE
by James Hurley
"How diverse and seemingly unrelated are the paths people take in their pursuit to discover something. Once our Contest started, it truly became more about the men competing in it than about trout or trout flies or any noble quest for perfection. How small and ignoble a world can become when one loses sight of one’s intentions, and how they are pursued.”
By James Hurley
In The Contest, a new voice in the annals of fly fishing fiction comes to the fore. James Hurley crafts a soul-searching tale about friendship and the pursuit of perfection regardless of personal cost.
Benedict Salem (BS to friends) is a man in need of change. His uninspired actions and unrealized potential buried in daily routines becomes painfully obvious after a brief, serendipitous, encounter with Bill and Sarah Cahill owners of the Crossing House, a historic Maine inn on a particularly fine stretch of trout water. He makes the decision to move to Maine in an attempt to avoid the consequences of a piece of life-changing insight from Bill: “It’s difficult to accept that there comes a time when you can’t do anything about making your life what you wanted it to be. It won’t get any better.” The history of the Inn and its river becomes a source of inspiration to BS after Bill allows him to read the journals of a previous owner of the Crossing House, Sam Tippett. The journals tell the story of the Inn and Sam’s desire to establish the river as a haven for trout. The one constant in Ben Salem’s life is a passion for fly fishing so he becomes instrumental in creating the Samuel Tippett Fly Fishers (The STIFFS). This group of ten friends with diverse personalities function in relative civility for the sole purpose of having a few drinks and doing what fishermen do; exaggerate their abilities, accomplishments and position in the world of angling. But a rather innocent challenge to an article about the perfect trout fly, penned by BS for a monthly Maine sporting magazine, results in The Contest. What starts out as a friendly game to determine the best trout fly to represent their new club quickly descends into a rivalry that threatens to overtake reason and creates situations that require BS to make difficult moral and philosophical decisions. Ultimately, the confrontation does far more to expose the imperfections in men than it does to prove the existence of perfection. The Contest speaks to the belief that “perfect” like “beauty” is a personal truth and its occurrence is an uncommon experience and should be cherished for those very reasons. In a deftly interwoven tale that explores camaraderie and sportsmanship, firmly rooted in the tradition of The River Why and A River Runs Through It, The Contest uses the metaphor of fly fishing to explore the deeper significance of being human.
Spirit of the Sycamore follows four years in the colonial life of Isaak Greenhart and offers a view of the universal conflicts, both personal and political, inherent in the intrigue of revolutionary America. Isaak’s fateful encounter with two brothers on the battlefield outside Bennington sparks an enduring friendship that inextricably connects and influences the lives of all three men.
Isaak’s own search for independence and truth plays out in the self-proclaimed, independent Republic of Vermont. He is compelled to confront his dedication to the cause when he becomes involved in the political affairs of this territory as it battles for its very right to exist. After the deaths of his parents and brother, Isaak maintains, and refuses to sacrifice, the valued friendship he shares with his mentor and fellow passionate angler, William Aldrich, a wealthy merchant and eventual Loyalist supporter. Although a true believer in independence for both America and Vermont, Isaak’s association with perceived enemies is ultimately responsible for a love compromised, a senseless killing and the unjust implementation of a just law.
Isaak is able to find comfort and purpose in resurrecting and pursuing a dream he shared with his brother; one that represents, for him, the value of individual passions over intolerant positions and the personal agendas of political leaders.