19 December 2008

George F. Grant (1906-2008): A Eulogy

[From the eulogy I delivered at George's funeral Thursday 06 November 2008).]

George Grant appreciated the beauty, solitude, and honesty of wild nature. Moreover, as a "Butte Rat" -- native son of the great mining town, Butte America -- George understood that surface appearances give little indication of underground reality. He learned to see beneath the surface, both as a fly tyer of nymphs and when it came to the politics of environmentalism.

Others today will talk about George's commitment to family and environmentalism. I want to place George within the canon of angling and environmental literature with a few readings from the work of great writers such as Richard Brautigan (1935-1984), Wallace Stegner (1909-1993), and Norman Maclean (1902-1990).

The first reading is from Richard Brautigan, "By his sister who is in the crazy place now," Trout Fishing in America. It commemorates the spirit of George's life as a fly tyer:

Once, while cleaning the trout before I went home in the almost night, I had a vision of going over to the poor graveyard and gathering up grass and fruit jars and tin cans and markers and wilted flowers and bugs and weeds and clods and going home and putting a hook in the vise and tying a fly with all that stuff and then going outside and casting it up into the sky, watching it float over clouds and then into the evening star.

The second reading is from Ted Leeson, The Habit of Rivers: Reflections on trout streams and fly fishing. It commemorates George's love for a very special trout stream--the Big Hole River:

We see some rivers better than we see others. For whatever reason -- our histories with them, an unusual powerful aesthetic rapport, some unspecifiable eloquence -- a few such rivers, perhaps only one, come into focus for each of us more readily and significantly than the rest. They grow into places of deep fixity in life and align themselves like compass points in the mind's geography.

The third reading is from Wallace Stegner, "Haunted by Waters," an essay written to commemorate the life of George's close contemporary, Norman Maclean:

The Montana of his youth was a world with the dew still on it. Perhaps the time of youth always has dew on it, and perhaps that is why we respond to Maclean's evocation of his. But I lived in Montana, or close to it, during those same years, adn it was a world younger, fresher, and more touched with wonder and possibility than any I have since known. After seventy years, I still dream it; and when it is revived by these stories it glows with a magical light, like one of those Ansel Adams photographs that are more magnificent than the scenes they pretend to represent.

The fourth and last reading is from Maclean himself--the final words of A River Runs Through It:

Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.

Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and teh sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.


Max said...


Thank you for posting your remembrances of George Grant. As a teenager, I looked forward to reading his columns in the MT Standard every other Thursday, and I have always been inspired by his approach to the Great Depression, which is all the more relevant today.


~Sheepheads said...

Well done Dr. Munday.

troutbirder said...

The last two posts. What a wonderful story and tribute. You were were very lucky to have known this man as he was fortunate to have you as such a good friend.
I think it was 1994 that my eldest son (he was earning his Masters at MSU in Bozeman) spent several days camping and fishing along the Big Hole. Then he returned to Minnesota for his marriage. Only fond memories for me now and a river runs thru them.....