Highlanders Without Kilts
Highlanders Without Kilts is a story of love, war, uncommon disaster, and triumph. In 1917, the world was embroiled in a terrible war, the likes of which had never been seen nor imagined. Canada, still a dominion of Great Britain, was early in the fight and sent seven-and-a half percent of its population to fight for King and Country, ultimately contributing a force of more than 600,000 soldiers, nurses and chaplains. In April of that year, the entire Canadian Expeditionary Force, fighting together for the first time, battled their way to the top of Vimy Ridge in northern France. In December, the city of Halifax was rocked by a devastating accidental explosion that caused 9000 casualties.
Highlanders Without Kilts is the story of one Nova Scotia battalion’s odyssey, and one family’s dreadful loss. From the unspeakable death and destruction came a nation’s altered sense of self and a newborn path to its future.
The River Home
Arno Warren had been a child of privilege. His physician father could afford to send him to an expensive preppy school in New Hampshire where, as a student, Arno taught Nordic skiing and sailing. At prep school, the athletic boy was introduced to the high art of fly fishing by one of the young teachers. The attraction took root, and Arno would be in love with the fly rod for the rest of his life. He worked for a few years in Montana and in South America as a fishing guide before enrolling in medical school. He was smitten with fly fishing.
After a pilgrimage to northern Maine for a fishing trip upon completing his residency, he turned down several job offers in practices in the city, and put-up a shingle in Roslyn. It was springtime, and for the first few months in practice the young Dr. Warren became concerned that his decision to start his career in such a rural place was a mistake. He feared his skills would deteriorate over time, and eventually he would become bored professionally. He wasn’t quite sure how such a fate would weigh against the “benefit” of living close to world-class fly fishing.
The troubles coming through the door were important enough to those who were sick, yet made for a pretty mundane patient load for a new physician. His cases included a dog bite, a broken ankle, a case of chronic fatigue, a dislocated finger, a couple seeking marriage counseling (at least, the wife was), a short run of allergy problems, a fishing fly in the neck, another in an ear, two in scalps, one in an elbow, and another square between the shoulder blades, which took some digging to get out. There was one bad case of poison ivy, and one sick five-year-old who uncovered a big bag of ribbon candy in the bottom of a buffet drawer, and ate the whole thing before being discovered – which probably would have been alright, except the candy was estimated to be twenty-two years old. After one gentleman showed up at the office as a walk-in and (after having his vitals recorded and filling out a complete health history form) basically just wanted to complain about how bad the black flies were that spring, Doc Warren became convinced he had made the wrong decision. Then three things happened to change his mind forever.
Stoneflies & Turtleheads
There is a good deal of novelty for me in Stoneflies and Turtleheads. It was my first attempt at writing something which I wanted to write. I have written a few articles for trade journals, and for some time I wrote gardening pieces for a small Maine newspaper, but at that time my wife and I owned a large nursery business, and although writing the column was enjoyable, it was writing I felt I had to do.
Stoneflies and Turtleheads is a collection of essays in which, for better or worse, I try to explain away my lifelong obsession with fly fishing, all while attempting to touch on the sheer beauty of a proper roll cast, of the excitement of a rise, of the love of fishing for a wide variety of fish, of the dedication to the selfishness required in a life of adventure and of the simple romance and poetry of fly fishing. It’s a tall order.
Throughout my twenties and thirties, if I wasn’t going somewhere, I was restless and would feel “off” and not myself. I needed to see the world, to smell it, touch it and try to understand it and as I did, I fished it. I never went anywhere without my SAGE 5-weight fly rod, a single fly box that served as my entire tackle box and a few fly tying tools. I stopped and fished every bit of water I could on four continents and although I was often “skunked” I was never disappointed for I knew then, even as a youngster that I was lucky indeed.
When I look back on two decades of traveling on a shoestring, I realize my idea of adventure may have been a bit askew. It wasn’t enough to see the Eiffel Tower, I had to find a couple of the ironworker-maintenance guys and get drunk with them in the Left Bank. It wouldn’t do just to see the Wailing Wall, or to touch it … I wanted to dig in the dirt with an archeologist and live for a week with a Jewish family, then with the Bedouin and another week with a Palestinian family. (You would think I would have learned something.) In short, I tried like hell to get dirty … to find out what made people in other cultures tick. Along the way, I did find out what made them tick and quite often, from the Middle East to the Arctic and from South America to Europe, I watched people suffer and die, laugh and persevere, and I fell in love more than a few times- with people and places. The only constants I enjoyed were an open mind, my fly rod and the basic goodness that can be found in individuals in all cultures if you stay long enough and get off the beaten path. I felt so awake when traveling in such fashion, and these days the feeling returns every time I stand in a river, and watch as my fly line cuts through the last hour of sunlight, parting the cloud of mayflies ten feet high and somehow lands gently on the water.