Certain books come along once in a generation that change the lens through which we view the natural order. Now there's Steve Chapple's Confessions of an Eco-Redneck - Or How I Learned to Gut-Shoot Trout & Save the Wilderness at the Same Time.
Well, OK, maybe it's not a paradigm
changer. For one thing, Chapple's collection of 25 essays, some of
which have previously appeared in Sports Afield and other outdoor
magazines, are too bloody-minded to impact your basic academic
paradigm. Also far too funny and ironic.
I've personally never been much for blood sport (unavoidable wars
and contact-karate being two exceptions), I appreciate Chapple's
willingness to challenge the urban romanticization of nature that
sometimes confuses animal rights with species
While decrying the slob hunter,
Chapple asks, "Who has done more for wetlands than duck hunters?
More to stop nickel-and-dime trailer courts, subdivisions, and
septic tanks at streamside than trout and bass organizations? More
to convince farmers not to rainforest-torch the cover that runs
alongside country roads than pheasant beaters? Those who enjoy
tying into the bull trout, that tiger shark of the Northern
Rockies, are learning that acid mine waste must be stopped in the
headwaters, because the bulls are like prizefighters with bad
lungs. They can't stand even minimal pollution."
Chapple argues, perhaps too optimistically,
that hunters and fishers (the people, not the weasels) are
responding to where their true interests lie by defending
wilderness and habitat. "The backlash to the backlash has begun,"
he claims. Of course, for every Ducks or Trout Unlimited, there's a
Safari Club International or Congressional Sportsman's Caucus
backed by big oil and mining interests. Perhaps Eco-Redneck works
best not as a polemic but as an inspiration for those who seek to
put the pleasure principle back into
Admittedly, one or two of the
essays run toward the tendentious. "The Bambi Syndrome" once again
argues all the ways the classic Disney animation is hostile to
hunting, while in "Say It Isn't So, Cindy," Chapple's appreciation
of nude models protesting fur seems to distract from his argument
for the health benefits of eating what People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals calls "fishe's flesh" (he rightly takes PETA
to task for its cruel torturing of the English
Not even Cleveland Amory, however,
could fault his shooting technique in "Blowing Away the Media - TV
hunting," a report on the unique Montana sport of killing
televisions released into the woods: "We need interactive shopping
channels about as much as geese need cheeseburgers," he
At his best, in writerly and
reflective essays like "The Mother's Day Caddis Hatch," Chapple
manages to capture for us the subtle but sturdy connections between
landscape, community and family history.
recalling a long-gone day of fishing with his father, where they
met and helped an old cowboy and his dying, wheelchair-bound buddy
catch a final trout, he gently reminds us of our need to be good
stewards of this earth, since we'll all be returning to it,
probably sooner than we might like.
David Helvarg writes in Washington, D.C., and
is author of The War Against the Greens.