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.


While 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 protection.


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 preservation.


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 language).


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 explains.


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.


In 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.