O’Hara hooks readers with Downstream






Given the choice between Netflix and fly-fishing, most college students would chose Netflix. Downstream might even the scales.

Co-written by Augustana’s own philosophy professor David O’Hara and Middlebury professor Matthew Dickerson, Downstream is, on the surface, a book about fly-fishing in the Appalachians.

However, according to English department chair Patrick Hicks, “Calling Dave’s book a book just about fly fishing is like calling Walden just a book about camping in New England.”

Both O’Hara and Dickerson grew up in the Appalachians, so they used the book to share a few childhood stories. It also contains narratives of their fishing trips as adults and of teaching their children the art of fly-fishing.

In the book, Dickerson and O’Hara explain fly fishing, since the craft is likely a foreign concept to many of their readers.

Contrasting fly fishing to Midwestern river fishing “might be a bit similar to the difference between hunting with a bow and hunting with a rifle,” Dickerson said. “To fly cast, you need to study the ecology of the stream and know more about what is living there.”

Neither author comes from an academically biological or ecological background, yet they both write about the ecology of the region.

Hicks noted that the authors “seamlessly integrate[d] philosophy, ecology, and observational grace” throughout the text.

In the book, the authors do concede that not only does the environment change, but humans sometimes also have valid reasons for changing their environments.

They write, “having been in the Maine woods during black fly season, it is at least possible to feel some sympathy toward the loggers who had no choice but to be in the woods.”

American environmentalist Bill McKibben called Downstream a “gentle book” that “is no activist’s tract.” According to Dickerson, avoiding partisanship was intentional, because it’s simpler to point fingers than to act.

“It’s easy to assign blame for environmental problems to others, unless one is honest and equitable,” he said.

The book also makes note of some good that humans have done for biodiversity, especially marine biodiversity.

Downstream discusses present issues of ecology, while also covering the unique landscapes and rivers of the Appalachian. O’Hara and Dickerson have also collaborated on a website called troutdownstream.net, which offers maps, essays and photos that are not included in the book.

Junior Jeff Larsen expressed his excitement about reading the Augustana professor’s book over fall break.

“O’Hara is a very prolific writer and a very thoughtful man,” he said.

Downstream can be checked out at the Mikkelsen Library, and it is also available online through Wipf and Stock Publishers or through Amazon.

Hicks Quote