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Interview: Getting Closer to the Ground with Dylan Tomine.

Interview: Getting Closer to the Ground with Dylan Tomine.

In his book ‘Closer to the Ground’ Dylan Tomine shares with us the joy of teaching, discovering, and exploring the natural world with our children. The book offers an intimate insight into Tomine’s world, as we are invited to join his family as they forage, fish, hunt, and eat together.
We love this book and were delighted when Gearoid recently had the chance to talk with Dylan.
Here they chat about Tomine’s philosophies, about what Tomine learned from his mother growing up, the similarities between the weather in Ireland and that in his native Pacific North West, about his friendship with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and about how spending time with his children has changed as they have gotten older.
But first, they begin, where Gearóid always begins, by talking about fishing…

 

Photo by Cameron Karsten.

 

I hear you're an honorary Irish citizen, what do you know about fishing in Ireland?

Ha! That’s funny, but my Irish citizenship is tenuous at best. It was conferred to me by my buddy, Dan Sweeney’s, mom. Probably not official enough to apply for a passport. I don’t know much about Irish fishing, although I’d love to learn more. I’ve heard the salmon and sea trout fishing can be good in certain places, and with reportedly similar weather to what we experience here in the Pacific Northwest, I think I’d probably feel right at home. Plus, I’m a sucker for Irish voices…from Shane MacGowan to Saoirse Ronan, I could listen all day.

 

I read that your mother used to drive you to fishing spots, then sit in the car and study for her PHD while you fished. How do you think that influenced what you do now for your own children?

A lot! My mom set such a good example of supporting our (my brother and me) interests, and her support led to so much happiness in our adult lives, it’s something I try to live up to all the time. One quick example: As my kids grew older, they both took a pretty strong interest in competitive team sports—Skyla plays volleyball and Weston plays basketball. The travel commitment for both is pretty high (I mean before the pandemic, and probably after, too) but I look at it like this—when they were younger, to spend time together, we did what I wanted to do. Now it’s my turn to spend time with them doing the things they want to do. Thankfully, they both still like to fish and forage with their old man. For that, I am truly lucky.

 

What's your earliest memory of eating wild food?

When I was really small, my parents were both college students and we lived pretty meagerly in the university’s married student housing. To supplement our diet—and for the enjoyment, I’m sure—my dad went salmon fishing quite a bit. He rented a freezer locker at the local grocery store, and I remember going there with him to stash more fish, and to bring home frozen smoked salmon to eat. We ate so much salmon in those days, it was decades before my dad even wanted to eat any more salmon at all.

 

Young Dylan Tomine and his father, Oregon.

 

“I look at it like this—when they were younger, to spend time together, we did what I wanted to do. Now it’s my turn to spend time with them doing the things they want to do”

 

 

I’m really enjoying reading your book ‘Closer to the Ground’. Why did you feel compelled to write such a book? And what do you hope readers take from it?

Thank you! I’m so happy you’re reading it, and even happier you’re enjoying it. I wrote it mostly because I could feel time with my kids going by so fast, and I’m really bad about making home videos. So it was a way to capture what we were like as a family, what we were doing and eating and thinking about during that specific, precious time in our lives. Kind of a verbal home movie. To be honest, I’m not really sure what I hope readers take from it, other than that they enjoy the stories and feel some inspiration to do things outside with their kids.

 

Dylan Tomine, Olympic State Park, Washington. Photo by Cameron Karsten.

 

“My mom says if you live here and wait around for it to stop raining, you’ll be stuck inside forever”

 

You live in the Pacific NorthWest of America, a climate not too dissimilar to our own climate here in Ireland - wet, wet, wet. (Seattle gets 969mm of rain per year and the west of Ireland gets 1184mm of rain per year) When it is wet here my family and I often head for the forest for walks and shelter. As an outdoor loving family, what do you and your family do to cope with the rain?

Yes, very similar climates, I think. The benefit is all the green, right? I think it’s easy to let the rain keep you inside—I personally hate being wet—but when we do go out in it, I always feel better and realize I’m enjoying it. So I think it’s mind over matter first. For actual activities, good rain gear, warm insulation, then just try to carry on with whatever you were wanting to do anyway. My mom says if you live here and wait around for it to stop raining, you’ll be stuck inside forever. I will admit, though, that camping in the rain does suck.

 

Photo by Cameron Karsten.

 

We love to cook outdoors on a fire. For me it is one of life's great luxuries. Do you cook outdoors much and what is your ideal wild food meal at home or outdoors?

We cook on the grill outside quite a bit, whether it’s steaks, ribs or salmon. And the smoker is also outside. I was just watching the Francis Mallman episode of “Chef’s Table” the other night, though, and that inspired me to try some other outdoor cooking. My ideal wild food meal is…well, I can’t really decide. Columbia River spring Chinook salmon steaks (22% fat!) salted and cooked hot over coals or the grill is probably my favourite meal of all. But I also love any wild game, especially elk and wild ducks—both cooked hot and fast.

I know what the angling bug is. The constant desire to go fishing can be debilitating. With dwindling stocks worldwide, do you ever worry that you are passing on a torturous vocation to you children?

Yes. I think about that all the time. It’s probably the main motivating factor in the fish conservation I’m so involved with. From fighting hatcheries and fish farms to supporting habitat restoration, all of it is a desperate attempt to ensure my kids will enjoy the same opportunities I did. But it’s tough. Our salmon and steelhead runs are clearly diminishing at pretty shocking rates, and I definitely fear that there won’t be enough for my kids, or theirs, to fish for them in the future. But all we can do is keep trying our best and hope things turn around.

 

Photo by Cameron Karsten

 

“It’s intuitive ... it’s attention to the weather, the river levels, the season, the light, the smells and sounds, all to increase success, which taps into some really ancient genetic wiring I think. I’ve tried to feel that connection when hiking or walking or skiing, and it just doesn’t happen.”

 

Does spirituality play a part in your fishing or foraging life?

Wow, that’s a really great question. And for me, hard to define. I would say there is a spiritual component to my outdoor pursuits, particularly fishing, but it doesn’t really fit into any of the established religious categories or even the more nature-based Native American spiritual traditions. This is purely my personal perspective on it, but for me, it’s intuitive and I don’t even really know how to articulate it, but it feels like something about connection to the natural world. And I only really feel that connection when I’m participating in part of the food chain—fishing, hunting or foraging. Then it’s attention to the weather, the river levels, the season, the light, the smells and sounds, all to increase success, which taps into some really ancient genetic wiring I think. I’ve tried to feel that connection when hiking or walking or skiing, and it just doesn’t happen. Does this even make any sense?

 

From fighting hatcheries and fish farms to supporting habitat restoration, all of it is a desperate attempt to ensure my kids will enjoy the same opportunities I did

 

What aspect of foraging or fishing are you most happy to have passed on to your children?

Three things, really: 1.) Interest. The fact that it’s still fun for the three of us to go fishing or mushroom picking is one of the best things in my life, and something that’s really been important during the quarantine. I’m grateful that the outdoors provides something we can enjoy together. 2.) Responsibility. It’s tough to spend much time outside these days without understanding what’s at stake and how much we stand to lose. The fact that my kids grew up with an activist spirit to protect the things and places we love is a great source of pride for me. 3.) Competence. I love that my kids know how to cast a fly rod, drive a boat, find mushrooms…these are skills that will help them in their adult lives, not necessarily for survival, but as something to instil confidence, something to fall back on for peace of mind. It’s what the writer Franklin Burroughs refers to as “country competence,” which in this day of electronic life, can be tough to come by.

 

Dylan Tomine and his children. Image courtesy of the author.

 

You're a personal friend of one of my heroes, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. What have you learnt from Yvon? And what's he like to fish with?

Oh man, I could go on and on about Yvon. I will say that he’s had such a profound effect on my life it’s difficult to quantify. But a lot of how I see the world, my commitment to activism and conservation, what I write about—all of it—comes in some way from hanging out with Yvon. And it trickles down through generations—my kids, who’ve spent many hours fishing with Yvon, also absorb a lot of how he sees the world and are moved to fight for what’s right. We’re probably just one of hundreds of families that feel the impact of the Chouinard family. I was talking to Dan Malloy (of the surfing Malloy brothers) at a party not too long ago and tried to explain Yvon’s impact on my life, and his eyes lit up and he said it was exactly the same for him and his brothers, and now their children, too. Fishing with Yvon is fun. He’s easy-going, quiet and enthusiastic. Loves to laugh. Always up for checking out what’s around the next bend. He jumps in and washes dishes, cooks awesome meals, sleeps on the couch. And on long drives or boat trips, if you can get him going with telling stories, the entertainment factor is off the charts.

Finally, at Superfolk we try to pass on our love of nature to our customers and readers. We’ve always tried to balance ‘doing good’ through our work whilst still making a living. How do you do that?

Wish I knew the answer! I try to do what you’re doing through my writing…although magazine and book writing, at least at my skill and speed level, doesn’t really qualify as “making a living.” I pay the mortgage through commercial writing, and it helps that I can work for companies I believe in. But I think that connection between art—whether it’s printmaking, or candle holders or words—and nature is incredibly important. I look at some of my favourite visual artists, like Russell Chatham or Frances Ashforth, and I can feel the experience of being outside through their translation of light into ink or paint. I try to do the same with my writing.

 

CONSERVATION.

Want to learn more about fish conservation? Dylan suggests a group called Wild Fish Conservancy who do good work in Northwest USA. You can learn more and donate at the link below.

SUPERFOLK RECOMMENDS:

Dylan, can you recommend a good book, film or podcast that our readers might enjoy?

So many great media options out there, but I’m still a book guy. Luddite at heart, I suppose. So I’m going to go old school: I recommend reading “Mink River” and the sequel, “The Plover” by Brian Doyle—gorgeous language (more of that Irish spirit) and uplifting stories, they don’t need to be read in sequence. Also “Ordinary Wolves” by Seth Kantner. I post a book recommendation every Wednesday on Instagram, so anyone who’s interested can jump on and check ‘em all out. So many good books our there!

 

What is the one piece of advice you try to live by?

This is dangerous to commit to something like that out in public, right? Ha! But I guess if it was just one thing it would be “Do what you say you’re going to do.”


Where are you most looking forward to fishing once the pandemic is over?

Everywhere, and with all the great friends I’ve been away from all this time! I keep thinking when it’s safe for everyone to travel, nobody’s going to want to go to work. Will the economy crash because of good news? I want to do the annual trip the kids and I take to Montana to fish with our friends Craig, Jackie and Yvon, and the usual time up in BC with Yvon, Rick, and the usual cast of characters. But why stop there? I want to go fish with friends in Argentina. And Iceland. And somewhere tropical…as long as it’s all with friends and family. Fun to dream, isn’t it?

This interview was conducted by Gearóid over email with Dylan in early 2021.

 

Dylan Tomine is a Patagonia ambassador, fisherman, producer of the film Artifishal, and author of Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods and at the TableHe lives with his kids and their furry, four-legged buddy Halo on an island in Puget Sound, where he’s working on a forthcoming collection of fishing, adventure and conservation stories.

Dylan Tomine Website.

Dylan Tomine Instagram.

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