Rick Bragg said one of the reasons he wrote Ava’s Man was “to give one more glimpse into a vanishing culture for the people who found themselves inside such stories, the people who shook my hand and said, ‘Son, you stole my story.’”
Those glimpses into a vanishing culture make Ava’s Man read like an adventure story and cultural history all bound together. He seasons the book with old sayings, such as the one about how a snapping turtle will bite you and won’t let go until it thunders. I heard that growing up in rural North Louisiana, and I was forevermore scared of snapping turtles even though I wasn’t sure I had ever come close to one. The very idea of an animal taking hold for so long certainly elevated a creature’s power and caused children to look on in wonder at the adult — and to be very, very afraid.
Nature and its ways was often a subject of stories told on the porch or at the dinner table. And one of life’s greatest mysteries will always be what constitutes good fishing. On page 18, Rick Bragg recounts a time he and his brother Sam were fishing:
“Then he stared up at a perfect blue sky, a sky without a cloud.
“And everybody knows,” he said, “the big fish won’t bite on a bluebird day.”
I just looked at him, because I did not have a rock to throw. On the one day I outfish him, he is spouting poetry.
Yet I could not help but wonder where that phrase, that lovely phrase, came from. Who still talks like that, I wondered, in a modern-day South that has become so homogenized, so bland, that middle school children in Atlanta make fun of people who sound Southern? I found out it was just something my grandfather and men like him used to say, something passed down to him, to us, like a silver pocket watch.”
I looked into the term “bluebird day” and found it generally means a day without clouds.
If you’re into fishing, a bluebird day is sunny and clear. On that kind of day, the fish won’t bite. Clear, bluebird days usually appear after a cold front has passed through. Fishermen will tell you that fish can sense bad weather coming and will be really hungry. Once the storm passes and that bluebird day appears, fish aren’t as active. The water may be churned up, making it hard for fish to see the bait passing by. Or the fish have full bellies and don’t care to swim after the bait.
Now, if you’re in ski country and it’s wintertime, then a bluebird day is when the sky is clear and there’s fresh powder on the slopes, a fine day for skiing. The pretty little Mountain Bluebird, which lives out in the Rockies, is one solid shade of sky blue.
Mountain Bluebird (photo by Terry Sohl)