Pam Mathews’ book about Fly Rod Crosby is a keeper, and the illustrations by Heidi Kendrick are awesome. If I didn’t love the book so much, I would have ripped out a few of Heidi’s illustrations, framed them, and put them up on our walls.
A lot of the book focuses on Fly Rod’s childhood. I had no idea she suffered her whole life from the illness consumption which killed her dad and brother. That makes her accomplishments in the great Maine outdoors even more amazing. There were times when her breathing troubles convinced doctors that she would not recover.
Pam writes: One day after she’d been housebound for months, she threw down her book in despair. “Oh, Mother, I’m tired of staying in the house when the woods keep calling me,” she complained. Her mom sent her up the road to a farmhouse where Fly Rod could sit outside next to a stream and feel better.
The farmer gave Fly Rod and old fishing pole and showed her how to cast a line in the stream, and immediately she fell in love with fishing. Heidi’s illustration of Fly Rod pulling a brook trout out of the stream is unforgettable.
It didn’t take long for Fly Rod to fall in love with hunting too. As a kid, Fly Rod was fearless, spending lots of time on the waters and in the woods surrounding her home in Phillips.
While hunting and fishing at that time were considered sports for men only, Fly Rod knew better. She told her friends, “I can shoot a rifle and hunt as well as any man, and I often catch more fish!” She even made significant changes to the long skirts and delicate blouses that women were expected to wear, making it easier to hunt and fish.
As an adult she traveled the state, often with guides, and she began writing about her adventures in the local paper that nicknamed her Fly Rod.
Townspeople of Phillips helped build the train tracks from Farmington to their town and Fly Rod was on the first train trip from Farmington to Phillips. Even that trip was an adventure because the train jumped off the tracks, but eventually they made it to Phillips. Fly Rod began working with the Maine Central Railroad to bring more people to Maine.
In 1895 Fly Rod participated in the first sportsman’s exposition at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The following year, she arranged to move 105 trout and salmon from Maine to New York for the show, which stunned the crowds. That was the show where Fly Rod became friends with Annie Oakley.
Fly Rod worked for years to create rules for hunting, fishing and guiding and when the Maine Guide program finally began, she was given the first license.
I especially appreciate Fly Rod’s focus on conservation. Pam tells a story that one day, heading home from Rangeley, Fly Rod caught 55 trout in 44 minutes, releasing most of them. Concerned that most people did not release fish, she began writing about catch and release.
I’ve fished those same waters, but I never caught 55 trout in 44 minutes!
Fly rod was also religious and raised $5000 to build a chapel in Oquossoc which is still in use today.
Fly Rod fished into her 80s and lived to be 93. That is astonishing, considering her lifelong illness. It’s particularly nice that there is a Fly Rod Crosby Trail in the Western mountains which she loved.
The book is called Cornelia Fly Rod Crosby – Champion of Maine and I guarantee you will treasure it.
At the back of the book is this wonderful quote from Fly Rod’s book, The Maine Woods, published in 1908:
“Someone once said of love, ‘For people who have never known it, any description seems overdrawn, and for people who have it, it is quite beyond description.’ This is surely true of a life out of doors – on a lake, by the laughing brook, in the wilderness, on the mountain top, or in the valley.”
And on the back cover is this great quote from our governor, Janet Mills:
“Pam Matthews’ words and Heidi Kendrick’s illustrations have us fishing alongside Cornelia Fly Rod Crosby, healed by Maine’s fresh mountain air and rivers and streams and knowing, because Cornelia taught us how, that our lives are what we make of them. Let all children know Maine as ‘the playground of the nation’ and like Cornelia, work to preserve and protect it for generations to come.”
I couldn’t say it any better than that. Thank you Governor! And thank you Pam and Heidi for giving us this wonderful book.