Ron Ellis is an accomplished nature writer with works including Cogan’s Woods, Brushes with Nature: The Art of Ron Van Gilder, and Of Woods & Waters: A Kentucky Outdoors Reader. His newest release, In That Sweet Country (Skyhorse Publishing), is a collection of work by acclaimed nature writer, Harry Middleton.
Recently, Ellis took time to discuss his work with Southern Lit Review contributor, Philip K. Jason.
Can you tell us something about your selection process for In That Sweet Country?
Because all of Harry’s books have fly-fishing at their core, I knew I wanted to feature the uncollected work that speaks to his readers about that shared pleasure, along with a generous sampling of stories about hunting—“Gobblers in the Mist” and “Hard Winters and Crazy Birds” are two of my favorites. I also wanted readers to experience Harry’s writing about nature in general, which is always beautiful and informative. And since Harry’s self-acknowledged addictions were mountains and cold trout-water, they figured into the selection process, too. The cover painting, Boy Fishing by Winslow Homer, seemed the perfect visual representation, on so many levels, for Harry’s beloved “sweet country.”
Of the selections in this book, do you have any personal favorites?
I’m rather fond of “Downriver, Again,” “High-Country Trout,” and “A Hunting Dog’s Days Afield,” since these stories contain the “germs” of stories that Harry would build on for his first two books, The Earth Is Enough, his widely acknowledged masterpiece, and the superb On the Spine of Time. I also love “Buffalo River Sequence,” a rare poem from Harry, and his eloquent and magical nature essays, such as “Song of the Whippoorwill” and “Southern Lights.”
What are the qualities of Harry Middleton’s writing that you most admire?
Harry’s ability to draw wonderfully full characters and to create a magical sense of place fascinated me from my very first reading of The Earth Is Enough. After that, I could not get enough of his stories, as is the case with so many of Harry’s very dedicated fans. His prose draws you into the story so completely that you clearly see the trout rising to the fly, feel the swift mountain water tug at your legs as you wade, and taste the fizz of an ice-cold cold root beer, while sunning on a rock beside a favorite trout stream with any number of Harry’s deftly drawn characters, people like Elias Wonder, Exie Sopwith, Roth Comers Tewksbury, Dr. Raul Yarp, or Swami Bill and Kiwi LaReaux. All good company amid perfectly wonderful storytelling!
For those who lead indoor lives in manmade habitats, what does Harry Middleton’s work offer?
Readers enjoy Harry’s stories and books because they are transported into the magic of the natural world that Harry knew and loved and conjured so well. His renderings of lovable characters and a reverence for place resonate with readers, many of whom have never been to a wild place, while still others long for and yet find, for whatever reasons, they are no longer able to return to favorite haunts. In either case, Harry leads readers on a journey, away from the din and gray of cities and toward the bright enchantment of wild beauty and solitude, toward the mountains and icy trout water, toward the “sweet country.” Who doesn’t want to go along!
Any thoughts about another gathering on Middleton’s previously uncollected writings?
I am beginning to hear from readers about how much they have enjoyed reading In That Sweet Country, and a few are already asking if there are plans for a second collection. We’re all Middleton fans and extremely pleased with the reception In That Sweet Country is enjoying. A second volume of Harry’s stories is certainly something I think about, as does the publisher.
Learn more by visiting Ron Ellis’ website.