Questions and Answers with Steve Ramirez, Author of Casting Onward
1. Tell us about yourself
I am a writer, communicator, life-long learner, teacher, and world outdoor adventure traveler who has always seen his life as a quest that is driven by a search for meaning and a desire to make a positive contribution to humanity and the natural world. Although I have lived most of my life in my beloved Texas Hill Country, I grew up between the ocean and the Everglades in “old Florida” when panthers still roamed widely, and alligator holes outnumbered golf courses. From my earliest days I have been drawn to the outdoors, exploring woodland and wetlands and climbing into treehouses, just to be closer to the birds. And this love of nature and discovery has carried me across four continents, living and traveling across Europe, Africa, South and North America.
As a U.S Marine, Master Texas Peace Officer, and Homeland Security professional, I have experienced the best and worst of humanity. After thirty-five years of service in this capacity, I decided to “turn the wheel” and travel in a new direction. I chose to follow my childhood dreams of exploring nature, learning from the experience, and sharing what I learned. I have always wished to be a catalyst for helping others to connect with nature and share in my desire to protect and respect this beautiful blue planet.
Anyone who reads my work will come to know that I have endured and witnessed much brutality both as a U. S. Marine and Texas Peace Officer. I have lived with the challenges of PTSD and have chosen to transform that experience into greater understanding and compassion for others. I have experienced and often write about the healing power of nature and what has come to be known as “nature therapy.” Through so many of life’s hardships and heartaches, nature has always saved me. I want to do what I can to return that favor.
2. Give a brief description of your book, Casting Onward
In writing this book I traveled thousands of miles by plane, motor vehicle, boat, and foot. Each chapter includes fishing and hiking with friends, old and new, who are also notable persons in the worlds of fishing and conservation. In the course of this journey, I take the reader on adventures to explore and fish mountain streams, alpine lakes, National Wild and Scenic Rivers, desert canyons, brackish water estuaries, and the rolling ocean off the coast of Cape Cod. About half of this book was written while traveling through the COVID-19 pandemic and it touches on the lessons that COVID can teach us about nature and human nature.
In Casting Onward, I expand beyond the geographical scope of my first book in the series, Casting Forward, by fishing for native fish within their original habitats across America. Each story is told in part through the eyes of the people who have lived alongside, and come to love, these waters and fish. Woven throughout these adventures are the stories of the people I meet and befriend, while pursuing a mutual love of outdoor life, as the first criterion for finding common ground.
This is a hopeful story, in an all-too-often seemingly hopeless time. It is a story of fishing and friendship. It is a story of humanity’s impact on nature, and nature’s impact on humanity
3. Why did you write Casting Onward?
R. Buckminster Fuller once wrote, “The things to do are the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done.” I wrote Casting Onward because I felt it needed to be written and read.
I wrote it because I saw the diminishment and destruction of natural watersheds, rivers, estuaries, and shorelines and with them, the alarming loss of native plants and animals that have evolved in these places. I saw the vanishing sense of community between people, and between humanity and the Earth. And I saw that the way to touch human hearts, minds, and ultimately to change human paradigms has always been through the telling of stories. Through the telling of stories that teach, we have changed the world. I’d like to help change the way we interact with the world and each other, one story at a time.
I wrote this book and this series of books in order to create avenues for hopeful action in an all-too-often seemingly hopeless and apathetic time. I wanted to write about the power of friendship that is based on a shared appreciation and love for all things natural.
4. How would you describe the “characters” in Casting Onward? I noticed that each main character in this collection of outdoor stories is a fly fisher. What is it about fly fishing that lends itself to the story you are trying to tell?
For me the characters of this book include me and my friends from around the country who are anglers, biologists, bioregional naturalists, conservationists of every walk of life, outdoor artists, wildlife photographers, birders, ethical hunters, hikers, and others who like me, crave contact with the natural world.
Whereas in my first book, Casting Forward, I told the story of the Texas Hill Country through my own eyes, I wanted to tell these stories through the additional viewpoints of my friends who consider these places to be their “home waters.” So, it becomes a story of fishing and friendship, during these times of distance and discourse. And it is also the story of native fish acting as the “canaries in the coal mine” indicators of the health of our watersheds, wetlands, and seashores.
Additional characters include the Sun, the Earth itself, its watersheds, rivers, lakes, seashores, estuaries, oceans, mountains, forests, and even deserts. And last but not least, the wildlife and plants that keep this beautiful planet livable. I want the reader to realize that all of the characters on the end of the food chain will cease to exist without those at its beginning. Life is a circle, not a line.
Fly fishing connects us to nature in ways I have seldom experienced in any other outdoor pursuit. A fly angler must understand the fish, its habitat, and the impact of his or her relationship to this creature and place. Fly fishing done well, is meditative, mindful, aware and awake. It causes you to notice what bugs are on and in the water, the currents and tides, and the seasons of buds flowering and leaves falling. Fly fishing is like a dance between the soul of the angler and the soul of the river. And it causes us to be at our best - humble, calm, thoughtful, respectful, grateful, and always, learning and adapting to life as it unfolds… like a river.
5. Is Casting Onward part of a series?
Yes. I have written two of three (possibly four) books for a series being published by Lyons Press. Each book uses fly-fishing stories to take the reader through a particular habitat, while hopefully teaching along the way about the environmental issues we are facing in both the human and natural world and our potential role in making things better or worse.
· Casting Forward: Fishing Tales of the Texas Hill Country (Lyons Press, Released November 1, 2019.) Focus - Texas Hill Country
· Casting Onward: Fishing Adventures in Search of America’s Native Gamefish (Lyons Press, Expected Release date April 1, 2022.) Focus - Native Gamefish in Watersheds across America
· Casting Seaward: Adventures in Search of America’s Saltwater Gamefish Focus - estuaries, bays, shorelines, and oceans. (In the process of being created.)
I guess a good place to begin is with the vision I held of my first book, Casting Forward, as being the first of a trilogy of connected but unique books that build upon each other philosophically and geographically from “regional,” to “continental,” and “global.”
The original idea for the second book was that “Casting Onward” expands on “Casting Forward” from the watersheds of the Texas Hill Country and its native fish to those found across America and what they can teach us about the state of nature, and human nature, around them.
6. The writing style of Casting Onward is so expressive. Can you tell us about your methods?
I am first and foremost, a storyteller. My writing takes its origins from my ancestors who told stories from generation to generation around a campfire, or beside an ocean’s edge. The single most powerful thing that has moved human civilization in any direction has been our stories. Over time, stories become widely known and accepted as part of our culture and we begin to see the world through the “truth” in these stories. I want to write stories that move pieces of the human world toward a healthier outcome for humanity and the Earth.
When I write, it flows as if coming from another place… beyond me. At first, I write without self-editing and allow the words, ideas, and descriptions to become a rough reality. Later, I edit, edit, edit, to do my best to ensure that each word is needed in order to best tell the story.
I write for the reader, not for myself. I want the reader to feel that they are on the river, crossing the sea, climbing the mountain with me. I want them to feel the pull of the current, the bracing chill of the wind, and the warmth of the sunlight. And I want them to be forever changed by the journey and in that change, learn to love life and living, even more. My writing style flows like a current, sometimes poetic, sometimes descriptive, sometimes prescriptive, sometimes cautionary, sometimes humorous, but always authentic.
7. The various settings of Casting Onward adds much to the texture of the story. Can you tell us about why you chose to set the story in these places?
My goal in each book is to tell entertaining outdoor adventure stories that additionally act to expand the reader’s understanding of the current and coming ecological issues we are collectively facing, predominantly due to the actions of humanity. In order to tell the stories of these hallowed waters, the landscapes that sustain them, and the people who have grown to love them, I traveled to the mountains, desert canyons, wetlands, beaches and bays where these fish and people live and die. I wanted to immerse myself and the reader, into the place, time, and prevailing human culture of each historical landscape.
8. The themes within Casting Onward are powerful and meaningful. What moved you to focus on these themes?
I guess if I were to be forced to state my current most pressing belief, it is that humanity is at a pivotal moment in the course of its existence, due largely to the unintended consequences of our choices, actions, inactions, and the human fictions we have come to accept as “fact.” Almost every serious problem on Earth is the result of a human behavior problem. They are the results of our lesser selves, instead of our better angels. I’d like to see this change, before it’s too late. And there is good news. We are both the problem and the solution.
Nature doesn’t need us; we need nature. We are a part of nature, not apart from it. Nature has the capacity to heal us both medically and spiritually. And we have the power to heal ourselves and to create a healing environment for others. But it all comes down to having the desire and the determination to act out of wisdom, not emotion. We are interdependent, not independent of each other and nature. And the key to everything between humans and other humans, and humans and nature, are relationships.
This story explores the power of positive, respectful, open-minded, adaptive, relationships. It asks the big questions, and hopefully points the way to the best answers. It also seeks to create a more unified connection and love for nature, so that we might be more inclined to make healthier choices on its behalf.
9. What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
My logistical challenges included the complexity of coordinating each experience, traveling in the middle of a pandemic, and the timing so that all of the natural systems such as season, tides, and weather would come together to help me tell the story of a native fish within an endangered watershed or shoreline within an everchanging world.
I also was constantly forcing myself out of my comfort zone. I am by nature, an introvert. In order to write this book, I had to reach out to people I’ve never met, and then fly or drive to wherever they were so that we might experience a wilderness stream, scenic river, or windswept shoreline together. In every encounter, I am the uninitiated. I am the one having to learn new places, new techniques, and new ways of seeing the world. I was like a child, experiencing something for the first time. By pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I was pushing the story forward so that my readers can experience each learning adventure with me, in the comfort of their own home.
10. What other books have inspired you?
There are so many! Non-fiction books include:
· Sapiens- by Yuval Noah Harari, which changed the way I saw the evolution of human culture and the power of storytelling.
· Death in the Long Grass – by Peter Hathaway Capstick, influenced my understanding of powerfully good storytelling.
· A Sand County Almanac – by Aldo Leopold
· Pilgrim at Tinker Creek -by Annie Dillard
· Walden -by Henry David Thoreau
· The Primal Place – by Robert Finch
· Birds by the Shore & The Genius of Birds - by Jennifer Ackerman
· Feral – By George Monbiot
· Dreaming the Future – by Kenny Ausubel
Fiction includes the writings of Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway’s short stories, Robert Ruark, Richard Bach, Lois Lowry, and Bryce Courtenay.
11. How did you come up with the title?
I guess the best way to answer this is to begin with an introduction to how I think and have always thought since childhood. I think in metaphor and poetry. Everything I see becomes meaningful and becomes a powerful image to either create growth and change or to commit to staying the course of healthy living. My first book, Casting Forward was entitled so as to provide a metaphorical answer to the life question – “What do you do when everything you once thought was true, falls apart?” You keep casting forward.
Casting Onward is about exactly that, continuing onward in growth, learning, and action, and committing to childlike enquiry and resilience. In these times of global ecological, economic, and political uncertainty, we must keep going each day in a manner that creates hope, where none my be evident. Our “back-cast” informs our “forward cast”; the “pause” in between is where we gather our power.
12. How did you design the jacket cover?
I love the cover images and designs in this book series! Each one is purposeful in its creation and presentation. The image at the top of the front cover, depicts “calm water” and the image below depicts “motion.” Both are metaphors for life’s journey.
The supporting design, shapes, and colors were all carefully chosen in partnership with my wonderful editor at Lyons Press, Eugene Brissie. We really work well together. The idea is to draw the potential readers eyes and minds toward a visual summary of what they can expect within the pages of the book- namely, a journey of adventure, discovery, learning, challenge and triumph, joy, hope, and a call to action that we might all choose to make this world a heathier, happier place for all living things including ourselves.
13. What is your favorite passage in the book and why?
That’s a tough question, and I’m not sure I have a single favorite passage but I will choose a passage to share with you.
“Fishing isn’t just about fishing, it’s about belonging. It’s about caring.
It’s about sharing moments and making memories. Like the creeks, streams,
and rivers, we’re all connected. And if we allow ourselves to become solitary,
selfish, and self-involved, we will lose those natural wellsprings of friendship
that replenish us. If that happens to humanity, and we are trending in
that direction, then just like the Bear, Yampa, Green, and Colorado Rivers,
we will vanish into the bedrock of time and our journey will have meant
nothing of consequence. I’d rather flow naturally toward something vaster
than my meager lifetime. I’d rather make a positive difference while I’m here.
How about you?
I am convinced that the defining achievement of Homo sapiens
will not be the way we’ve conquered the Earth and nature as much as the
way we’ve chosen to save it. I do not want to live in a world without wild
places. And I want to live long enough to be proud of humanity for finally
living up to our species name, Homo sapiens— ‘wise man.’”
14. What aspects of your own life helped inspire this book?
Suffering, loss, heartbreak and hardship, the desire to overcome these challenges so as to create hope, where none may seem self-evident. And, the love I have for this beautiful and diverse natural planet, along with my fears that we are losing it due to our own actions, inaction, and lack of awareness. I’d like to play some small role in helping a critical mass of us to come together for the benefit of humanity and the Earth. The presence or absence of native fish, plants, songbirds, and wildflowers are deeply indicative of where we are failing and where we might succeed in this endeavor of restoring balance to the natural world. If I can only have one message get through it would be this…
“Nature doesn’t need us; we need Nature.”
15. What can readers hope to learn from this book?
While it is my intent that the reader will be entertained by these stories of outdoor adventure, it is my hope that they will become more accurately informed about native fish and other wildlife as well as the environments that sustain them, and us. They will learn more about themselves, humanity, society, and the power of choice. Hopefully, this book will inspire and empower action toward the common goal of creating a new “Earth Ethic,” that helps to save much of what we have come to love and depend upon and restore at least some of what has been lost.
16. Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
Yes. I hope they will make Casting Onward a part of their life’s journey and once they have done so, I hope they choose to complete the circle with me reading all three books in this series because each one gives new gifts. And that is what my writing is all about… giving. Everything is connected to everything. We are all in this together. As R. Buckminster Fulleronce said, we can either choose to be the architects of our future… or its victims. I know what my choice is. I hope many good people choose to join me. Together, w