By Jana Cunningham, communications specialist, University of Utah Communications 

A storyteller and avid fly fisherman, Jeff Metcalf, assistant professor of English, is an enhanced observer of the human condition, who finds himself often in the streams of the American West. Not only rivers run through his new book of essays, his cancer does too. But so do camaraderie, adventures, reveling in nature and outdoor devotions and the sheer bliss of focused engagement with the fish and the cast. Metcalf’s keenly observed companions are river guides, small-town locals, academics and other city folk, all like him among those who run to the river for solace and joy.

You just published a new book, “Back Cast,” can you tell me about it?

The impetus for writing “Back Cast,” a collection of fly-fishing essays, came to me from a need to get things down about my relationship with the natural world, specifically the landscape of water. I’m convinced, in many ways, that the rush of water, the beauty and grace involved in teasing a trout to a fly, the reflective solitude of being in the seam of water has saved my life more than a few occasions. I seek refuge in the quiet solitude of rivers and in dark hours of my life — including this particular year — and I needed desperately to be on the water.

Why did you make fly-fishing the theme of your book?

In fly-fishing, much like life itself, the back cast is where matters can quickly come unbuttoned. The perfect loop of the fly line as it unfolds behind the fly-fisher can easily become a bird’s nest of wind knots that would rival the complexity of trying to undo the Gordian knot. It seemed appropriate and a bit humorous to name the book “Back Cast.”

Who are the figures we’ll meet in the book?

“Back Cast” will introduce the reader to some wonderfully eccentric characters; an uncle who left his family to fly-fish for the Loch Ness monster, a hermit who lives in a cave high above the Gulf of California and a mermaid who could gulley tickle trout out of the rushing water of the Salmon River.

What else would you like to add?

We are all born of water and what happens to us is uncertain. The natural world helps me remember this and offers, in the gurgling of water, the possibility of grace and promise. I am indeed indebted.