The Phantom Bus and Other Observations

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with…  From the stunning piece, “The Hill We Climb,” by Inaugural Poet, Amanda Gorman, 1/20/21.

Amen.

Walking slowly up the hill, I had the best chance of seeing something new. I would be less noisy and obtrusive, though I had my work cut out for me, plodding through a crust of snow barely softened by a fall of heavy flakes.

Turkey Ridge State Forest Road…

I had no goal in mind; I was going nowhere in particular (even more so than usual). If I kept my senses open with this frame of mind, looking first to the horizon and peripheries and then to the particulars of my near environment, I might actually experience something interesting. Even with the falling snow, animal tracks were everywhere, and if I took the time to study them, I might hear the stories that they told. The ground is never blank.

bobcat print (right of glasses)…

I had recently hiked the nearby Turkey Ridge State Forest and discovered a large flock of common redpolls veering over the fields on an otherwise bird-less day. I had known about the forest for three decades or more but, for some reason, had never walked it. Now my negligence seemed almost criminal. So I hiked the ridge carefully and began to view it as another extension of my home.

largest white pine in Bootleg Hollow?

things were looking up…

I was in the big woods on the snowy hill behind my house. Looking for something wild, I listened to the hiss of falling snow, to the cawing of a distant crow and the yakking of a nuthatch from the groves of whitened maple, beech, and ash. I stepped carefully along an icy spur of the deep ravine, the granddaddy of Bootleg Hollow gullies.

at the spur between two deep ravines…

Maybe I would see the feathered sprite, the secretive winter wren– an elfin bird that likes to feed among the nooks and crannies of upturned roots and rock debris. And sure enough,  I soon found one flitting briefly over the ice-free brook that formed the gulley. A goal accomplished on an otherwise goal-free winter day!

Green Man Overlook…

there seems to be a bus in the woods…

Maneuvering eastward over the slopes, I approached an old school bus in a field of shrubs and thorny bushes. How it got there in the first place I will never know. Its burial site is a half mile from the nearest farm or place of human habitation. When I first moved to the hollow in the early 80s, I could see the bus from a knoll behind my house, but since wild nature had wrapped its arms around the rusted form, the bus has been hidden from nearly everyone’s view.

yep…

Apparently the shattered carriage had never ceased its hillside travels. Birds have nested and flown from the crossbars near its broken windshield. Porcupines and field mice have boarded the aisle and cushioned seats like children of the past. I climbed aboard, too, as if for a ride to the school of nowhere in particular. The seats were occupied but, if I stood behind the white line near the front, I could ride the phantom bus like passengers in the days of old.

all aboard…

I went to a school of wild nature for the day and then took the bus back home. The kid inside my journeyman clothes had an assignment to do. It dealt with a large machine that worked its way down my seasonal lane. The rig was lopping off significant trees at both sides of the gravel road. Fearing what it might do when it reached my property line, I approached the operator and inquired what the hell was going on.

those were the days…

The driver said they were gonna make a “real road” out of the steep mile-long thoroughfare. No one lives on the road and hardly anyone drives it other than a few ATVers who complain that its roughness spills their opened beer containers. I have long contended that maintenance was a waste of taxpayer money and, besides, I was tired of picking up empties tossed out by the careless.

here it comes…

So, the town was out to ditch the roadsides and install culverts to eliminate erosion and wash-outs. I complained, saying, “I know you guys have a legal right to cut 30 feet on either side, but it makes no sense to butcher every tree in order to control erosion. Tree roots have a job to do. They can hold down the soil, so why are we cutting trees to stop erosion? And incidentally, when you get to my place, I hope you’ll consider leaving the trees alone. I rather like them as they are.”

all the roadside trees…

I also called up the operator’s boss, the highway super, and explained the same. To my astonishment, he was totally sympathetic and said that, yes, my trees would be spared and left in peace.

to get a better view…

Man and tree gave their thanks and sighed with relief. This small place seemed better than the one I might have been left with. Science had prevailed somehow, and common sense had spoken out. Wow. Had this effort been a homework assignment, I might have walked off with an “A.”

Turkey Ridge (1)…

Turkey Ridge (2)…

 

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Two Ravens (Twa Corbies)

The first days of the new year were an icy mess, although I still had a pleasant walk on the trail developed near the house. It’s been years since I’ve kept a feeder in the yard, but I still need the company of birds in winter, so I make my daily forays on the hill, no matter that birds are nearly as scarce as January dandelions or that the weather might be as inviting as a trip to the emergency room.

The ground was white with rotting ice and a fresh layer of snow. A walking stick probed the ground as my boots crunched awkwardly along the sloping acreage. Crows called from the distance of the valley. I may have heard the nasal outcry of a nuthatch from the frozen quarters of the maple grove or cheered myself briefly at the sight of chickadees flying singly through the high boughs of the spruce and pines, but mostly I perceived the January emptiness– the solitude defined by the departure of autumn birds and foliage.

It wasn’t necessarily a sad affair. I have friends and family, music and writing. In my walking meditation, I looked outward for the words to fill an emptiness within… Two ravens flew across the valley, battling the strong winds high above. One of them seemed to fly in from the myths and stories told by Native American elders. He was a creator spirit and a trickster from the far Northwest. Even though I would have benefitted from a word with him, I was from another world, and it was only right that his great beak made no utterance today.

The second raven was the noisy one. I listened to its piercing squawks, medieval croaking notes that tumbled on the wind… I heard Twa Corbies (an anonymous, early English poem/song), carrion-eaters saying one unto the other, “Where sall we gang and dine today?” I felt lucky to be alive and well, a lone rambler with his metaphoric hawk and hound and lady fair (all of them faithful to the moment), rather than the slain knight of the song, removed from the winds that will blow “Oer his white banes when they are bare… for evermair.”

[Small consolation– I prefer cremation when the time arrives! For now, may the ravens of hope create a wonderful new year for you and yours. I thank you for reading, and remind you that comments are always welcome here.]

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A Glance at the Rearview Mirror

fishing the South Platte, CO.

As 2020 drives itself into the ground, a lot of us would say, Just let ‘er rip. Most would agree that the past year has been odd, to say the least, and, in some cases, down right tragic. From this perspective, though, with Winter Solstice just around the corner and with prospects of a cheerier 2021 in view, there’s some reason for encouragement.

Rescued Spanky the Duck from a torrent above Marble, CO. and he’s been enjoying the ride ever since…

Glancing at the rearview mirror, I can see that there have been some perks for many of us this year, despite the presence of a few sketchy characters sitting up front (times when we could actually step away from this monstrosity and walk). One of the highlights for myself was traveling, carefully, with daughter Alyssa through the high ground of this nation’s westerly zones. To commemorate the journey, I thought it might be nice to share some of Alyssa’s photos that she took.

Okay, so I took daughter’s pic at watering hole near Devils Tower…

So here’s hoping everyone stays healthy and sanguine as we steer into Christmas Lane and all of its associated crossroads, and a New Year Boulevard of Hope. Cheers!

heart of stones…

on the headwaters, Roaring Fork, CO…

Independence Pass, CO…

Covid wasn’t the only danger in 2020…

Grand Tetons…

Grand Tetons Nat’l Park…

Lamar cutthroat…

badger crossing…

near the Gallatin, MT…

trouting the Shoshone, WY…

The “Old City of Jerusalem,” Shoshone River, WY…

Fairy Falls, Yellowstone Nat’l Park….

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Looking for Survivors

No, I wasn’t out investigating a local tragedy or searching the rubble in some post-apocalyptic nightmare, thankfully enough. I was simply on my autumn trout streams looking for survivors of a brutally hot and dry summer season that, reportedly, took a heavy toll on trout as well as other aquatic species in my region of the world.

Genesee…

Whereas my investigations were brief and less than scientific, I can only echo what more knowledgeable voices have already declared– yes, the record-breaking heat and drought of 2020 took its toll on fish, at least on some of the cold-water streams of Pennsylvania and New York.

It took a while before I saw my first autumn fish on New York’s Genesee. I hadn’t expected many survivors there, where river temps can hit the high 70s even in the coolest summers. And perhaps survivors were few and far between. But after an hour or so of casting to no avail, I suddenly caught two small browns– wild fish, probably migrants from a cooler source, but a good sign nonetheless. And then came a feisty two-year-old– a hatchery brown, a summer veteran that could not resist a Weenie drifted through a deep hole underneath a bridge.

unusual for main stem Genesee, NYS…

 

On another day of rare warmth and sunshine, I discovered some large trout recently planted in a northern Pennsylvania stream. The fishing was almost too easy. Probably for the first time in my angling history, I landed a 20-inch rainbow on my first cast of the day. And more fish came in quick succession. No “fish story” here; they were newbies– fun to catch, but not exactly educated. One of the ensuing rainbows probably measured 22-inches, or more, but it jumped from my hands before I could tape its colorful size. Anyway, I hope these fish absorb some river wildness soon to help them stick around a while.

from northern PA…

Tomorrow? Hopefully I’ll get around to investigating a couple of wild brook trout streams nearby. Those native fish are strong and know how to survive.

And talk about survivors… My book Wings Over Water, published in 2020 just before the big pandemic washed upon our shores, had very little chance for exposure and sale, but it’s here, alive and waiting for a smile from anyone who enjoys the written word straight from the heart of nature. Three excerpts:

“The night rain of New Mexico spreads across the sand and binds the billions of particles for a light impression of foot and claw. The kit fox emerges, and the jack rabbit, and the great horned owl. The darkling beetle wakes with the dawn. The sun calls a black-throated sparrow into song. The bleached lizard runs from an approaching foot that makes an imprint on the sand…” (from Desert Rainbows).

“The deep night of the Delaware was rich with life and death. To fish it with flies was stimulating and intriguing if you played it right. With some planning and familiarity of water, you can have the river to yourself and get the spooky and exhilarating sense that angling is a whole lot more than you believed it was. When the big browns emerge from their hiding places and go hunting out in front of you, the sounds you’ll hear will be amplified above the norm. The riffle splash will sound as though it’s coming from inside of you; the headlight of a passing car may seen accusatory; the crack of underbrush along the bank might change a rabbit into a murderer; the slap of a beaver tail can shake you silly, but beyond all that the deep night will enfold you in the cradle of wild nature…” (from Small Stream, Big River).

“I like to find poetry in the world, in the elements surrounding us, waiting for connection and interpretation. I like to translate what is raw and flex it into ordinary words. That process, I suppose, is one facet of my job as naturalist. We all have personal frameworks in the world of nature, but all too many of us have forgotten our framework or allowed the social world to smash it. We have ways of realigning our humanity, however, with the history of our kind and with our hope for future days. As a naturalist, I try to do my small part allowing the lands and waters to assist our realignment. They speak directly and to the point. They speak the poetry of life…” (from Like an Old-Fashioned Naturalist).

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Ruminations (Salmon River)

I had sworn off October visits to the Salmon River long ago, but when a friend invites me to go fishing with him I do not decline unless I’m sick, already anchored to a schedule by divine authority, or dying. So I had a rainy midweek visit to the Salmon River in New York and found, quite surprisingly, that there was room to fish its hallowed waters and to spend some entertaining hours.

My fishing pal, J., had a new RV and a reservation for two nights at a campsite near the river. Lawn signs and porch banners plastered the North Country with only two weeks remaining to the general election. MAGA signage was everywhere: Make Altmar Great Again! The campground was quiet but frosted with political sentiment. I agreed to pay our reservation fee.

color from the home place, Greenwood…

Our host came to greet us in his truck. He didn’t seem particularly sober, though he was conspiratorial, claiming that Covid-19 was linked somehow to government control. I handed him his money and suggested that he not spend it all in one place. He huffed and answered, Naw

By the way, who would I be voting for, he queried. Since it really wasn’t any of his business, I replied that he probably wouldn’t like my answer if I told him. He insisted on knowing, though, so I made my revelation, and added, “Everybody needs to get out and vote. Every able-bodied citizen capable of thinking of our health and happiness for the next four years should vote!”

He didn’t like my answer, and equated me with his mother-in-law. I remembered the Ernie K. Doe song from 1961, and thought… Gee, I’ve never been compared to anybody’s mother-in-law before…

And what about J., who had just hauled our bodies to this northern steelhead capital with a trailerful of conveniences? The host wanted to know how J. was  planning to vote, as well.

J. was cool as packaged celery, and obviously didn’t want to invite more trouble than was necessary. He simply answered our soaked, inebriated host by stating he was undecided– no doubt one of the eleven remaining American voters still sitting on the fence between Mr. Don and Mr. Joe.

a king coming in…

Due to drought conditions, the Fly-fishing Only stretch below the state hatchery on the Salmon River was closed this year. The water was low, and the hatchery needed every spawning fish that survived the river’s gantlet for the eggs it might deliver. Rain was falling on our first day of fishing, and there seemed to be an adequate water supply in every other section we inspected.

We weren’t casting for more than half an hour on the first day when the river stones beneath J.’s feet began to act unruly, shifting unexpectedly and causing him to drop, sideways at first (I think) and then up to his neck. He shook it off quickly, and I hope I was just as quick to sympathize, knowing my own turn might be coming up at any moment. Summer was over, and it wasn’t all that warm anymore, especially while fishing in the rain, but J. soldiered on for another half an hour till deciding he had better trundle off for drying at a laundromat somewhere in Pulaski.

42 inches long, it strained the old bamboo arms…

I stayed for the next two hours looking for trout and any fresh-run salmon willing to give me a big fish tussle. I got matched by two different salmon that made my 8-weight groan with terror, but the browns and steelhead, just arriving for their annual appearance in the river, would evade our efforts on this trip, although they did help to keep our spirits high and cheerful.

The rising and setting of the sun each day, as witnessed from our humble campsite, was a deeply orange affair that darkened toward something like Republican Red Wine– a taste too bitter for me, but apparently smooth for many palates in this otherwise pleasant region. So, good fishing can be had. And if no craft beer is available for an evening by the campfire, Pabst Blue Ribbon can’t be more than one convenient store away.

I’ll bet our host’s mother-in-law would drink that PBR.

[And when voting, she’ll remember to consider many things, including our fisheries, our water quality, our wildlife, and the wild places everything is so dependent on… THANK YOU, MOM!]

old fish leaping, after the fly’s release…

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Thoreau’s Cape Cod

The kids arranged a pleasant cottage rental for us on Cape Cod. The large pitch pines and pin oaks standing by the roadside in the Town of Dennis caught the pre-dawn hooting of a great horned owl and staged the call for exploration of the cape– the second visit for the kids but the first for my wife and me.

horseshoe crabs, Dennis, MA…

October was the perfect time for visiting the Atlantic coast. The sky was bright; the wind was strong, but the summer crowd had thinned considerably, and the ocean had retained its powerful allure. The bared, bent arm of coastal Massachusetts is approximately 65 miles long and roughly five miles wide (on average). Henry David Thoreau had visited the cape on several occasions in the mid-1800s and reported on his walking tours in a fascinating book entitled, appropriately enough, Cape Cod.

The village of Dennis, where we were staying for several nights, was, according to Thoreau, a barren and desolate place resembling “the bottom of the sea made dry” the day before his arrival. It was raining as Thoreau’s stage traveled northward through the sands and scrubby pines, but he found that Dennis was enjoyable, “so novel, and, in that stormy weather, so sublimely dreary.” And as watchers of the shore, ourselves, as beachcombers, we would find the cape, a land of sea and desert combined, to be an evocative stretch of stark beauty.

mushroom sprouting from the dunes near Provincetown…

Thoreau was awe-struck by the cape as he and William Ellery Channing, a close friend and poet from Concord, rambled along the coast that offered its oceanic debris. Thoreau’s Cape Cod opens with a startling chapter called “The Shipwreck” that records a recent storm and tragedy– its Irish emigrant victims being collected from the sand before his eyes.

from a cottage print…

And yet, beyond the sadness and chaos of an unmatched wilderness, the ocean gave up something more: “I saw that the beauty of the shore itself was wrecked for many a lonely walker there, until he could perceive at last, how its beauty was enhanced by wrecks like this, and it acquired thus a rarer and sublime beauty still.”

Thoreau may have sensed our planet’s oceanic monsters on his visits to the cape, but he discovered more freedom here than on any of his other travels. He thrived on the cape’s ceaseless natural activity, its sudden surprises and drama. There was humor, also, which might surprise some readers acquainted only with the writer’s more famous works. Thoreau’s chapter called “The Wellfleet Oysterman” portrays an old Rabelaisian tobacco-spitting fisherman and his family with complete aplomb.

exploring White Cedar Swamp…

We would hike the Nauset saltmarsh, the Wellfleet dunes and the cedar swamps on well-kept trails and boardwalks, and hit the wonderful Cape Cod National Seashore that extends for many miles northward to its terminus near Provincetown– the clenched hand of the great bent arm. On the windswept beach at Nauset, on Thoreau’s “beach of smooth and gently sloping sand,” we were treated to a sudden view of seals that swam easily through an endless series of white breakers near the shore.

And that wasn’t all. While a sand bank, Cape Cod’s shrubby backbone, loomed precariously behind us, my daughter noted something much larger than a seal, about a hundred yards offshore. A whale– first, one dark shape and then another– a pod arcing through the whitecaps in the morning sun. We watched their water in amazement, and would learn from an experienced observer on the beach that they were minke whales– a small baleen species of approximately 23 feet in length and up to 10 tons in weight.

Thoreau saw these social whales in more dire circumstances, at a time when they were hunted and slaughtered unmercifully. He encountered the butchering of about 30 “blackfish” (as they were called) on the sands nearby, another scene of “naked Nature, inhumanly sincere, wasting no thought on man, nibbling at the cliffy shore where gulls wheel amid the spray.”

an inter-dunes trail, Cape Cod Nat’l Seashore…

a cranberry bog…

Near Provincetown we hiked a mile across the most amazing coastal dunes we’ve ever experienced. Sand banks rose a hundred feet or more and dwarfed the bare-footed walker. Between them might be found a cranberry bog with ripened berries. Stunted trees and plants such as bayberry and beach pea held the sand in place against the brutal Cape Cod winds.

beach pea vines…

Provincetown was just a four-planked street and fishing harbor in Thoreau’s day. The writer would likely turn and grumble in his grave to see the place today. Then again, there might be something sure to please him there, as well.

a taste of P’town…

Thoreau had found a “pleasant equality” and good humor reigning among the rural populace, as if it were blessed by those “who had at length learned how to live.” And that feeling of equality might be found today, as well, especially in bustling Provincetown, a safe haven for minority groups and for the artistically inclined.

from Provincetown…

Thoreau wanted to experience the kind of seashore that rebuffed hotels and businesses, that had nothing manmade other than a lone humane hut or two constructed for a shipwrecked sailor or a struggling explorer. He wanted “to put up at the true Atlantic House,” and here he found it.

the occasional dune hut (original use for shipwrecked sailors) …

Far behind this solitude of ocean and desert, we could see the towering monument to the Pilgrims who had landed at Massachusetts Bay near the dawning of westward expansion. From the crest of our hundred-foot dune, we gazed northward on the restless and illimitable ocean.

We descended on a path, or “hollow,” through the dunes. The unending rush of white-capped breakers were like waterfalls, each wavering line, each noisy drop, dispersing toward the sand from distant, unknown places.

Nauset Lighthouse…

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Owl Farm (Redux)

This will be a short post that reflects a busy time here in the shire. I’ve been working feverishly on a new book (Covid-free!), helping with the house improvement projects where I’m able, prepping for a short visit to Cape Cod, getting more acquainted with my “back forty” than I’ve ever been in 40 years, gearing up for a resumption of trout fishing, and attempting to ignore as much as possible the nonsense and mayhem in the realm of politics (though hoping every capable U.S. citizen gets out on Election Day and votes, remembering the good fight for racial justice and environmental health, as well as a host of other critical issues for our day).

All the pics arise from recent walks on Owl Farm, my home acreage for many years. The poem comes from my book called Uplands Haunted by the Sea, published in 1992. It’s an old one but it works for me today.

Owl Farm

We came to this, our homestead,

in an autumn when the screech owl

whinnied out its welcome from the dusk

that wrapped us closely

with the walnut tree it perched in.

We knew the place was old and

broken, knew that it had known

prosperity and neglect. Seven autumns

have arrived and flown

from a house abandoned by

its careless and defeated dwellers,

from a barn that once was house

to horse and cow, a coffin now

to the husks and tools of failure.

We arrived here in our need

and witnessed load on load of

trash hauled through the years

of cleaning and rebuilding,

through the cold and warmth

of seasons spinning out sameness.

Planting, pruning, harvesting–

we sense our labors shed like sweat

from the ground accepting us.

In a pre-dawn blackness we

awaken to the barred owl’s hooting,

to the hen’s nervous squawk,

our bodies aging, drifting

into sleep once more, the dark

changes that absorb us in

the fitting contours of this land.

Sadly, most of my white ash trees (like many in the region) have been hit by the emerald borer…

trying to reestablish the great white pines…

poplars growing from a glacial sandbank…

I’ll miss my woodlands on the Cape, but the fish want to make a fool of me again…

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“Fishing and Eating in Saloons”

[Part 4, the last in my Rocky Mountains series for 2020.]

The sportswriter Red Smith and his small son were fishing in the north woods long ago and would customarily break for lunch in a local tavern. At one point, Red’s son was wolfing down his sandwich and guzzling a Coke when he exclaimed, “Gee, Dad, this is the life, ain’t it? Fishing and eating in saloons!”

In the spirit of that youthful excitement, one well-aged father and his daughter motored from Yellowstone into Montana for some fishing and camping along the Gallatin River. The fishing was satisfactory near the forested campground, but it definitely improved on traveling up or downstream from Big Sky.

Bear activity had been noted at the camps, and warnings had been posted there, but we were pleased to have nailed down the final (and probably the quietest) tenting site available.

I wasn’t sleeping well, however. The night was eerily hushed. I heard a growl nearby, and a crashing sound as if a small tree had dropped across the gravel drive. I bolted upright from the sleeping bag and woke Alyssa from her dreams nearby. All food items had been wisely packed away, but I had foolishly hung a pair of wet fishing socks to dry on small branches just above our doorway.

Normally, the rankness of my footwear would have been a better grizzly deterrent than a can of premium bear spray. But 2020 had been nothing but unusual to this point, so I whispered to Alyssa that I was headed for the car. I’d grab those socks, bury them in a bag, and come back with our can of carnivore repellent.

Slowly, a welcome rest returned to old Montana.

The morning trout fed hungrily on midges and tiny Tricos hatching at the river seams. I found it maddening to miss their rises, but the early sun was pleasant and I stuck with one location till I changed my tactics– finally catching and releasing a hefty rainbow on a standard #12 Adams. We could now head eastward once again, with a couple of important stops in wild Wyoming.

North Fork Shoshone

I had wanted to fish the North Fork Shoshone since the days when I first observed it near the eastern gateway to Yellowstone… We grabbed the last available tenting site (again!) along the Shoshone in the Clearwater National Forest.

The place was semi-arid but mountain bright. The vast glides of quickly flowing water offered numerous wild trout, cutthroats and rainbows, rising to caddis and stonefly imitations. It was pleasant, and we hoped to return someday, if for no other reason than observing the incredible rock formations forged by fire, wind and water.

Eating? Ah, the pretzels & mustard were great…

Paying our respects to the native cultures of the West, we traveled to the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark located in the Big Horn Mountains. A gravel road took us to a parking lot near the summit of Medicine Mountain, ten-thousand feet above sea-level, and from there we hiked 1.5 miles to the cliffs and fissures of the sacred site.

The stone circle, 84 feet in diameter and centuries old, is a place for communion with the Great Spirit. As Black Elk said, “Everything the Power of the World does is in a circle.” And here our own summer journey found its round fruition. Vistas carried us back and forth along the paths of self-reflection. A flock of chestnut-collared longspurs (my third life-bird of the trip) lent its wings to my rambling thoughts above the Big Horn Basin.

We were coming home, but made one more significant stop– at Devils Tower (my second visit there, Alyssa’s first). We made a late-day, 2-mile walk around the structure, then obtained a final “last available tenting site” near the shadows of the rock.

Having set up our tent, we traveled to a restaurant/saloon and dined on the patio with its fine view of Devils Tower. I had a massive bourbon-burger and a local brew. Alyssa did the same but substituted a tasty vegan-burger for the meatier selection… Ah yes, “fishing and eating in saloons!” And later we would note what appeared to be a planet beaming on and off at the crest of the darkened Tower.

Devils Tower…

The light blinked slowly, off and on, as if Jupiter got obscured by passing clouds, or an alien ship was docking Hollywood-style at the top. It took us a while to realize that rock climbers had waited, by choice or necessity, for darkness to arrive before descending the mountain wall.

We travelers, though, required no light whatsoever to descend our own cliffs to the pillowed sanctity of sleep.

Alyssa at the far end of the spur…

the Big Horn Basin…

toward the Medicine Wheel…

the “Old City of Jerusalem” rock formation, North Fork Shoshone…

 

 

 

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Yellowstone Getaways

[Part 3 of a 4-part series that reflects a recent Rocky Mountain road trip with my daughter.]

Sandhill cranes fed near the roadway to the geyser basins. We took a morning hike to Fairy Falls, a columnar drop of 197 feet, the highest in the national park. At first it seemed we were alone– the only hikers out beyond the popular and colorful Grand Prismatic Geyser Basin, walking through a stand of uniform pines, without our can of bear spray.

Natural Bridge, at YNP…

Reading the posted warnings– “a high density of bears”– almost stopped us in our tracks, but when a family with noisy kids arrived, we decided we could trail behind them safely while maintaining a reasonable distance. Fairy Falls had us hooked, and we were glad it reeled us in.

the noise from Roaring Mountain was not the roar of bear…

The sheer fantasy of falling water didn’t stop there in the cold depth of its plunge-pool. An uncommon Williamson’s sapsucker, my first life-bird of the trip, clung briefly to the spire of a dead tree and heightened the pleasure of our walk. A crowd of hikers trickled in off the trail, and we felt lucky to have found the peace and quiet when we did.

a big guy near our second camp…

Throughout our six days in Yellowstone, we fished and hiked and found such wonderful places as Roaring Mountain, Artist Paint Pots, and Swan Lake with its pair of summering trumpeters (no relation to campaign politicos). This was not my first visit to the park but I had missed a lot of what Alyssa and I now managed to experience.

at Mammoth Geyser Basin…

Our biggest “getaway,” however, was not one we ever wanted to re-do…

We were moving from our camp at Madison Junction to our second reserved camp at Bay Bridge near Yellowstone Lake. Along the way, we would visit  Mammoth Geyser Basin and have lunch in Gardiner, Montana. While relaxing in Gardiner, a sudden water break on the Norris-Mammoth Road (behind us) closed the link we needed for our drive to Bridge.

Swan Lake, with trumpeters…

Another link,  the Tower-Norris road, was already closed for the season, so we were left with only one option. To get to Bay Bridge we would need to make a long five-hour drive…

A grueling detour: through the Lamar and out the northeast exit of the park, through the splendid Bear Paw Mountains to Cody, Wyoming, and then west once more through Yellowstone’s eastern entrance… We made it, but the mind still reels from the magnitude of that almost endless round-about.

at least the swans didn’t have far to go…

Alyssa and I were fishing the Yellowstone River near Hayden Valley. I had fished there at midday and hadn’t even seen a fish (the cutthroats are reportedly fewer now because of lake trout predation, but some of the survivors grow unusually large). It was late in the day. I finally saw a huge fish rising to emerging caddis flies in the quiet water between two rapids.

Soda Butte…

The big native, easily 20 inches, broke the surface with its back but wouldn’t take the various dries that I presented. I applied a large wet caddis tied by a Slate Run pal, Marion Alexander, and the trout found it irresistible.

“Alyssa!” I shouted. “Got him. The big one!” She came stumbling downstream to assist. Meanwhile, a bull bison crossed the road nearby and stopped the traffic. Several cars and trucks had windows down. At least two of them were filled with Yellowstone revelers in a party mood. I fought the fish and heard a great commotion from the highway: “Yay, he got him! Got the big one! Dude! Way to go!” Horns blared. What a noise.

a getaway? on release…

As my audience cheered from the bison block, I carefully steered the cutthroat from the fast water but, ultimately, yes, the 4x-tippet snapped and my heart took a sudden bath. My arms rose in defeat, and the audience, moving now behind a rambling buffalo, shouted a collective, “Ohh… he lost it but… yay! Good job, anyhow!” I bowed to the honking noise and swept an arm out to the real star of this performance– a broad-backed native of supreme energy and delight.

stuck inside an hour-long bison jam, we noticed lots of little things…

And there was one other getaway, of note…

We were fishing and walking the Madison one evening near our campsite. The wind became problematic, as far as casting was concerned.

iconic falls…

A powerful gust ripped open the plastic tag attached to the back of my fishing vest. Four paper licenses blew out to the deep flowing waters of the Madison. I quickly retrieved one of them– my expired Colorado fishing license.

Later, about a thousand-feet downriver, I retrieved another one from the tip of an island– my expired license for Wyoming (exclusive of the Park permit). That left only the New York and Pennsylvania licenses, gone with the wind.

upper Madison River…

Back home again, I would get my New York license re-issued for a $5 fee. The next day I’d receive a letter in the mail, from a kind angler living in Boise, Idaho. Included in the envelope was… my PA license!  And a note saying, “I found this in the Madison River. I hope you caught a big one there.” Reid T. saved me the trouble of buying an out-of-state re-issue!

Yellowstone River angling…

That yellow license was in excellent shape, by the way, aside from my water-blurred signature. After all the wind and river currents, I had an Idaho fisherman to thank for his kindness dished out through this crazy world.

Lamar River Valley…

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