The Hemlock Grove

Preparing for a long road trip into western places where I like to believe that a fly-fishing spirit can really soar at times like this, it’s good to remind myself that one needn’t go far in order to find a tranquil center for the heart and mind. For example, I enjoy a midsummer climb into my neighboring hemlock grove.

hemlock w/ walking stick…

As expected, the evening’s hermit thrushes chorused in their chamber of the darkening trees. I leaned on the walking stick, swatted at an irritating deerfly, and took another swill of water from the flask. And there– the piping, whistling and melodic phrasing of that singular species, emanating like no other at this season.

It’s a soft parade of seasonal song, intricate and uplifting, not unlike the sharp-edged wailing of coyotes I would hear as darkness settles over the hollow. These avian songs were wild and beautiful as coyote’s but more enticing and poetic. Their diversity issued from the hemlock trees and seemed to wrap the mind in streams of wonder.

Living on Earth: BirdNote: Exquisite Thrush Song

The ethereal songs accompanied the shards of golden sunlight slanting through the woods. They reminded me, sadly enough, that so few of our kind know about this form of blissful solitude, or care enough to experience such a moment in the wild. Sometimes I imagined that a hermit would follow my slow steps across the hill while singing constantly, but I doubted that my presence mattered at the time.

At any given moment, I could hear several birds calling simultaneously, improvising their positions in the woods while staying hidden in the foliage, temporarily dominant in the game of evolution.

The exquisite caroling put me in a special place. The nesting territories of the hermit, as defined by song, seemed to overlap each other and made it difficult to determine how many were holding court in one location.  I imagined that I could hear five or six thrushes at a time, and later was reminded of John Burroughs’ well-known piece entitled “In the Hemlocks.”

Although Burroughs wrote of many plants and birds encountered in the forest, it was the hermit thrush that possessed “the finest sound in nature.” It’s interesting to note that this nineteenth-century writer was an atheist with pantheistic leanings, yet he heard something in these avian phrasings that suggested a “religious beatitude” unlike any other.

Hermits sang “as if a spirit from some remote height were slowly chanting a divine accompaniment.” The charmed and passionate phrasing seemed “interspersed with the finest trills and the most delicate prelude.” And so it was, I acknowledged again the difficulty of putting such beauty into words, and thanked the spirit of this naturalist for finding a way here in the hemlock grove.

“Listening to this strain… with the full moon just rounded from the horizon, the pomp of your cities and the pride of your civilization seemed trivial and cheap.”

Thus, one needn’t go far to find a center for the soul. I would welcome the hermit as a spirit bird, to roost in memory for the long road to the mountains and to help sustain us as Rivertop Rambles takes a three-week break.

Be safe, be hopeful, everyone, and thank you for reading.

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Strange Fruit and Other Start-Ups

1.  I had a couple of non-related flashbacks to the late 1980s. In the first one I recalled a winter night, trundling off to a movie at Alfred U., in which our four-month-old son experienced his first theater production. Woody Allen’s “Bananas” was good for belly laughs.

kits observing home improvement work outside…

As Woody’s character rose to the presidency of San Marcos, the plotting seemed a little dated but the action was fresh and humorous. Our son’s attention was undivided– even during a milk break taken while sitting on his mother’s lap. “Bananas” must have been a red flag or a jolly admonition about the future.

Image result for Woody Allen Bananas FilmThe second flashback concerned a late-night talk with Mike and Tom in 1987. We were sitting at the National Hotel in Bath, conversing on my work with Great Elm Press and about our various literary goals. We also spoke a bit about our new-found interest in the streams and trails of northern Pennsylvania.

hiking up Dryden Hill…

An old fellow, probably homeless and too drunk to see, wanted us to drop four quarters in the jukebox for a set of “country tunes.” Before I finished a selection for him, we saw two policemen entering the bar who then proceeded to arrest the guy. I approached the cops, saying, “I don’t know this man… but I just put four quarters in the jukebox for him. Can he hang around until his songs are played?”

The cops never cracked a smile .

Pine Creek caddis special…

[My thanks to the Slate Run Sportsmen blog (slaterunsportsmen.com) which first published Part 2 of this post (without pics)]

2.   I first became acquainted with the Slate Run area in the 1980s. Making an occasional run between Virginia and western New York, I would sometimes stop at an alluring place like Pat Reeder’s Tavern on Route 44, locations I’d eventually link to an ancient Chinese drinking song– “In all these details there are secret truths; but when I try to speak of them, everything slips away.”

where I live, from Dryden Hill…

I bought my first PA, out-of-state, fishing license in 1987. I’ve returned to the wonderful trout streams such as those in the Pine Creek Valley ever since. I even published a book of poetry called The Wild Trout in response to the first two seasons of listening to the call of the Pennsylvania wilds.

In May of ’87 I participated in the first of many long hikes taken near Slate Run. To connect with my hiking pals, I had to drive my brother’s rusting and dilapidated car, stopping in Germania for directions on how to take a short-cut out to Pine. Late for my appointment at the trail-head, I drove frantically down Germania Branch then up and over the ridges, fearing that the car would die, choking on dust that mushroomed through the floor boards, in one of the most adventurous 24-mile drives I’d ever taken.

fossilized cellar stones reinforced with underlain cement & blocks…

Difficulty aside, I found that the mountains were inviting. The Francis Branch looked good for fly-fishing; the Golden Eagle and Black Forest trails could lead me away; and the Slate Run general store, hotel and tackle shop would be there to sell me anything else required for salvation.

There I was. And it’s been upstream and down, ever since.

3.   Lyman Run is one of the closest Class A trout streams to my home. I began my relationship with its four-mile stretch of special regulations water in May of 1987. I turned south from Pennsylvania’s Route 6 onto Thompson Road and found a scenic forestland of spruce, hemlock and deciduous trees. Before I suited up to fish, I was greeted by a wood turtle, a raven, and a black squirrel scurrying through the fog that lay upon the forested valley.

old square-cut barn nails…

Fly-fishing for a mile or so, I saw only two or three other anglers. Overhanging branches competed with numerous brook trout for the nymph and dry flies I presented. Lyman Run was tight with alders and hemlock boughs but the sight of brilliant native fish brought smiles of satisfaction.

Back home, I learned about an accident that had just occurred. Elsie B. had lost control of her car and crashed into a big maple tree in my yard. The car was totaled. Leighanne had called authorities and had helped Elsie from her vehicle.  Curiosity seekers drove by for the next few hours.

The driver hadn’t been seriously hurt but was ushered to the hospital. Her car had sheered off four feet of bark on the tree. An inspector came and suggested that we cover the wound with tar and black plastic. We needn’t worry about the tree’s appearance: “It looks better now than it did before.” So, no serious injuries, and we had a new “improved” version of a maple tree!

hand-hewn logs exposed at base of 19th-century house…

I spent an hour cleaning up crushed glass and litter. Elsie’s husband, Reggie, arrived and said, “If I’d known this was gonna happen, I wouldn’t of sunk so much money into the car.”  A minute later, Ed Dickerson pulled up, feigning to lose control of his truck and shouting from a window, “Oh no! I’m gonna hit a tree!”

From here on out, we were extra careful when we had our pets and children near the road.  “Bananas” was set to re-play in our heads.

a favorite hill barn…

a Slate Run brown (2019)…

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Transitions

Anticipating an August road trip out West, I recalled several earlier trips taken with my wife and kids– one trip just two years ago, and others, oh, way back… Perhaps the highlight of one westward transition occurred as we stopped for breakfast in a family-style restaurant near LaSalle, Illinois.

prairie dog, a westward look…

We sat at a table near a few old “regulars” slouched at widely separated stools along the U-shaped counter. Waiting for our orders to arrive, we enjoyed listening to some droll midwestern dialogue…

Patron A: “So, how’s work been going?”

Patron B: “Okay.”

Patron A: “I’ll bet I work more in one day than you’ll ever work in a month.”

Patron B: “That ain’t likely.”

Patron A: “I heard they sent a recliner over to your place for what you do.”

The banter continued, sometimes pausing sullenly for a minute or two, as we sat with our coffees, listening, and admitting, afterward, that the blueberry pancakes were pretty darn good, as well.

larger than I could tie or transport…

[What follows are two excerpts from “Western River Cycle” in my book called Sand & Sage (2010). I see them as reflections from Yellowstone, one of many wild locations that my daughter & I are hoping to revisit soon while maintaining our social distance from the crowds.]

The Firehole

The Nez Perce is a major tributary of the Firehole River. It was flowing low and warm as I passed a handful of frustrated anglers. No one was seeing trout in this hot weather, so I opted to explore the Firehole instead. After promising wife and kids that I would go with them on their second visit to Old Faithful geyser later in the day, I was dropped off at the Firehole Canyon.

my wife zeroes in…

The Firehole was flowing full and deep and cool, a fly-caster’s dream where I could lay down my terrestrial patterns on the grassy channels or beside an undercut bank. I caught several good rainbows that were feeding on grasshoppers and ants blown into the water.

Later, following a tasty Montana meal in West Yellowstone, I sampled a bit of the Madison River inside the park. The wind swept layers of storm cloud over the valley as I gave casting lessons to the kids. Releasing a small trout, I thought I heard the river gods intone, “Thanks for trying.” I thought I saw graffiti scrawled on an incoming wave: “I was here for a moment. It was fun.” I definitely heard shouting from the van, “Dad, don’t forget Old Faithful!”

The Gardner

Since the Gardner River below Mammoth Springs is influenced by very hot effusions from within the earth, I figured that any trout in this particular section had to be either suicidal or already cooked. Following some mandatory footwork on the paths of the Mammoth Springs site, we drove upriver toward the isolated Indian Creek Campground. At Sheep-eaters Cliff, named for the ancients who ostensibly hunted and consumed the area’s mountain sheep, my daughter and I strung up the fly rods.

It was the first occasion on this journey for my daughter to try some dry fly casting. She and I enjoyed the fast-flowing stream, but as dusk began to settle on this grizzly bear terrain, we found ourselves edging toward the parking lot. Fellow carnivores had to be respected, of course, and we seemed to be the only human carnivores around.

We were fortunate to have caught and released a lot of little brook trout in the Gardner, each as beautiful in its own way as any of the moose or elk or bison we had seen. The brookies, native to eastern North America, were a splendid fish even though they had usurped the native cutthroat trout in all too many western streams. Cutthroats remained the dominant sports fish on the upper Yellowstone River, and I looked forward to meeting them soon.

Man and machine have brought many changes to cold-water habitats around the world, and one needn’t look farther than Yellowstone Lake for a sobering example. The lake had been home to a stable population of cutthroat trout for millennia. In recent years, someone illegally dumped a number of lake trout into the water and now the non-native species has become a major predatory problem threatening to displace the cutthroat.

The cutthroat struggles for survival in many parts of the West, and the brook trout struggles for survival in the East. At the root of the problem are the transplants, plus the hand that perpetuates transplanting all around the planet. Even on a balmy summer evening, transplants are a theme at the Gardner River. Where once there were native Sheep-eaters struggling to survive, there were at least two eastern fly-fishers, a father and a daughter, trying to live their lives as fully as they could.

[Don’t hesitate to check my 56-second Greys River video below, replete with motorbike sounds & dust, about 20 miles above the nearest village.]

Snake River fine-spotted…

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Narragansett

My quest for saltwater species taken with a fly rod continued to elude me, defying all odds, on coastal Rhode Island. There were no fish seen or caught in my pleasant trials along Quonnie Pond, at the sand bar on Conimicut, or from a levee in Narragansett Bay. A perfect skunk!

Who else could boast a zero grade for casting feathers at a dozen mid-Atlantic and Caribbean sites? Not many, I’m sure. And even though a teetering sector of my rational mind still offers that old “You were in the right place at the wrong time” argument, the remaining mental chambers will have none of it. They insist that Salty Walt defer to the “Rivertop Rambler” in all future outings with a fly… I’m listening.

at Quonnie Pond…

So, the real catch was elsewhere, right? Sure, from the family ties, from the fresh coastal air and brush of brackish water, from the sight of swans and ospreys, and even from the sweep of all too many holiday celebrants. Spring had been prison-like for people everywhere, thanks to the pandemic, but summer was proclaiming independence.

Atlantic slippersnails, or common slipper shells, edible either way, had attached themselves & stained a clamshell…

excused from the fast lane…

Celebrants kept their social distance from each other or displayed their ignorance head to head, aligned with the spirit of exploding cherry bombs or with a full moon that competed with the rain of fireworks on the changing tides of the Atlantic.

the American political scene…

for which this helps…

One of our interesting hikes occurred at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge, an 800-acre tract described as “the only undeveloped salt pond in Rhode Island.” This former sheep farm is lined with great stone walls enclosing native grasslands, shrubland, forest, marshes, and sandy beaches with observation platforms and pedestrian benches.

Birding was alive with sights and sounds of mute swans, egrets, ospreys, hooded warblers, and white-eyed vireos, to name a few of the many species we observed in their bay and ocean habitats.

And speaking of the bay, I’ll remind anyone interested in poetics (the last time, I promise) that my latest– a 71-page handbound volume– is available now from FootHills Publishing, Amazon, and Wood Thrush Books, as well as from the old rambler at his high hills abode.

From the High Hills to the Bay

“New poetry by the naturalist and writer Walt Franklin, set in upstate New York. Appalachian Dawn, The Waterthrush, In Jewelweed, Eastern Coyote Poem, Swamp Magic… straightforward, well-crafted, nature-related verse from one of the region’s passionate stewards.” — W. McLaughlin, reviewer.

Another sample:

          Red-Tail

     Soaring circles

around the Sun

     drawing the Moon

thru his embered tail

               Hawk

plays and hunts

     creation in his eye

the Earth at his claw

*        *        *        *

Thanks everyone. And a couple more photos…

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Common Sense is Like Running Water

Moss Lake…

I have a new book of poetry just released from FootHills Publishing in Kanona, New York. From the High Hills to the Bay is a 72-page hand-sewn book with spine– pretty cool, even though I understand that poetry is not a favorite genre for most of us. But modern poetry doesn’t have to be abstract and unemotional, out-of-touch or lacking good sense. Take one poem, for example, the book’s “Common Sense is Like Running Water”:

When straying from the path without/ A compass, even the game trails fade./ In dense fog and fern, the beauty/ Of a wilderness ridge is palpable/ But mind and map sing different tunes./ The notion to get back before/ Darkness overwhelms your heart/ Slowly fills the mind and takes/ A crazed possession of the peace/ You sought and found. Forgotten facts:/ Common sense is like running water./ In each hollow lies the brook/ Whose flowing song will lead you home.

on the mat of the carnivorous…

My wife and I recently visited Moss Lake, a remnant of the glacial age, in the Allegheny foothills of New York. Moss Lake is a classic kettle bog with open water and a quaking mat. There is no feeder stream or outflow to the lake. The water’s 12-foot depth covers another 12-foot depth of peat (the incomplete decomposition of plant matter). The lake’s original 24-foot depth of water is slowly filling with decayed vegetation resulting in low levels of dissolved oxygen and a high acidic value.

Since acidic water inhibits bacteria from breaking down and fully decomposing plant matter, Moss Lake has little of the nutrients typically found in freshwater ecosystems. In place of our common wetland species, the lake has insectivorous pitcher plants and sundews that flourish on the bog mat. These carnivorous species can be studied from a boardwalk, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy that monitors the water and its forested margins.

sundews…

No stream flows in or out of Moss Lake but its stillness brims with wild nature. For many outdoor people, a meandering flow (along with lakes and oceans) is easier to relate to than a bogged-down ecosystem laden with insect-eating plants. But all of these forms are good; they’re all essential elements of life on Earth. Like literature and its varied genres, these creations can invite us to a realm of beauty and enjoyment.

osprey nest at roadside…

Flowing water always seems to beckon. Just before a recent evening on the stream, my friend Tim pointed out an osprey nest overlooking the Conhocton River Valley. We would soon be near the river’s tinted pools and riffles. I would note the arrowhead plants  directing thoughts to the world of trout. We would cast our flies and have some luck, and then, just before dusk, move downstream into the darkness. From there, we would fish until the midnight stars and fireflies winked their messages of sleep.

Arrowhead plants, pointing the way…

I had recently finished reading about E.R. Hewitt, a noted Catskill Mountains angler, author and conservationist, whose name is linked to the historic Neversink River. Hewitt is known for having created the Neversink Skater and Bivisible dry fly patterns, among a host of other accomplishments. Just before our fishing venture, Tim supplied me with a couple of Neversink Skaters he had tied, even though I hadn’t mentioned anything about Hewitt and his fly creations.

Conhocton River…

Friends are like that on occasion. They appear like flowing water when your senses get turned around by the confusion in the world. The Neversink Skater settles on my river space and I’ll give it time to drift. The flies are tied on a small hook, and their hackle is unusually long. Tim advises using a stouter tippet, say a 3x diameter rather than a 5x, so the hook settles toward the surface of the water.

flower of the pitcher plants, Moss Lake…

So we skate off on the warming surface of the summer… If you’re interested in adding “From the High Hills…” to your library, you can order from FootHills Publishing ($16), or you can get a signed copy from me– just send your street address and request to my email, franklinL3@yahoo.com. I thank you one and all!

pitcher plants, Moss Lake…

Neversink Skater, by Tim Didas.

 

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Reflections on a Gentle Art

 

wild river iris…

The Genesee River near Shongo, New York was flowing weakly and with water almost too warm for trout survival. I found a stretch of river cool enough for an evening of fly fishing and began hooking and releasing hatchery trout.

Genesee River brown…

Earlier I’d been reading about the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete (ca. 3000-1450 B.C.) and reflecting on my visit to Knossos, Crete many years ago. Nicolas Platon’s Crete (Archaeologia Mundi) is a fascinating account of Minoan life and arts, and it was good to reread the scientific accounts of Europe’s first true civilization and of how the peaceful coexistence of its kingships (in which women contributed greatly to the arts and daily life) led eventually to the classic era of ancient Greece.

long deep pool on Genesee…

I approached the tail end of a long deep pool and saw the subtle rise of a large trout. Surprised at my composure, I positioned myself for a cast where only the fly and leader would alight on the water just above the trout. Again, to my surprise, I made a decent cast and quickly had a heavy trout on the line. The fish was a head-shaking brown that battled me and won, breaking off the tippet and fly. Another surprise: no curses here, just another fine link to the realm of natural energies.

Lots of reading these days…

John K., an art restorer from Maine, had sent me his copy of the Minoan book and underscored the following sentences: The fear of death was almost obliterated by the ubiquitous joy of living. The whole of life was pervaded by an ardent faith in the goddess, Nature, the source of all creation and harmony. He also inscribed the title page with his own take on Western culture: “Would that the present world could go back to a time when war was unheard of, and women were held in high esteem.” His sentiment could easily have been my own when I decided to visit the ancient isle in 1982.

shade provided by the canopy…

Wild roses scented the air occasionally along the river banks and helped efface concerns about the rampant growth of Japanese knotweed growing there as well. Marion A.’s  dry fly pattern, an Egg-sac Rusty Spinner, was the only fly I needed till quitting time at dark. I caught a dozen trout– leaping rainbows and stodgy browns, several of which surpassed the 15-inches mark.

UB’s Egg-sac Spinner…

Another book I’ve been enjoying of late is Ed Van Put’s Trout Fishing in the Catskills, an excellent, pioneering portrait of American angling history, and a gift from a good friend, Don T., who once lived in my neck of the woods but now claims the West Branch Ausable as a home river. Ah, the Catskills… As a kid, I spent 10 years living in eastern New York with a backyard view of those mountains, so the Catskills were like a seminal monument imprinted on my wandering mind and angling brain.

Conhocton River, 6.13.20…

The great trout rivers– the East and West Branches of the Delaware, the Beaverkill, the Willowemoc, the Schoharie, the Esopus, and the Neversink, among others, have held a high esteem in the hearts and minds of fisherfolk throughout the past two centuries, and I too have been drawn deeply to their magic over the years.

Genesee River trout…6.17.20.

I can’t quite get enough of them, despite their distance from home. I know some of the streams fairly well, but others, like the Neversink and its smaller neighbors, continue to invite me for a first-time visit. June is a great time for dry fly fishing in the East, for humming along to Gershwin’s “Summertime” and reflecting on the gentle art of casting over pools and riffles. I will get there but, for now, I’m here, and that’s what matters.

The sun was setting on another visit to the Genesee. The large Potamanthid, a yellow mayfly, hatched from riffles near the parking lot, but it was too dark to bother changing flies. I stuck with the Rusty Spinner that remained just visible on the water– for myself and one last brown trout of the day.

Conhocton River…

 

 

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Planted Near Running Water

“Happy the man who does not read advertisements,/ does not listen to their radios/ does not believe their slogans. He will be a tree planted near running water.” — Ernesto Cardenal

a fine Andrew Weiner book donated to the school library in honor of Franklin’s retirement!

Often in times of social and political turmoil, I’ll be reminded of these lines by Cardenal, a Nicaraguan priest and poet who died in March of this year. I read them and remind myself that the natural world can assist with our healing process, similar to the way that peaceful protest and assembly can usher in hope for Earth’s downtrodden…

Slate Drake a.k.a. Isonychia bicolor…

It was good to immerse myself in the freshness of Little Kettle Creek. I might have gone there feeling like an old deciduous tree grasping for greenery, but I walked away (with angling partner, Jim) more like a pliant willow– rooted, but as youthful and content as my old bones would allow. The next two mornings I was ready for more– ready for Oswayo and Eleven Mile creeks and whatever their wild trout, birds and blossoms had to offer the itinerant soul.

Jim releasing a Kettle brookie…

An angler or a hiker stands near running water but appreciates the movement of imagination like a breeze through pine and hemlock boughs. This privilege of leisure is a modest one, certainly, but one that’s sadly unobtainable to many who are sick or unemployed or just plain kicked around by social injustice.

Oswayo morning…

Green Drake, Sulphur, and Slate Drake patterns were functional, as was a Perdigon nymph fished deeply. Songbirds vocalized– wood thrush and veery, oriole and tanager, even Louisiana water-thrush with a grub in its beak. Wildflowers caught the roving eye–Dame’s-rocket, lady’s-slipper, starflower, and ragged-robin (a wetland species getting difficult to find in many areas).

a forest starflower…

I might have been planted near running water but, luckily, I had motion and could still get my feet wet.

Ragged robins, rooted near wetlands, ready to fly…

I was fishing through the woods along Eleven Mile when I caught a whiff of natural gas. The smell grew stronger as did a noise that sounded like compressed, escaping air. I came to an old gas line laid above the stream from bank to bank, and there it was– a broken juncture spewing air and gas and liquids into the trout stream and on the ground. I made contact, eventually, with Potter County Emergency Services and directed a response team to the otherwise pristine and remote location.

it made the local news…

I could be planted like a tree whose roots grew deeply but it didn’t mean I had more safety or security than anyone else. I looked above and saw a bald eagle soaring in lazy circles high against the blue. It drifted along at such a height that, without binoculars, it appeared no larger than a tiny red ant. Then, through 10x glasses, I could see a symbol of the freedom that every being has a right to own or have an access to.

Eleven Mile…

Recently I took a morning walk up the South Ridge near my home. I crossed the stream, preparing to climb, when I heard another strange sound emanating from the nearby shrubbery. The grunt or squawk reminded me of an alarm call made by a deer or a great blue heron. Then I saw them– a black-furred creature followed by a reddish-brown animal leaping through the water only feet away then disappearing into the alders.

Owl’s House in a great black willow tree…

I had never seen a pair of fishers before. Fishers, a large member of the weasel family, are typically solitary creatures with extensive hunting ranges, except at mating time in early spring. The dark one was probably a female and the lighter one a male, both of them the size of small foxes, but with short legs and large bushy tails. And yet, this was early June– I had to wonder what was going on.

from the Weiner book…

Questions begged an answer but I knew enough to let them go. I stood near the water’s edge then climbed away, content with the company of creatures I could apprehend by sight or sound, and those left almost wholly to imagination.

Down by the River… a story great for kids….

Lady’s slipper/Moccasin flower bloom…

 

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Operation Perdigon

I’d intended to fish the brook ever since a friend indicated that his son had looked for trout there years ago. Through my decades of digging into local history, especially with regard to native fish populations, I had never seen a reference to, or heard of, brook trout being found in that stream. More recently, I received a gift of Perdigon trout flies sent from a former resident of this town, and I figured that these neatly-tied creations (new to me) might be the perfect ticket for exploring the little-known waters of the brook.

the Perdigon emergence…

It was a beautiful morning to commence with Operation Perdigon. I wanted a quick, unobtrusive visit to the deep culvert pool found about halfway up the hollow. There were few people living in these woods, but I did know a couple of them, and I preferred not being visited while performing my surgical inspection, even though the fishing operation would be legal in every aspect.

Perdigons are basically an attractor fly designed to sink quickly in fast deep water. These small, tapered, barbless flies are based on an original Spanish pattern (less than a decade old) that my friend, Don Tolhurst, follows, tying the weighted flies with his own creative spin.

an old pattern, farming tool, left behind…

The “Pliva Perdigons” are usually tied with a large bead, a tail of Coq de Leon fibers and a steeply tapered body often covered with a UV resin. They aren’t typically fished in headwater streams, said Don, but work well in rivers like the West Branch Ausable, Genesee, and Farmington, and in smaller waters like Pine and Kettle Creek in Pennsylvania.

an old boat found inside the woods reminds me of my book title, Uplands Haunted by the Sea…

Nonetheless, I was ready to attempt a tricky culvert pool with a pair of Perdigon nymphs, ready to straight-line into deep headwaters situated 20 feet below the steep edge of a gravel road. I heard no vehicles coming or going on the wooded slope. I assembled the two-piece rod, already equipped with tandem Perdigons, and left my fishing vest and other tackle in the car. So far, so good.

things are looking up…

Seeing an overgrown path leading toward the pool, I abandoned my original idea of casting from the road, and stepped toward the path. I wore street shoes and a pair of shorts containing my camera in a back-pocket. The slick soles of my footwear let me down, quite literally… I fell on my back and took a mud ride toward the bottom of the gully. Luckily I broke no bones, rod or camera on this inauspicious debut.

yellow-flowered archangels must’ve been looking over me…

Eye-to-eye with the pool, I saw the flash of something at the Perdigons. I worked out a few technical problems concerning my position here, then hooked and lost a small fish. Damn! Would I get another opportunity? I did…

should have read, “Elated Fisherman Xing”…

A six-inch brookie came to hand, was quickly photographed and released. At last, the stream could be added to the list of local waters still containing “endangered” natives– good news, certainly, though I wasn’t about to publicize exact locations.

Before the Perdigons were broken off and lost, I caught yet a larger brookie, a fish about eight inches long and, like myself, unwilling to be photographed. With that, the operation was successful.

not the larger specimen, but one caught earlier, on a dry fly…

It’s important to have personal experience with the natural world, both close at hand and at the frontiers of our knowledge. It may seem a small thing to have found a remnant population of a struggling native species, but I now have another stream to lend my voice to if and when the stream requires some defense in a court or village office. Also, it just feels good to know that a native fish is there– plain and simple.

the culvert pool…

Thank you, Don, for my intro to the Perdigons, and thank you, readers, as always, for your interest and support. You bring a positive accent to this delving into nature.

the Perdigon emergence…

 

 

 

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Halfway Lake

The small seven-acre lake was a good choice for a meeting of the clans. My son and his wife would drive north from Arlington, VA to meet us at Halfway Lake, a feature of Raymond B. Winter State Park in mid-state Pennsylvania. The 695-acre park is situated in a Ridge and Valley Province roughly halfway between my son’s home and our own place in the Southern Tier of New York State. Rocky ridges, covered with oak and pine forest, proved to be a pleasant setting for us at Rapid Run and Halfway Lake, a cold-water fishery impounded by a hand-laid sandstone dam.

spillway from the CCC dam…

Rapid Run…

Raymond Winter was a young forester who dreamed that a park could be created from the ruins of massive lumber operations and forest fires in the early twentieth century. Winter devoted his life and labors to establishing a site of natural beauty where original European settlers had traveled the “14 Mile Narrows Road” between Center County wilderness and the Susquehanna River.

the site is also along PA’s long Mid State Trail…

The original stopping point at Halfway Lake was known as the Halfway House– a barn and tavern built along the tannin-colored waters of Rapid Run. The teamsters could stop and refresh themselves, half way through their travels over Sand Mountain and through Pine Swamp. And here, during the pandemic of 2020, Brent and Catherine, and Leighanne and I converged for a family gathering, respecting the dangers of Covid-19 and trying to maintain our distance from other Memorial Day celebrants.

walking the nature trail…

forest in succession…

My wife and I had reached the park before the two Southerners were scheduled to arrive, so I had an opportunity to fly fish for native trout and stocked fish dwelling in the laurel shade of Rapid Run. I didn’t do too well. I broke a bamboo rod tip under abject circumstances, thus joining the “UB Broken Rod Club” just days after UB (a faithful reader of this blog) disclosed a similar misfortune up near Slate Run. Luckily I had a spare tip handy for continued casting.

another tip bites the dust…

native trout not responsible for broken rod…

The Rapid Run Nature Trail, traversing “one of the first State Park Natural Areas,” presented a white pine and hemlock forest pretty much “as it appeared in 1850.” Painted trillium blossomed beside the trail. Warblers sang from the multi-green shroud above. We found gelatinous orbs of wood-frog eggs and salamander haunts in the vernal pools adjacent to the stream.

vernal pool with eggs… photo by Brent…

Our stop at Halfway Lake provided a good holiday visit, live with food and conversation, as in simpler days before the age of Zoom. Spring was shifting its weight toward summer and the halfway point of the year. The past few months have been strange ones, for sure. Let’s hope that the balance of 2020 is a healthier half for all.

the beach at Halfway… photo by Brent…

painted trillium….

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Spinners, the Final Stage

“Spinners” form the fourth and final stage in the life cycle of a mayfly. The aquatic insect lives through egg, nymph, adult (dun), and spinner stages. The adult typically rises from the stream as nature says, “It’s time to mate.”

Genesee, the stage is set…

The back of the newly hatched adult splits open and the spinner form emerges, frail and ghostly, to collect on nearby vegetation till it swarms above the water. Spinners have opaque or transparent wings that splay on the surface of a stream or stick together once the females have deposited their eggs. This final act in the life cycle can provide a food source for the trout, as well as an exciting opportunity for the fly fisher.

Jim K. works the Kettle…

Marion A.’s “Super Spinners” came to me as a gift, a medicine to lift the spirit of an old spinner-tier from the existential gloom of worldly matters and, let me tell you, it was good, a medicine that worked according to script.

Good stuff… A-Flex-Arod comes to bat!

I marveled at the Hendrickson and March Brown spinner imitations in sizes 10 and 12. The doc explained how the March Brown spinner was constructed: “The two colors in the body are achieved by using a dubbing loop and dubbing each thread with the different color… then twisting and winding on the hook shanks.” The effect is neater than the spinners of my own construction.

A March Brown spinner…

I’m reminded of  Marion’s “Two Old Spinsters” designation– two pursuers of fishes who could be defined by the Cortland Line Company in 1962:  “… A FISHERMAN is a composite. He has the appetite of a bluegill, the digestion of a shark, the energy of a muskellunge, the curiosity of a native brook trout, the lungs of a farmer bawling out a trespasser, the imagination of a lure manufacturer, the irresponsibility of frayed tippet, the usefulness of a backlash on a dark night, the glamour of a hellgrammite and the staying power of a relative…”

I was anxious for an evening on the Genesee, looking for a spinner fall, perhaps a swarm of March Brown breeders that would have the trout looking up and tasting frail meat on the surface.

As it was, I saw few insects on this bright, cool evening, but I did okay. The catbirds mewed behind me in the bushes. Sparrows flew across wide riffles, scarfing up occasional caddis flies or Blue-winged Olives as they hatched. And brown trout rose to Marion’s “Super Spinner” dry.

Egg sac ready to deposit…

sweet medicine…

I thought about the two pandemics of our day– coronavirus and stupidity (techunionnews.xyz), believing that all good people would do well to heed Bertrand Russell’s thoughts on graceful aging… Russell, the philosopher, advises everyone to…Widen your interests gradually and make them more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.

The wife’s river pose…

Genesee hatchery ‘bow…

In other words, be like the river on which the mayfly settles when its life is done. Be like a river that is small, at first, a river that’s contained yet passionate in its rock-bound flow. A river soon to widen and to slow down as the banks recede, as it merges quietly with the sea. A river transformed. Like a medicine, perhaps, a gift to be acknowledged as one character is exchanged for something more.

Genesee brown took the doctor’s medicine– w/ different side effects…

Golden ragwort stars the Kettle banks…

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