The Klamath Cheer

I’ve seen the Klamath River but have never had the chance to fish it (yet). I remembered it recently when the good news filtered through abominable stews of economic, political, and environmental turmoil. Four dams on northern California’s Klamath River would be taken down, allowing restoration for endangered salmon habitat. More than 300 miles (483 kilometers) of free-flowing river would be opened up by 2024 to benefit the salmon that had been closed off from their spawning grounds. Environmentalists, nature lovers, and especially the several tribes of Native Americans whose culture has been twined inextricably with the fish have reason to rejoice.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted on and approved what would be the world’s largest dam demolition and river restoration project in history on 17 November 2022.

Above photo by Flaccus (The Associated Press), the Iron Gate Dam, Klamath River, one of four aging hydro-structures to be removed.

Granted, the decision to remove the dams was business based. Relicensing, with the cost of upgrades, would be prohibitive. But the cost for the owners, PacifiCorp, would be capped at $200 million, assisted by another $250 million from a California water bond (approved). All in all, this looks like a victory for deserving native people, for endangered salmon, and for anyone interested in survival in the region and beyond.

I tried the salmon (landlocked) run this fall, but the water was too low.

Eventually the power supply once furnished by the dams (diminished as it was) will be replaced by renewable energy sources (wind and sun) and by “energy efficiency savings.” One can only hope that construction of new energy sites does not bring unforeseen ecological damage (wishful thinking?). Anyway, demolition of the dams within the Klamath watershed will create the largest reopening of its kind by human beings, and I’m pleased for that. I was tired of hearing all the mostly rotten media reports of late and think it’s time for a bottle of the best beer in the house. Hey, do we have any brew from Klamath Basin?

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Golden Brown

There were golden days this autumn, brilliant afternoons delightful for occasions on the trail or on the stream. I tried to make the most of them, getting outside when I could, and trying to fit some angling time into a year that had seen far less than what I was used to.

brown trout came from head of riffle

I experienced another mellow afternoon on a local river. The continued dryness of the landscape was a little worrisome, and the water remained low and clear. Still, my recent fishing hours had to be among my finest of the year to date.

Many of the fish were in a spawning mode and hardly interested in my artificial offerings. But every now and then a streamer took a hit when drifting at the right level of the water column. I had seen a fish leap at the head of a riffle with an overhanging bank, and so I made a slow approach. A powerful brown trout grabbed the Woolly Bugger and quickly came to net. Its length, with tail slightly suppressed, was 20 inches, and its highlights (not to be captured by the small Olympus camera) were close to a golden hue.

I walked downstream to one of the larger pools and, where the riffles dropped off into the depths, surprised myself with the second and final hook-up of the day. Like the heavy rainbow that I captured and released a week or two ago, I was battling another fish of similar size. I’m glad that the barbless hook and 3X tippet held. The 7-foot cane rod held. My breath held –till the landing net finally held what must have been a 10-pound trout.

this one was heavy

The fish was no golden brown but an unbruised rainbow of impressive dimensions. My landing net measures 22 inches from tip to tip, and this particular trout surpassed that by at least three inches. It did not appear to be the same rainbow that I photographed earlier this month. Two fish made this autumn day complete, the river and the hillsides golden brown.

another pic of the ‘bow from previous post– the following 6 pics: trail/N. Hornell; scarlet sumac; Seneca Lake; ringbilled gull (Seneca); in one of many Finger Lake breweries; a view from home…
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More Than Fish That We Are After

I’ve returned to fly-fishing the local rivers and smaller streams, my first solo outings on the water in quite some time. These were modest outings, casting bamboo and smaller graphite rods, catching and releasing a few nice browns that rose to a dry Tan Caddis pattern. The streams have looked dispirited, still low from the dry conditions of departed summer, hobbled by fallen willow trees, by fallen leaves, by beaver dams unkind to water temperatures suitable for trout, and even by lost tackle used illegally in water that’s reserved for the use of artificial lures only. But all in all, I was glad for a return to places that could only see improvement of conditions in the weeks to come.

Things were looking better by my fifth outing of the autumn season. I had found some larger brown and rainbow trout in the deeper pools of my rivertop terrain. These fish were not at all interested in feeding, as far as I could tell, and acted as though spawning was the only energy worth expending now. We’ve got to give these stocked fish credit for not losing all their instincts and piscine dignity while growing up in hatcheries. Some of them might have glanced at the drift of my small dry flies or my slightly larger nymphs but, in general, their refusal to completely check them out told me I was wasting my time if I really wanted success. I would come back the next day with a different strategy and a different set of tackle.

Golden rod (Chester)

As H.D. Thoreau once commented, “Many go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Some of us are familiar with that line and may have even thought about it. I, too, have ruminated on the writer’s words and would add but one qualification. Fishing is like many quests pursued outdoors. It might be a favorite activity, or it might be a lesser one, but it’s usually considered very pleasurable. And there’s more to it than meets the eye, of course; there’s more to it than catching fish. But to catch a fish and to note the beauty of its form and its place of life, where so many other wonders can be found, is a key to knowing what we’re really after.

I had come back to the river with a set of streamer flies, with a shorter leader and a tippet of considerable strength. I saw shadows and reflections of large, slowly cruising trout. I had no preview of the fish that seized my chartreuse imitation. It was powerful and heavy, leaping from the surface and pulling me around for what must have been 10 minutes or so. My landing net came in handy, although in this case, it did seem rather small. After several quick photos and a measurement of 25 inches in length, the big fish slowly swam away and disappeared in the depths. Soon the wind and cold rain began to pummel the riverbanks. I climbed the rocky staircase to my car, almost brimming with an unexpected pleasure.

release
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Crazylegs

Flipping through the pages of my old literary magazines, I recently found a piece that I had written long ago and had published in a Philadelphia magazine called LaZer (1994). I’d completely forgotten about this personal reflection from my youthful bartending days not far from where I currently reside, but I thought to share it with you on the chance that “Crazylegs” might still entertain…. [photos: autumn rose. delphinium, wild sunflower, Jack-in-the-pulpit… Greenwood, NY environs]

Spike, a human fixture at the Sycamore Hotel, was prone to calling Daniel Woodworth “Crazylegs.” In recent years old Dan had begun to lose control of his left leg and so resorted to the use of canes, but the nickname didn’t seem to bother him. In fact, his retaliatory and affectionate name for Spike was “Dago.” Crazylegs and Dago got along just fine.

I was tending bar at the Sycamore when I first met Crazy. He was short and stooped, a long-retired farmer now with sunken cheeks and thick-lensed glasses. Because of his alcoholic tendencies, Crazylegs wasn’t the official Town Historian of Grayville, but he was, nonetheless, a true historian. Drunk or sober, he could speak articulately, accurately, and with intelligence and detail on almost anything pertaining to the Grayville area.

With the quickness of a warm computer, he could spiel out genealogies for any rooted family; he could speak of Fall Creek, Hiram’s Gully or Grouse Hollow, for example, and inform one of the natural and human history there; he could people all the buildings in the township with men and women who had known them, and he could talk of how they mobilized both socially and geographically. Crazy’s memory was nearly photographic, but he seldom flaunted it. He kept his knowledge locked within himself unless someone indicated an interest. Arguably, he knew more about the place than did the Town Historian, but undeniably Crazylegs was friendlier and more accessible than his official counterpart.

I never knew him well or saw him much outside of his occasional appearance at the bar. He seemed to be a humble man of wisdom, one who stayed in touch with the traditions, who could see both the torn fabric of existence and the wholeness of the cycles that were life. Surely my view of him was limited by my own selective interests. For all I really knew, Crazylegs could have been a life-long alcoholic, one who poisoned dogs, molested children, beat his wife, and picked his nose in church. I knew that he lived in a dumpy shack out in the hills, that his farm animals were history, and that his kids had grown and left him in solitude, but these were facts I could easily attribute to the ravages of modern life on rural dwellers, rather than to personal irresponsibility.

There was something in his speech and manner that portrayed him as an amiable, independent and compassionate fellow. Symbolically, he might represent the old and vanishing rural community– where community meant more than the assembly of volunteers at the Fire Hall for beer or cards on Thursday nights. As if to balance these reflections there was also something of the tragic in his mien. Old Crazy was approaching blindness, but I saw his inner eye glancing back and forth in time, perceiving some kind of hope still glimmering for us as a culture, although growing dimmer day by day.

Several men were sitting at a table talking casually about the trapping season. Harry Sanford said he was buying mink and beaver skins this year. On the television there was news about a local free-lance writer just released from her status as Iranian hostage. She reported that major publishers were interested in the book she planned to write about her months behind the lines. Crazylegs hobbled through the door and sat near Spike at the bar.

“Must have been around New Year’s when I last run into you,” said Crazy when I served him a can of Genesee. I didn’t need to remind him that we talked then of the vanished farms out my way. “Sure, we talked about Minnie. She was sumpthin’,” added Crazylegs.

“She had lots of kids, huh?” said Spike.

“Fourteen. Nine girls, five boys.”

“Some of them died real young.”

“Let’s see, ” continued Crazylegs. “Little Sam. Died way back around 1920; and Thomas– died a few years after that.”

Spike ran his hand indifferently through his slicked-back hair. Moments later he was staring at the doorway when he said, “Helen I remember good. Went off to Minnesota and died.”

“And Marie,” added Crazylegs.

“She went nuts,” declared Spike.

“Yeah, but she pulled out of it, though. Tough bird.”

I wondered how much sadness surfaced through the recollection process and how sharply Crazylegs reacted to the more significant happenings of long ago. Was there still a pretty face, a someone who would never change through time and could allure him always to events as he had lived them?

I imagined him laughing as he looked down the hallways of a grim and tottering future. Would his days unwind at the “Old Folks Home” where the dayroom television blared to offset the existence of faded magazines, potted geraniums, and white-gowned female companions now unable to answer questions such as, “Would you like a baked or a mashed potato with your dinner?”

Suffice it to say that such a future wouldn’t be for him. We are living in a strange and dangerous time like frogs in a crock of water slowly heated over a fire. Many of us, if not already spiritually dead from exploitation and our own insensitivity, will be boiled to death in time. But I don’t think Crazylegs will forget how his life once was or how it might be lived tomorrow. When others knock upon his door to take him to the city, Crazy’s lame left leg will kick like a swimming frog’s; the cane will bear the body’s weight. He’ll stumble toward an open window and be gone unnoticed.

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A Diminished Thing

On the last full day of summer, I experienced a somewhat inspirational event. It was a simple event but one that I could not have known earlier this year, prior to surgery on my spine in August. My brother and a friend (trail names “Bob” and “Porky,”) and I were camping at World’s End State Park in northern Pennsylvania when we decided to climb the 5-mile gravel roadway (up and back) to a summit view of the canyon formed by Loyalsock Creek. It was a modest climb compared to many of our hiking “bludgeons” of the past, but Porky was suffering septuagenarian back pains and I was only six weeks out of a three-day hospital visit, so the general feeling was that we were lucky to be out at all.

Loyalsock Creek
World’s End State Park

Two mornings later, on the first full day of autumn, I was working at my desk at home when I heard a sickening thud on a nearby window. I knew immediately that a songbird had gone down. I went out and found the lifeless body of a warbler known as an ovenbird. Sometimes a small bird nesting in or near the yard will gently strike a window and be briefly dazed before recovering. But in late September many local species will be in a restless migratory mode, and collisions are more likely to be fatal.

Ovenbird

I held the little olive-backed creature and recalled “The Oven Bird,” by poet Robert Frost, a non-traditional sonnet. The last six lines of the poem remind us that a songbird, like a poet, can resound the melancholy truth of time’s swift passage (from the fullness of a songful spring to the relative quiet of late summer and early fall) and the loss implied therein:

And comes that other fall we name the fall./ He says the highway dust is over all./ The bird would cease and be as other birds/ But that he knows in singing not to sing./ The question that he frames in all but words/ Is what to make of a diminished thing.

So, an inspirational climb, a small transition, and a thud. We take it all in stride, knowing, hopefully, when to sing and when a wordless time is preferable.

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Newfoundland, Part 4, Conclusion

First of all, we boarded ship with about 30 other passengers at O’Brien’s Boat Tours for a two-hour ride on the Atlantic in search for whales and puffins. Back at St. Johns, the manager at our boarding house had told us, “You’ve seen more of Newfoundland than a lot of Newfoundlanders have.” Really? Well, if so, we were bound to see a little more.

ruins at St. Johns

Our boating guide, O’Brien, was a 40-year veteran of the business, a jolly Irish singer and musician who, when not joking around or singing some traditional Irish song, was an excellent source of information on the fish and birds and mammals of the North Atlantic.

gannet
bird-covered isle

I had never seen so many birds in one location. We approached a rocky isle considered to be the summer home for the second largest puffin colony in the world. “There’s probably two million puffins nesting there and flying all around us. If you haven’t seen a puffin yet, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do to help you!”

a few puffins

I heard another voice proclaim, “It’s like in the movie, The Birds!” But no– those puffins, murres, gulls, and fulmars flying all around us weren’t an evil omen. They were an event. Perfect shadows of interior life, as well as real lives of the North Atlantic waters.

from a shipwreck

Farther out on the misted ocean we began to see the spouts of feeding humpback whales. Water fountained from the wild, and then a breaching giant, and there– a diving cetacean with its tail straight up in air!

As if the whales were not enough, hungry dolphins began to school adjacent to our idled boat. The dolphins leapt into the air, slamming their bodies to the surface of the waves in efforts to corral their prey, the small fish known as capelin. Even O’Brien was amazed. “In my 40 years of guiding, I don’t think I’ve seen such dolphin energy!”

As we motored back to shore, our navigator cut the engine and O’Brien had us gather around. Now what? Well, Alyssa had secretly bought a special ceremony. We hardly qualified for honorary induction into Newfoundlander citizenship, but O’Brien announced to everyone that the three Americans were about to be “Screeched-In,” like it or not.

Thankfully there wasn’t any cod aboard for the traditional lip-kiss with a fish, or a rubber puffin with a butt to smooch. But there were yellow fishermen hats to wear, and there were plastic cups for highly potent screech (symbolic of the rotgut liquor that islanders once obtained from Jamaica, in quantity rather than quality, in trade for their barrels of local fish). And there was an oath of loyalty to the province that each of us repeated, line for line, with difficult Cockney accent, followed by hearing out O’Brien’s warning: the rum is bad; gulp it quickly with one swallow!

Then, screech it to the world! “Is you a Newfoundlander?”

“Yes b’y!”

Each of us then worthy of a signed certificate.

And the big surprise? The swill wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was smooth and rich and not too sweet. Like travel through a wonderful land.

the Finish!
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Newfoundland, Part 3

On our trans-island route to the eastern peninsulas of Newfoundland, we passed a lot of tempting trout and salmon rivers. Eventually we would meet Atlantic Dave, a white-haired boat tour captain and a former teacher now living in Terwillengate, the so-called “Iceberg Capital of the World.”

Captain Dave grew up in a small roadless village across the bay. Our small touring group would soon observe that village closely when Dave lowered his anchor at the cliffs nearby and pulled up several lobster traps that he employed. He inspected a female lobster ripe with eggs then gently freed her in the shallow water. Next, he pointed toward the empty village.

“That’s the house I lived in as a kid. I own the place and try to keep it up. I helped to build that dock to earn some money as a teen. We carried rocks from the cliff right here.” Dave, typically a jovial and humorous instructor, suddenly grew pensive and teary-eyed as he recollected the adventures of his youth and then proclaimed that, sadly, we were probably looking at the future of Newfoundland’s village life and the fishing culture that sustained it.

The captain was friendly with a pair of nesting bald eagles that always seemed to await his arrival when providing a tour. He had carried some frozen fish in the boat and tossed one to the rocks. “Come on mama!” he shouted. “Come and feed those young ones!” The female eagle launched out from her nest, settled on the rocks and grabbed the fish, then rose back to her nestlings. “Now watch this,” said Dave. He took another fish and tossed it to a new location on the rocks. “Come on, papa– get off yer watch and grab a bite!” The male eagle leapt off his sentry post and dropped down to the offering. The big bird clutched the codfish in its talons and returned to the heights. A dozen landlubbers on vacation were delighted.

Captain Dave opened out his motor and we sped across the bay, checking out the rocky isles where gulls and guillemots and cormorants nested in dense colonies. Atlantic Dave provided a fine excursion, and a preview of a greater ocean ride to come.

American redstart

rose pogonia

pine grosbeak, dandelion seeds

Stay tuned for a final installment!

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Newfoundland, Part 2

The Tablelands at Gros Morne National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), north of Corner Brook (see map), are dry red-rock formations uplifted from the Earth’s mantle. The natural mineral, periditite, is poisonous for most vegetation, with a few exceptions. With June’s snowmelt pouring off the ridges, pitcher plants were plentiful along the trails and beckoned the inquisitive spirit as if it were an insect prey.

from Wikipedia

Our camp at Trout River was a handy launching pad for a birthday celebration at a seaside restaurant offering “authentic” cuisine (loved that partridge-berry pie!) and a brief stint of fly-fishing on the Trout.

hiker’s approach to fjord @ Gros Morne

Walking tours of various coastal locations proved inspiring for the North Atlantic birder & the maritime naturalist. And a 10-mile boat ride on the Gros Morne “Fjord,” aka Western Brook Pond– a Norwegian-style oligotrophic lake with depths exceeding 500 feet & with shear rock walls exceeding 2,000 feet in height– amazed the three Americans on their first visit to the Long Range Mountains of western Newfoundland-Labrador.

tour boat on the fjord
2000′ pinnacles, Western Brook Pond
did some casting here…
snowy fingers, Tablelands
camp for 3, Gros Morne
did not try ’em…
sea arches, west coast…
common murres…
pitcher plants, common on the Tablelands
Atlantic salmon river…
Atlantic puffins…
another look at… Pissing Mare Falls, Gros Morne… Stay tuned
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Newfoundland, Part 1

The long drive north from Rhode Island to the Nova Scotia ferry crossing was a difficult journey for a guy with upcoming back surgery, but the overall trip was wonderful. With my wife and my daughter catching up on sleep inside a cabin on the big boat purring on the seven-hour passage to the great isle in Newfoundland-Labrador, I took to the wind and sunshine of the observation deck and dreamed about the sights that we would see throughout the following week. Ultimately, we would log 4,200 miles from western New York State to Newfoundland’s outback and our return, excluding the sea miles gathered from five excursions on the waves.

west coast, Newfoundland

From the Tablelands wilderness of the western island and its World Heritage site, the Gros Morne National Park, to the iceberg-haunted eastern peninsulas to the humpback whale watching north of St. Johns, we immersed ourselves in Newfoundland’s natural history and its maritime culture as much as possible, given our limited time. Our daughter, Alyssa, had designed a stimulating itinerary for the three of us.

ferry brews for three…

From our woodland tenting sites to our stays in lodging that included one night in a renovated home once owned by a Newfoundland Prime Minister one century ago, we ventured into boat excursions, lighthouse tours, fjord exploration, breweries, puffin colonies, moose haunts, and even a couple of river edges where I dutifully cast to unsuspecting trout.

fjord, Gros Morne National Park

Currently I have been unsure of how to share some 60 photographs selected from the journey. I’ve decided to present them in a series of four posts, each one with about 15 images randomly ordered, annotated, and to follow in relatively fast succession (compared to my slowed-down pace throughout this past year). I hope that you enjoy, and always feel welcome to comment or inquire…

lovely navigators, L.& A.
Indian brook; let it not be said I didn’t fish…
male pine grosbeak
harlequin ducks
moose a’plenty; caribou, too, but unseen…
Tablelands, Gros Morne…
Pissing Mare Falls, Gros Morne N.P.
Atlantic puffin; we would see so many more… Stay tuned
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Photos, Art and Nature

Few words today, as I reflect on the activities of the past few weeks and look forward to my rapidly approaching trip to Newfoundland. With luck, I may have some interesting reflections to share with you from that Atlantic province steeped in cultural history, puffin colonies, trout, and moose.

Eastern kingbird, Greenwood, NY

Locally, over the last couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed a bit of fly-fishing, birding, public reading performances, and visiting with the Pittsburgh folk who were kind enough to help us extend our explorations there. One highlight was the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a magnificent blend of art and nature in the heart of an exciting urban center. Not much walking for me, as I anticipate a summer date for back surgery, but enough to keep me chirping with my feathered friends and human pals, as well.

Enjoy…

Allegheny (l.), Monongahela (r.) forming the Ohio River
Chihuly chandelier, Welcome Center, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh
Chihuly gold star in the Desert Room
onward to the street/sidewalk art in Pittsburgh…
Andy Warhol, native…
spicy prawn with rice (Vietnamese)
a break at the brewery…
the beer was great…
back yard, Greenwood
rose-breasted grosbeak
willow flycatcher
scarlet tanager
pileated woodpecker, Greenwood
Genesee River brown
common grackle, Dormont/Pittsburgh
mallard in chalk, the ‘Burgh.
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