Caribbean Scrambles, Part 1

St. Croix and the U.S. Virgin Islands are located about 1,100 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. The islands were first settled by Carib, Arawak and Cibonay peoples and were “discovered” by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493.DSCN7934

St. Croix is approximately 20 miles long and six miles wide, with a population of about 54,000 people, most of whom are centered around two main villages, Frederiksted and Christiansted. 

My daughter, Alyssa, has been living and working on the island of St. Croix since last October. She filled our eight-day visit with a great variety of fun-filled and educational adventures which I’d like to tell you about in several illustrated posts that I’ll intersperse with more traditional RR narratives. For now, let’s just say it was a wild and wonderful ride.

DSCN7926“You say Good Night when greeting a local Crucian after dark. It means Hello, and not See You Later I’m Going to Bed,” remarked Alyssa as we entered Turtles’ bar and restaurant in Frederiksted, St. Croix. Later, completely rummed out and cooled off from our warm arrival on the island, we walked along the lonely pier and nodded “Good Night” to a local fisherman casting his baited lines. I asked him if there were tarpon in the neighborhood. “Yes,” said the fisherman, “right here,” sweeping his hand along the lamp-lit pier that receives a cruise ship every week except in the off-season that was just about to start in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

DSCN7943I quickly saw them– large streamlined fish, tarpon up to four feet long, drifting in and out of the shadows of the lamp-lit pier. I dreamed of hooking one with my nine-weight rod that I would bring out pretty soon, but then what? How would I subdue an unbridled and exploding star of fin and muscle and then finally lift it from these deep clear waters? It’s like saying, “Rum’s the Answer… What was the Question?” Well, maybe tomorrow.

But wait. “Look at that!” A giant turtle swam leisurely along the agitated surface of the sea. It was a great green sea turtle, or maybe a hawksbill, I don’t know. A huge, magnificent reptile.

Alyssa’s condominium site was wonderfully quiet and peaceful in this off-season. TallDSCN7959 palms and Caribbean flowers graced the courtyard and the area of the swimming pool. A large iguana that I named Igor came down from his coconut realms to drink from the pool; bananaquits, pearly-eyed thrashers, Zenaida doves, and green-throated Carib hummingbirds flew about commonly through the perfumed air. Bougainvillia and other colorful blossoms graced the expansive gardens; a mongoose hunted a remote corner of the parking lot; and large fruit bats, the only native mammal still extant on the isle, flew across the blue-lit surface of the pool at night.

DSCN7953The spacious condominiums were built from undamaged sections of a huge hotel resort that was otherwise destroyed by Hurricane Hugo and abandoned in 1988. The ruins are visible beyond the fenced off gardens. Apparently the grounds of the resort were once attractive to a class of visitors that included Jackie Kennedy. I know that the refurbished grounds and modest home site where my daughter lives function as a pleasant watering hole and respite for a poor-slob naturalist from the rivertops and his wonderful wife.

On Sunday morning one of the final cruisers of the tourist season docked at Frederiksted village. We explored Fort Frederiksted (1760) overlooking the water. Its spare but DSCN7966powerful imagery came straight from Danish occupation and a period of sugar plantation life and brutal slavery. We shopped among the tourists and did what we could to support local artists and shopkeepers. We swam in a bay near the village where a local fisherman caught and kept a long needlefish with a seawater sheen.

We ate a wonderful lunch at Polly’s-at-the-Pier, one of the locations where Alyssa works but where she had the week off in order to guide her dazzled parents. Just beyond us, at the pier, local fishermen stood in the sea and gutted their catch that they would sell to the restaurants. Magnificent frigate-birds and brown pelicans swooped around them and scarfed up the remains.

DSCN7969I enjoyed some local brews such as the non-alcoholic Chlorophyll and Sea Moss but when the heat of day really put my back against the sand and sun, my go-to for refreshment, aside from water and tasty tropical fruits, was an unsurprising “Painkiller,” a rum slushie of some sort, and an Island Hoppin’ IPA from neighboring St. Thomas.

Yeah, I know, it’s a tough life filled with reggae and steel drum music… but I draw the line at Jimmy Buffett. I just never allowed myself the pleasure….

DSCN7974The native Crucians (the people of the island) were amiable and courteous to us who enjoyed their home. Poverty exists on St. Croix as it does on many Caribbean islands and, for the most part, the infrastructure of society could use a helping hand.

DSCN7975Driving on the left side of the pedestrian-unfriendly roads is an experience sure to challenge the first-time visitor from North America, but Alyssa managed the byways admirally with her banged-up “Islander” as she guided her finger-crossed dad and proud mother on the first-part of this Caribbean Scramble.DSCN7986

There’ll be more to come, my friends, so please stand by….DSCN7999DSCN8016DSCN8020DSCN7930

 

 

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Setting the Tone

The Tradition:

On the opening day of northern Pennsylvania’s trout fishing season I went out to look at the water. Big surprise. It’s what I usually do on this date. I visited all three branches of the upper Genesee River in Potter County, driving past the knots of anglers gathered at the stocking points, and headed upstream. Way upstream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I often look for wild trout in this settled country, but in places where the tracks of deer and mink and raccoon typically outnumber the prints of fishermen.

On the East Branch (or Main Branch Genesee) I surprised myself by tangling with a couple of large stocked browns. These fish were at least a mile above the highest stocking point on the river, so it was fun to speculate on migration possibilities, or if the big one that got away (yeah the one that grows a little every time you think of it) was a wild fish, the kind that’s probably hiding in every other hole secured by logs and brush.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext, I visited the headwaters of the Middle Branch Genesee. This year my traditional stop was again close to the source. I had permission to fly cast this private water where the hilltop flow is both pastoral and small. By small, I mean only a few feet wide, but with depth and undercut banks for good trout habitat.

To prevent spooking the fish, I approach some areas on hands and knees. Casting is often an underhand swing or a bow-and-arrow shot. Even then, a good percentage of casts will snag on an old weed or overhanging branch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was pleased to land a 10-inch brookie there, an unusually large one for a stream like this. The watershed beginning on this high plateau is considered to be the only triple divide in the eastern half of the nation. Here the Genesee flows north to Lake Ontario and the far Atlantic. Here, Pine Creek sets up and aims for Chesapeake Bay. And here the Allegheny River starts its ramble toward the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. I’m not sure how the brookie felt before I released it, but I could feel myself disintegrating in a pleasant way and heading for parts unknown.

To keep myself grounded, I visited a lower section of the Middle Branch and noticed something interesting. A trout rose to my strike indicator while fishing a beadhead nymph. Aha.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was time for a dry fly, and a Quill Gordon did the trick. A brook trout slammed the artificial and ushered in a favorite season of the dry fly angler in north-central Pennsylvania.

PlaidCamper recently posted a photo of an old Plymouth he found on the prairie. This West Branch baby can't compete with his Valiant but it's the best that I could do.

PlaidCamper recently posted a photo of an old Plymouth he found on the prairie. This West Branch baby can’t compete with his Valiant but it’s the best that I could do.

The next stop, the West Branch is usually the highpoint of my day’s experience, but this time it was disappointing. It was late in the day. The guys still on the water seemed to be getting bored. The ATVs began to rev up, and I heard the sputtering of a .22.

Okay, it says Plymouth.

Okay, it says Plymouth.

The next morning I revisited a quieter section of the West Branch, but again I was disappointed. There was sediment on the streambed and too much trash along the road.

It was time to shift gears and go experimental.

On the Edge:

My 7-foot Pine Creek watershed rod.

My 7-foot Pine Creek watershed rod.

I drove a short distance to the south side of the big divide. I looked for wild trout on a “blue line” I’d been eyeing on the local maps for several years. The stream had intrigued me long enough. I had to explore it because no one had ever mentioned this stream before, and I’d never seen a reference to it in any form of literature anywhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a feeder of the upper Pine. I did some casting on Pine Creek but didn’t see a fish. When getting closer to the mystery stream, however, I felt my confidence return.

According to my map, the stream begins on a mountaintop about two miles above Pine Creek. There would be no road or trail beside its banks. There would be no cabin or human settlement or even a human footprint there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It would take a quarter mile of poking and shuffling before I found the evidence. At first, the fish were tiny things that couldn’t even stay on the hook. Soon afterward, however, the heavens opened up, and I didn’t dare to question my luck.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Colorful brookies took a weighted nymph and a floating Stimulator. They ranged in size from infants up to seniors measuring nine inches or more. In one large pool I must’ve gotten acquainted with all eight or nine residents. I sent them all home to count their blessings and to be careful the next time artificial food comes drifting by their doors.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This mountain stream seemed personal because I’d found it for a day of fishing in beautiful weather. The quiet and the solitude seemed perfect. Tradition met experimentation here, and the mixture was fine with me.

Setting the Tone:

It’ll soon be time for a short break here at Rivertop Central. Next week I’ll be looking at home from a different point of view. As always, thanks for your interest and support of my blog. If I’m lucky, my next post will have a salty flavor, seasoned by sun and wickedness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Ambassador’s Fifteen Minutes

For 15 minutes I felt like an ambassador to Chenunda Creek…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This stream, in the upper Genesee River watershed of New York, does not yet have any public fishing rights, as far as I know, but folks are working to make a change.

A truck pulled beside me as I prepared to fish on a cold and snowy day in early April.

The bearded passenger, sitting shotgun in the truck, rolled down his window and said, “Hey, I don’t have any posted signs here, but I don’t want guys fishing near the house. I’ve had people throwing shit into my yard and leaving it there for me.”

He didn’t seem to remember that we talked a couple of years before. It had been on a cool October day, the final day of the regular New York trout season, and the old guy had thought the fishing season was closed. He thought that maybe I was poaching near his place, at one of the few easy access points along the creek. We had a brief but good discussion that October day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I talked with you a couple of years ago,” I said. “You’d given me an okay to fish along this stretch.” The old homeowner nodded slowly, as if in recognition.

“Are you a veteran?” he inquired. It was the same question he had asked on our first meeting. Then, as now, two large flags waved prominently in his yard.

“No,” I answered. “I’m not a veteran but I’m a landowner, and I understand your concerns about discourteous guys who trash your yard and property… I make it a point of picking up a few pieces of garbage every time I fish, no matter where I am. If there’s something we don’t need, it’s an idiot who trashes the land and water and makes it difficult for everyone else who cares.”

Goddamnit, I was sounding kind of holy on a Sunday morn! But I meant it. The landowner and the driver of the truck sat with heads nodding agreeably, as if to a sermon on the mount, and saying something like, “Yeah, you go fish, and have a good one. You don’t need to be a veteran to fish here.”

For a few moments I felt… ambassadorial… to a creek. Not in any regal or important sense, like Uncle Ben Franklin chosen to represent a young America in Europe, but in a simple, everyday fashion, as if speaking for an understated trout stream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was feeling good, as on a recent occasion when I saw my book, River’s Edge, among some very good literary company, photographed by South African blogger, Trutta. Thanks for that, Andrew! (See photo below).

I thanked the fellows in the truck and slid down to a cold, full-flowing creek still rimmed with ice. Maybe I could find some new experience worthy of the stories told in my fly-fishing book. But I was tired of the heavily fluctuating weather conditions, of tropical warmth followed by frigid temperatures, etc., as almost everyone seemed to be these days. I waded carefully among Chenunda’s icy holes and rocky edges.

Thanks to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the fishing regulations here were changed about six months ago. They changed from a regular six-month open season to one that doesn’t close, including a no-kill, artificials-only regulation existing for the months of October through March.

I was feeling a little guilty for not yet fishing the stream in the coldest months, but I had reasons for being reluctant and taking it easy, no doubt like some of the landowners along the creek. (I might have been dreaming of an upcoming visit to St. Croix, photo by Alyssa Franklin).

The DEC had posted the new regs along the creek, but I figured that a few landowners might need time to adapt. The creek needs public fishing rights along its banks. Trout Unlimited and other interested parties are being asked by state officials to talk it up with landowners in the hope of eventually buying public access.

I went fishing on Chenunda, pretty sure that I had been a good ambassador for public recreation.

A hefty brown trout answered my wishes and fought me to the bank. I took its photo as if a trout’s image could be a word of thanks for what I’d done.

Actually, it was just a good brown trout pleased to get released and not be frozen into a corpse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was sitting here, composing on computer, thinking about what it feels like to be… ambassadorial… when the phone rang. I answered it. I don’t have Caller I.D. If I had known that a young male caller would identify himself (with a heavy Indian accent) as representing “Windows,” to give an urgent plea to fix my computer before it crashed and took the whole damned country down with it, I wouldn’t have answered the ring tone with “Hello.”

I’d have been a real ambassador for everything good and sacred in the blogosphere. Instead of saying, “Hold it, man; you say you’re from Windows and my computer is about to blow, but Windows doesn’t call me or anybody when the ship goes down. This is bullshit, and you know it!” No, I wouldn’t have talked to him like that if I had known beforehand who was calling.

I would have answered with, “Hello, you’re on the Air!”

I would have listened to him capsize and go silent, as he went when I reamed him out with my tutorial.

That’s what I plan to do the next time “Windows” comes to my rescue, if I can guess correctly on the call. Then I might feel more like a veteran of the social wars, and perhaps a little closer to old Ben Franklin, too.books (1 of 1)

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The Opener

[Reflections from a time on or near the opening of the regular trout season in New York State]

falls on Tannery Creek

falls on Tannery Creek

A beautiful day with sun and bluebird song… just before the weather crashed and brought back snow and wintry temperatures.

April Fool’s Day, not a time of cosmic harmony.

tools for "opening day"

tools for “opening day”

I fished the headwaters of Naples Creek, above the circus of fishing tourists wielding their plastic nets, red wigglers, egg sacs, spinners, and (yeah) artificial flies.

I caught them like this, small residents, instead of the big 7-pound spawners.

I caught them like this, small residents, instead of the big 7-pound spawners.

Okay, I participated, loosely, in a religious event. It was gonna be different this year. The winter had been warm; the spawing rainbows had largely dropped back to the lake already; the crowd would be relatively thin…

I was heading toward this falls on "Crapper Creek," when the inevitable occurred...

I was heading toward this falls on “Crapper Creek,” when the inevitable occurred…

The crowd was thinner than it usually is, but still kind of fat. I headed up Tannery Creek, Reservoir Creek, Eelpot Creek (upper Naples), Grimes Creek, and “Crapper Creek,” where I took took a tumbing slide down a high bank and, oh so fortunately, landed unhurt.

warning signs

warning signs

Instead of seeing a band of stars flashing across my eyes, I saw leaping trout on a bridge (even though no one else seemed to be catching large rainbows this day). I saw the muskrat that swam from an undercut, intercepting my drifting fly then swimming into another hole upstream before the hook popped free.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I saw the four or five-pound trout that struck from an undercut bank in a different stream but missed the passing fly. Unfortunately, that was the only large fish (live one) that I saw all day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I saw loons on a local marsh and farm pond. Actually my wife saw them first, a few days after the “Opener,” but maybe I was seeing them in preview as I lay there on the mud of Crapper Creek. Who knows. It’s nice to see these migrators whenever or wherever they appear.DSCN7891

I saw, again, the first bloodroot flower of the season. It wasn’t a great specimen. It was partly closed and a bit disheveled so I didn’t bother taking a photo. Instead, I thought of the flower as recorded in Earthstars, Chanterelles, Destroying Angels, my new book of poetry. I rose from the bedrock of the creek and climbed back toward the car.DSCN7889

Mishaps? Perhaps. I’ve had better times, and I’ve had worse. Living the life that opens day by day.DSCN7886

St. Croix pelican (photo by Alyssa Franklin) awaiting the rivertop competitor.

St. Croix pelican (photo by Alyssa Franklin) awaiting the rivertop competitor.

DSCN7894DSCN7904

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Of Birds, Friends, Trout, and Hiking Trails

I watched a pair of tundra swans on the local marsh. This species, now migrating to the DSCN7848far north, is known to pair for life– an admirable trait for those of us romantically inclined– but the bird whose symbolism really set the tone for my weekend was the common loon.

I was driving to my fishing destination on Saturday when I saw the lone migrator on Crystal Lake. I love to see these singular birds that pass through on their spring and fall migration routes. For me, the loon symbolizes wildness and whimsical beauty (think, “crazy as a loon”). I took the bird as a good spring sign en route to the steelhead grounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFishing for big rainbows wasn’t going to be easy. Not in these days of slim Lake Erie watershed findings. After three hours of hiking and casting, I finally saw my first fish– a squiggly shadow in the rapids that just as easily could’ve been a trembling stick or some flickering ghost of steelhead glory.

I subdued the spawner and quickly set it free. Later, I fished near several fellows in the sprawling waters of Cattaraugus Creek, and no one caught a trout, as far as I could see. Thinking back to my modest catch, I was glad for the persistence involved.DSCN7869

On Sunday I went hiking with my brother and a friend from the Albany suburbs. According to my trusty topographical map, Potter County’s Commissioner Trail was supposed to connect with the Buckseller Trail in the Susquehannock State Forest, but the trail vanished in a clearcut area on the summit of a ridge.DSCN7870

It didn’t matter. Sometimes the best laid trails are like the best-laid plans of mice and men– sprung by circumstance and run amuck. More importantly, the trail and what we made of it were totally relaxing and enjoyable.

Tim and I were students at Alfred University in 1971, forty-five years ago to the day of this particular hike. Thinking back to our initial meeting, I recalled that the Easter sun was out; the snow was melting rapidly. A first woodchuck raced toward its den on the warming slope near Alfred, New York. A small herd of deer leapt across a streamlet in a field of cows.

He's in there, out of his tree!

He’s in there, out of his tree!

He and I had met in downtown Alfred that day. Our walking sticks suggested to each other that perhaps we shared some common interests. We did– we hiked above the village and, eventually, shared 45 years’ worth of rooms and beer and long-distance hiking.

Although we had our family blessings for this latest walk, we three guys missed some holiday fun. Easter eggs were history, but we missed a nice ham dinner and (quite significantly) a miniature whiskey bottle hunt for the older folks.DSCN7872

We might have hiked for six Potter County miles, subsisting on crackers, fruit and peanuts, but the loon spirit came through for us like a piercing roll of laughter.

And the weekend was fulfilling.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Springtime Again

The mild winter gave us several days of blue-white splendor.

The mild winter gave us several days of blue-white splendor.

A roadhouse for wintering chickadees and woodpeckers.

A roadhouse for wintering chickadees and woodpeckers.

Sorry I ate your white pine seedlings and your wife's garden plants.

Sorry I ate your white pine seedlings and your wife’s garden plants.

Looks cold feels cold but an unborn spring was gathering warmth.

Looks cold feels cold but an unborn spring was gathering warmth.

Listen carefully for Goldenrod's Lament.

Listen carefully for Goldenrod’s Lament.

Rodentia Heights: Bed 'n' Breakfast

Rodentia Heights: Bed ‘n’ Breakfast

Robin greets the first light of spring: "Drawing the frost from the rigid trees, Starting the sap in the sugar maples, Thawing the frozen earth with song..." (W. Christman)

Robin greets the first light of spring: “Drawing the frost from the rigid trees, Starting the sap in the sugar maples, Thawing the frozen earth with song…” (W. Christman)

Man, that water's cold! But they say the Pine Creek browns are bigger than usual this year...

Man, that water’s cold! But they say the Pine Creek browns are bigger than usual this year…

Even at the Hotel bar, you can't blame a guy for dreaming...

Even at the Hotel bar, you can’t blame a guy for dreaming…

They don't call him song sparrow for nothin'. Covering Sun Ra's "Springtime Again"?

They don’t call him song sparrow for nothin’. Covering Sun Ra’s “Springtime Again”?

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Black and Blue (My Brookie Fix)

Part 1.  It all seemed to jell on a bright blue, late winter day. A set of tarpon flies arrived in the mail. The stand-out for my inexperienced saltwater eyes was a #3/0 Black Death.

Black Death (purchased)

Black Death (purchased)

For tarpon? Well, yeah, the tickets for visiting our daughter in the Virgin Isles were purchased for departure in late April. Fishing in the salt would be a pretty new experience for this rivertop rambler but, as any long-time RR reader might surmise, I’m open for another edgy horizon.

coltsfoot

coltsfoot

Presently there were more important patterns to consider. Say, for brook trout.  Like the Black Stonefly which, if the day continued warming, could be hatching on the rivertops by early afternoon.

black stonefly

black stonefly

Black Death and Little Black Stonefly. Blue Quill (coming soon) and Orange Butt Tarpon. I like the juxtaposition of image and idea, extremes in the range of patterns wrapped up in the moment like some mythical instant when life and death are one.

By the power of association I think of Death Trumpets, Craterellus fallux, the black chanterelle mushroom on the cover of my book of poems (okay, it’s also a clever way to continue plugging my new collection!) The trumpet, looks aside, is actually a culinary delight, if you’re the sort who digs the fungi kingdom and knows how to navigate among the good mushrooms and the dangerous.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Part 2.  The black and the blue converged on a feeder stream near Cross Fork Creek. This stream in the Kettle Creek watershed has been on my bucket list for several years, and I finally got around to checking it out with a fly rod.

The blue sky was all too beautiful as it accented the first coltsfoot blossoms of the year and brought a sparkle to a wild trout stream adjacent to one of the wildest areas in Pennsylvania.  It was comfortable exploring this feeder stream on a late winter day, but I saw no trout during my two-hour tour with rod and stonefly nymph.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I hauled my disappointment down to Kettle Creek, above Cross Fork village. There I took my wading efforts into the lower section of the special regulations water and, again, saw little despite my best efforts.

The place should have been productive but, alas, the stretch is dependent on stocked trout, and who knows if there were any holdovers in the creek. Wood frogs clacked their news from neighboring ponds; black stoneflies hatched predictably according to my expectations, but no trout rose or shifted side to side for nymphs within my field of vision.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s hard to complain, though, about fishing on a day like this. The trout seemed wonderfully unattainable. Each time I shook my head in disbelief, I saw another flock of robins or blackbirds newly arrived from the south. I even saw a bald eagle soaring by, secure in the knowledge that it could fish better than an old fart standing in the creek. Its certain eye and crushing talons were a whole lot more effective than a tapered stick and a line that wavered over the pools.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Part 3.  The weekend wasn’t over yet. I had the next day, and one more shot to take. I visited a cool little stream (44 degrees F.) in the upper Pine Creek watershed, a wild place where one was more likely to encounter a ruffed grouse or a fisher than another human being.

The day, being overcast and loaded with potential rain, looked to be better for angling, and it was.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Fisher Run” has small wild brookies that have no competition from brown or rainbow trout. If you take a short fly rod there and cast a barbless nymph on a tapered leader, you’ll do fine. You might see a brookie rush your fly on cast number one. You’ll get a lot of hook ups, brief ones, which is fine because the fish are all are destined for return to the water anyway.

The stream’s a beauty and, despite the cold water, you might even get a rise to a dry fly (I’m a sucker for tying on a small dry Stimulator). The world falls away as you fish and you catch a handful of brookies (by god, with several unsuccessful outings of late, I was feeling the symptoms of withdrawal!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Black Death, the tarpon fly, joined the Black Stonefly in my head.

Several nights ago I had a lucid dream (a first) about visiting the Virgin Islands… My wife and daughter and I were being guided by a friend whose small boat puttered from the shallow harbor. A hundred fly-fishers were whipping the calm waters there for tarpon. They were probably casting flies like the Orange Butt Tarpon and Black Death.

Their heavy fly lines were striped with three colors. Red, white, and blue! It felt good to leave them all behind and hit the open sea ahead, but I worried about the fish that we might catch. They might be other than tarpon. They might be ballyhoo or hogfish or flounder or… TRUMPetfish with a “politician’s haircut” over the eyes!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Aargh! It’s good to wake up on a blue brookie day among the hills and mountains of the world.

A good thing, yes, like learning about one of my favorite living guitarists. Walter Trout (terrific name) had spent the last two years on the cusp of death, but now his health has pretty much returned. Catch him blazing in a “Rock Me Baby” shoot-out with guitarist son, Jon Trout. It’s tarpon rock; it’s resurrection on a warm spring day.

 

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Into the Gorge and Back

I’m almost alone, and I’m casting in an almost fishless river. That’s okay because… I really can’t waste my time while fishing.

All morning I’m fighting the idea that I’ve lost my interest in pursuing steelhead. What keeps me going, though, is the fact that steelhead have no interest in what I think OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAor do, and thus lay out another path to mystery. I keep on casting, keep on walking toward a gorge two miles away.

It’s a cold morning with ice forming in my tiptop guide, but the temperature climbs slowly toward the 40s. It is early in the season. Steelhead shun the spawning move until the water reaches 42 degrees or more.

Two meat fishers pass me. One of them drags a standard two-foot male. “All spawned out,” he says. “There’s a few in here. They might be hold-overs.” He’s drags his steelhead over the rocks. By the time he gets back to his truck, the fish will be totally scaled.

My streamers look for a fish like that, combing the depths of the clay-colored stream. I would work the trout in and then release it, but the rainbow isn’t there. I’ve caught many nice steelhead in my life, but the last few years have been slow.

I feel connected to the fish of the rivers, the way I feel connected to the birds and to the dream of flying. Yeah my hours grow late, but I hope the fish and birds remain good company.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Perhaps they get less real; perhaps they’re turning mythical. I’d be saddened, of course, and wondering why.

Now and then the mind plays tricks on us. As one who majored in psychology in the 1970s, I recognize that what I’m saying could be misunderstood…

I enter the gorge with its gravel beds, a hotspot for migrating ‘bows. Access to these upstate waters is diminishing. A minority of anglers ruin it for the rest. The careless have driven onto private lands; they’ve trashed the banks and waters, so the posted signs have risen.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the gorge, I cast straight toward the cliff, let the streamer sink and drift downstream. It swings across, and the rod is held above the point of dreams. I’m struggling with a voice that says I’m losing interest as when I lost my hunting interest as a young adult.

A hook-up would turn the tide, perhaps. It just might cement the feeling of connection to the hard light of this day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A favorite textbook of my college days was Carl Jung’s Man and his Symbols. The  book wasn’t offered by the university. I bought it in a second-hand shop.

Certain notions have stayed with me forever. Although I don’t intend it, I know that entering and exiting a narrow gorge with a wavering rod might be considered…symbolic. If this was a dream from a century ago, Sigmund Freud might have had a field day with it. I’m not worried, though, and want to make it clear: this scenic winter gorge is not some wondrous tunnel of love.

It’s just coincidence that steelhead from Lake Erie come to its gravel bed to ensure a future generation. Or is it more? If I was a fish, I wouldn’t mind being here. It’s like an equivalent Saturday night rendezvous for moderns.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But really, the gorge in March is a cold, hard, rocky place. The midday sun barely has a chance to kiss those chandeliers of ice.

And that’s why I like the place. It’s why I turn around on my numbing toes– before I even see the waterfall that stops the run of steelhead at its base.

I leave the gorge, this wild location, and hike away home. I might return when the season is ripe; and with warm weather fast approaching, that could be soon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(In fact, the next evening will be so warm that I’ll hear the “peenting” of woodcock near my house at dusk. I’ll watch the spectacular aerial display of this newly arrived migrant. My pleasure at finding the bird again will be tempered by the fact that empty beer cans are also found nearby. Bud Lites have been tossed out recently by the winter spirits, and I’ll have to pick them up, but I digress…).

Indeed. The run of steelhead will begin at any hour.

There’ll be no wasting of time while I fish.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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A New Book Sunday

The morning sky was colored like a bluebird’s wing, and the temperature promised to reach the 60s mark. My wife and I headed toward the West Branch Pine to do some hiking, but first we stopped for breakfast at a small cafe in Galeton (PA). My new book of poetry was scheduled for release in just three days, so I decided to celebrate the DSCN7797imminent appearance of Earthstars, Chanterelles, Destroying Angels (from FootHills Publishing, Kanona, NY) by ordering a mushroom omelette, with homemade bread, and coffee. It was good food, with a mushroom theme that set the tone for a fine Sunday in the hills.

Mushrooms in poetry can symbolize the spirit of wild nature, I suppose, and yeah, the poems of my new book run the gamut of experience from the personal to the cultural to the wild…

DSCN7791Leighanne and I hit the trail in the Susquehannock State Forest along a feeder of the upper Pine Creek watershed. It was pleasant going, especially when considering the fact that we were still in the final month of winter. The sun reflected warmly from the snowless hillsides but the icy ground still resonated from the impact of our walking sticks.

After the hike, I fished a section of the full-flowing creek, but had no luck while casting nymphs in the clear, cold water (43 degrees F.). I wasn’t surprised. This stretch had not been fishing well for the past year or so, compared to some excellent outings there on previous occasions. But so what. It was fun getting loose on my winter legs, getting reacquainted with my brook trout strategies at all the usual hiding places, and getting flies untangled from the unforgiving boughs.DSCN7782

The hike was comfortable and relaxing, although the wind, ripping through the more exposed locations of the narrow valley, showed no mercy on Leighanne, getting into her eyes and beating up her lashes.

Beavers have settled on the headwaters and formed a quarter-mile of dams and ponds that are skirted by the trail. There the windless quietude was punctuated intermittently by the chatter of a chickadee, the chortling of a pileated woodpecker, and the distant call of an owl or coyote.

DSCN7781We observed small brook trout in the beaver ponds, including several that were rising to midges or stoneflies prior to darting out of view. Occasionally we saw a larger trout shoot off into a beaver channel. I had fished this area before, but had found the silty pond conditions very challenging to cast on. Even now I didn’t regret leaving the fly rod at the car for later use downstream.

Driving back home, we made an IPA stop at the Perma-Stone Inn outside of Galeton. The place was busy and, unfortunately, our table was located next to the jukebox speakers. One young lady took a break from her darts game to unload some coins at the music machine. Sympathesizing with the old couple sitting next to her, she asked us what kind of music we wanted to hear… Pop, rock, or how about country?DSCN7779

“Country music is okay,” said Leighanne, “if it’s the old-style country.”

“I got Johnny Cash here. You like him? I’ll play Folsom Prison Blues.”

Leighanne confided later on, saying, “She probably thinks we’re old fuddy-duddies.”

DSCN7787And the string of other jukebox selections that the woman made was one hammer-headed tune after another, the likes of which could make”Big Balls” by ACDC sound half intelligent. The woman had an impeccable taste in music.

Well, at least the beer was good.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m not above the salt of the earth who spend a glorious day in the saloon. In fact, among the varied poems of “Earthstars…”, among the poems of mushroom and wildflower, of bird and fisher, of creek and river, of Germany and America, of home place and alienation, etc., the reader might discover sympathetic portraits of man and beast.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s the story of a man who actually lived inside a tree. Another poem relates the vision of a young woman picking flowers “In Bavarian Fields.” There’s the artist Albrecht Durer, and a fox trapper, and a drinker with a can of Colt 45 Malt Liquor in each hand, and you won’t forget the true tale of a passionate septic-tank cleaner who claims his… “Mind ain’t sharp as it used to be.”

It’s the world of nature as I see it, or experience it, to one degree or another.DSCN7788

For more information, please click on my blog roll here, where it says “FootHills Publishing.” This long established and well-respected publisher of poetry books would love to take your book order.

And I would be as pleased as in my Sunday moment when I saw the season’s first male bluebird. My wife and I were crossing a hilltop coming home from the hike when I saw the migrant bird that seemed to carry the late day sky upon its back. It flew from fence post to fence post there beside us, along the sweet and lonely road to spring.DSCN7777

 

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Pitch Pine Loop

I found the trailhead for the Pitch Pine Loop on the north side of Rt. 44, the old turnpike famous for its long length through the wilderness of northern Pennsylvania in the early nineteenth century. Today, this ridge and valley road extending from Jersey Shore to DSCN7774 Coudersport has, in all likelihood, fewer human residents along its sides than any other highway in the state. Mostly what you see are hunting/fishing camps and trucks that roll through with their fracking waste.

The 2.5 mile skiing/hiking trail is found along the high plateau with overlooks on the Miller Run Natural Area. The natural area includes a wild trout stream that is difficult to access, thereby making it tantalizing to an angler such as myself.

Starting from the parking lot, 2.6 miles northwest of Haneyville, I passed a hunting camp at a northward angle and proceeded through the crusted snow that challenged my booted stamina until the rising temperatures softened the resistance.

The pitch pine trees I remember from my New York boyhood were scrubby little conifers DSCN7753of the hilltops, but the trees for which this trail is named are anything but malnourished evergreens. The pitch pines, growing in poor, sandy soils, are regal in appearance when compared to their company of scrub oaks and mountain laurel. They can grow to heights of 50 feet or more, with plated bark from which diminuative branches can yield a profusion of tufted needles.

Pitch pine has clusters of three long needles. In colonial days the tree was used to make tar and turpentine. Its rot-resistant wood was used for water wheels that cranked production of the earliest mills. Today, this evergreen dominates the first half of the Pitch Pine Loop that culminates with an overlook of the 4,000-acre Miller Run Natural Area. Eastward, beyond the deep roadless area, one can see the far side of the Pine Creek Valley.DSCN7743

That’s the image I held in mind while peering down at Miller Run. What a valley. No road or access at the mouth on Pine Creek. No path, other than a long, steep drop on the northern side, a rough route to angling that I hope to employ some day in the company of another intrepid trouter, or two.

My trail guide, published in 1991, indicated that about 100 meters from the end of the loop I would find a remnant stand of tamarack, a last group of trees planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1941, before the planters embarked for World War II. My trail guide needs an update.DSCN7744

I remembered reading a hiker’s comment in the log book when I started out: “It sure doesn’t look the same as before. Drilling? But still nice.” I hadn’t thought more of the comment until now, expecting to find the tamarack/larch stand near the end.

I came out of the woods on an unexpected gravel road, snow-covered except for a vehicle track leading to a giant well pad from a fracking operation. No more tamarack shrine to the Civilian Corps. Just an empty five-acre pad, a flat concrete monument to fossil fuels on a warming planet.DSCN7757

Conflicting arrows and trail blazes at the roadside near the drill site had me scratching my head and moving up and down the clearing. What a fracked-up situation! My trail guide had never mentioned an intersecting road.

I thought I heard a vehicle from distant Rt. 44, but I couldn’t be sure of where the hell I was. At the point where “turned around” hikers sometimes lose their head and start to run, I even entertained the possibility of having to backtrack the 2-plus miles and getting to the car the long way.

fracking pad

fracking pad

Luckily I regained a bit of reason and decided to approach the drill site. There it was. Another blaze mark and an arrow pointing to the woods across the opened area. I reentered the trees and quickly saw the main road and my vehicle. I found the car with a sour expression on its front end, as if to say, “You know, I’ve been parked here all this time, looking at the woods and that stupid drill pad up in the clearing. Didn’t you see it when you started out?”DSCN7764

I can’t stand a smart-ass car when it acts that way, although I have to be careful and massage its ego, thanking the vehicle for hauling me to such far-flung places as Pitch Pine Loop.

Nevertheless, I parked the car again, a short distance away, at Pat Reeder’s Tavern. We could all get objective once more. I could have a beer and a bite to eat. I could tell the bartender about a good walk in the Pennsylvania hills. She could tell me about this comfortable establishment on the “wilderness road.”

The tavern is nearly a century old.DSCN7769DSCN7754

 

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