Staircase Run

The day surely started out on a bright note– a little birding in the early morning sunshine of the yard, my small binoculars picking up a bit of the warblers waving through– Blackburnian, black-throated green, ovenbird, Louisiana water-thrush and, later, the black-throated blue warbler– beautiful emissaries from an avian world that migrates through too quickly.

I had a simple plan to fish a Pennsylvania trout stream on my bucket list, a first-time visit to a small feeder stream in the mountains near Cedar Run. The gravel road was sloppy wet and pitted; the sky quickly clouded over and promised rain, and I aborted my trout stream mission after unsuccessfully fishing it for half a mile. I didn’t quit, however.

I returned to Cedar Run whose fully-flowing waters weren’t exactly welcoming to the likes of me. I noticed a small cascade, a side stream splashing in a curve from a deep and forested ravine. It seemed to beckon– maybe the brook trout would be more accommodating in its heights. I chanced it, and I’m glad I did, although the red rocks of the little gorge were slippery and a trick to maneuver on.

the Mineralist looks at the Minimalist (Cedar Run bedrock looking like a map)

I called the water “Staircase Run” because the stream reminded me of that– a natural ladder to an untouched beauty and the first small brook trout of the day. Reaching the second waterfall of Staircase Run I paused to consider my position. It wasn’t worth risking an injury by climbing farther past the falls; I’d caught one fish on a day that just didn’t feel like it would be productive. After all, the fishing had been slow for the previous two weeks. It could only get better now with the prospect of good hatches soon to come.

note the “stairway” at left

I turned around for a slow descent toward Cedar Run. Another cool shower began to penetrate the forest. Reaching my vehicle, I didn’t quit. I simply headed south to where the sun might be shining and the trout more willing to feed.

I fished two more runs that day, this time in the Slate Run watershed, and I did a little better in the warm sun of afternoon, with several species of insects coming off the streams sporadically. It was slow as hell, but it was fishing. When the day was done, I had said hell-o to five small streams in a matter of hours.

What kept me going was the view provided earlier at Staircase Run–  a view from a tiny world enclosed by walls of dripping shale, by evergreens and reddish bedrock.  I couldn’t see much beyond a few hundred feet of deep ravine with tumbling water, but the elements all pointed toward the best part of an angling season, to the few short weeks ahead, a prelude to the summer.

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We’ve had a lot of rain and cool air of late, and Saturday’s tree-planting event was right in the thick of it. Nonetheless, the Upper Genesee Chapter of Trout Unlimited managed to plant more than a thousand small trees along our project water, ensuring greater soil stability and improved trout habitat at least in one small corner of the planet. We got wet, of course, but if trout can live full-time in water, the least we humans could do is to view their aqueous realms and appreciate them for a few soggy hours.

In addition to the trees we planted Saturday, I was given a bag of 100 willow trees and 25 white pines which I half-heartedly accepted for planting on the headwaters of our project stream. I took them, figuring I could get them in the ground within five days or so, as long as the rain held off and didn’t require the construction of a Genesee River ark.

By Wednesday the weather was gorgeous and comfortable and the job got done. I muddled about the stream banks and enjoyed the song of flowing water and the sight of darting trout while accumulating more mud than a tri-claw mud machine in March (I haven’t actually inspected one of those alien devices, but the phrase came handily and sounded good).

Planting trees is a thing we do to reinforce the feeling of hope and continuity. Once the trees are in the ground, we more or less forget about them and perhaps inspect them a time or two each year. Many don’t survive, and the ones that do hang on might grow so slowly that to try to watch them more regularly could drive you crazy. Trees are planted for the long run, for a time beyond my final day, and they help to clarify my own existence. Planting helps to minimize the sense that I’m just muddling through the hours with little purpose.

Naturally, all work and no play makes the rambler a grumpy old bastard, so I did manage to squeeze in a few hours of fishing when the streams receded and grew clearer. I had another good outing on a local brook trout stream as trout rose readily to a dry fly. Next day, however, after planting was done, I fished the West Branch of the river and had less to show for my efforts, although encountering such May beauties as the season’s first orioles belling among the apple blossoms lent a feeling of total freshness to the hour.

Fish were not inclined to take a dry fly. They would strike a weighted nymph and break it off in surging water. Messing around, and losing hope, I cut back the leader to a stoutness adequate for a cone-head Muddler Minnow and fed it to the larger pools. Ah, now there’s something different– a trout sweeping across the pool to grab the fly! Once again, the Muddler Minnow had its hour in the sun.

Muddler on cane

Don Gapen tied the first Muddler Minnow in the 1930s along the banks of the Nipigon River in Ontario. It wasn’t long before his streamer pattern hooked up with a 10 lb. 4oz. brook trout in the famous river. The Muddler could imitate a sculpin, a crayfish and any number of subsurface food items (plus dry terrestrials when treated with floatant). It became one of the world’s best known and most versatile patterns. It’s essential, in my opinion, like a fresh new row of willow trees along a marginalized stream. In seasons of high water, it’s good for an old muddler like myself who enjoys a tightened line.

the muddler takes flight

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When the human world seems absolutely maddening (the insanity triggered by such trifles as fidget spinners with kids, the rush for smartphone upgrades in adults, and the latest threats to the economy, environment and world peace from the fools who guide our destiny), I’m thankful as hell to find a brief transcendent hour on a local trout stream.

That’s right– just an hour’s peek at the more tranquil aspects of nature in early May can set things right again, if one delights in solitude and a short communion with such entities as wild trout, trillium and newly arrived tanager.

Late one afternoon, returning home from work, I stopped to fish a small stream near my house, and the native trout obliged me with a quick inspection of their beauty followed by a fast release. Nearly a dozen waterfalls accent this little stream, and the plunge-pools offered their peeks at the eternal– catches of brook trout only five to 10 inches long, beauties for the eye and solace for the soul.

In this time before the full leaf of the trees, when the song of flowing water is rhythmical and strong (if not downright torrential), the trout are hungry for the latest insect offering. Switching from a dry fly to a Hare’s Ear nymph, the simple upstream cast into plunge-pool often tightened with a fish. Since my last post, I’ve probably sampled another half dozen streams and rivers, but this outing in my own “backyard” seemed special.

What a respite, what a sweet transition from the crazy realm of work and business. One could open up the senses here and breathe it in– a shy peek from a fox pup out behind the house, a brief appearance of a spring morel beside the driveway– the mindless sanity of nature on the job.

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The old cliché says “Earth Day everyday,” but in a sense it might be true. I’m old enough to remember the original Earth Day celebrations on campus, and the week in April 1992 when I gave four public poetry readings centered around the concept of this special time. I’m also young enough, at last, to realize that this planet is the only one we’re ever likely to have. So, instead of simply consuming the Earth on a daily basis, we’d do well to give something back. The notion of giving back needn’t be complicated but it should be real. It can be small and given from the heart– a token of thanks for what sustains us daily as we wake to the blessing of “another day on Earth.”

could aliens drop in with these balloons?

Day 107: A sunny and comfortable Monday morning. Made my first catch of the day before I even reached the stream. I chased a couple of Easter balloons that were tied together and attempting to leave a wind-tossed field before I could reach them with a swat of my old Phillipson fly rod. I’ve never taken kindly to feral balloons dropping in from heaven. I snagged these babies and killed them with a piercing fly hook. Unlike the fish I land and give back to the stream, balloons and other bits of renegade plastic do not benefit from a catch-and-release ethos.

a work project site

Ten minutes later I was fishing Spring Mills Creek when I found yet another holiday balloon, perhaps a gift from Erie, Cleveland or Chillicothe. Geez, these things are getting plentiful, like those crumpling  tubes that once protected infant trees from deer and rodents in riverine habitats. Thankfully, wild brook trout brought me back to focus on the here and now of small stream fishing. I caught six or seven on a nymph or dry fly before proceeding to the headwaters, a project area for our chapter of Trout Unlimited, happily reviewing our success there near the border of New York and Pennsylvania.

the NY/PA border

Day 112: Earth Day. Cool and overcast. The streams and rivers were running high and muddy from recent rains. I fished the three branches of the upper Genesee, my home river, in a rite of spring that I perform one time each year. At the East Branch I caught a stocked brown on a Woolly Bugger and had strikes from two others. At the Middle Branch, on the summit of the Triple Divide, the stream was clear but extremely challenging for its small size. No catch there, but on the West Branch near Genesee, PA I managed to hook up with another brown.

All in all, no great shakes on Earth Day. And that’s okay. In fact, this day was pretty much like any other for me. I didn’t do much, if anything, to improve the world. The sight of garbage at a few locations was disturbing, and I collected a bit, but thankfully I also noticed several individuals gathering trash in or near the villages.

Phillipson rod & hemlock tree

Although I didn’t add to the human population of the world, which increases daily, I probably added to the carbon imprint simply by driving to the streams and cranking up the lawn mower for another season of cutting grass. We just do what we can to help things out– by staying aware, and minimizing this for maximizing that.

Genesee River at Triple Divide

In the evening, just before dusk, I watched the “sky dance” flights of a territorial woodcock from a point behind my house. As the male bird spiraled higher and higher against the clouds, I imagined its view as the perfect one– telling the fields and woodlands it was doing what it must, that the simple act of telling was what mattered now.

Eleven Mile Run

Day 113: A beautiful morning on Potter County’s Eleven Mile Run, the old South Bend 290 cane rod laying out a nice streamer but to no avail. Who cares if the trout aren’t biting on a day like this? There’s no sport here, just the passion of fly-fishing, the latest outing in a way of life. It’s been given to me, so I try to give something back.

In late afternoon, I brace myself for TU’s spring highway clean-up near the Genesee. Highways are never pretty in themselves, but we sweat and fill those big orange bags with trash. Perhaps we’ll get community recognition, but even if we don’t, we’ll save a bit of crap from drifting into the river. Soon we’ll be planting trees in critical riparian habitat– just willow trees, without plastic tubes. Small potatoes, surely, in light of what’s happening to our planet now, but it’s something almost anyone can do.

a resident at T-2 Manor

Trout lily/South Bend 290

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Grass and Glass (BRB, Part 3)

Intending to spend the whole day fishing the Rapidan River inside Shenandoah National Park, I fished it and even took a pleasant side excursion on a brook trout tributary.

White trilliums were the flower of the day, nodding their invitations to an angler with a camera and a sense of curiosity. The sky was moderately overcast, a security blanket for a guy intent on catching and releasing wild trout. A fellow hiker approached me on the trail and said, “That’s  a nice old bamboo you’ve got there,” and I appreciated the comment, but added, “Actually the rod’s only a few years old. It’s been used a bit, and grown a couple of grey hairs already. Life experience, you know.”


Life experience reoccurred half an hour later when I took a tumble along a rocky path beside the Rapidan, and Chester the fly rod flew to the ground ahead of me. Thankfully, the rod escaped real damage or serious scarring. My favorite Shenandoah river had a full-flowing body, wild and April cool, and its brook trout rose occasionally from the depths to strike the floating Stimulator and to spike excitement in the bloodstream.

The hiker who commented on the fly rod also asked if I was heading up the Staunton River (no doubt named for my friend Bob S.,the Flyfisher, although the spelling has been altered to protect an innocent stream) . I told him I might investigate it on my way back down the Rapidan, and he said the fishing could be decent on the rocky run.

I’ve tried the Staunton at the lower end, but the so-called “river” hasn’t looked larger than a brook on those occasions that I’ve seen it in the past. The hiker said that the holes and plunge-pools are enticing at this time of year, but you’ve got to hike and climb the stream for a mile or so to really appreciate it.

That sounded good to me. The stream would be like a buffer between a social venue and a wilderness. I hiked and climbed it for about a mile, and I’m glad I did. If I fish it again, I’ll have a smaller rod to cast with, say a 6’6″, rather than a longer stick.

As for the Rapidan, I’ll be quiet at this point and simply say that the world is a better place for a stream like this. Let’s keep it clean and looking wonderful.

My last couple of days fishing in the Blue Ridge were mostly spent trying to find new streams and interesting water close to my napping spot in Blossom Town. My god– the dogwood, redbud and azalea blossoms covered with birdsong were a sweet distraction to a guy putting on his waders (leaky ones at that).

golden ragwort

One day I fished the Pocosin and caught a couple of brookies there. Another time, Leighanne, Richard and I hiked the lower White Oak Canyon near Syria VA. The climb to the lower waterfall was stimulating despite an overabundance of hikers like ourselves. The run’s variety of holes and plunge-pools called to several fly-fishers, including myself and a younger guy from South Carolina. The two of us seemed to leap-frog past each other testing the waters of this pretty stream.

Comparing  fishing rods, the Carolina fellow said that I was using “grass” (bamboo) and that he was casting “glass” (fiberglass). Together, along with a hundred hikers, we reached the scenic waterfall, and some of the  mob continued on toward Skyline Drive.

The trout were as sparse as the hikers were numerous, but one of the trout was memorable…

Switching from a dry fly to a bead-head nymph, I connected with a good fish in a deep, rocky pool. It had shoulders on it and a weight reminding me of stocked fish that had overwintered for a couple of years. Okay, you see it coming here– the fish bent the rod and shook its big head several times before breaking off the fly and digging under the boulders.

No doubt it would have been my biggest Blue Ridge trout to date. It could have been…Well… let’s leave it there. I was happy to bend the “grass” in that pool, and to start packing out some memories from my buffer zone in spring. It was a nice week for rambling– in a place between the timeless mountains and a world that passes all too fast.

[Part 3 concludes the Blue Ridge Buffer series. Thanks for coming along!]


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Blue Ridge Buffer (Pt. 2), No Plan B

1. I love Monday mornings in the Blue Ridge, especially before the hikers, dogs and fishermen start to activate the paths inside Shenandoah National Park. The sun is out; the temperatures are headed for the 70s; Louisiana water-thrushes are at song; the violets and geraniums add their shades of pink and purple to the edges of the trail.

I love casting there in solitude, although at times like this I wouldn’t mind the company of a kindred spirit with whom the fun of catching brook trout can be shared. Before long, I pause at a favorite pool and see a nice trout rising to the surface at the base of a cliff.

I start by casting the April greys– a Blue Quill and a Quill Gordon– but get nothing other than refusals. When I finally see a bit of hatch activity, I switch to a Little Black Stone, a wet fly, and am not surprised when the brook trout nails it on the first or  second cast.

It’s good to climb the mountains, following the clear, full-flowing river, and fishing in a buffer zone between two seasons. Winter is gone except in recent memory, and spring is here like a long-awaited friend who hasn’t seen you in a while and isn’t sure about where you’ve been or what you’re scheming to do, but who accepts your offer of a beer and a comfortable place to sit.

Chester & the Stitchworts

I love fishing this mountain river near Charlottesville, but to really enjoy it I’ve got to do some serious walking to escape the crowd that also loves the river and finds it readily at the bottom of the Blue Ridge. Although the biggest trout seem to inhabit the lowest mile above the stocked waters, the density of fish seems to increase significantly the closer you get to the headwaters.

2. I love Tuesday mornings in the Blue Ridge, especially when my expectations get deflated and my sarcasm balloons. There is no Plan B for the day, which is a good thing, in my estimation. My wife and I cruise the Skyline Drive inside the park and stop at the headwaters of the river I’ve been fishing occasionally for about five years. The temperature is close to 80 degrees and rising. The stream is too small to bother with (and too difficult to reach given the steep rocky slope). We hike down for a mile and a half before discouragement overtakes us. Husband and wife, wedded in bronchitis (I’m overcoming it but she’s getting hammered), decide to turn around and make the tough climb back to the summit.

Without a Plan B, we’re actually free and able to do whatever the hell we want. We drive down the mountain and hit the Blue Mountain Brewery for tasty fish tacos and some of the best craft beer in Virginia. After enjoying this health spa in the sun, and with the hazy mountains for a back-drop, we head back toward Charlottesville. Leighanne sets me free inside the park to fish the lower river for a couple of hours.

I love it when I’m able to gravitate back toward fishing and manage to salvage a bit of my angling prospects. I catch six or seven brook trout, none of them very large but, as always, pleasurable in their company. The highlight of the evening is a couple of “holy crap” moments where a fish is on and the fly line has been artfully wrapped around an overhanging branch or a log stuck in fast water.

With a beer buzz and a brook trout bouncing in the surge of river, hanging on for dear life till my hand arrives to free it, fun has overtaken me, but I hate the moment, too. My waist-high waders make a poor choice of tearing just above an ankle. The waters come in to get me. It’s all too familiar. The waders aren’t even one year old. I’ll never order waders from that company again. Ah well. Leaks be damned; tomorrow I’ll hit another mountain stream. Plan B does not exist.

[Please stand by for more].

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Blue Ridge Buffer, Part 1

[All photos in Part 1 are recent takes from a grey and partly frozen landscape in the north country. Rainbow trout from Allegheny River. Stay tuned for brighter and more southerly perspectives as this series progresses.]

As the new fishing season opens like the blossoms on the hills and valleys close to home, I prepare for another fly-fishing visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and reflect on how I went to that area in the first place.

Back in the late 1970s I lived for four years in northern Virginia, along the Shenandoah River at the base of the Blue Ridge. I didn’t fly-fish at the time but I got to know the mountains rather intimately through my frequent visits to the nearby Appalachian Trail. I didn’t have any family connections in northern Virginia, but through my work in a private school I met my wife-to-be, and she had family roots throughout this area that I would soon become familiar with.

I shifted back to upstate New York, and when my son grew up and eventually moved south to Arlington and the Washington, D.C. environs, my visits to the region increased dramatically. In 2012, I started to fly-fish the mountain streams of Shenandoah National Park, as well as the limestone waters of the southern district. The Blue Ridge Mountains and the trout streams of Virginia began to form a back-drop to my family and personal history.

As a northerner from upstate New York, I look back to my origin as a Blue Ridge angler and see it as if with an autumn migration of birds. In the mind’s eye, swallows migrate southward, not away from their existence or as if escaping their summer homes, but toward a place their bodies know when winter grips the north country. My motive was to get myself acquainted with a more southerly home for native brook trout, and to do that in the context of enjoying an extended family life near the Blue Ridge of Virginia. I was moving from a known place to the heart of something new, at least from the angling perspective.

In my case, the Blue Ridge is a northern angler’s buffer zone. A place where the old and new blend together and interact like voices of friendly neighbors. It’s a place where wilderness and civilization can exchange understanding glances with each other. I like to think that anyone can dig out a special place like this, a buffer zone of body and spirit where meaningful communication and peace are fished for and successfully landed.

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So, How Was the Fishing?

1. Sometimes when there’s nothing new to say or to add to the overall blogging compost, I like to hear that ageless question directed at a rambler on the trail or in the water:

“So how was the fishing?”

Hearing it, I think, well… everything is okay. I may have been ill for three weeks, but now I’m back in the game and everything’s alright.

The sky was overcast, the air was comfortably warm along the trout stream that I’ll call “Fisher Brook.” I hiked the forest trail that parallels the stream for about a mile before I dropped down to the narrow tumbling brook and started casting. It was good to be out fishing once again, but I had to wonder why the water level seemed so low considering that a foot of snow had recently melted from the slopes.

Casting a variety of nymphs and dry flies, I found that the Little Black Stonefly nymph was the most effective pattern of the day (no surprise there, considering the prevalence of the natural at this time of year). After several hours of wandering and casting in solitude, I hiked back to the car. No one asked me how the fishing was, but the forest creatures had a way of forwarding the inquiry. I translated:

“So, how was the fishing?” asked the ruffed grouse and the “fisher cat” and the cherry tree, among other friends in the non-human realm.

“Well, I did better back in January when the springtime seemed a million miles away. That was something, when the brookies rose to a dry fly in 42 degree water. Today was a lot warmer, though the water temperature may have been the same. I caught a few small ones, pretty little things, with the best fish going about seven inches in length. Not bad, but not as good as we’d expect.” And then I added:

“Thanks for asking.”

2. The next day I was on a steelhead stream in the Cattaraugus watershed, and the contrast with Fisher Brook was dramatic. I visit every March, and every year my eyes are opened by the flood damage and the creek’s unstable character. Before arriving, I never know if I’ll be interested in resuming the quest for steelhead (at least here), but once I’m on the water I’m ignited for the two-mile trek to the spawning grounds.

As usual, I parked my vehicle at the tavern parking lot where the tributary enters the wide, brawling river. The tavern owner stood outside and drawled his welcome to me as a fisherman. I appreciated his summary of angling conditions and I promised to return for beer and food when my day was over.

There’d be nothing new for me to say on this occasion, but sometimes even the repetitive mantra, “nothing doing now,” is a welcome sound to the dedicated angler or hiker.

As with Fisher Brook, I basically had the stream to myself. In this case, fishing in solitude probably meant that few, if any, steelhead would be found in the high, chill waters. Maybe the creek needed to warm up a few degrees before the steelhead run began in earnest. The stream’s dark and silted water was a perfect cover for the fish. Unlike my route at the brook trout stream where a forest trail assisted me, this was two miles of crossing and re-crossing the same trail-less, clay-colored waters where hope was as fragile as a first spring wildflower.

Back at the parking lot and inside the crowded bar, fellows I had never met before (some of whom may have never fished a day) shouted their friendly question: “So, how was the fishing?”

Wow, someone actually cares about these fruitless attempts? The inquiries seemed at least half sincere, so I appreciated the chance to tell one and all that even though the fishing sucked, at least I tried and, actually, it was kind of fun.

The question formed a line in the air (not unlike a fishing line with a fly at tippet’s end), and my answer rose to greet it and be hooked by satisfaction.

I considered buying a few of these guys a beer. And, of course, I added my few golden words:

“Thanks for asking.”

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The Don’t Hurry Isle

I’m pretending that I’m there right now. With a cup of morning coffee at my side, with brain and keyboard fingers operating with reptilian slowness, I imagine just relaxing on a tiny tropical island. What does it matter that a classic Nor’easter whitens the realm outside my actual place?

The Don’t Hurry Isle is not the one where the cruise ships pause in a lonely harbor. If it was, I wouldn’t be there in imagination now. I much prefer the quietude and serenity, the solitude and natural beauty of this smaller place. For me, in the eye of the storm (the middle-March “blizzard”),  the tiny island is my Innisfree, my humble share of the peace to be enjoyed today:

… And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,/ Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;/ There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,/ And evening full of the linnet’s wings... [from W.B. Yeats’, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”].

We had planned to visit our daughter Alyssa in St. Croix this April, but she decided to return home from her second year of island life a little prematurely. She’ll come home to New York State in a matter of days and we’re delighted to have her back, although I, for one, looked forward to pouncing on those tarpon-filled tropics for another cast or two of exploration. Ah well, Alyssa will just have to pack us in her suitcase when she goes back to  revisit the many friends she made down there.

The Don’t Hurry Isle ignores me as I try to hold it in my thoughts. No problem. I’m ignorable. The snow continues falling, one week from the Equinox. Schools are closed. The regional states have levied their emergency measures. I may be sick with cough and sinus issues here, but I’m fine because I’ve found some photos from last year’s island trip. I never posted these images in my “Caribbean Scrambles” series last spring, but here they’ll ease my passage to the Don’t Hurry Isle.

As the great Irish poet said, … I will arise and go now, for always night and day/ I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;/ While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,/ I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

From there, a happy St. Pat’s to all.


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Roots ‘n’ Boots

For most citizens living in a modern world, to talk about the “home place” is an unfamiliar exercise. Most of us today are socially mobile and often move from place to place for economic or recreational reasons. Today, we rarely live in one place long enough to establish an emotional bond with our home, or to develop a deeper understanding of how it fits in with the world-at-large.

As one who has been committed to living in a single area now for several decades or more (while appreciating many travels to and from the home), I enjoy such talk occasionally and still attempt to broaden my horizons in that place which I define as “home.”

The mountain trail along Buckseller Run, a minor trout stream, can be found along the northern edge of the 264,000 acre Susquehannock State Forest in north-central Pennsylvania. I consider it a small part of my New York/Pennsylvania home place. I began my latest hike on the Buckseller as a late winter sun began to thaw the slopes after a night of zero degrees (F.), perhaps the coldest night of the year so far.

a cherry tree forest

For years I would drive past the trailhead, not thinking much about it, while travelling to favored streams and hiking paths in Potter and Lycoming counties. One day, a couple of years ago, I finally stopped to fish the lower Buckseller Run for brook trout. On subsequent visits I would hike a short way on the trail and reassure myself that one day I would hike it to the end. The trail is relatively short, but walking might provide a clearer picture of the place, and a better understanding of myself as an inhabitant of this region.

a trail between two seasons

The trail follows the stream, or the run, through a narrow valley of deciduous forest. Today it was interesting to note the steep southern slope and its thin blanket of snow in contrast with the northern slope where the snow had completely melted. The late winter sun hadn’t risen quite high enough to melt the white southern blanket. Total melt-down would arrive soon, but for now I walked a line between snow and mud, between wintertime and spring.

a rail from the logging era, early 1900s

Edging my way up the slope, I sometimes had to step carefully at about a 45-degree angle on the path. I was glad for my old boots and a walking stick for support. I thought about Thoreau’s description of the spring earth thawing along his railroad bank near Walden Pond. Indeed, the sun and the earth were at work here, and it was all about transition.

At about the half way point along this three-mile climb (another trail would link the Buckseller at the summit and descend to Pennsylvania Route 6), the stream simply disappeared for a while. A  spring gushed water, forming the little trout stream, but then above the spring, there was just a trace of moisture and the ghost of Buckseller Run.

Several springs would reissue the flow higher up the ravine, but for now the sound of  water stopped completely. I, too, halted in my tracks and listened hard.

For several moments, for a minute, perhaps, there was nothing to be heard. Not a motor from some distant highway, not a jet in the blue dome overhead. Not a breath of wind, nor bird note, nothing but the beating of a heart.

The perfection of silence is a rare and precious thing. A stranger to civilization, yes, and most often associated with death, but this was life, thank god, and I felt privileged. The silence didn’t last long, but it was so unusual that I met it with a combination of surprise, anxiety, and hope.

The deep silence broke, of course, with little sounds that came from here and there. Melting ice popped high in a tree. A kinglet lisped. A woodpecker tapped. I thought the barking of a coyote might become a howl, but some transitions are the mind’s alone.

I exchanged the sound of one heart beating for the breath of real things in the world. Time resumed its harried pace, and Buckseller Run regained its place within the dark ravine. The forest opened slowly as I gained the summit and the logging track known as Ellis Hollow Road.

Ellis Hollow Road, at summit

This area of the state has some of the finest cherry wood on earth, and this summit has been heavily logged of late. Great cherry trees slumbered in piles along the rutted road. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but one that comes with the cost of being human.

cherry wood slumber

The world is filled with wonderful places both civilized and wild. This place, a part of the Susquehannock State Forest, belongs to my home region, its land and water stirring the senses when I hike and fish for trout. It’s appreciated, for sure, and worth standing up for, and giving voice to, if it’s threatened by environmental deregulation or other nefarious designs placed upon it by corporate greed or government neglect.

lookin’ up





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