Night Flyer/ Test Patterns

I was looking past the evening hatch and peering into the night. At home, I was rereading Jim Bashline’s nightfishing book, subtitled “The Final Frontier,” and preparing for darkness.

Bashline’s Night Fishing for Trout is probably the most absorbing read of its kind. It’s allOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the more inspiring to me because the late author, one of the leading outdoor writers in this country, and editor of Field & Stream in the 1960s, was from Coudersport, Pennsylvania, a place near and dear to my own madness. Coudersport, built around the junction of Mill Creek and Allegheny River, is the town where night fishing for trout (particularly with flies) developed into the witching sport that it’s become.

George Harvey, Bob Pinney, Gene Utrecht, and Jim Bashline were among the group that spurred the night-fishing game for massive brown trout on the upper Allegheny when the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoodsell Hole (at the junction with Mill Creek) was reputed to be among the most amazing places anywhere for catching browns on moonless nights (when big fish lose their inhibitions and go prowling).

Bashline died in 1995. Tom Dewey spoke at Bashline’s memorial service by the former Goodsell Hole. Dewey had been a neighbor of Jim Bashline, and he spoke about the days fishing here with Jim and many of his cohorts. Dewey was just a youngster when he first met Jim and learned how to nightfish with the masters.

I once had the privilege of fishing the nearby Oswayo Creek with Tom Dewey. We didn’t nightfish, but I learned a thing or two from this friendly elder. Tom had once wrestled a 30-inch brown trout in an isolated pool of the Oswayo– at night, when you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. And as we fished near that pool again, we were struck by one of the fiercest thunderstorms I’ve ever experienced while far from a vehicle. Thinking of it now, my head reels like a test pattern on a screen.

That reminds me… I’ve been tying some North Country Spiders, patterns loved for their simplicity and effectiveness when trout are feeding just below the surface. Simple?

What should have been a simple job turned out to be a comedy of errors. I had a couple of botched productions looking at each other as if they were the 70s stoners Cheech and Chong:

“Hey man, what you watchin’ on the television?”

“Oh man, I’m watchin’ this western movie. You know, cowboys/Indians.”

“What?! Wait a minute, man. That ain’t a movie. That’s a test pattern!”

"spider"

“spider”

It was late evening and I was on the Genesee. The trout began to rise to what was probably a hatch of Isonychia.  I presented an imitation of the spinner fly– the Purple Haze, or “Hendrix fly,” as my friend Dale refers to it. My best fish on the pattern would be a brown of 15 inches.

I was testing patterns for late day fishing and for casting after dark…Experimenting for the main event that happens when the evening sun goes down… Practicing for the Maine event next week when my wife and I spend time in the northern forest… We’ll be going off the grid for a week while camping on the waters, and hopefully it’ll be more fun than an equivalent of going off the “movie” into a test pattern of sorts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was reading Bashline’s book about the old days on the Goodsell Hole and similar haunts, of Jim’s friendship with the legendary Robert Pinney who clerked at the Crittendon Hotel and lived for flyfishing, particularly with a set of wet flies after dark.

I tied a Yellow Dun (#8), a locally famous pattern now lost to history. Bashline had provided a skeletal recipe for it in his book. My variant of this pattern first tied by Caroline Phillips, of Coudersport, shared one thing similar with all other variants ever tied– there was no yellow or dun-colored material anywhere on it. I could only hope that the fly would be productive and echo the proclamations of night-anglers who had said there was nothing like it for meaty browns before or since.

After Caroline Phillips and her fly-fishing husband left for California in 1920, the secret for concocting a Yellow Dun vanished forever. Imitations abounded but nothing could really reproduce the Yellow Dun’s body of rosy mohair. In the water, the original body is said to have appeared like “a glob of bloody flesh.”

DSCN7049I even tied up a #8 Governor, another old pattern, simply because Jim Bashline considered it one of the most effective patterns for night fishing in “God’s Country” Pennsylvania, and because I’m a sucker for the history and traditions of this game.

I visited a huge river pool below Coudersport. It’s nothing like the Goodsell Pool that the Army Corps of Engineers tore out to the horror of Bashline and his friends, replacing it with a concrete trough abomination. My selected pool, however, is about 200 feet in length, and deep enough for swimmers to leap from a rope tied high above an old abutment.

The water was a fair 66 degrees, and I quickly caught a nice brown on the surface with an Ant, but darkness was approaching and it was time to string up for the night. I switched my reel, line and leader for a brace of wets, the Yellow Dun and Governor.

Several large fish were feeding underneath the surface and displacing water well beyond my casting range. This pool is deep, with high banks dense with vegetation, so maneuverabilty is limited. As darkness overcame me, an occasional splash or burbling noise raised the hairs along my neck. It was time to face “The Final Frontier,” as Bashline called it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What was that? A beaver, carp, muskie, trout? A test pattern for the brain and heart! I had my escape route to the highway all planned out, but at times like this, especially, it helps to have a fishing pal nearby.

I’d like to say I hooked into a monster (of the trout variety) and contributed something to the night-fishing stories of the Allegheny but the best that happened was a jolt on the iron of a hook.

There wasn’t much more than that, but the sense of mystery and beauty of a darkened river at night will beckon me again… Like the next page of a book you can’t put down.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Self-Portrait of the Fisherman as Idler

What’s the matter, am I too lazy to write a simple fishing or hiking report this week?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Do I have to resort to a “selfie” via an empty message board along the river? Okay, so guys just want to have fun.

I’ve resisted using the word “Idiot” rather than “Idler” in the title of this post, although some would say the former would be apropos.

I’ve been fishing every day for more than a week, which is interesting, given the dry conditions in the eastern U.S., and the fact that I’m holding down the fort at home while also helping out an elder each day in the final stages of this life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIdleness helps to keep me balanced, I suppose. As author Robert Louis Stevenson notes in “An Apology for Idlers,” Idleness does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing lots of stuff not recognized by the status quo.

There, I feel a little better for saying this.

Idleness is at least as important as breaking your chops in industry. But folks who labor all their lives (that is, who work more than necessary to fulfill the basic requirements of a good life for themselves and loved ones) don’t get it when they hear that a fella can prowl along the stream each day or stand in the river of time with a “fishin’ pole” in hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt ain’t easy being good at idleness. It’s not easy being curious and investigative or imaginative while others stupidly amass a fortune. Hey, to each his own. I mean, we’ve all got bills to pay and big responsibilities to fulfill. But can’t we strike a happy medium?

We do what we have to do. I may be a writer with a job to check out the milkweed bloom or the beautiful colors on a brook trout, and then try to get other people interested, too. There’s not much compensation for it, but it’s work that I enjoy.

Others might be super busy all their lives and show little or no interest in understanding the world of nature. They don’t seem generous enough to understand this “idleness.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s too little wonder or magic in their lives. A true idler, says Stevenson, won’t neglect the intricacy of his own being that is balanced with the world.

Okay, but look at the world of nature out the door.  It seems “careless of the single life.” If that’s the case, why should any of us see ourselves as important entities, as candle holders to the universe?

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite,” said the poet William Blake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs a budding psychology major in 1970, I read Blake’s comment in The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, a book that profoundly influenced my new “career” as an idler, poet and trout-bum wannabe. And, I learned then that the well-known L.A. rock band took its name from the Blakean phrase and the title of a book.

Idleness, filled with poetry and labor of the soul, is an honorable vocation, whether we fish or sail or pitch a ball, whether we read a good book on a porch or in a hammock, or do most anything for relaxation (except watching television or playing golf).

I’m just kidding about the golf, you know… Hey, the guys and girls just wanna have fun.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSCN6978

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Beer and Brookies, Catskill Style

It was a fine August day at the Catskill Flyfishing Center and Museum’s “Summerfest.”

DSCN6969 Leighanne and I arrived there in the morning and quickly met our friends Leigh Smith, a blogger at FinFollower, and Tim Didas, a fellow fisherman from my own neck of the forest.

It was here among the tents and vendors of the annual Summerfest along the famed Willowemoc that we bumped into the young bamboo rod craftsman, Brian Kleinchester. Brian’s the guy who built my latest fly rod, and we all enjoyed a bit of conversation on the ups and downs of living the way we do.

DSCN6956Each of us separated for a while and window-shopped the flea market and its vast array of fly-fishing articles– old and new rods and reels, fly-tying materials, tools, books, magazines, antiques, and points of interest regarding many of the renowned fishermen in European and American history. I pride myself on my restraint when it comes to shopping, but this is the event each year where I am at my weakest.

This is where the wall breaks down and I sometimes find it necessary to buy a thing or two to beef up the arsenal in my tackle closet (not to mention supporting some worthy causes).DSCN6972

This year I found a small pontoon boat, almost new, and bought it for a song that (luckily) I didn’t have to sing. You’ll hear more about that “mudpuppy” when I’m ready to hit Canadice Lake once more. I also found a fairly cheap but durable fly reel, a Hardy Lightweight, that I couldn’t pass by.

My god, we saw it all (or a goodly portion). Some of the day’s highlights included watching the Hardy Cup Bamboo Rod Casting Competition, standing in the aura of priceless rods built by Everett Garrison and other bamboo gods (as well as seeing their rod-making tools and benches), and participating in the T. U. Womens’ Brook Trout Program in the Joan Wulff Gallery of the big museum.

DSCN6973The program featured a talk on brook trout by salmonid expert, Fran Verdolini. It was kind of cool sitting in the gallery audience while tasting local craft beers with such eminent personalities as Joan Wulff, herself, and the spirit of Lee Wulff looking down from the photos on the wall.DSCN6963

My fishing buddy, Tim, received a wonderful gift for his on-going rod-building project from Hoagy Carmicheal. Mr. Carmichael is the well-known son of the famous singer/actor/composer/and bandleader. Hoagy, inspired by the rodbuilding work of his friend, Everett Garrison, wrote “A Master’s Guide to Building a Bamboo Fly Rod,” a book considered to be a bible of the business today.DSCN6964

After Tim had finished speaking with Mr. Carmicheal and was given a small gift from the workshop of a master, I said to him, “Wow, that was special, wasn’t it?” He didn’t have to say much. Sometimes a nod and a smile can answer in spades.DSCN6966

Unfortunately there wasn’t any fishing on the nearby Beaverkill. The low stream levels and a recent heatwave had pushed the water temperature into a nearly lethal range for trout. My water reading at the famous Cairns Pool registered 75 degrees. Not good.

DSCN6960We decided to move on to the West Branch Delaware, a tailwater with colder temperatures about a half hour west of Roscoe. Tim chose, wisely, to fish the Hancock area where the river temperature was in the 50s. Leigh and I moved up closer to the dam where the river temp was colder than expected… 43 degrees! And the West Branch moved with a 1500 cfs urgency produced by great releases from the Cannonsville Reservoir.

There were Sulphurs hatching in this icy flow, believe it not, and a few fish seemed to be taking an emerger just below the surface, but the mayflies weren’t enough to warm our frozen feet and legs. As usual, I had leaky waders, and Leigh wasn’t faring much better with his bare legs underneath protective gear.DSCN6968

It was still summer in the northern hemisphere, but let me tell you, wading for an hour in the evening here can bring old winter to your bones.

It was a good place to pack things up and to say farewell and then begin the homeward drive. It was a good place to start reflecting on those warmer hours of a fine day in the Catskills.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Good Morning From the Lily Pool

Dear Everyone, Longtime Reader and Newly Arrived,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I thought I’d post this in a different manner, as a “letter.” You’ll recall, no doubt, that a letter is a form of communication used in ages past, before the Dawn of Email.

I experienced a pleasant, different kind of morning, so I thought I’d pass along a few reflections in a different, more seasoned way, and hope that you don’t mind.

Following a morning shower that was both refreshing and much needed here in western New York and Pennsylvania, I hit the West Branch near my home and did a little fishing (of all things).

The sky was clearing quickly and I raced the sun to be the first one on this pretty headwater stream to say hello to the trout. The water temperature was a fair 64 degrees, not too bad considering the recent heatwave that has clobbered much of the region.

The Blue Quill spinners had begun their up/down breeding and egg-laying dance above the water, and a #18 Blue Quill (a mayfly pattern with bluish tail-fibers, gray dubbing for a body, and a white post with light-blue hackle wound around it “parachute” style) did the trick.

It was fun catching and releasing wild trout, brooks and browns, as the sun began to heat the day. Again, the best catch of the morning was a brown trout that was absolutely camera-shy.

I watched the brown trout rise and take the fly as if in slow motion. At the instant of the take, I felt a balance of soul and body, a refinement of spirit that I don’t feel every day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Let’s say it felt like the weight of a substantial fish. A poet might describe it as a synthesis of primeval hunter and civilized angler. Maybe like the meeting of a Wall Street banker and an “Apeman” on the stream (okay, I’d heard the Kinks song just before I left the car).

I don’t know who landed this specimen of trout, but it got away before the camera could be steadied.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking upstream I encountered the Alleyway, where the creek narrows to 10 or 12-feet in width and where the alder and willow growth overhangs the water more and more each year. It’s a place where you wonder if you’ll come out on the other side alive.

You walk through it because you don’t have much choice in the matter. You plow through the tumbling water because a lot of trout live in the Alleyway, and you want to speculate on catching them, even though there’s no way in hell you’d ever cast a fly in such a place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I came out alive, obviously, and my sweet reward was a set of clearings. My final clearing was the Lily Pool, but all of them had deeper riffles and holes, nice “structure” if you’re living there as a fish. And there I went to town.

To Trout Town. Where the finned inhabitants aren’t very large but where they’re brightly colored and have nice personalities.

Where the yellow lilies overlook the pool like the Queen of Summer, someone that even a passing kingfisher has to respect.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And all through my morning on the West Branch I had the Kinks’ song “Apeman” playing through my head. That’s not a bad thing because the Kinks were a great 60s/70s band. Although the band’s popularity has waned, the music grows in stature, at least in my estimation. That said, it would’ve been easier on me if I’d listened to a mix of classic tunes including “Sunny Afternoon.”

That’s all, for now, from the West Branch. I hope you’ve had a great morning, too.

Tight lines, your way. Keep ’em tangle-free and vibrant.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Small Stream Shuffle and Forest Romp

Over the past week and a half the streams and rivers of this region have settled into normal summertime flows, and I’m actually looking forward to a bit of rain again. The fishing has been good, and the streams and woodlands have been fine companions. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a summary of where I’ve been since my last post, given in the spirit of sharing the outdoor wonders…

Hello Chenunda Creek. I fished you on a muggy morning, keeping an eye on the sky for storms, and catching a wild trout or two. You flow through the upper Genesee drainage. You have new fishing regulations that are open and more liberal (dare I use that word?), but you need an easement from the DEC, declaring public access.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHey there, Dyke Creek. The “Miracle Mile” in the upper half of this Genesee feeder stream was considerably lower than on my previous visit. The sun and the wind were up; the black ducks, the great blue herons, the green herons, the belted kingfisher, and even an osprey mocked a modest catch of wild brooks and browns, all of which reinforce the notion that when I fish alone, I don’t exactly fish alone!

Ms. Genesee. The popular Genny “No Kill Water” at Shongo. Beautiful summer morning; the season passing all too quickly. Fishing was slow, but a brightly-colored rainbow snuck up on a drifting nymph and took it, coming in for a measurement of 16 inches. Love that bamboo casting stroke, so easy and relaxed, quite sensitive and strong.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI met a pair of “Water Sentinels,” volunteers from Wellsville monitoring the river water, lowering a small square device from atop the highway bridge. They check for dissolved solids and report on water quality to NYS Sierra Club. Kudos to these people for what they do. After all, “We drink this water, too.”

Back at ya, Slate Run. A lot of guys were fishing down on Pine Creek, but I met a refugee from Richmond, VA coming up to fish on Slate Run for the first time ever. He had questions for me and I answered him with Slate Run anecdotes based on 30 years of fishing here. He started off by casting at the Mowry Pool, and I worked upstream for a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhalf mile or more.

My god, the wild brooks (7) and browns (4) hit that Stimulator as if it was the last stonefly on the planet. It was like the “old days” today, before the weather closed me down. Leighanne would joke and say, “I guess they don’t need to stock it,” referring to the camp owner who traditionally complains about the slide in fish numbers and who wants Slate Run stocked as it was back in the 60s and 70s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time I climbed back out to the car, I noticed that the Virginia angler had departed, probably having gone back down to Pine. That’s okay, I thought. It takes a while to get the hang of Slate. If it wasn’t for the possible dangers to be found– poison ivy, rattlesnakes, broken legs, and thunderstorms– this wild place would get overcrowded fast, and where’s the fun in that?

Heh, heh, a wild one in the upper Pine Creek watershed. I was wet wading, and my first step into the 57 degree water was a cool one. I love this little stream for chilling on a hot summer morning. Brook trout rose eagerly to the dry fly, one of them measuring more DSCN6893than nine inches. In the farthest pool upstream, I remembered a sizeable fish that almost took the fly a year ago. Today I dropped a dry fly at the pool’s grassy bank and hooked a lovely wild brown (unusual for this brook trout water) about a foot in length. It didn’t want to be photographed, and who can blame it.

So the fishing goes, and carries me along. As does the local forest, where I’ve had my share of evening walks this week.

DSCN6915No more bear encounters, but the Hemlock Woods still ring with the song of hermit thrushes, and a few wood thrushes, too. The ringing tones are getting quieter as the woodland nesting season closes for another year. Again I wondered what it is about the deep forest grove and the way of thrushes that keeps the place rocking when most of the other habitats in my area have pretty much quieted down completely.

DSCN6911It’s a fine thing to stand among the big trees at dusk and listen to these small, ethereal choristers. Oddly enough, I was reminded of the less gloomy aspects of “The Bells,” a poem by Edgar Allen Poe. I looked it up when I get home, and read, once more, about that euphony of sound…

…How it swells!/ How it dwells/ On the Future! how it tells/ Of the rapture that impels/ To the swinging and the ringing/ Of the bells, bells, bells/ Of the bells, bells, bells, bells/…To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells…DSCN6928DSCN6896DSCN6939

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

The Slate Run Trout and Senior Citizen Update

I’ve never been good at remembering people’s names, and it doesn’t get any easier with age and experience. Allow me to explain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weather forecast for Slate Run, Pennsylvania wasn’t looking good: a high of 87 degrees, with drenching humidity and a solid chance of storms, but I was going there to fly-fish, come Hell with raindrops or big water.

The Pine Creek watershed, including all of Slate and Cedar runs, had been hit with heavy rains all week, and the streams looked fine for kayaking but not so much for casting with a fly.

It had been a couple of years since I fished on Slate Run proper. I was interested in seeing if the ebb had bottomed out, and if the wild trout populations had recovered. Several years ago, a Slate Run survey by the Fish & Boat Commission suggested that recovery was imminent, based on the number of brown trout young-of-year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACatching an 8-inch brook trout on my third or fourth cast of the morning, and then a 9-inch brown trout shortly afterward, I was starting to feel that maybe Slate was finally coming around.

It wouldn’t be an easy task. The stream was flowing very high and mostly clear. Wading was close to impossible, especially without an implement for support.

Retrieving my beadhead Prince nymph from the pocket water, I felt a big fish slam the fly and turn over once. It vanished in the whitewater with a fly in its lip. Things were looking better here on Slate, for anglers if not for trout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI saw a man about my age, or older, walking the streambank under the pines. I stepped out to say hello. I didn’t recognize the fellow, whose name was Ed, but he knew me from the Slate Run Sportsmen meetings, and we quickly got to talking on the ways of people and trout.

He’s a fly-fisher, but had broken his back a while ago, and now has to use a cane or a walker on his Slate Run rambles. He enjoys painting, and often works from a photograph that he takes while checking on the water.

Just before I got back to my fishing, I told Ed it was good to speak with him along the creek, and added, “What is your last name again?”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ed’s heritage is German through and through, and even though I’ve had plenty of experience with complicated surnames from the old country, I could not remember Ed’s last name. I still can’t remember it, damnit.

With due apologies to my new acquaintance, I know it’s not as simple a name as “Schmidt.”

Giving me his full name for a second time, Ed recalled a joke that he had to tell. He said, “You’re a senior citizen, like me, right? Well, listen to this…

“An old couple came home from a big dinner date at a restaurant. The old man and woman got out of their car, and a young neighbor who’d known what they were doing saw the couple and wondered how the evening went.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“The wife had gone into her house, but the neighbor stopped the old guy just before he got away.

How did it go? asked the young neighbor.

“The old guy said it was fine, not bad at all. Then the young man asked him where the restaurant was.

Oh… down the road a ways. Not far.

So what did you have? What was the food like?

Oh, I don’t know, remarked the old fella, with some apprehension and concern. It was pretty good, I guess.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat’s the name of the restaurant that you and the Mrs. went to?

“Oh shit, thought the old man. Now he’s got me…

Uh, the name has something to do with flowers, he said… A spring flower… What’s it called… with lots of smell and color, but with thorns.

Rose? asked the neighbor. Is it Rose?

Oh. Yeah, that’s it! exclaimed the elder. He then put his hand to his mouth and yelled to the house…

HEY ROSE! What was the name of that restaurant we went to?”

Ed and I departed, laughing loudly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I went up to the next big pool on Slate Run and quickly got a nice wild brown trout on the line. This colorful specimen, just before release, measured 16 inches along my new fly rod.

Maybe I should run into Ed every time I’m on the water!

Although the sun’s heat had pervaded the depths of the gorge, I felt like making a joyful noise. It might be a little premature to say, but I’ll say it before I forget— the Slate Run fishery seems healthier and more abundant than it was a while ago.

Now, speaking of joy, let’s have a listen to Harry Nilsson’s “Joy,” and… chuckle.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Close Encounters

1. The upper Genesee is my home river, and it had not been fishing well through a DSCN6875period of heavy rains. This  morning, however, it was flowing normally for July, and the trout were rising for a while before the sun shone down.

I caught several trout, a brook and browns, on a Blue-winged Olive dry fly, and it seemed my luck was improving when I wasn’t fussing so much over my new fly rod. I was just casting the thing and having fun.

2. The first good photographs of the dwarf-planet Pluto were arriving on Earth and even my chair-ridden mother saw that something new and positive, for a change, was being plastered onto CNN’s steady stream of overkill. An alien world was entering consciousness with something like a Welcome sign.

DSCN6885The spaceship New Horizons passed the little planet like a pair of good binoculars in the hands of an earthbound explorer looking into the trees. It seemed that what is out there in the farthest region of our solar system has a heart and sense of mystery, a certain warmth that our self-centered civilization finds so puzzling.

3. It’s fascinating to receive high-resolution images from the realms beyond. As an earthbound spaceman, myself, I enjoy stepping out with my modest collection of data-gathering instruments– a fly rod, memo pad, canteen, binoculars, and walking stick.DSCN6867

I recently launched myself into a series of neighborhood hikes, long hill climbs into the forest at my door, looking for reclusive birds and mammals while the summer still afforded the opportunity.

The unbroken South Ridge forest is approximately four miles long and has an average width of more than half a mile. Each summer I like to ramble on an old lumber track through its “Hemlock Woods” and listen for the evening (and early morning) songs of hermit thrush and other avian notables.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stood in the solitude of evening woods, with “singing hermits” on each side of me, along with robin, wood thrush, and hooded warbler. The wet, matted leaves on the forest floor had sprung to life with various mushrooms and polypores, but as the light grew dim, the songs of the hermit thrush filled me head to foot.

The hermit has a velvety, flute-like song that’s damned near impossible to describe, although many have tried. The notes, ascending and descending the musical scale like the European nightingale and beyond, can take an attentive listener to unusual heights. In his book Wake Robin, the naturalist John Burroughs wrote about a hermit’s song: DSCN6859… Listening to this strain on the lone mountain, with the full moon just rounded from the horizon, the pomp of your cities and the pride of your civilization seemed trivial and cheap.”

4. On one of the most perfect of summer days, I ventured into the clear and cloudless heights over a local trout stream. Casting my new rod with a feeling of confidence and ease, I surprised myself for fishing the first half mile in two hours without seeing a single trout. I forged on, however, sort of like the New Horizons spacecraft (?), trying various wet and dry fly patterns till I found productive water way upstream.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI caught a mix of nine trout, wild and hatchery specimens, ranging from a seven-inch brookie to a brown of more than 15 inches, all of them on a singular Prince nymph in an afternoon that had looked to be headed for a skunk.

And yeah, the new rod was a pleasure.

5. One evening I descended from the Hemlock Woods in the dim light of 9 p.m. Peering into the forest I saw a black bear that hadn’t seen or scented me as yet. I stood still on the edge of a ravine, watching the dark shape amble closer, figuring that the bear would descend the gully then climb away, but it turned to me and closed the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wanted a camera but didn’t have one with me. Would a flash terrify the bear? A moot point. I had a walking stick and could use it to bop a nose, if need be– if this odd encounter with a bear turned suddenly weird. It’s not unusual for me to find a bear near home, but inevitably it’s hightailing in the opposite direction.

The animal’s face was probably 75 feet from mine and coming closer when I broke and simply said aloud: “Whoa, Bear! Close enough!” It was getting too dark for this kind of thing.DSCN6854

I don’t know who was more surprised, but we were like two aliens in a new world, ready for other places. The big bear bolted uphill, passing the point where I first saw it, and there he paused to turn and check me out. I looked back also. If it’s possible to feel the “Plutoid Effect” (coined by Bill Nye the Science Guy?)– the energy of exploration when beyond our customary orbits– we were feeling it then.

My feet stepped quickly toward the friendly lights of home.DSCN6887

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments