Alternative Programming

It was a pleasant January weekend. Although the air temperature on Sunday rose no higher than the freezing point, the Morning Star lent a blue dome overhead and even managed to push some brightness into the Pine Creek Gorge where my wife and I enjoyed a leisurely four-mile walk.

doing the alternative

doing the alternative

Although we saw no creatures more exotic than a rough-legged hawk and a belted kingfisher, we kept our eyes peeled for river otter, especially along the brushy edges of the high-flowing Pine, places not unlike the site where I watched an otter a couple of winters back.dscn9587

Our chances for encountering another river otter were pretty slim given the presence of crusted snow and ice along the trail. Last week’s flood conditions followed by freeze up and then the breaking of ice by trail officials left patches of ground where it was like walking on ice cubes. The result was worse than ambient tourist noise. It’s not that there was anyone else around, but an otter in the Pine Creek Gorge could have heard us in stereo and hunkered down while we were still a quarter mile away.dscn9586

After the hike we ate a meal in The Burnin’ Barrel near Ansonia, a hamlet at the upper end of the canyon. I hadn’t been in the establishment since the 1980s when the classic old structure was called the Twin Pine Tavern.

a Pine Creek mountain that I'd like to climb this winter

a Pine Creek mountain that I’d like to climb this winter

It was a place for good stories and for decent food and drink. I recalled my poem, “Twin Pine Tavern,” that was soon collected for a first fly-fishing book, The Wild Trout (1989). Its four stanzas are in the voice of a drinker who I met while sitting at the bar. Here’s how the poem begins:

There’s at least two ways of seein’ things./ Pine Creek’s Indian name was Tiadaghton,/ ‘River of Pines.’ Used to run clear and deep/ and cold all summer long. A century back/ it earned its name by floating logs. The Turkey/ Path was railroad track. A three-mile loop/ to drop 800 feet. 1910, the forest slashing/ clear to Gaines caught fire,/ cooked up every brook trout in the county….dscn9632

While my wife and I enjoyed our lunch in The Burnin’ Barrel (yeah, I like the original name better than this, but the spirit of the place seemed familiar), we met a friendly old guy from Galeton who appreciated the fact that we, too, were hikers and lovers of the big outdoors as witnessed in north-central Pennsylvania. The guy reminded me a little of the storyteller in the Twin Pines long ago who taught me a thing or two about this wonderful region.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On Monday, the weather, sunny and in the 30s, simply invited a return. This time, though, I was out to build on my Martin Luther King Day tradition of hiking and/or fishing. I could have been really traditional and “progressive” by doing some community service but, as a teacher, I do a bit of that already. On this occasion all I did was sign a couple of political petitions and collect some roadside garbage prior to hitting a favorite trout stream.


Sometimes all that we can do to make the world a better place for everyone is to get some nature in us and some peace inside the head. As Thoreau might have said, we can’t get enough of that great commodity, nature, an alternative program to the status quo.dscn9613

There was still some snow in the mountain forest, enough to reveal the tracks of fisher (yes, again) hunting slowly along the rocky run or sometimes bounding upstream, with three-foot spaces between each set of paws. On this date a year ago, I surprised a wild fisher near the trail at this location, but for now the fresh tracks were good enough.

fisher tracks & Ross reel

fisher tracks & Ross reel

Casting in the solitude of this scenic mountain stream was what I needed to go forward with another week of public work, and to help me step aside briefly from the nonsense and bad vibrations emanating from the world outside. It felt safe inside this mountain where the brook trout dwelled among the rock-formed pools and eddies, where the gravel beds and clear cold waters sang of promise and good will.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was good to catch small fish, to observe and then release them to the song of tumbling water, to a power not unlike the voice of a great American who fought for the equality and freedom of us all.dscn9619OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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On the Rim of the Year

With the air temp registering 16 degrees F., and with a mountain breeze cutting the day to a chilled clarity, it was too cold to fly-fish, but the prospect of an upriver hike seemed appealing.

Allegheny-Ohio-Mississippi River top...

Allegheny-Ohio-Mississippi River top…


An afternoon sun broke sporadically from a crystalline grayness, and I was glad to be walking an abandoned railroad grade along the upper Allegheny River protected from the wind that raked the hilltops. I was also sheltered from the sights and sounds of a hydro-fracking operation where (judging from the parked machinery near the trailhead) the work of mining the Marcellus Shale layers for fossil fuel never ceases.

fracking never sleeps...

fracking never sleeps…

I had just purchased my 31st consecutive non-resident fishing license from the state of Pennsylvania and, although a sane attempt to fly-fish in this weather would not be possible (please don’t ask me to define a sane attempt at fly-fishing), it was good to celebrate three decades of a love affair with rivertop country by hiking toward the source of the Allegheny-Ohio-Mississippi watershed, one of the longest river systems in the nation.

rivertop trail...

rivertop trail…

Just moments after hitting the trail, I could feel the rush of wildness like a cool breeze through the warm layers of January clothing on my back. Coyote tracks were freshly printed in the granular snow, and there, approaching the ice-beds of the freezing Allegheny– the indisputable tracks of a fisher, paw-prints similar to coyote’s, but rounder and clearly punctuated with impressions of five long toes.

fisher country... camou-trak?

fisher country… camou-trak?

I could hike for several miles before nearing the highway to Gold, and I had time to think. I bought my first Pennsylvania angling license in 1987, a year in which Michael Czarnecki and I were busy publishing and promoting the Upriver Poetry Chapbook Series, with works by Graham Duncan, Karen Blomain, Barbara Crooker, and Terry Keenan (FootHills Publishing and Great Elm Press). Shortly thereafter, I published an anthology of outdoor writers called Riveries, appropriately enough.

Upriver Chapbook Series plus Riveries anthology...

Upriver Chapbook Series plus Riveries anthology…

I may have been leaving the strict realms of poetry at the time in favor of exploring the region’s fly-fishing opportunities and writing of them in prose but, looking back, I don’t think there was real separation as much as a merging of literary and other outdoor opportunities.

I opened Barbara Crooker’s chapbook, Starting From Zero, (1987), to the first poem called “January,” and was stunned by several lines that seem so connected to this recent Allegheny River hike: “…And here we are, poised on the rim of the year,/ this icy globe turning./ We’re caught in suspension,/ our every breath visible./ The silence between us deepens,/ blue as the shadows in snow.”dscn9560

I seemed to be hiking the rim of the year, listening to the blue silence in the snowy headwaters of a very young river. When I reached one of the uppermost trout pools in the Allegheny, a placid forest scene only a mile or so from the river’s source, I paused and remembered my unfinished poem whose first lines I recited at my mother’s memorial a couple of days before New Year’s:

From “Poem, 2:30 A.M.”: She who brought me/ into this river of life/ brought me to a love/ of flowing waters….

"river of life"

“river of life”

It was time to turn around and head back down to where I started from. I wanted to fish here again, in springtime, when the native trout are eager for a dry fly cast from a short bamboo, but at this point we were all moving out, poised or faltering or otherwise evolving, on the tentative rim of a new year.

if I was one to hibernate...

if I was one to hibernate…

perhaps the highest trout pool in the Allegheny...

perhaps the highest trout pool in the Allegheny…


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Something Out of Nothing

A ray of light shot from the December darkness that surrounded me for a while. My son Brent and Catherine Rothwell, from Warrenton, Virginia, were married on the banks of the Anacostia River in Washington D.C. on December 23rd. The marriage initiated a lot of celebration amongst two small families, and it certainly helped me glimpse the light of hope as the new year opened its door.

L-R: Alyssa,Catherine, Brent, Leighanne, rivertoprambles

L-R: Alyssa,Catherine, Brent, Leighanne, rivertoprambles


It was great to see my daughter again, as well. We hadn’t seen her in person since our visit to St. Croix last year, and it was comforting to know that we’d rejoin her on the islands one more time in April before she moves back to New York. Sometimes, when you keep your eyes wide open, you can see something wonderful or useful just beyond the confines of the ordinary.

As New Year’s Day rolled around, my friend Tim Didas and I went fly fishing on a New York water, as we’ve done for five consecutive years on January 1st. It’s more of a tradition whereby we catch up on personal news and just have some fun while casting in a typically cold environment that doesn’t offer much hope for landing a trout or a salmon. Out of the five years that we’ve fished together on the 1st, I think we were successful only twice, but in each cold venture, we had fun.

Conhocton River

Conhocton River

This year was a “skunk,” or maybe I should call it a “mink.” More on that momentarily.

Despite the pleasant weather, with a clear sky and an air temperature in the mid-30s Fahrenheit, and despite the presence of a few hatching midges and Blue-winged Olives on the big Conhocton River near Avoca, New York, we couldn’t get anything interested in chasing our nymphs or streamers. We could smell the skunk of angling failure, but on trudging back through the snowy fields and river bank to our vehicle, I found a dead mink.

mink tail

mink tail

The animal had been killed within hours. There were no signs of bodily injury, other than a bite mark on the head. We had seen fresh tracks of a coyote (in addition to fox, grouse, rabbits, and turkey), and I eventually surmised that the mink may have been whacked in a scuffle with coyote.

Tim reminded me that the tail fur of a winter mink is good for tying flies, especially for a silky brown dubbing that is useful in caddis and soft hackle patterns, and for guard hairs that function well as dry fly tails.

angler bambooze (T.&T. 5 wt. left; Orvis 7-wt. right)

angler bambooze (T.&T. 5 wt. left; Orvis 7-wt. right)

I handed him a small knife that I carried, and he carefully removed the mink’s tail. Specifically, he was careful not to puncture the animal’s scent gland near the  base of the tail, which had the potential to rupture and to add some serious insult to the minor injury of a skunking on the river.

I thanked the carcass for the use of its tail, and buried the animal at the base of a nearby tree. We eventually eliminated the tail bone from the fur, and I had myself some mink for the tying of flies.

Conhocton mink caddis

Conhocton mink caddis

Next day, with a forecast of impending rain that would quickly raise the level of the streams, I thought of making a short foray to Chenunda Creek in search of my first trout of the year, but reconsidered as a freezing drizzle changed the landscape. Instead I stayed home and tied some flies. I tied a few Conhocton River caddis, with mink fur playing the role of thorax on an insect body.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

photo by Scott Cornett, from Scott's holiday venture in Allegany State Park, 1/1/17

photo by Scott Cornett, from Scott’s holiday venture in Allegany State Park, 1/1/17



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Winter Rose

Since the sad news I reported on in the last post, I’ve been happily wrapped up in a wide variety of holiday activities. I even got in a couple hours of fly-fishing in Shenandoah National Park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I spent a week in Washington D.C. and northern Virginia for a reason I’m not quite prepared to elaborate on because my son is at the heart of it, and I want him to disclose the reason for all the family gatherings and felicity on his Bridging the Gap blog before I go running my mouth about it here on Rivertop Rambles. [Ed. note: he beat me to the punch, so yeah, check out his new post about family traditions old and possibly new at Bridging the Gap. I think you’ll like it, and I’ll have more on this subject later on].

at the Rothwell home

at the Rothwell home

Let’s just say that the week of fun included not only hiking and fishing, eating and drinking, giving and taking, dancing and listening, pledging and throwing all caution to the wind, but also enjoying a long visit from my Caribbean daughter before we put her back on a plane one morning long before the hour of dawn.

keep on dancin'!

keep on dancin’!

It’s been a helluva ride, a very good one despite my mother’s passing, but I wouldn’t last long if I had to go through it again.

one of many fine species found along the trail

one of many fine species found along the trail

We still had the memorial for my mother scheduled for an evening in New York on December 29, but the life-affirming action in Virginia and D.C. was like seeing the first new lights of winter edging through the darkness at the end of 2016. Perhaps like seeing the beauty in a freshly-cut winter rose.

winter rose

winter rose

And speaking of roses and winter blooms, I had another opportunity to fly-fish on the headwaters of the Rose River in Shenandoah National Park. Any chance to fly-fish comfortably during the winter season is a bonus in this typically off season for casting, so I scrambled for the opportunity.

Rose River

Rose River

We were staying in Warrenton, Virginia,  where the air temperature was in the mid-40s the day after Christmas, so the drive to the Rose was pleasant and easy. A bald eagle greeted my son and me on our approach to the Blue Ridge along the Rappahannock River Valley. We drove to a dead-end near the hamlet of Syria and prepared for a short hike and fishing jaunt into the wilds of Shenandoah.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just inside the boundary of the park, the Rose is a boulder-chocked stream with a steep gradient, a lovely mountain water where you can fish for wild brook trout on a catch-and-release basis with artificial flies or lures. The winter stream was low and clear, the footing a bit treacherous along the rocky banks, and the fish seemed few and far between.

Based on my experience on the nearby Moormans and Rapidan rivers about a month ago, this venture on the Rose seemed to reinforce suspicions that a lot of trout had moved upstream during the hot and dry summer season in search of cooler water, and that the fish had yet to return to the lower section of the mountains.

wild side

wild side

I could be wrong about it, but that’s my take on the current wild trout picture in the Blue Ridge of Virginia. Right or wrong, the fishing was what I needed. Just a couple of winter hours in the wild, with a couple of beautiful brook trout on the line, with a nymph or Glo-Bug at the lip, in late December, like a red rose in a soul bouquet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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Old Woodenhead’s Appointment

Old Woodenhead is a carving of an image of yours truly made by artist David Castano, by request of a special woman I know. Old Woodenhead, the fly-fisher, replete with a fishing creel that I have never used, has appeared on my December blog posts over the past few years, and this year the tradition continues.dscn9504

Winter has come again to the rivertops, with plenty of snow for a change, and Old Woodenhead, holding to the spirit of Winter Solstice (his favorite “holiday” in this very long season of holidays) made an early appearance on his home water looking for a fish. Yes, indeed, he caught another trout and pulled it out briefly, as if it was the sun, our local star, ready for a slow return to the northern hemisphere.dscn9481

It was nearly the Winter Solstice, and the bare-bones scenery of the flowing landscape was alive with universal spirit. There was no white steeple of a church in sight, no flag blowing in the wind, only a deer stepping carefully down a steep, snowy slope, and Old Woodenhead waiting for his appointment on the hill.

Unfortunately, the appointment had to be cancelled only hours after making his appearance at the stream.dscn9483

Over the years, the purpose of the appointment was to enjoy and fulfill a family holiday tradition.

Through no fault of his own, my son, Brent, could not be here with us this year to participate in the tradition of a Christmas Eve hike to the summit of a hill nearby. The hike had always been designed to meet my brother by an old car in the woods. Brother Pete lives in the original farmhouse that my parents bought in 1972. My parents moved on, building a new home just downhill of the old place. Anyway, we’d meet on the blustery hilltop, get slaphappy and then continue on to my mother’s house for celebration (or in more recent years, to the neighboring farmhouse of my brother).dscn9485

My son had been a part of this tradition for 20 years or so, but it’ll be 2017 before the old ways are installed again. Meanwhile, we’ll be visiting him in Virginia over Christmas, and I’ll have more on that event in an upcoming post.

I was glad that my daughter, Alyssa, had been able to make her holiday visit from the Virgin Islands, and that she was ready to fill in for my son on the hill climb through the snow and rain to meet my brother for a small family reunion. We were ready for indulging in the taste of winter spirits when the word came that my mother died after suffering a short illness in the nursing home.

Christmas Eve, 1991, w/ my parents Ilse and Walter D. Franklin, and my son Brent, age 6.

Christmas Eve, 1991, w/ my parents Ilse and Walter D. Franklin, and my son Brent, age 6.

Understandably, Old Woodenhead’s appointment on the wild and woolly hill was cancelled for this year. With heavy hearts, the family raised a glass to the long and wonderful life of the matriarch who had hosted friends and family with love through many Christmas Eves and other bright occasions.

Ilse Franklin (1926-2016) @ age 81, with 2007 H.S. grad, Alyssa Franklin.

Ilse Franklin (1926-2016) @ age 81, with 2007 H.S. grad, Alyssa Franklin.

It was almost Winter Solstice, and Old Woodenhead was ready for the sun’s acknowledgement of continuity and hope. The sun would return, and life would go on. He was looking forward to some fishing on Virginia’s Rose River between Christmas Day and New Year’s. There was fun and celebration slated for the near future and, as I said, you’ll hear more of that quite soon.dscn9495

Till then, Old Woodenhead and I wish you all the best for the peace and joy to be cast for in this season.dscn9505

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Three Days in Shenandoah

On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, my son gave my wife and me a walking tour of Theodore Roosevelt Island on the tidal flats of the Potomac River in Washington, D. C.  That morning walk on the circuit trail culminating at the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial set the tone for the upcoming holiday and my three days of hiking and fly-fishing in Shenandoah National Park.

photo by Brent "Bridging the Gap" Franklin

photo by Brent “Bridging the Gap” Franklin

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U.S., greatly altered the foreign and domestic policies for America. He improved the terrible labor conditions in this country and he helped preserve a significant portion of the American landscape. Roosevelt was a renaissance politician who wore many hats, including those of scientist, conservationist, historian, author, and naturalist.

"Big Syc"

“Big Syc”

President Roosevelt doubled the number of sites within the National Park System and established the Antiquities Act of 1906 that led to the establishment of many National Monuments. He was a multi-faceted individual who enjoyed rugged outdoor adventures and nature studies, and who viewed himself as “a guardian of the natural world.”

a straight line thru a spiral kingdom

a straight line thru a spiral kingdom

As my wife and son and I enjoyed a peaceful ramble along the boardwalk of the Potomac with its cypress swamp and high densities of migrating songbirds and raptors (including the American robin, white-throated sparrow, red-winged blackbird, and red-shouldered hawk) we basked in the crisp bright air of late November and the legacy of the 26th U.S. President.



Roosevelt might be criticized as one who tried to “conquer the natural world” by leading massive hunting expeditions into Africa to benefit American museums but, according to Darrin Lunde, of the Smithsonian Institute and author of  The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History, Roosevelt “never lost sight of his insignificance when compared to nature and its awesome vastness.”



After walking Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C. on a fine late-autumn day, I couldn’t help dismissing the idea that if a guy like Teddy Roosevelt was gearing up to take the highest office in the land this coming January, then this nation, and the world, would probably be in better shape right now.

Sometimes I like to understate the obvious…



Soon, I was traveling south from D.C. to Charlottesville, Virginia where the next few days would be spent in the pleasant company of extended family members and where I’d also be thankful for the chance to revisit Shenandoah National Park for another round of hiking with a fly rod and a box of feathered hooks.

On Thanksgiving morning, I hiked into the park with my wife and son and brother-in-law, and I also got to fish for a couple of hours, catching and releasing a handful of native trout. The fish seemed absent from many of the lower North Fork Moormans River pools where I’d come to know them on previous visits. I was reminded of the past summer heat and drought conditions, and I wasn’t feeling very good about the implications.

understating the obvious

understating the obvious

The next day, after being fortified by tasty holiday cuisine and locally brewed ales, I hit the trail for the headwaters in the park, happily singing Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” to myself and leaving behind the world of crass commercialism. While other companions traveled to historical sites and mountain breweries, I was content to hike three miles into the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of pretty brook trout.



When the hordes of holiday shoppers have dollar signs for eyeballs, I prefer to fish– and yeah, sometimes I like to understate the obvious.

Like many eastern streams, the beautiful waterways of Shenandoah National Park were running low and clear. The fishing was challenging, to say the least. As I crept along with Chester (the fly rod built in Middlebrook, Virginia) I didn’t find many trout until I finally reached the upper stretches of the river.

Second Crossing

Second Crossing

But I found them– lots of little brook trout eager to chase a dry fly or a nymph, if I made a delicate cast beyond the sight of the trail and the occasional hiker.

On the third day out, the weather turned sharply cooler and windier. I worked the lower mile of so of the Rapidan River within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park. Again, the no-kill regulations were in effect, for casting with artificial lures only.

I reinforced my theory that the summer heat and drought conditions had taken a toll, and that many wild trout had moved upstream to find sustainable temperatures and stream conditions. I fished a lot of the Rapidan pools that had been productive for me in the past, but I didn’t see or catch a lot of trout.

the boss

the boss

I think most of the fish had swum upstream in search of former-President Hoover’s camp or, sensing their doom from climate change (or from changes in the forthcoming political climate), they adapted because… they’re a hardy breed and (anthropomorphically speaking) are smarter than we think.

We can thank Teddy Roosevelt and like-minded conservationists for what they did to preserve the national monuments and parks like Shenandoah.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve got to keep working to ensure that these better known and lesser-known places that are special and open to the public remain pristine and ecologically viable.

They keep us sane and healthy…

Just to understate the obvious.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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Monster Blues and Salmon, Too

The blues I’m referring to are not a giant saltwater fish. They’re a form of musical expression that I find quite useful for moving beyond a disappointing and even frightful political season this November. In a moment or two I’ll tell you more about my recent reentry to the blues… OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Earlier in the week, my daughter reminded me of trying to catch the rise of the “Super Moon” as she was headed toward the easternmost point of U.S. territory at Point Udall on the island of St. Croix. I don’t know if she was able to enjoy that moonrise or not, but given the standard weather picture in the Caribbean, I suspect she had a good time with it.

I climbed the local ridge in the hope of seeing the “Super Moon” or some variation of it, but found only another fabulous cloud blanket in the east. Undefeated, I turned my attention 180 degrees westward and found sweet consolation in the sun that melted down brilliantly through this bluesy life on earth…dscn94311

My wife emailed me at work to say that on Friday night she was taking me on a date to a secret location whether I wanted to go or not. This sounded pretty good to a guy who’s been happily chained to marriage for more than three whole decades. We went out to dinner in Corning and I still didn’t know where we were headed, but soon enough we found ourselves at an unlikely rock ‘n’ roll/blues venue called the Clemens Center in Elmira, New York.

I’d heard of Big Head Todd and the Monsters but had never listened to their music before. Here was the rock band along with special guests, the blues great, Mud Morganfield (the eldest son of legendary Muddy Waters), plus Billy Branch, who played with the Willie Dixon band, plus Ronnie Baker Brooks (phenomenal guitarist and son of Chicago blues master, Lonnie Brooks), and Erica Brown (“Denver’s Queen of the Blues”) on vocals and dance. It was a shake-out performance of the Big Head Blues Club in “Way Down Inside: the Songs of Willie Dixon.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve long been a fan of Dixon, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, from the days of “Spoonful” Cream and Led Zeppelin on back to the glorious mid-century hits created by Willie, the “poet laureate of the blues.”

And the beautiful Clemons Center, with its gold-leaf details and reconstructed opera boxes, rocked.Image result for clemens center, elmira ny, photos

And even this stoic old rambler twitched and shook “way down inside,” as well as through his blue extremities. His wife deserved more than a kiss for hauling him to Elmira at the end of a bloody long week.

The next day I rebounded with a fly rod, seeking asylum as the gun season for deer in New York and bear in Pennsylvania exploded into action. I knew I could find safety on Fall Creek, the brown trout and landlocked salmon water flowing through the heart of Ithaca, New York.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a gorgeous Saturday morning but the creek was low and exceptionally clear, and the fish were simply uninterested in flies, no matter what I offered. Four hours of fruitless casting transpired before the western sky darkened to the color of an ugly bruise, and before the fish finally turned on.

Then the waters rocked like the fiery guitar play and soulful singing of Ronnie Baker Brooks at the Clemens Center. I thought of Brooks’ January 2013 gig, playing with Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, and Lonnie Brooks at a Presidential Inaugural event honoring President Obama. I made a long 50-foot cast of the Woolly Bugger at a group of fish, rather than the short precise casting I’d been doing all morning, and a landlocked salmon snapped it up as if it represented the last bit of grub on Earth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An onlooker standing on the bridge above my head was asking excited questions and distracting me from getting a good picture, but that was okay. We’ve all seen nice pictures of fish before. The pace was changing and I would soon land several more landlockeds, a version of Atlantic salmon averaging 20-inches long in Fall Creek and known for its head-shaking and airborne fighting demeanor.

So, the storm blew in, a cold front emerged full-tilt boogie. The wind became ferocious. The air was filled with leaves and falling branches; the creek was a flowing carpet of leafy debris. I humped for the vehicle as the rain cranked into hail and snow, and as the air temperature plummeted.

It was time to be thankful for getting back, for the good in life, for each moonrise and sunset, for our friends and family, for making peace…

with the blues gone golden down inside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdscn94301



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Bright Lines in a Dark Time

Alright, I’ve taken deep breaths and tried to gain some personal balance. Hitting a bunch of trout streams, old and new, has been helpful, like a pill to ease a migraine.

Shady Rest Pool, Slate Run

Shady Rest Pool, Slate Run

For months or years, I’ve had a few “bucket list” streams in mind, those thin blue lines on a topographic map that have allured me, and now was a time to make a visit.

Cedar Run

Cedar Run

I began by traveling to the Pine Creek and the Kettle Creek valleys to park my vehicle and then proceed up these feeder streams in search of wild trout. I’m glad I did; the walks, the casting of a short line with a fly rod helped to clear some pain and confusion.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Walking in a wild place where humanity is little more than a miniaturized ball of madness helps to reinforce my needed balance. Beautiful little brook trout come to hand. The barbless hook is taken from the lip; a silent word of thanks is said; a fish is back in the stream, and I move on.

Walking a thin blue line, I stalk a narrow place between realities, between good and bad, right and wrong, between a world that is strong and bright and one that dwells in darkness, fear and bile.

Kettle Creek State Park

Kettle Creek State Park

I thank those little streams I’ve fished for the past two weeks: the small ones like Mill Run and Trout Run, the old familiars like Slate and Cedar, the bigger streams like Fall Creek and Hammersley Fork. I thank them because they’re beautiful and therapeutic for one who searches out and finds some scattered consolation. If I was a religious man, I’d pray for their continued care, the way I might wish the best for disenfranchised peoples everywhere.

Trolls' bridge

Trolls’ bridge

Some of what’s messing with my head is the feeling of disgust. I work in the field of education, and our educational system has failed us. Nothing new there. It’s not the best in the world; it’s not the worst. It’s mediocre, and that ain’t good enough. Yeah there’s always been problems, and yeah,  progress has been made. It’s not the 1930s anymore, but set-backs happen.

caddis larvae

caddis larvae

If it sounds like I’m whining, well, it’s just a beery funk. We all made mistakes; I don’t care what side you’re on. My hindsight is consistent with what I believed six months ago. Bernie Sanders is an honorable man.

Fall Creek

Fall Creek

So I walk the thin blue lines of wildness and see that no walls need construction here, that barriers implode like a worthless dam impeding passage to native fish.

Our nation is divided and that’s the choice we’ve made. I see a surge in the appearance of Confederate flags and Nazi symbols. I don’t mean to imply that everyone who voted for the President-Elect is morally bankrupt. Many good people had good reasons, I’m sure, but let’s face it, a lot of morons have been cleared to exit from their caves. Bigotry and hatred overshadow large portions of what we are about.

this brown was close to 20 inches

this brown was close to 20 inches

That said, it’s not a time to acquiesce and be subdued. Many Congressional Republicans despised our black President and fought him tooth and nail for reasons obvious and personal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If we don’t like the direction in which we’re headed, then non-violent protest makes sense to me. Call me any name you want, but I firmly believe that man and nature are imperiled, and if the election results don’t suit us, this is not a time to shut off the lights and go down easily.

will the environment go down the crapper, too?

will the environment go down the crapper, too?

Walking a thin bright line of watery reflection seems helpful. Music is another form of therapy. We just witnessed the passage of another great artist, poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen. Yeah, the guy who wrote “Hallelujah” and a boatload of other excellent songs, some of which are dark and plaintive, haunting but profoundly inspirational. Here’s one that helped me fish some blue lines just the other day…

a bright blue line

a bright blue line

By the way, Eric Burdon does an awesome cover of Leonard’s song, in case you’re interested.

Rest in peace, L.C.



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The Crossing

To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.  –Thomas PaineOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All of the recent rain had made the anglers hopeful and raring to hit Fall Creek on a Saturday morning but, alas, the fish hadn’t yet heard the call. For the most part, the landlocked salmon and brown trout continued to idle in the big lake. It’s said that anglers are a part of nature but, thankfully, nature is a whole lot larger and smarter than we are when it comes to sensibly answering the call of reproduction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI practiced my downstream swing of the line and leader, pretty much losing hope for success before my first half mile of wading was complete. It was a little sad because the water was flowing full and beautiful. The anglers thinned out quickly and, before I knew it, there were just a few of us still at the game. All was not lost, however. It felt rather pleasant to be casting futilely in the presence of Ithaca Falls, one of my favorite sites for viewing tumultuous water.

The next day I was hoping to return to Pennsylvania for brook trout, but the rain put a lid on that idea, as well, as the streams rose quickly and wore a cape of mud. I decided to try a rainy hill hike near my house and throw myself into climbing mode.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But something felt lacking. I was starting up my sixth year of Rivertop Rambles and, at this point, didn’t feel as if there was anything new to add for an upcoming post. I don’t like repeating myself unless I have a damn good reason for doing so. If I can’t find a new angle or perspective for a post, then it’s probably time to pack it up and shake the hand of silence.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

God knows we could use a little more quiet in this crazy cacophonous world…But I wasn’t despairing, by any means. At my age, I’ve come to understand that each new day of a healthy life on earth is a cause for celebration. You never cross the same rivertop twice. Each crossing of the stream is a new experience. At first glance, the place may look the same, but down below the riffles there, down at the bottom of the little pool, there’s a different world still waiting to be explored, perhaps whispering an invitation to jump in and tell about it in another post….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My hike in the rain was a pleasant one, even if nothing “new” occurred.

I crossed familiar ground and saw it in a rich October light. The summit pond was comforting; the old thresher in the woods was like a monument to a time now sadly passed. As I made a slow descent toward home, I thought about the upcoming elections in America…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve got a guy heading to trial for fraud and child-rape, who denies global warming and who dreams of white-washing society, who would nuke the crazies of another land, whose running mate doesn’t even believe in evolution… and yet… there’s those pesky emails out in cyberspace that a WOMAN candidate may or may not have sent….Now there’s a reason for a nation to go completely off its nut.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was feeling sick, like finding trash deliberately scattered in an otherwise pristine location. I looked to the fading colors of the rain-wet leaves. If THEY crossed over into this world, who would they endorse? If the deer that leapt out from the woods in front of me crossed over to this human world to vote for highest office, who would benefit? And for that matter, what about the trout? You might fool them with an artificial fly, but they’re no dummies, if given the chance to help select an honest representative.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking at the broader picture of a life immersed in nature, I was feeling much improved…

Like imagining how baseball wins when, at last, the Windy City Cubs become world champions in the most dramatic way.Image result for chicago cubs logoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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