The Gnats

I parked 20 feet from an old black truck at a pull-off by the river. I began to pull on my waders when I saw two fishermen with rods and nets returning to their vehicle. Before I knew it, I heard the husky round-faced angler saying to his partner, “I know that guy from somewhere.”

upper Allegheny…

Looking up, I finally recognized the speaker: Phil, Jr., along with his nephew Jake. Phil’s dad had been a fine companion whom I’d fished with on the Genesee, as well as on the Beaverkill and Willowemoc for a three-day outing some dozen years before.

“Oh yeah, Phil! How’s it going? I’m Walt… Franklin. It’s been years!”

“Yeah, it’s been a while, hasn’t it…  Jake, remember Walt?  He gave me those Griffith’s Gnats to save our day when we were out on the Willow that time. Dad was fishing downstream, near camp. The trout were fussy as hell, but the Gnats were what they wanted.”

“I remember now, ” I said. “A  great visit with your family… So, any fish today?”

“We didn’t see anything, though Jake might have had a strike. I don’t think they’ve stocked this section yet. There might be a few holdovers scattered around, who knows.”

“There’s always a chance to find one. At times like these, especially when the weather’s nice, we’ll take it, right? Even without the stockers. Upstream, you might find a wild fish or two, and there’s often hatchery trout from Pennsylvania. But due to the virus, hatchery drivers aren’t distributing with their usual help from volunteers. Their buckets are getting emptied mostly at the bridges.

Fishing could be spotty this year. Still, whenever I fish down through this section, I think of you guys, especially of your dad. He sure loved the river and its wildlife. Loved to tie those soft-hackles and match them to the hatches. Loved to help out anybody who took an interest in the sport… He really had it down.”

“Definitely. He was good. And probably fishing right now. Up there, if you know what I mean… But since he died, I haven’t gotten out a lot…

Jake and I, well, we were laid off from our jobs last Friday. With this staying home and being distant, and all, we’ve been going crazy and just needed to be on the river.”

hemlock on Genesee…

“Yeah, for sure… Economies are grinding to a halt; we’re making decisions left and right.  Fatigue sets in, morally and physically, so there’s reason to be out here, aside from the typical enjoyment that we get.”

The three of us lifted an arm in farewell to each other, as if with a fly rod in our grips, on the Genny or the Beaverkill. I think we departed with hopes of seeing each other some day down the road.

Chester2…

Those tiny gnats I happened to have on a June day long ago were floating in my thoughts. Those miniature #20 hooks, wrapped with peacock herl and grizzly hackle, rose there sympathetically. It wasn’t even April yet.

comin’ in, then back…

…alright, the last of my “skunks” this year….

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The Far and Fine, from Home

1. The sun on rusted rails extending through a chain of ponds. Sun that softens the edge of ice; walkin’ blues colored by a smile. Sun reflecting from an eagle; thermals of the western ridge. The sun on a leaning barn still ripe with scented hay. The sun on a redwing’s throat; geese paired quietly in reeds. The sun on Appalachia; Earth in winter traces; the immobile who would fly.

…ain’t blue no more…

2. A good reminder: Anne Frank and seven others sheltered more than two years in a tiny attic, fearful of making even a sound. The world closes in but life takes care. With thanks to service providers, to supporters of small business, and to those inside the trenches. Meanwhile, dig the far and fine from home. Don’t die before you’re dead.

3. Eighty geese battle into the wind. The skydogs (of ’76) clamor for the hare of spring. “Come quick! Look up!” The ice cracks. Cows and sparrows stir. The red buds fatten. Music courses through the blood.

…Rail Housewives of the Erie Line…

4.                                     In dark evergreens

ice drips from stony ledges–

quiet waterfall

…the lines they are a’changin’…

 

Plastic milk bottles

drink the sap from maple trees

through long purple straws

…Beaver-lodge B&B…

Under April stars

the peepers ring–

baby listens

…Flat-tail Shanty…

5. …I love the deep woods for the way the forest brings the ego to its knees, and for the way it reconstructs a balance in the seeker of solitude, the wanderer who needs to see the wild resurface in his or her life. I love the deep woods for the magic that’s imparted there, and for the hint of danger, too. The act of balancing the wild and civil elements within the self may be only short-lived but, if tumbling water sings of rocky passages or the wind strums its way across the hemlock boughs, the balance there is real…

…approach…

A home is the place where your life feels right. It’s a framework that extends beyond the body and gives meaning to the heart. It’s a place as small as an apartment or as large as the globe. It’s a place worthy of our songs and praises. It’s organic and ever changing, a place that a thrush will sing of in the hemlock trees, a place that I’ll try to write of in an essay or a poem…

From Wings Over Water (see sidebar or “About” for ordering info). Take care.

…no straight lines in nature…

 

 

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Getting My Green Back

I’d like to say that when the going gets tough, the tough go fishing, but I wasn’t feeling all that confident of late. With the world changing so rapidly in recent hours, though, I did go fishing. Yes. The sky was blue; the air temp was climbing into the comfort zone. State forest-lands were calling; the society of trees and flowing waters beckoned. But like nearly everyone else, I was feeling vulnerable, seeing the dark side to the social and economic closures that were happening globally and here at home.

My fifth-graders learning about maple syrup production at Watson Homestead…

the old-fashioned way…

Sure, the social distancing strategy being employed to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus comes easily to an old rambler like myself. Although I’ve been a teacher and public servant for ages, the natural world has been my master, and the great society of trees and soil and water has always made it rather easy to obtain that “social distance” everyone is talking about today.

a sweet deal…

wonder if breathing that maple steam is good for fighting viruses…

With so many people staying home, traveling less and maybe even consuming less (now that shelves of toiletry, alcohol, meat, and other items are pretty much cleared), the Earth’s environment may be cleaner than it was a week ago. Perhaps the planet is trying to tell us something that we really need to hear. If so, I doubt that many of us are actually paying attention. But I’m heading up the trail with a fly rod in hand, thinking of current events and feeling not so tough.

…going bananas… Wegman’s was selling ’em as fast as the shelves could be refilled…

…of course. the toiletry shelves were empty…

should’ve stocked up with more of this…

School is out for a good long while. My wife is working at home; the kids are fine, but I worry about what happens to the marginalized– to the homeless and elderly, to the small business owners and hourly wage-earners, to the care-providers, to mention a few. I want to keep things in perspective and not allow my own concerns to override the dangers of the virus itself.

more balloon litter in the wilds… help prevent these launches!

Two miles from the road, I’m in the thick of it– among the hemlock, maple, cherry, oak, and birch, and the madness is removed for now. Ah, the great society of trees and wild creatures, even if the fish do not cooperate. I’m out there doing my part to hold things down. No social hysteria, no toilet paper jokes, no hand-washing obsession till my knees give out and tell me to return.

Before school was cancelled, I was working to create a short story with one of my little fourth-graders. Old gray Sam the Shamrock was feeling the winter blahs– sick to death of the cold polluted city. Finally, Sam decided he could do something to improve his life. He quit complaining about his boredom and started helping out his brethren in their tiny urban plot. They picked up trash; they partied, and they taught each other how to care… Yep, the sun grew stronger, bit by bit, and old gray Sam began to… green once more.

mossy mount…

The sap was flowing skyward through the tree roots, up the trunk and out to each red bud. The green was coming through.

[Speaking of green, if you haven’t yet seen my new one and would like to help out the cause of independent nature writing and small-press publishing, check it out via my “About” page for ordering info. Thank you, folks, and be well.]

a Susquehannock rivertop…

the Salvelinus Soul Shop… opening soon…

 

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Irish Hill

“What’s your name, boy? Look at me! I’ll say it once more, and that’s it!”

Saturday night. Years ago. Driving home from a four-day workweek, needing to unwind. The Cold Beer Tavern, corner bar, small town USA.

TripEnd Brewery isn’t on Irish Hill but it’s close…

Truth boy, look at me! Well, God bless America!” Dark eyes flashing neon, one of them closing and re-opening periodically, like a slow wink or a slightly nervous tic.

Big skull blares its boisterous incoherent phrases, tries to hold me in its noise. A black hat crowns a black-coated hulk, crowns a brain with substance, maybe, or a field of rubble.

bags of Simpsons Malt at TripEnd…

Time for beer… He grabs my empty hand, squeezes, nearly crushes every finger, shouting “Look at me, boy! What’s your name? You live ’round here, or what?” Claims to be an Irishman, an honest giant. Amiable, confident, drunk as hell, the kind of guy you’d buy a drink for– if only to shut him up– if he hadn’t been already cut off from the bar…

a tasty local IPA, but growler is from Bozeman, MT…

He insists that I guess his age. “58,” I say. “48?” It’s hard to think straight in the Cold Beer Tavern, in the twang of country music crashing in from Nashville, Tennessee.

“Hell!” he roars. “I’m almost 82!” I settle an empty bottle and excuse myself for the men’s room, overhearing snippets of wisdom tossed from crowded tables as I pass along…

“I’m on vacation. All I could find was seven dollars, so decided to spend it here in Andover!”

“Before you know it, you find yourself married, with three kids, two mortgages, the car broken down, and your job on the line!”

corner of Shamrock & Coleman…

Time, the harvester, had posted a sign on the bathroom wall: “Don’t throw cigarette butts in the urinal!” under which some wise-ass scrawled, “It’s hard to lite ’em when they’re soggy!”

I connect soberly with a recent dream. That old hand-crusher out there in the crowd is like… “Mr. O’Shaugnessy, the Fabulous Irish Poet from New York!” But O’Shaugnessy from dreams is not the famous poet-herpetologist from London. He’s an imposter, music-maker, mover-shaker, from the suburbs outside Syracuse.

a view from Irish Hill…

Mr. O’Shaugnessy O’Dreams might lack a three-dimensional character, but he’s got a supplement out there, an uncaged mouth, waiting near my access to another beer…

Retaliate. Interrogate! I launch my own defense: “What’s your name, man? Where you from? You sound like a poet. Got a life-time of O’Shaugnessy? Ever been to Ireland? I’m from Greenwood, close to Rexville– land of the potato farmers, late 1800s… EVER HEAR OF IRISH HILL?”

Irish Hill was once renowned for its potato farmers…

Walt, in the mountain greenery, says check out the new green book (or is it blue?) on my “About” page– good for St. Pat’s or any day!

watch for the big-footed hand-crusher @ Irish Hill….

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An Excuse To Be…

The arrival of March is always an exciting time for me, no matter what the weather’s like. It can be cold and snowy, wet and windy, or warm enough by day to get the sap flowing skyward through the maple trees. When March arrives at these northern rivertops, it’s time to think spring, to get outdoors and open up the senses, ready for the first American robin, red-winged blackbird and fox sparrow, ready to assess the trout waters for another season of one-on-one involvement with Ma Nature.

South Bend 290 takes a tree break…

March 1st was a beautiful day to fly fish the upper Allegheny. The sun was out; the air temperature approached the 50-degree mark; a first band of migratory blackbirds appeared. A smattering of stoneflies hatched from river pools; a trout or two rose to the emerging insects, and I had a chance to inspect some nice trout close at hand.

Woolly Buggered…

The fishing, enjoyable as it was, seemed almost incidental to the call of March, “… an excuse to be outdoors…” I’m quoting Walt McLaughlin, book publisher, writer and blogger who recently announced publication of my new work by Wood Thrush Books (see his blog post at www.woodswanderer.com). McLaughlin included the following words I’d like to share (okay, so I’m sneaking in one last bit of promo!):

Spring!

Wings Over Water is similar to Franklin’s previous collections of personal essays, delving deeply into the sport of fly fishing and the riverine ecosystem. But the focus of this book differs significantly from his other work. This time around, Franklin draws attention to the flora and fauna around him. His passion for fly fishing is matched by a lifelong interest in birds, and nature in general. There are times when his observations of the natural world make his angling endeavors seem like just an excuse to be outdoors. Then he regales us with a bit of fishing lore, or his own streamside adventure, and the familiar Franklin is back. It’s a nice balance. This is unquestionably some of his best writing…

Please check it out. I think you’ll enjoy, and I thank you all for reading, whether you buy a copy or not…Available at Amazon Books (paperback and Kindle) or directly from the publisher at WoodThrushBooks.com.

dam cold waters…

an excuse to be outdoors…

 

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Taking Flight

Many of you who have followed this blog for a while understand that I seldom honk my horn, attempting to promote the books I write. Occasionally, though, a new work is issued and I’m justly proud to release it like a bird from the hand. That’s right, Wings Over Water, The Late Notes of a Naturalist has just been issued from Wood Thrush Books.

My seventh full-length volume of creative non-fiction is a fine one, says my publisher in his back-cover blurb: In this collection of personal essays, the author describes the flora and fauna he encounters while plying some of his favorite trout streams in the Mid-Atlantic states, New England and the American West. Walt Franklin is as much a bird watcher and amateur naturalist as he is an avid fly fisherman, with a strong desire to protect the lands he has walked and the waters he has fished for decades. Wings Over Water is a blend of fishing tales, folklore, natural history, and riverine ecology. It is also a lighthearted narrative that turns poetic whenever the wild comes into full view.

PA brown trout, released 2.23.22.

2nd PA brown, 19″, released 2.23.20.

 

Get a preview of this 196-page work at Amazon Books (available also on Kindle). Please consider purchasing a copy from Wood Thrush Books (see link on my blogroll) or directly from Amazon (see “About” page). A purchase ($14.95) will help support the world of nature writing and small-press publishing, as well as helping keep alive a hungry blogger who will be retiring from his classroom job this June!

P.S. If you purchase from Amazon and like what you see, consider dropping off a quick customer review. I can use all the help I can get! And thank you, folks, sincerely.

Western tanager (WY), back cover, Wings Over Water…

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A Letort Original

[ Although I introduced the following subject in a post about a year ago, I’d like to present it once more, this time from a somewhat difficult angle, accompanied by recent photos from the New York home water. Thanks, as always, and I hope that you enjoy.]

I’ve met him several times, most recently a year ago, February. On the famed Letort Spring Creek. A whiskery fellow, rheumy-eyed, with broken teeth, experienced on the water. He enjoys casting with a telescoping black steel rod that almost looks illegal raised above the classic limestone pools. There’s no bamboo involved, no fiberglass, no reel. Just a short tapered leader for a line… And make it stout– enough to wield a heavy #4 Ant.

top: Nocky’s Ant; bottom: #8 streamer…

Talk about original… Nocky Hobbs (not his actual name) calls it “the original American Tenkara rod.” Not that he’s averse to fishing with bamboo. He’s lived along the great Letort for 40 years and fished it with the likes of Vincent Marinaro, Charlie Fox and Lefty Kreh. He’s worked the mystic currents with bamboo but gave up the cane when the cost for its repair became prohibitive.

The well-fed and selective browns of the Letort have always been a challenge, but they scuffle regularly with his banged-up pole, its duct tape spread out like tattoos. This angler catches wild browns on a barbless hook then quickly turns them loose.

I remember it well. My second outing with fly rod, Chester2. Nocky held the new bamboo, looked it over, stirred it in the air and said, to my surprise, “I like it.” I was a dabbler in those cress-filled headwaters, but he made me feel at home.

skunk cabbage: poking thru the ice…

Letort fishermen generally refrain from wading in the clear flow of the silt-bottomed stream. It’s difficult to cast from the marshy, brush-lined banks, but Nocky finds the stream a little more accessible. The telescoping instrument works wonders there. Originally a 16-footer, the dented veteran is shorter now, but still swings the wet fly where its owner wants it drifted– through the deep rooms curtained with watercress, through aqueous caves inhabited by large reclusive browns.

The Black Ant is a favorite wet fly pattern. It can be effective year around, says Nocky. I accepted one and tied it to my leader, mostly in tribute to Mr. Hobb’s experience. It didn’t work for me that winter day (ants are pretty damned scarce in February, no matter where you fish), so I wasn’t surprised that my first wild brown trout of the season took a different fly– a bead-head Pheasant-tail Nymph.

dance of the teasel heads…

My best catch of the day? Meeting Nocky Hobbs again. There was more to learn, of course, but talking with him brought the surge of spring, the first birdsong from the banks of the Letort. The chickadee, wren and sparrow sang their witness songs for all.

end of the WAG Trail, Cryder Creek…

the stone(d) poet…

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Winter Spring

Mid-February, and I track through the snow toward a big spring in the hills. I’d follow the deer prints but it’s easier to step inside the wheel ruts of an ATV. I read new promise in the strengthening light. Grouse explode from briers and erect the short hairs on my neck. Oaks and hemlocks glisten in a ray of sun. A mile from the road, water issues from a steep bank 50 feet in length, gushing over moss and cress, collecting in a stream that ventures toward a river and its northward course to Lake Ontario.

Snow-bent weeds and deer scat. Green-leafed winter vegetation. Ah, the flown years. Oh, the great uncertainty of what’s to come. I stop like a snow flea at a frozen apple. I could leap with forest joy and say that all is good. There’s less erosion in these years. Water is cold and clear. I could hide my head, as well– afraid for a future of deregulation in environmental law. I could feel ashamed for our inability to act for the health of future generations, and the Earth itself.

Aldo Leopold said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” He said it in A Sand County Almanac. He says it here, where the waters drop away, coalesce, and mingle with the downstream currents and their longing for a distant bay.

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Where the Owl Lives

The gentle snowstorm slowed my uphill walk. The wet, accumulating snow felt cool but comfortable. The whiteness was a blanket for a dark interior, a surface for the place where the owl lived high on Dryden Hill. The snow accentuated all the contours of the woods, attracting my attention to the shapes of shrubs and trees.

Ash, maple, oak, and shagbark hickory. Weeds and stone wall, brook and tracks of deer. I stopped for a tree sparrow at a thicket, for a winter wren secretive, busy in the upturned roots of a gully. There were powers in this place, and my thoughts flew as if to know them.

shagbark hickory…

I thought, let me widen my senses and adapt to their calling. Let me hope that brain and heart and hill engage as one… Let me dream that the fight to save our natural environment begins right here, with the struggle to preserve the best of one’s home. Let me trouble myself, then be at peace. Our civilization. How to fix it? Who knows, but talk about an overhaul! Shout revision of goals and values– top to bottom– if anyone or anything can survive!

thru the snowstorm… where the writer lives…

the owl flew from the top of this maple…

I’ll  keep walking who knows where. I’ll call this the place where the owl lives, where the snow turns into mist. My glasses will fog and streak, my vision blur. Walking downhill, I’m absorbed by the rain and trees. My center moves. The great horned owl lifts from the canopy. The snow accentuates the contours of each bough.

where the bees lived….

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Winter Woods

Mild temperatures following a fresh deposit of snow provided all the inspiration needed for a hill walk. Grabbing my walking stick, I left the house and climbed slowly through the woods. I paused at an old abandoned car and noted the attempts of nature to reclaim the broken elements.

 

I listened to the four-hoots of a great horned owl, a wild but muted sound. A red-tailed hawk screeched. I caught my breath at the calling, peered high at the bark scrapes on a maple tree. There, porcupine– the sleeper, its quill-back pushing through the doorway of a den.

Porky, at den…

And bear– day-old tracks of a reawakened bruin. I followed claw prints into the hemlock gulley, thought again of how the thin veneer of winter overlies an infinite vitality. Life goes on no matter how scarce, how quiet it becomes. Science and poetic imagination can embrace and dance at a time like this.

bear track, left of glove…

I thought of one of the earliest poems I’ve ever written, composed from a walk like this one 45 years ago… “Wind Dance” :  The wind dance of the pines/ surges the muscled spirit/ On green-winged outlaw feet/ As grimed city zephyr bodies/ brighten through wild swinging gates/ And arch-bellied squirrels, robed in artist reds,/ Nimbly paint a sun on the sky/ with russet resined brushes… It isn’t Whitman, but I still like the place from which it came.

Just west of the hemlocks and on to the summit, the woods have been cut recently because of the ash tree borer. The great white ash trees have been sawn and hauled away, and many of the smaller, less valuable trees have been dropped to lie scattered on the forest floor. My feet sank into snowcapped muck inside the bulldozer’s path. It’s sad: these native species dwindling due to invasive killers– white ash, hemlock, beech, and pine– perhaps destined to join the ghostly ranks of elm and chestnut…

In the solitude of the hour, I climbed at a porcupine’s pace, my still hunt for whatever small surprise that nature might unveil. Those trees… Did they scream like villagers in a fire-fight when chainsaws bit through their roughened skins? Did they suffer in ways known only to the trees? Was their energy released to forest evolution, or allowed to dissipate like old farms dying of penury and hardship?

Bear tracks again… This time in the aging summit fields. The bear must have shuffled through here prior to its downhill turn. I paused from my bushwhacking efforts, from the freedom of a hilltop ramble, finding traces of the past, and passage of society…

bear tracks, leading downhill…

A stone foundation. Farmhouse. Nothing left but cellar walls, barren lilacs, and a skeletal yard tree. Beyond them, a rusted milk can, scattered pieces of forgotten machinery. Gone– a family’s view of the distant valley. There was history, though, for those who seek it. There was emptiness embracing the moment from all directions. Yet, within that emptiness– miles of land and water, intricate forms, discoveries, each one with a story to be told.

stone remnants, farmhouse on the summit…

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