Newfoundland, Part 4, Conclusion

First of all, we boarded ship with about 30 other passengers at O’Brien’s Boat Tours for a two-hour ride on the Atlantic in search for whales and puffins. Back at St. Johns, the manager at our boarding house had told us, “You’ve seen more of Newfoundland than a lot of Newfoundlanders have.” Really? Well, if so, we were bound to see a little more.

ruins at St. Johns

Our boating guide, O’Brien, was a 40-year veteran of the business, a jolly Irish singer and musician who, when not joking around or singing some traditional Irish song, was an excellent source of information on the fish and birds and mammals of the North Atlantic.

bird-covered isle

I had never seen so many birds in one location. We approached a rocky isle considered to be the summer home for the second largest puffin colony in the world. “There’s probably two million puffins nesting there and flying all around us. If you haven’t seen a puffin yet, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do to help you!”

a few puffins

I heard another voice proclaim, “It’s like in the movie, The Birds!” But no– those puffins, murres, gulls, and fulmars flying all around us weren’t an evil omen. They were an event. Perfect shadows of interior life, as well as real lives of the North Atlantic waters.

from a shipwreck

Farther out on the misted ocean we began to see the spouts of feeding humpback whales. Water fountained from the wild, and then a breaching giant, and there– a diving cetacean with its tail straight up in air!

As if the whales were not enough, hungry dolphins began to school adjacent to our idled boat. The dolphins leapt into the air, slamming their bodies to the surface of the waves in efforts to corral their prey, the small fish known as capelin. Even O’Brien was amazed. “In my 40 years of guiding, I don’t think I’ve seen such dolphin energy!”

As we motored back to shore, our navigator cut the engine and O’Brien had us gather around. Now what? Well, Alyssa had secretly bought a special ceremony. We hardly qualified for honorary induction into Newfoundlander citizenship, but O’Brien announced to everyone that the three Americans were about to be “Screeched-In,” like it or not.

Thankfully there wasn’t any cod aboard for the traditional lip-kiss with a fish, or a rubber puffin with a butt to smooch. But there were yellow fishermen hats to wear, and there were plastic cups for highly potent screech (symbolic of the rotgut liquor that islanders once obtained from Jamaica, in quantity rather than quality, in trade for their barrels of local fish). And there was an oath of loyalty to the province that each of us repeated, line for line, with difficult Cockney accent, followed by hearing out O’Brien’s warning: the rum is bad; gulp it quickly with one swallow!

Then, screech it to the world! “Is you a Newfoundlander?”

“Yes b’y!”

Each of us then worthy of a signed certificate.

And the big surprise? The swill wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was smooth and rich and not too sweet. Like travel through a wonderful land.

the Finish!
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Newfoundland, Part 3

On our trans-island route to the eastern peninsulas of Newfoundland, we passed a lot of tempting trout and salmon rivers. Eventually we would meet Atlantic Dave, a white-haired boat tour captain and a former teacher now living in Terwillengate, the so-called “Iceberg Capital of the World.”

Captain Dave grew up in a small roadless village across the bay. Our small touring group would soon observe that village closely when Dave lowered his anchor at the cliffs nearby and pulled up several lobster traps that he employed. He inspected a female lobster ripe with eggs then gently freed her in the shallow water. Next, he pointed toward the empty village.

“That’s the house I lived in as a kid. I own the place and try to keep it up. I helped to build that dock to earn some money as a teen. We carried rocks from the cliff right here.” Dave, typically a jovial and humorous instructor, suddenly grew pensive and teary-eyed as he recollected the adventures of his youth and then proclaimed that, sadly, we were probably looking at the future of Newfoundland’s village life and the fishing culture that sustained it.

The captain was friendly with a pair of nesting bald eagles that always seemed to await his arrival when providing a tour. He had carried some frozen fish in the boat and tossed one to the rocks. “Come on mama!” he shouted. “Come and feed those young ones!” The female eagle launched out from her nest, settled on the rocks and grabbed the fish, then rose back to her nestlings. “Now watch this,” said Dave. He took another fish and tossed it to a new location on the rocks. “Come on, papa– get off yer watch and grab a bite!” The male eagle leapt off his sentry post and dropped down to the offering. The big bird clutched the codfish in its talons and returned to the heights. A dozen landlubbers on vacation were delighted.

Captain Dave opened out his motor and we sped across the bay, checking out the rocky isles where gulls and guillemots and cormorants nested in dense colonies. Atlantic Dave provided a fine excursion, and a preview of a greater ocean ride to come.

American redstart

rose pogonia

pine grosbeak, dandelion seeds

Stay tuned for a final installment!

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Newfoundland, Part 2

The Tablelands at Gros Morne National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), north of Corner Brook (see map), are dry red-rock formations uplifted from the Earth’s mantle. The natural mineral, periditite, is poisonous for most vegetation, with a few exceptions. With June’s snowmelt pouring off the ridges, pitcher plants were plentiful along the trails and beckoned the inquisitive spirit as if it were an insect prey.

from Wikipedia

Our camp at Trout River was a handy launching pad for a birthday celebration at a seaside restaurant offering “authentic” cuisine (loved that partridge-berry pie!) and a brief stint of fly-fishing on the Trout.

hiker’s approach to fjord @ Gros Morne

Walking tours of various coastal locations proved inspiring for the North Atlantic birder & the maritime naturalist. And a 10-mile boat ride on the Gros Morne “Fjord,” aka Western Brook Pond– a Norwegian-style oligotrophic lake with depths exceeding 500 feet & with shear rock walls exceeding 2,000 feet in height– amazed the three Americans on their first visit to the Long Range Mountains of western Newfoundland-Labrador.

tour boat on the fjord
2000′ pinnacles, Western Brook Pond
did some casting here…
snowy fingers, Tablelands
camp for 3, Gros Morne
did not try ’em…
sea arches, west coast…
common murres…
pitcher plants, common on the Tablelands
Atlantic salmon river…
Atlantic puffins…
another look at… Pissing Mare Falls, Gros Morne… Stay tuned
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Newfoundland, Part 1

The long drive north from Rhode Island to the Nova Scotia ferry crossing was a difficult journey for a guy with upcoming back surgery, but the overall trip was wonderful. With my wife and my daughter catching up on sleep inside a cabin on the big boat purring on the seven-hour passage to the great isle in Newfoundland-Labrador, I took to the wind and sunshine of the observation deck and dreamed about the sights that we would see throughout the following week. Ultimately, we would log 4,200 miles from western New York State to Newfoundland’s outback and our return, excluding the sea miles gathered from five excursions on the waves.

west coast, Newfoundland

From the Tablelands wilderness of the western island and its World Heritage site, the Gros Morne National Park, to the iceberg-haunted eastern peninsulas to the humpback whale watching north of St. Johns, we immersed ourselves in Newfoundland’s natural history and its maritime culture as much as possible, given our limited time. Our daughter, Alyssa, had designed a stimulating itinerary for the three of us.

ferry brews for three…

From our woodland tenting sites to our stays in lodging that included one night in a renovated home once owned by a Newfoundland Prime Minister one century ago, we ventured into boat excursions, lighthouse tours, fjord exploration, breweries, puffin colonies, moose haunts, and even a couple of river edges where I dutifully cast to unsuspecting trout.

fjord, Gros Morne National Park

Currently I have been unsure of how to share some 60 photographs selected from the journey. I’ve decided to present them in a series of four posts, each one with about 15 images randomly ordered, annotated, and to follow in relatively fast succession (compared to my slowed-down pace throughout this past year). I hope that you enjoy, and always feel welcome to comment or inquire…

lovely navigators, L.& A.
Indian brook; let it not be said I didn’t fish…
male pine grosbeak
harlequin ducks
moose a’plenty; caribou, too, but unseen…
Tablelands, Gros Morne…
Pissing Mare Falls, Gros Morne N.P.
Atlantic puffin; we would see so many more… Stay tuned
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Photos, Art and Nature

Few words today, as I reflect on the activities of the past few weeks and look forward to my rapidly approaching trip to Newfoundland. With luck, I may have some interesting reflections to share with you from that Atlantic province steeped in cultural history, puffin colonies, trout, and moose.

Eastern kingbird, Greenwood, NY

Locally, over the last couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed a bit of fly-fishing, birding, public reading performances, and visiting with the Pittsburgh folk who were kind enough to help us extend our explorations there. One highlight was the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a magnificent blend of art and nature in the heart of an exciting urban center. Not much walking for me, as I anticipate a summer date for back surgery, but enough to keep me chirping with my feathered friends and human pals, as well.


Allegheny (l.), Monongahela (r.) forming the Ohio River
Chihuly chandelier, Welcome Center, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh
Chihuly gold star in the Desert Room
onward to the street/sidewalk art in Pittsburgh…
Andy Warhol, native…
spicy prawn with rice (Vietnamese)
a break at the brewery…
the beer was great…
back yard, Greenwood
rose-breasted grosbeak
willow flycatcher
scarlet tanager
pileated woodpecker, Greenwood
Genesee River brown
common grackle, Dormont/Pittsburgh
mallard in chalk, the ‘Burgh.
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Another Glance at Greylock

As a kid I spent a decade growing up on a hill near Albany, NY and had a backyard view of both the Catskill Mountains, to the west, and the Berkshires to the south and east. You could say that those low-lying mountains left an imprint on the brain, still noticeable these long years after.

I left the region, never guessing that 60 years later I would finally come back to the highlands of western Massachusetts, to the rolling hills near Williamstown and Pittsfield, to the marble and the limestone earth, long overdue. And here it was: Green Mountain culture, hiking, arts, small breweries, fine restaurants, and fishing.

motel site, Williamstown, MA
birch, near Greylock…
marble dam, Natural Bridge State Park…

Several days were spent near Hemlock Brook and Williams College, casting flies in the North Fork Hoosic, resting in the smell of honeysuckle blooms, with views of Greylock, highest mountain in the state, its summit (3,491′) once attained by literary hikers Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Thoreau. The latter spent a night there in July 1844, an act that reinforced his growing sense of personal independence and adventure– one year prior to his start at Walden Pond.

North Fork, Hoosic…
limestone waters

I toured the Herman Melville residence called Arrowhead and, from the writer’s desk and attic window, saw Mt. Greylock in the distance. The forms of Saddle Ball and Greylock were an inspiration for the famed creator of Moby Dick. The snow-crowned winter peaks reminded him of a great white whale that broke out from the ocean’s surface. My perception of the ancient hills was far more modest, naturally, but significant in a personal way. I saw the Berkshires as I viewed them at the age of 10, but closer now.


If I’m fortunate to have another look at Berkshire country, I could hope for a clear day and a view of five states from the taiga-boreal top of Greylock Mountain. I would try to see the distant Green River and a possible spot to fish it near the New York border. I would try, as well, to locate Kinderhook Creek, the stream where I caught my first trout on a fly in the early 1960s. Driving home from Greylock, I could stop there at the headwaters of the Kinderhook to ply its waters, as if I’d never walked its shaded banks before.

looking down, Natural Bridge…
Saddle Ball, w/ Greylock hidden behind…
Greylock, from North Adams…
dome, North Adams…
phoebe, waiting my return
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A Trout in the Milk

“Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

H.D. Thoreau

On April 15th Leighanne and I drove south from the wintry residues of western New York for a weekend in the Pittsburgh environs and then onward for a week in central Virginia. Away from home, the fresh spring season came alive as vibrantly as a trout dunked momentarily into a stream of cold fresh milk.

“one of the forgotten classics of rock and roll history”

I am not advocating an experiment whereby hatchery trout, or any kind of fish, are allowed to swim outside of their natural waters. I’m merely suggesting that “circumstantial evidence is very strong” at times, as in this case where a season is most welcoming. En route to Virginia we drove through the mountains of western Maryland and West Virginia in an unanticipated “nor’easter” for about eight hours when the trip, under normal weather conditions, should have taken only half that time. Unlike hundreds of other unprepared travelers, we came through relatively unscathed, and thankful for the southern warmth and bright blue sky.

from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle State Park…
Youghiogheny River…

Another trout in the milk, for me, has been more like a piranha in the bloodstream. Several months ago, I suffered a physical injury that limits my ability, for now, to walk long distances or even to wade a favorite stream, so I felt lucky to have strolled a bit of the southern trails and have had a measure of success while casting a dry fly to the river denizens.

kayak sans kayaker…

To find words for my experiences I look to the seed syllables of language– to the wind and water and the birds– to communicate and share the joy and pain. The seed syllables can be sourced, as well, in the plants and animals and landforms of our place in the world. We may feel their impulse and respond with the equivalent of a field note, i.e., “Saw a kayak turned topsy-turvy in the rapids.” Later, the field note can develop the full reflection of an experience: “From the high bridge spanning the Youghiogheny River (aka “the Yawk”), the stranded kayak seemed to shimmy like a rainbow trout.”

Cucumber Falls
Meadow Run (a misnomer), a trout stream that’s more pastoral farther up…

The poet or the naturalist-at-heart transcribes a little corner of the world to help share its beauty or significance with others. Thus, we find our place in Nature and suggest its variability as we build an art form or develop a sense of peace or solitude or hope. Why not? We could do worse than mirror our relationships with the non-human world or that deeper place anchored in the overlap of civilization and the wild.

wild brooks were fairly numerous
a nice brown… unfortunately, a camera breakdown has precluded my use of rainbow trout photos taken in the lowlands, and of pictures snapped from Skyline Drive…

The writer William Stafford once said that “Poetry is something everyone is caught up in, early (as in childhood), and a few keep on doing.” The pursuit of poetry or music and the arts in general can help overcome the fragmentation of our specialized, adult lives. One need not be an artist to appreciate the work that artists do, nor be a fisherman to recognize a good trout finning in the milk.

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The Antipodes

The British writer, H.T. Sheringham (1879-1930), has been critically lauded as one of the best angling writers of all time, who wrote primarily of local waters but whose style can appeal to readers of wider interest. An advocate of any type of fishing, from pursuit of the “coarse” species on up to Atlantic salmon, Sheringham isn’t much remembered in our day, but some of the excerpts that I’ve read from his books have had me laughing, shaking my head or nodding in full agreement. Here’s a good one on the notion of antipodes, or “polar opposites,”(from the book Trout Fishing: Memories and Morals) to think about as we contemplate some very dire consequences for the heedless actions of world governments:

H.T.S., courtesy, Fallon’s Angler

“The world, by the signs of the day, is turning, or being turned, upside down, and in a few years we may all be at the Antipodes of our former states, as old Sir Thomas Browne might have said. But it is some comfort to me that the real Antipodes are now very well furnished with trout.

“That being so, the figurative Antipodes will surely not be without them. The future, therefore, need not be wholly strange and alarming.”

We gotta credit the guy for trying…

maple sap’s on tap
old style

Thinking of recent world events, I remain almost at a loss for words. Yeah, I’ve hopped on board the Antipodes Express and got a laugh out of images like the Texas senator riding shotgun in big wide circles with the DC truck convoy in a time of war, and wondered who was complaining about the price of gas? Other times, I’ve looked to the calming scene of hungry birds outside my window, some of them in migratory transit, still adapting to their frozen nesting grounds…

fox sparrow en route to Canada
after the buckwheat cakes & maple syrup

And talk about antipodes… From the darkened world of the pandemic to the brightening days of spring and the opening up of in-person art events comes this: The Writers’ Stage, with featured readers Meghan Dwyer and the American Gothic Brothers, Peter and Walt Franklin. Although less dramatic than a quick reversal of the Earth’s magnetic poles, it’ll be a party, and everyone’s invited. Reading to begin, May 4th, 6:30 p.m., at the Hornell, NY Community Arts Center, Broadway Mall. Meghan will read from her accomplished romance novels, Peter from his rough-and-ready tales, and Walt from his new book, Learning the Terrain, another segment of which will finish up this post:

American Gothic bros….
very much available!

“… I was thinking like a creek, or possibly a scop. A scop is defined as a bard, or poet, of the Anglo-Saxon days in ancient England. I was drawn to the word and to the scop’s role in medieval time because of the pandemic in 2020 and the way its subsequent restrictions had revised my own approach to the environment…

My inner scop was ready to begin from scratch– to go with the flow of new surroundings, to fly-fish on a clear stream close to home, to scope out the poetry of earth the way that minstrels worked in days of yore. Doing so, I might appease the need of trying something different in these difficult times. It was like teetering on the brink of creation all over again…”

Keeney Swamp, waiting…
a look at Spring (courtesy, Scott Cornett)
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Uncomfortably Numb

Numbed by recent world events, all I can say is stand with the down-trodden and maybe also lend a moment to John Steinbeck’s thought, “All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” And as we read, how about this from writer, Ray Bradbury, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

Numbed by a peculiar feeling emanating from within myself and from distant lands, I still managed to enjoy a recent visit with my son and his wife at Cook State Forest in western Pennsylvania. The old-growth forest with its stately pine and hemlock trees uplifted our spirits even as the ice-clad trails kept us sliding on our keisters. Later, I could fortify a springtime hope for peace with words revisited in my new book Learning the Terrain:

“…When I walk or fish along a run, it’s possible that everything outside of this small place will fall away. Goodbye, news of the world. Farewell, financial woes. See you later, friends, as well as screwball enemies… For the purity of the moment, for its sheer simplicity, I have something that is almost sacred. If the stream could talk, it just might tell me something about who I am and where I am headed.

“I cast in the quiet company of streams and see that the waters of Earth move systematically. The brook trout gets connected with the wood duck that is connected to the forest that’s connected to the trout lily blossoming at its feet. There is distance here, but the place is also close and intimate…

“… When I heard of the death and mayhem, I took solace in the creek. I fished it, knowing that the stream would comfort me and lighten the load. It did not spit in my face or take any side at all. It favored no religion or political agenda, no one theory or belief. The creek was simply there, cold, and flowing bank to bank, clear and tumbling toward the distant bay.

“The stream was there to embrace me if I wanted it to care. It was there to reject me if I got in its way. I stood in its waters feeling like the young musician who towed a grand piano to a site of death and terror. Towed it with a bike! The fellow could not raise the dead or heal the injured, but his playing helped to soothe the pain for a bit…”

Music. Literature. The Effort. Please contribute where you can.

available @ Amazon & Wood Thrush Books…
in many places, trails were sheer ice…
Leighanne, w/ hemlock or pine…

wondrous, Cook State Forest….
springtime hope, March Brown, by Scott Cornett.
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It’s Here! Learning the Terrain

I’m excited to relay the news that my new book, Learning the Terrain, has been published by Wood Thrush Books in Swanton, Vermont. The book is now available from Wood Thrush, as well as from Amazon (Kindle or paperback) and Yours Truly. I’ve been fortunate to have had an excellent editor and small-press publisher handling the five-book series on fly-fishing, hiking, and natural history experiences, the first of which appeared in 2008. This latest publication will be my last book of its kind, but its 144-page content held by attractive matte covers is a work that I am proud to offer. At my Amazon Page you can click the “Look Inside” button and preview a generous sample from the book’s beginning. Many of you know my writing style and interests, and I’m sure you’ll find the book price of $14 to be worth every cent. For readers new to Rivertop Rambles, Learning the Terrain is a great place to learn what it’s all about, to enjoy the streams and rivers, oceanside and mountains, from the comfort of your world.

In other news, it’s been a long cold winter in New York, a good season for outdoor adventuring, if you’re so inclined. As for me, I’m ready for a change. The trails and streams are beckoning. I have plans for the home front and for the road, as well. The mountains of New York, the hills and streams of Pennsylvania, even some westward travel later in the year. Even though I sometimes entertain a fit conclusion for the life of Rivertop Rambles in its present form, I have no solid outlook at this time.

I thank you all for your patronage and wish everyone a bright new season. Read good books for the enjoyment of interesting perspectives and remember that a banned book is in likelihood a work that needs to be read and reconsidered.

Phil: 6 more weeks no fishing… Rivertoprambles: You lie!
snowy headquarters
Cardinal “learning the terrain”/ got the whole world in his brain…
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