Beyond the Crooked Tree I found a couple of rock-lined pools with dripping sides. The Rock Pool struck me as a favorite stop between the Mowry Pool and the Two-Mile Hole, but despite some careful casting there, the trout weren’t taking. It was one of those days. I remembered a remark by guide Rich Meyers when we spoke about Slate Run fishing over beers at the Hotel Manor years ago. Rich said, “When Slate is on, it’s great, but when it’s off, it’s really dead!” I proceeded hastily; and the twists and turns of the run became a little tedious. I was feeling humbled and small. It was good, though, to walk a crooked line between two worlds, to be balanced, more or less, between wild nature and the human realm.
I wondered if the “trout bum,” that proverbial modern rebel, lives for moments of escape on the stream. If so, what does he or she escape from? Was it a life of quiet desperation? Maybe. I decided that, like many others, I enjoy escaping from the madness of civilization, but am quick to acknowledge there is no enlightenment here, no Zen stick rapping the skull with instant wisdom and bliss. I was happy to be far from speeding vehicles and their slave commitments, far from mountaintop communication towers, far from village traffic jams when the hydro-fracking trucks roll through. I understood that escape is temporary, that escape is actually immersion– in wild nature, in the wide and brutal undercurrent of what is. The entry may be beautiful on the surface, but the push and pull on a mortal being has to be respected and dealt with carefully.
A declining slope was bathed in sunlight and promise. It reminded me of the Two-Mile access trail but I wasn’t sure if that was it. A pool that I approached was vaguely reminiscent of the Two Mile that I fished some years ago. I figured I was getting close, so I quickened the pace and cut back on the casting. When I reached a deep, expansive pool, I thought of the Frying Pan, one of Slate’s largest and finest holes. I peered into its dream-like clarity and wondered if I’d missed my exit. I made several perfunctory casts and didn’t yet know where I was. (Indeed, the Pan must’ve clubbed me senseless over the head, metaphysically speaking). Only when I saw the massive rock ledge and the mouth of a tributary did I recognize my whereabouts. The Manor Fork! The well-known Lodge was hidden up there in the trees. Today an idiot had missed the Two-Mile exit and had forged on to the Manor Fork.
I climbed from the gorge and headed up the driveway that connects the Lodge to the Slate Run Road. A van was parked at the lot and I saw a motion at its opened rear. I offered a greeting and a quick explanation of my predicament. I heard a woman tell me she was changing her clothes. Whoops… Unless I got lucky and could hitch a ride along the roadway, there would be miles to walk before I could sleep.
I paused for a dead copperhead in the road. Only a foot in length. With a pit viper head and copper crossbands on the back, and looking about the way I felt. When I finally saw my parked car up ahead, the van with the woman in her fresh clothes went by. It was 3:30 P.M. and I had walked the 3.5 road miles in less than an hour. Hot and sweaty, I drank from a bottle and ate a snack, then changed my shirt and fishing gear. A vehicle pulled up and I recognized Jed. Since I hadn’t checked in at the shop as planned, Jed had thought to look for me on the road. “I figured you might have missed the Two-Mile trail,” he said. He had figured right, and I thanked him. I explained that I had gone troutless, that I’d messed around with new fly patterns when I should’ve stuck to standards. That reminded us of the Green Wienie fly, and how big brown trout in the runs seem to fall for the pattern. Inch worms are a tasty morsel for the browns, or so it seems.
[photos by Scott Cornett]
[ The second half of The Slate Run Odyssey will appear in the spring of 2012, as I resume my upstream rambles.]