“I have heard a clergyman of Maine say that in his Parish are the Penobscot Indians, and that when any one of them in summer has been absent for some weeks a-hunting, he comes back among them a different person and altogether unlike any of the rest, with an eagle’s eye, a wild look, and commanding carraige and gesture….” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m no expert on Maine, having visited the state on only a handful of occasions, but recently I had to think about Down-East places. Wild geese were flying high and northerly into the face of a late-day wind. In the same sky over my house, a golden eagle banked into the wind. I’ve been watching these raptors migrate singly almost every November and March since 1993. The eagle put me in mind of the Emerson lines I recently came across; and the writer’s subject put me in mind of a visit I made with wife and kids two summers back.
As we drove 30 miles north of Millinocket, Maine I felt that old familiar “sharpening of the eyes,” suggesting an imminence of the new. Storm clouds parted briefly for a view of monolithic Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The West Branch Penobscot River at Big Eddy was a brawling 60-degree water renowned for landlocked salmon. Drift boats and canoers worked the river not far downstream from the Ripogenus Dam. I could fly fish from the edges though the wading would be difficult. I caught a small salmon with a Grey Ghost streamer, one creation by the great Maine fly-tyer Carrie Stevens.
Heavy rains washed out my hopes for an extended stay along the West Branch. Gnats and mosquitoes were a nuisance but they could’ve been worse had they not pretended to respect the commercial deterrents we slathered on our skins. For a bonus, we finally got to see our first eastern moose, a cow and a calf stepping through a bog not far from our vehicle.
On day two I fished near the campground again. This was beautiful white-water with a heavy flow and a large share of anglers. I spent two hours trying to avoid being swept downstream and caught but a very young salmon looking like a brown trout with graceful and poetic fins. The family was anxious for its visit to Montreal and refuge from the bugs and rain. My wife said she and I could rent a cabin here someday and, who knows, maybe that possibility is in the cards.
Around noon I made a doleful exit from the river traveled by H.D. Thoreau and companions in the 1850s. This was wilderness at the time, and Thoreau had even made an attempt to climb Katahdin. I was soon to be dropped off by family on the upper Connecticut River in New Hampshire for a week of solo tenting and fishing in the rain, but that’s a story for another day.
As I left the Penobscot I was approached by a middle-aged angler who asked if I’d been casting with a bamboo rod. “Thought I saw ferrules flashing in the light out there.” The guy had an eagle’s eye for bamboo rods. He was a rod-builder, and he said that there were several other cane rod craftsmen working the river just then. He inspected the 9-foot E.W. Edwards I was carrying. “Perfect,” he announced. “Too bad you’ve got to leave so soon.”