Maine, With an Eagle’s Eye

“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.”

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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3 Responses to Maine, With an Eagle’s Eye

  1. Ken G says:

    One of my goals is to make a trip from upstate New York to Maine in the fall some day. Don’t even care if I go fishing. Just want to see what it all looks like.

    • Ken, Upstate NY to Maine has the potential to be an excellent trip. I’m only 4 hours from the start of an Adirondack backpacking venture that I hope to undertake this summer. Haven’t done that in years, so I better re-do it while I can.

      • Ken G says:

        I’ve let myself go physically this year, not good. Been hiking the hills around me to get the legs and lungs back up to speed. Hope you make that Adirondack venture, our abilities to do such things decrease a little more with each passing year.

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