Beyond the Lines of Nature

The Grouse & Yellow

I place a small #14 wet fly hook in the vise, tie in thread and wrap a strand of yellow silk. DSCN2558 A wrap of peacock herl for a thorax, a wrap or two of English grouse for legs, and that will do it. With just a hook– a thin metal line– for trout, and with the history in the pattern of the fly, I’m almost there.

Bootleg Hollow Creek

At the sanctuary of a creek, I see a line dividing my domestic life from the wild. I’m drawn to nature’s indefinable edge, a refuge that invites the wanderer like a beautiful cathedral or a mosque that draws the holy to their knees. Wildness is a vapor I inhale above the waters. There’s a balance here between the peace of wild things and the violence of eat-or-be-eaten. There is health.


To hold a native trout for just a moment is to touch the wildness of a soul. Communion occurs whenever one species gives of itself to another. There’s communication of a sort. Wildness can be sacred, with a beautiful and horrific aspect. Arguments, like nature vs. religion, fall aside, thank god.

Walking the Line

My words form a line that walks across the paper or the screen, creating an edge land of DSCN2473the place I inhabit. I call the place my soul terrain. Here the primitive, the ordinary, and the magical aspects of creation have a chance to mix and meld. The words can be about the nature of nature writing, and since they’ll interpret my limited experience in the world, I strive to keep them clear and basic. If I’m lucky I’ll have lines that parallel original experience, as a river path will follow the banks of a river I am fishing. The word “nature” stems from the Latin natura, to be born, and in a sense I get reborn when my words about the outside realm begin to straighten up and walk the line.

DSCN2594Mapping It 

 When the world is too much with me and I feel the need to reconnect with nature, I’ll embark on a small excursion into forest, stream or marsh. In as much as modern life divides and scatters personality, immersion in the solitude of nature can unite the fragments once again. In the overlap of psyche and environment, I open up to plant and animal and earth. My writing will attempt to map the place where I’ve been.

With the day’s temperature peaking at 18 degrees (F.),  I joined the dwindling ranks ofDSCN2616 deer hunters on a walk along the upper river. I looked at the walk as a mapping process, a meditation on fragmented thought and feeling, a way of finding some scattered parts and piecing them together.

I walked for a mile along the darkly flowing river. Other than a few birds, such as junco, cardinal, and crow, I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife. On the river road, however, I found a dead ruffed grouse. The bird had been freshly killed. I carefully removed some feathers for the tying of flies.

DSCN2581The Ruffy’s back feathers are reminiscent of Hungarian partridge. The male’s black ruff is a useful material. I had soft-hackles and nymphs in mind. I would check out patterns such as Grouse & Flash, Breadcrust, and Skwunk. The thin lines of natural separation were getting rounded. Life is full of circles.DSCN2609DSCN2621

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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6 Responses to Beyond the Lines of Nature

  1. Apropos to many a curmudgeon and poet, first uttered by the inimitable Wordsworth, long ago. Thanks Jim.

  2. Every day is new and different somewhere along the line. Thanks for reading, Bob..

  3. Les Kish says:

    Ah, a red phase ruff. What a great find. Lots of good fly tying feathers. Nice soft hackle material. I’ve even used the some of the small feathers off of the birds head and crown.

  4. Good to hear from a grouse hunter, Les. I wasn’t aware that it had these color phases, hadn’t really inspected one since those hunting days long ago when I was a teen. Yeah, really nice hackle feathers, and a black ruff reminiscent of maribou. Also too some feathers from the head and neck area, then gave my thanks. I see grouse all the time on my walks, but a close inspection adds a new dimension to the life and death story of an interesting creature.

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