The Angler, Cast in Wood

“Walt Franklin on the Stream” is a wood carving that Leighanne gave me as a Christmas present several years ago. This example of “Pennsylvania folk art” was produced by David Castano, a full-time wood carver from Coudersport, PA.

Potter County traffic jam

Potter County traffic jam

Castano’s approach to working with a knife is not so much to carve a work of art as it is to represent an individual in the context of family and work traditions. According to Castano, his wooden figures are intended to reflect the value and diversity of workers in America. He was once commissioned to carve the figures of nine surviving mine workers rescued in 2002 from the Que Creek coal disaster in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Since fly-fishing isn’t usually thought to be a part of America’s work traditions, I guess I was lucky to be considered a suitable subject for the carver’s time. But wait a minute, isn’t the experience of having fun occasionally an example of work, as well? Take today, for instance.

Winter had been here for a while, but on Winter Solstice, the astronomical start of the season, rain was on tap for the region, and the temperature was rising quickly. The thermometer hadn’t registered above the freezing mark in more than two weeks. Naturally I wanted to fly fish, if the signs were good, so I packed a couple of rods for my drive to the Kettle Creek Tackle Shop. The plan was to fish, if possible, and to drop off a rod I’d broken about a month ago.DSCN2835

Phil Balduccino’s shop near Hammersley Fork is one of my favorite fly and tackle centers. Phil was quick to show me the latest fly rods that he’s built. I stood there in the narrow aisles of the shop as he handed me one rod after another and expertly provided statistics on each instrument. In the dim glow of the quiet shop, I was like a kid aboard the Polar Express that rode beneath the Northern Lights, except that I was ogling an immense array of cane and fiberglass toys.

I was there only to deliver a broken rod and to buy a few small items. It was tough work, putting thumb prints on a gorgeous spacer carved from box elder, then testing out the speed of various rod tapers, but what the hell. It was the hour of Solstice, so why not enjoy?

DSCN2831Returning home in the rain, I slowed the car at numerous bridge crossings and gave a long eye to the widening streams. The waters were rising from the sudden snow-melt. Unfortunately there was too much slush along the roads to pull off safely, so I limited my day’s work to that of being a stream monitor. I resigned myself to the probability that, once again, there’d be no fishing for a while. It was a difficult recognition, but somebody had to see it.

At home I took my little carving from the shelf. I turned it upside down and read the statue’s title at the bottom. I decided to escort the image to our stream up by the waterfall. I stood the statue at the water’s edge, the way a kid might play with sticks in a creek. It looked right at home there. I saw where the carver had taken the liberty of putting a creel at my side. Although I’ve probably never worn a wicker basket, not even in my formative youth, the notion of it smacked of tradition, so was fine with me.

The scene looked almost celebratory in the rain. A gift from the past gave enjoyment to the present. I even had a fish in the air.DSCN2816

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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20 Responses to The Angler, Cast in Wood

  1. Joseph Hord says:

    Spending an hour or two in a tackle shop sounds like a perfect way to spend the Winter Solstice. That wood carving looks right at home beside the water! Hopefully the weather will clear for you to be able to fish soon.

  2. Thanks Joseph. A break in the weather might provide a break from the holiday stress, as well. Best wishes to you!

  3. Junior says:

    I hope you didn’t spend too much time rubbernecking the Potter County traffic jam. That herd of deer behind you was trying to get to work on time.

  4. Les Kish says:

    Hey Walt, you look good in wood. Glad to hear that you got a reprieve from the snow and cold. I’m hoping for the same out here.

  5. Junior, Yeah they did start getting a little pissed off, using that hoof and snort routine, but I told ’em to chill and be thankful that the hunting season was over.

  6. Why, thank you, Lester, though I can’t say that I look or feel any younger all made up like that. The reprieve in weather feels excellent today, a day in the 60s, by god, but it won’t last long. If the water drops quickly, maybe… But anyway, I hope you’re enjoying the same.

    • Bob Stanton says:

      The carving could have just as easily been called “Walt FranklinPuttin’ in Work”. As I tell my wife, fly fishing’s hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it!

  7. There you go, Bob, exactly. It’s part of what poet Gary Snyder calls the “real work,” part of the stuff that’s got to be done for personal sanity so you don’t inflict damage on the world. It’s good for everyone involved, i.e., “W.F. On the Job.”

  8. What a cool gift! My wife probably would have commissioned a voodoo doll rather than a wood carving. Good to see the poultry out and about as well!

  9. Ha! A voodoo Jim doll, eh? Well, my wife still knows what keeps me happy, I think. As for the long-tailed poultry, I think they’re doing pretty well this year, and they know how to slow down the traffic, too.

  10. Ken G says:

    Boys and their toys. Now I need to know, while playing with your carving along the water, were you making whooshing noises like you were casting a fly rod? Nice carving indeed.

    Don’t hurt yourself with all this hard work you’re doing.

  11. Alan says:

    That’s a great gift.
    And that Potter County traffic jam made me smile.

  12. Thanks Ken, I’ll take it easy or this work will never get done. I don’t think I made any whooshing noises, per se, but the wind probably heard me saying, “Nice fish! Nice fish! Stay on there!” I think I’m being reduced to the state of second childhood. Hey, have a great holiday!

  13. Thank you Alan. This kind of traffic problem never leads to road rage. Have a great one.

  14. LQN says:

    Very cool Walt, brookie on the end of the line?

  15. Sure, why not, Long, a brookie it is. Best wishes to you!

  16. That’s a very cool carving. I’ve never seen one quite like it. That’s quite a few turkey crossing the road in your first pic. I saw 4 over the weekend frolicking on a lawn next to a house. It’s weird how you never see them for a long time then during a few week period they seem to be all over.

  17. Thank you for the comments, Feather Chucker. I think turkey have a tendency to reappear at odd times, sometimes after the hunting season has put them on the defensive, and sometimes if serious weather, like deep snow, forces them to leave their usual haunts in search of food near human habitations.

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