“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.
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.
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?
Returning 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.