The other day I got a postcard from the Slate Run Sportsmen (SRS) headquarters in Pennsylvania. The photo on its front was taken when I fished the whole length of Slate Run in 2011/2012. A year later I was asked if I’d provide a photo of the stream for use as a postcard that would go to all members of the SRS, and to distribute from a shop or two in the Pine Creek Valley. Sure, I said, no problem, thank you very much.
The card arrived in January when the opportunity to fly-fish on the rivertops was nil. Earlier, we had several days of “polar vortex” to contend with, and then, on the following weekend, we had rains that caused concern about trout stream damage from the rising water and crushing ice.
The postcard had a list of the SRS meetings and events for 2014, plus a heart-felt “Happy New Year from Slate Run.” The card was innocent and warm, except that I also took it as a tease, an invitation from the stream, saying, “Come on back, old buddy, take a walk and cast a fly. Come back. The ice isn’t so bad; why wait three more months till spring?”
As Shakespeare once said, “The earth has music for those who listen.” Looking at the newly arrived postcard, I could hear that music of the earth again. I could hear the waterfall on Slate Run; I could hear the springtime hermit thrush and phoebe; I could sense that wonder and enchantment often missed by modern hikers fiddling with their phones and global positioning units while traversing through the woods.
It was earth music versus the voice of utter rationality, ethereal noise that argued the finer points of freedom.
To be free, I thought, is to act reasonably upon your wishes, with responsibility to yourself and others. It might mean getting outside the usual boundaries to thaw a frozen mind-set. It could mean breaking down the doorway of a cage, to exit from an office without windows. It could mean shutting down the TV and computer for a while, or heading out with a loved one for the chance to finally see what lies beyond.
But “getting out” isn’t always easy, or even possible. For example, I’d been thinking recently of my “family tree,” comparing and contrasting the maternal and paternal lines of my ancestry, and what I was seeing wasn’t always pleasant…
I had a vision of the Dutch and English ancestors, on my father’s side, getting out from where they lived three centuries ago to settle on what is now Long Island. Then I saw my mother’s side of the family in a sea of flags with swastikas lapping at the steps of spas and market squares in Germany. I heard a wash of Wagner– a decade before I was born– and I squinted at torch-light street parades that I was more than happy to have missed.
I remembered the name of my German grandfather (Max), a man I never got to meet, who did not get out, who died on the losing side of the war, in a battle somewhere in Russia. Ten years later, my German mother got out, and I got out, along with my American father who had served in the Air Force, but millions of people– mostly Jews and artists and other minorities– did not get out despite their desperate need to do so.
In this newer land, America, I try to get out whenever I can. I do it for the health and wonder that the earth provides. I do it for freedom, too, for that feeling of movement that I get without actually having to move around a lot. Granted, the Bildungsraum of the old frontiers, both here and in the older lands, has nearly vanished, but a spirit of the wild remains.
I stepped out the other evening after dark and saw the full moon (nearly) with the planet Jupiter glowing beside. Those bodies seemed primitive, fresh, and alluring, though admittedly I wouldn’t want to get a postcard from either one of them. Those bodies seemed more accessible to imagination than the gorge at Slate Run, at least in the frozen heart of winter. They were more accessible as long as the sky was clear. They were more accessible as long as the viewer had the will for “getting out” beyond the too familiar.