The Postcard

The other day I got a postcard from the Slate Run Sportsmen (SRS) headquarters iDSCN3099n 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.

Max (middle) ca. 1910

Max (middle) ca. 1910

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.

And then there was the winter voice– a caveat– suggesting that I would be a fool to goDSCN3085 there now… the gorge is cold and dark and icy… I have other things to do…

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.

DSCN3088But “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, DSCN3091who 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.

DSCN3095I 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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12 Responses to The Postcard

  1. stflyfisher says:

    Beautifully written, Walt. I agree that we often overlook the opportunity we have to “get out”. Life is good and we owe it to our ancestors, so many who suffered to give us that opportunity…

  2. Bob, Thanks much for reading and for weighing in on this. Your point about the link between us and our ancestors is well taken.

  3. Thanks for this one. Wow.

  4. You’re mighty welcome, Mike. Thank you for reading!

  5. Jed says:

    Great picture Walt .

  6. Good to hear from you, Jed. Lookin’ forward to more Slate Run visits soon.

  7. What a powerful message! I can’t imagine the horror experienced by the Russians facing Blitzkrieg and then the Germans, cut off and facing the Russian winter. Thanks for reminding me today that my slight fever and chills isn’t cause for depression. I will get out again!

    • Thank you Jim. Yeah, those horrors occurred not so long ago, historically speaking, and I feel blessed by being born there AFTER the dust had finally settled, but not long enough after to have escaped some of the emotional consequences of the war. I agree that learning about the realities of war and feeling something about those realities will really put our slighter problems of the day into perspective.

  8. Ken G says:

    “It was earth music versus the voice of utter rationality, ethereal noise that argued the finer points of freedom.”

    I’ve noticed as I get older and listen to that rational voice more, I don’t get hurt as often and the near death experiences are fewer. Still have to give in to the earth music now and then though.

    Enjoyable read Walt. My wife kids me all the time about having to go out searching for my body some day after I push myself too far on one of my journeys into the woods. She also knows there’s no point in trying to stop me.

    • Appreciate the comments, Ken. We older folks who have spent a lot of time outdoors and who continue to explore on a regular basis have learned how to walk the tightrope over the abyss. If we’ve given in totally to the earth music to the detriment of our rationality, then we’ve probably already left the realm of the living. On the other hand, if we’re more attuned to the rational voices in our heads then we’re missing out on some of the most exquisite pleasures of life. The balance is where it’s at.

  9. Alan says:

    There is history, we can dwell on it’s teachings. We have innocent waters that beckon.
    And we have choice.
    Well done Walt.

  10. Thanks Alan! We can ignore history, but only at our peril. If we choose to live freely and we strive to act responsibly for the benefit of all, there is poetry in life, and clean waters for our contemplation.

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