Genesee Trailwalker, Part 3

All three parts of this series were written and published on Rivertop Rambles around theDSCN3162 20th of January each of three consecutive years. I don’t know what this proves, other than the fact that I’m another creature of habit. I should probably be careful with that. Predictability can be lethal, especially if you’re hunted like a deer or a fox.

I hit the Genesee River WAG Trail (former Wellsville-Addison-Galeton railroad bed) late in the morning of a cold winter day, with fresh snow on the ground and the air temp registering 14 or 15 degrees F.. It felt a bit odd to walk northwesterly out of Shongo, NY, heading downstream on this rare northward flowing river. And it felt a little odd to walk this familiar river without a fly rod in hand– with only a camera for a check on the animal tracks and other quiet signs of January life.DSCN3146 

In the river valley, just prior to arriving at my starting point, I saw a common raven and an adult bald eagle flying over the highway, signs of promise for the outing to come. Bundled against the cold, tapping at the powdery trail with a walking stick, I thought inexplicably about an old poem by William Butler Yeats, a piece that I reviewed later in the day. The first stanza of “The Song of Wandering Aengus” goes like this:

I went out to the hazel wood,/ Because a fire was in my head,/ And cut and peeled a hazel wand,/ And hooked a berry to a thread;/ And when white moths were on the wing,/ And moth-like stars were flickering out,/ I dropped the berry in a stream/ And caught a little silver trout…DSCN3169

Okay, maybe it’s understandable why an angler would think of this on a cold winter day. Time flows on, and if casting for trout again on this river was still weeks or months away (the shelf ice, alone, said No! to any thought about doing so today), then I still took comfort in the bare-bones river ambiance.

I may have been predictable in taking up the river trail at a time like this. If so, I might have been like the fox whose tracks I followed. I saw where the hunter paused to lift a leg and urinate against a forked stem along the trail. The fox marked his territory in this new breeding season, perhaps like certain bloggers adding one more post to their collection of reports and curiosities! I may have been predictable, but at least I was making observations in a different manner than I would when fishing here in summer.DSCN3150

I took note, for example, of the chickadees that accompanied my walk. I listened to high-toned cheeps of the golden-crowned kinglet and to nasal utterances of a white-breasted nuthatch. I stopped to consider the large flock of mallards that overwintered in a spring-fed slough that entered the river by an old railroad bridge. Crossing the dilapidated bridge, I wisely tapped at the rotting, snow-covered slats before putting my entire weight on them.

DSCN3147It was just a simple walk on level ground, a short hike complicated only by an occasional patch of ice or a fallen tree. It was made enjoyable by a thought I took from the original Taoist, Lao Tzu: “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” My arrival, if anything, was no more than the process of a river walk itself.

Covering much the same ground as I would during the warmer months while fishing, I was open to a less accustomed scene, and anything that it offered to my view. Admittedly, I looked forward to that comfortable time of solitude with trout but, for now, there was plenty to be content with here, nothing to allow cold boredom to snatch away the walking stick.DSCN3151

…Though I am old with wandering,/ Through hollow lands and hilly lands,/ I will find out where she has gone,/ …/ And pluck till time and times are done/ The silver apples of the moon,/ The golden apples of the sun.DSCN3158

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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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14 Responses to Genesee Trailwalker, Part 3

  1. Truth be told I don’t know that I could walk streamside yet without a fly rod in hand but, then again, I have a lot to learn 🙂 Nice post as per usual.

  2. I’ll admit it, Mike, it’s not an easy thing for me to do, either, but in this case I took one look at all the ice that edged high water, and I was convinced to look for other entities, for safety’s sake, if nothing else. Thanks for reading!

  3. LQN says:

    A nice walk in the snow covered woods. Beautiful, might have to do that this weekend. thanks for sharing Walt.

    • As you know, Long, the northern winters have a certain beauty to them, beyond their obvious difficulties. With a little effort, we can find those elements that reward us with enjoyment. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  4. Puget Keith says:

    Very nice walk, especially one with no purpose other than to there. I hope it is okay to post another link but this site tells the story to what is a rather young rail line: http://www.personal.psu.edu/tss109/WAG/homepage/index.html. Again my apologizes if i shouldnt have posted this link.

  5. Keith, thank you for the WAG Trail link! Wish I had thought of it, myself, but now it’s here, an interesting history of this old rail line that haunts the present-day explorer of the Genesee River country. If I had it within my means, I’d hire you as publicity manager for RR. Seriously, though, much appreciated.

  6. Alan says:

    Many times my friend I have walked a stream just to be part of all that’s offered.

  7. I’m sure you have, Alan. We could probably say that walking a stream this way is like walking through our moments with eyes and ears attuned to what is.

  8. Les Kish says:

    Hi Walt. Habit is good. The same place twice is never the same, is it? That’s what makes going back so interesting. From one year to the next. Be they photos, memories, blog posts.

  9. Habits get us through, don’t they, Les. Yup, you never cross the same river twice, as they say, and that’s what makes the river interesting. Should we ever feel that the river, memory, photos, blogs, etc., isn’t/aren’t changing with each visit, then we’re probably comatose, or sleep walking. Thanks!

  10. I always enjoy it when you take me on these walks with you, Walt. And when you point out the birds and start reciting poems, I feel like we’ve been hiking together for years. Thank you for another trip out. I have not been very brave in this cold this year.

    I need to try scouting out along the North Branch of the Susquehanna between Northumberland and Danville. I’ve noticed a fair amount of Bald Eagle activity along there lately, and a couple of weeks ago spotted an adult Bald with nesting materials in his talons. Way up on the ridge top, in a spot I could not have seen if the leaves were not down was his mate perched by the beginnings of the nest. I had no idea they started nesting that early. Luckily this location (the eagles are smart) is not in an area where one could pull off the road or easily hike to. I’ve spotted them along the fields between there and the river and hopefully will be able to see more than two this coming year.

    It’s been good to see their comeback, and it’s always a good omen, the “cruck” of a raven at the start of a trek.

  11. Reblogged this on The Dad Poet and commented:
    I’d like to introduce you to Walt. He writes a lovely blog about fishing and the outdoors of northern Pennsylvania and a bit of upstate New York. Then he throws in a bit of Yeats and some birding and I’m in heaven. I’ve never really learned to fish very well, but I used to backpack and hike quite a bit in the northern tier of Penn’s Woods and his posts always take me to places that feel like home. It’s a reminder that such landscapes, internal and external are really not far away.

  12. David, Thank you for a detailed response to the posting; I’m pleased that you are able to come along on these rambles and to enjoy the birds and the sense of place as we encounter them. Yeah the ravens and the eagles are always a special sighting for me, no matter their frequency. As you’ve noted, the eagles apparently remain territorial as long as there’s security and a good food supply (fish and carrion) in the region. I too have seen them active near their former nesting sites, as if to prepare for another season of raising brood. To see them is to get a good feeling about our own place in the world. Hopefully you’ll have plenty of opportunities to view these creatures in the coming weeks and months (it will get warmer! I tell myself).
    Thanks so much, as well, for reblogging the post on The Dad Poet. I’m honored for the attention there! I enjoy the work you do on the site and look forward to reading more as time goes on. I sure appreciate the fact that you like the poetic feel of some of these RR posts. There’s poetry in the world around us all the time, if we take a moment to open ourselves to the possibilities there.

    • It was my pleasure. I realized with all the nature loving poets who comment on The Dad Poet that I needed to spread the word, plus there is just something about these hills, waters and woods here in Pennsylvania for me, a connection to the land I have never felt anywhere else, and it shines through in your writing for me.
      And I hope you are right about the cold!

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