All three parts of this series were written and published on Rivertop Rambles around the 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.
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…
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.
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.
It 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.
…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.