Coming Off the Ridge

I’ve always enjoyed Edwin Way Teale’s four-volume, continent-wide survey of the DSCN3730 American seasons, especially the first book, North With the Spring. I reexamined the book recently and got motivated for some hiking, with the goal of finding signs of the approaching season.

Teale’s adventures began with a mid-February 1940s drive from New Jersey to the southernmost part of Florida where he and his wife began a naturalists’ investigation of the imminent spring season. They followed spring’s ebb and flow, advancing northward at an average rate of 15 miles per day, to the point where the season climaxed at the Summer Solstice in northernmost New Hampshire. For the lover of spring, the book is a fascinating scientific narrative , and it moved me again to celebrate the new month of March with a good long ramble.

DSCN3728Teale experienced what a lot of northerners in the winter of 2013-2014 were feeling when it came to the weather. The season had been long and harsh. By late February it seemed as though the northern hemisphere was simply stuck “on the ridge of winter.” With cabin fever setting in, one simply had to move. On the eve of March, I saw a robin and heard its agitated notes, the first of its kind in more than three months. I was ready to discover more, and ready to come off the ridge.

I wanted to investigate the highest stretch of the Allegheny River in northern DSCN3734Pennsylvania with a walk long overdue. I didn’t have great expectations for discovering signs of spring because they’re slow to come to the deep woods when the land is overlaid with snow and ice. And it was only March 1st.  The actual commencement of spring was still weeks away. True to form, I didn’t see much on the 7-mile walk, other than a strengthening of sunlight through the clouds, a bit of excitement in the antics of wintering birds, and a promising color in the plants along the spring seeps of icy headwaters.

DSCN3724The hardest part of the climb along the ancient rail bed was to peer down on the trout stream and acknowledge that there wouldn’t be any fishing for a while. With the air temperature rising above the freezing point for the first time in a week or two, I couldn’t help but dream of future outings with the fly rod. My reality check came with knowing that the forecasters were predicting sub-zero temperatures for the next few nights, if not longer.

The best part of the hike was following fresh bobcat tracks in the snow. I found them near the start and kept them in sight for the entire climb, excepting a few occasions where the cat ventured off trail to hunt along the stream before returning shortly after. Whereas the cat had hunted here for survival only minutes or hours before, I was hunting for something that a predator had no use for.DSCN3718

At one point I stopped where the bobcat had revisited a previous kill. The feathers and skin parts of a ruffed grouse lay scattered on the snow. I imagined the hunter thinking something along the lines of, “Umm, good. I could use another bird like that. Maybe up ahead…” Before I reached the summit where the great river has its source, I flushed several live grouse from their cover and wondered how the cat might stalk one for its meal.

DSCN3744Where the stream passes through a culvert underneath the trail, I found an open pool and looked unsuccessfully for trout. I was close to the summit and thought the pool might be the highest fishable water in a river system reaching from the New York/Pennsylvania border to the Gulf of Mexico. I’d have to wait a while before testing it. Perhaps spring was hiding in the pool, like a brook trout or a frog.DSCN3750DSCN3741

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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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10 Responses to Coming Off the Ridge

  1. Alan says:

    Thanks for the trip.
    I saw several Robins in the last several days. They looked bewildered.

  2. Alan, the first robin I saw and heard seemed very agitated in the cold wind, as if it couldn’t believe what it was doing. The others seemed equally unsure. The pioneer life is not an easy one.

  3. Puget Keith says:

    From what I have heard from my family in NJ you have had one heck of a winter. I presume you had more snow then around Philadelphia. It’s good to explore in March though I seem to remember years ago wandering the Blue Mtns in winter and wondering if spring was ever going to arrive. Secondly thanks for the reference about Mr. Teale. I have never heard of him but this 4-volume set seems enticing. I appears to be out-of-print but I will try to track down parts or all of it this year to read. Thanks!

  4. Hi Keith! We upstaters may not have had as much snow as some, though we’ve had plenty, but the cold has been relentless since late November. Didn’t have much in the way of thaws, and I’ve lost count of the sub-zero nights. It beats having no winter at all, as we’ve experienced a few times in the last decade, but spring will be greatly appreciated.
    I’m surprised that Teale is out of print. He was the most widely renowned writing naturalist of the mid-1900s, and a lot of libraries still have some of his books, most notably the American Seasons series of 4 books. His Connecticut farm and nature preserve is a place I’d like to visit this year, but yeah, a very good writer and observer. His book on traveling through Winter won the Pulitzer back some 50 plus years ago.
    I’m glad that you took notice.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Hi Walt, went for a winter walk yesterday to find a “sulpher spring”, one of only three in the county. Found it seeping oil and paraffin – a curious sight indeed. Neglected to bring the snow shoes and spent the afternoon post-holing through the snow, so a three mile walk turned out to be quite a workout. Hey, went to P’burgh the other night to see Richard Thompson. I was wondering if you are fan of his, or of his old band, Fairport Convention? And regarding the previous post, “The Dharma Bums” is my favorite Kerouac!

  6. Bob, That 3-miler in this snow, “post-holing it,” must’ve been a helluva work-out. Glad you found the old oozer. How did you know about it? I recall searching for one in this area so long ago that I don’t remember which stream it was on. Here, the village of Greenwood was founded on the basis of a “salt spring” in Bennett Creek that Indians and whites alike made use of through the years, but it got taken out at last by the Flood of ’72, before I came around.
    Great minds often think alike (scary thought), for “Bums” was my first and favorite of the Kerouac reads. Had something to do with all that climbing into the clouds and wild places by Japhy (?), the Snyder characterization.
    Congrats on making the Pittsburgh concert! Hope that you enjoyed it. I think Thompson is doing the acoustic rounds this time, isn’t he? My son sent me a notice the other day that Thompson (w/ son Ted) will be playing Buffalo this Friday, and I had to tell him that unfortunately I can’t make it there. We went to one of Richard’s performances in Ithaca a few years back, and liked it a lot. So yeah, I too am a fan. A huge fan, since the days of early Fairport, when I bought most of the vinyl albums except a few critical ones which I finally got around to hearing on CD within the last 5 years or so. “Liege and Lief” is the masterpiece in my humble opinion, but there’s so much excellent music from the band and from his solo albums to be enjoyed. Awesome!

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    I’d read about the spring in a book on hiking the ANF. There are actually three springs (one “sulphur”) that emanate from the base of the hill where they’re found, and I knew they were there, but I must of crossed the sulphur spring farther down from its source. Yeah, the Thompson show was acoustic. He really knows his way around a guitar, acoustic or electric. The guy is one of the largely unrecognized guitar geniuses of the world, in my opinion. My only disappointment was that he didn’t play “Shoot Out the Lights”. And Teddy wasn’t bad either. In fact, I shook Teddy’s hand and told him “great show” – as we exited the theater he came around the corner with his guitar case. And of course I love Fairport too. Sandy Denny was a rare talent, for sure.

  8. Sandy was an amazing vocalist. I think you’re right that Richard is one of the great songwriter and guitar talents, and I hope he’s a bit more recognized while he’s still alive and full of it. I think of Roy Buchanan also. Tragically unappreciated and hardly known while he was alive. I’d say he was the #2 electric guitar player, after Jimi. Watching him on You Tube video still blows me away.

  9. That’s some hike and great pictures but I hope the last pics of winter until next year!

  10. That’s it, Mike, no more if I can help it, and thanks for plowing through it with me.

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