The Upper Canyon (Experience 17)

The mid-November sun was golden, low, and mellow with the news that winter hastened its approach. If I was to walk the upper canyon comfortably this fall, if I wanted to extend the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdistance that I’ve fished the stream this year, I had to do it then.

It was Veterans Day, a time in which we duly recognize our veterans of foreign wars. It was time to cherish our freedoms– if we understood what freedom is, or what it means.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a day in which I saw a lot of trucks on the road to my destination in the big state forests of northern PA. The trucks hauled water or fracking fluids and supported the gas boom. They supported the use of fossil fuels and the consequent break-down of the natural world and its climate and inhabitants.

I depended on that energy still, and saw how freedom, in the larger sense, is a joke.

Sure, we try to minimize our dependence and support alternative energies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a 40-minute walk down to the gray birch on the east bank where I left off on a visit earlier this season. Finally I was ready to fish. I tied on an artificial nymph and began to work the foot of the Canyon Pool. The water temperature was a chilly 41 degrees. The wild trout lying off the current showed no interest in the offering.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the shadows of the run below Dam Hollow I began to think that no one ever fishes here but then… What was this? A piece of leader looped around a high branch. A Woolly Bugger stranded over a deep hole, the barb pinched down respectably, the hook gone to rust from the passage of time.

I reached a second big pool en route to my starting point early in the day. There was a cliff with dripping water and drooping hemlocks shading the long rocky pool… I called it the Upper Canyon Pool, and layed out the tandem flies, a dry caddis and a Pheasant-Tail.

It was too cold to expect good dry-fly action, but the caddis served to guide the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfisherman’s eye. Already several native trout had seized the nymph and come to hand. A minute passed, and a brown trout darted from its shelter and struck.

A pileated woodpecker chortled from the forest just beyond. The blue sky shone in patches. Time was fleeting; time was nowhere but in mind. The great ridges here would shield the pools and riffles from the winter, for a while.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy thoughts moved upstream, toward the future…

When the last fly is removed from a lip, when the last fish swims away from an angler’s hand, and when the hunters, too, depart, the stream will be winter quiet. Although predators and heavy ice may loom above the scene once more, our awkward presence will be gone for months.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA balance might be seen between the mountains and the valleys. Concepts such as freedom and energy use will be seen as if from millennia to come. We may never be forgiven for our errors. All of our good deeds may be little more than soft reflections of the autumn sun, and that’s okay.

Nature is complicated and beautiful and wonderfully indifferent. It will always have its own way.


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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13 Responses to The Upper Canyon (Experience 17)

  1. says:

    Those trucks really do break the spell you cast.

    • Thanks 24-6! Yeah the trucks break the spell each time I enter my adopted PA paradise. The industrialization of north-central PA is occurring, thanks to the drilling boom, for miles around the sacred state forestlands in which these wonderful trout streams are located. And even these state forestlands in which Cedar Run is found are feeling the pressure of development along the peripheries. As for mentioning the trucks here, well, I’m just reporting the experience of my day.

  2. Leigh says:

    Awesome post my friend.

  3. Brent says:

    Does this represent the end of the Experience? The freedom/dependence conundrum regarding energy is one of the biggest Catch-22s we face as modern citizens. I suppose that being conscious of one’s role in the problem–and sensitive to it–is sometimes the most that we can ask of ourselves.

    • Brent, the Experience is still on-going. I’m up to the headwaters now, well above Leetonia, with at least seven-tenths mile of fishable water remaining before I hit the highest sources where I may just have to walk it up. With fair weather this autumn I may finish it before winter, but it doesn’t look promising at this point… You hit on the problem with the freedom/dependence conundrum. For now, awareness of the problem and bringing it to light, and then reducing energy consumption is about the best that I can offer anyone on the journey.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    My fear is that the Marcellus industry will become the scourge that the unregulated coal industry of the last century is/was. Certainly there are more regs in place these days, but agencies in charge of oversight seem to be selective about what’s enforced or isn’t, and as we all know, money talks and the industry has plenty of that. Especially in PA with no severance tax on production. Are those jack-in-the-pulpit berries,BTW?

    • Bob, Points well taken on Marcellus. Also, the way I see it, the roads, the traffic, the infrastructure per se are having a huge impact on what’s left of the natural integrity in many areas. They’re simply chipping away at the remainder of the wild in PA. As for the berries, yes, I’m pretty sure they’re Jack-in-the-pulpit. Situated just above the water line on Cedar.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sad to hear that the remote beauty of that area is being spoiled in the search for something consumed and then forgotten.

    • Thank you for the comment! Whereas the region of north-central PA is currently experiencing a boom in the production of Marcellus gas by the controversial new mode of hydro-fracking (with despoliation of the natural beauty in many areas), the watershed in which the pristine Slate Run and Cedar Run are found is unscathed, so far. Being surrounded entirely by state forestland, the runs are relatively protected from the fracking industry, although the state has been trying to open up more and more of the state lands to the gas and oil industry. Environmental groups such as the Slate Run Sportsmen are fighting to keep these natural gems unscathed. It’s the outlying areas through which I travel that are experiencing the brunt of the industry. We’re doing our best to ensure that watersheds like Slate and Cedar remain untouched for the benefit of its wildlife and for future generations of humanity to enjoy.

      • Mike says:

        Keep fighting the good fight. Sometimes I don’t know what’s what anymore but state protected land ought to damn well stay state protected land no matter the profit forecast. Thanks for reminding us to think about this, Walt.

      • Mark W says:

        Walt, that’s good to hear, I used to hike that area before I started fly fishing in high school and college. Didn’t mean to comment anonymously

  6. Mike and Mark,
    Thank you for weighing in on this. Absolutely. State lands should be protected forever for the people and wildlife of the state to enjoy as is, not to be scarfed up by special outside interests like Big Business. But PA’s governor (thankfully not reelected) got bought up by the Industry and he tried his damndest to have the state lands opened to fracking, with some success so far. Like other dedicated outdoors folk, I’ll fight that kind of crap until I tip over for good. You guys have some experience in places like this wild country, so you know what’s at stake. We appreciate your support.

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