Earth: It all started Friday night as I drove home from my mother’s house. A fisher crossed the bottom of the gravel road– a dark super-cat-sized animal with a long bushy tail, a creature I’ve long suspected of living in the area (as long-time readers of this blog may recall) but for which there’d been no hard evidence till now. Ah, the wild fisher of the rivertops– at last.
The next morning was the opener for the state gunning season for deer. My neighbors had called, once again, to ask permission to hunt the acreage behind my house. Since the deer are overcrowded on this property, I again granted permission to hunt.
“I just turned around in your pines and saw him there, lookin’ at me. The sun was shining right behind him and I couldn’t say no.” He’d put a .270 bullet through the neck and assured himself of a freezer full of venison. “Like a gift,” I said, and he agreed.
Air: On Saturday afternoon I was returning from a cold outing on the upper Allegheny. The clear sky of morning had long clouded over and become a steel-grey shaker of snow. I slowed down near the aging fields and streamside with its white pine housing the massive nest. There they were again– a pair of snowy-headed eagles perched in the nest-tree where another brood had been raised with apparent success this year.
Would they stay for another winter season as the streams and marshes froze solid? God knows there would be enough roadkill to sustain them but, in any case, the bald eagles seemed to carry my thoughts skyward through the snow and clouds and the sun beyond a coming season.
Fire: We learned that the Eagle Crest Winery, near Conesus, New York and overlooking the pristine waters of Hemlock Lake had created several new labels for their red and white and blush wines called “No Frackin’ Way.” A percentage of sales from these new labels goes toward fighting the establishment of gas storage caverns and the hydro-fracking industry in the Finger Lakes district and the state of New York. Learning this, we made our first visit to the winery, one of 112 such businesses in the Finger Lakes region.
An icon for the winery is the bald eagle. In 1965 the one active eagle nest left in New York State was situated on the west shore of Hemlock Lake just downhill from the winery. Studied by Thomas Rauber and then supported by numerous environmental folk in the days just after DDT was outlawed in this country, these eagles survived and were supplemented by others until, today, close to 175 active bald eagle nests can be found throughout the state. That, my friends, is fire….
Water: In the classical sense, water is the great purifier, and on Saturday the upper Allegheny River seemed to play the role perfectly for me, healing the fiery mix of elements in my head and body as I fought off the cold weather and the sporadic collection of ice in the rod guides of the small bamboo.
I had just released a colorful 16-inch rainbow trout and was approaching a fairly deep riffle overhung with autumn grasses. The spot looked “fishy,” to say the least, and on the first drift of the fly beneath those grasses the line tightened. A wild brown handed me a surprising tussle in the cold, shallow waters of this rivertop and I slowly guided the fish to a pull-out for a quick photo opportunity. The trout had enflamed my expectations and the sense of satisfaction that ensued. Like the earlier fish, the brown measured a full 16 inches in length.
The 5th Element: Many of the various cultures of antiquity have described a mysterious fifth element of basic nature and experience. It’s commonly referred to as “aether,” an unchangeable heavenly substance different from the basic four elements, probably something that transcends the power of description. I’ll call it a high that’s produced when someone encounters the mystery of experience in wild nature.
That works for me and hopefully it makes some sense to you. It’s like catching an excellent trout in the headwaters, or like lifting from a pine bough on powerful wings, or drinking wine on a winter hill above a beautiful lake.