Rivertops and MLK,J

I got a break from the weather; it was almost Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and I was going fishing. There was a connection here and I was going to find it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Most of us know something of Dr. King’s efforts to achieve social justice through nonviolent means. For one thing, King helped to establish the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a white Euro-American, I can’t say I know a lot about living with segregation at a time when African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens…

I was a teen when King got assassinated, and I wasn’t much older when the draft for Vietnam was instituted and I got assigned #104 out of 365 lottery pulls. I was lucky to get a school deferment from that horrible fiasco, but I’d had enough experience already to know I’d better get used to being thought of as a number.

eagle on deer carcass

eagle on deer carcass

As a post-World War II immigrant from West Germany, I got acquainted with enough dried brains and fly-bitten miscreants (Shakespearean for “a’holes”) in my elementary school and, later, through my long-haired days in small-town America, to understand that if you looked or acted just a little off the norm in this land of the free, you’d be subject to prejudice, ridicule and possibly even violence. That was my experience, anyway. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dr. King was working for the likes of me, as well.

Today the temperatures rose into the 30s and, by golly, the days were starting to look a little brighter and longer. I’d be able to fish, and have a holiday tomorrow.DSCN5820

Fishing the spring creek wasn’t easy, despite the pleasant weather. The fly fishers were out even though the football play-offs had begun. I was wrong to assume that I would be alone out there today. Since the fish weren’t biting, I had time to count the birds– a mockingbird, two bluebirds, a flock of robins, and many ducks and geese. A golden eagle had reportedly dropped by for a visit several days before.

Numbers… Climate change was working on the avian population but, even in the coldest weather, these ice-free waters beckon the birds and anglers.

DSCN5819Despite my best efforts, and one heavy trout that broke away, I wound up fishless. One highlight of the afternoon was listening to a frustrated angler who was calling it quits…

The guy had paused on the bank nearby to tell me he was shaking. Still shaking. For two weeks he’d been trying to connect with a giant trout that he had seen where the currents are tricky and where sunken logs spell trouble for a drifting fly.

He had just seen The Trout again, but put it down. The huge fish had been rising for something small at the surface– perhaps a midge, perhaps a #24 Blue-winged Olive but, in any case, for something that required an incredibly tiny hook and a very fine tippet.DSCN5831

“Fifteen pounds. I’m sure of it. Seven inches across the back. Maybe 30 inches long,” he said. “The damned thing rose again and, for a moment, I thought he’d risen to my cast. I feel like jello.” Numbers, I thought, and one helluva decent trout.

A brown that size is not unheard of in this creek with plenty of food. What’s unusual is to see a monster feeding in daylight, especially on or near the surface. I sympathized with the angler, who was more hooked by circumstance than any fish I’d seen all day. I said, “Imagine what he’d do to 6X tippet if you hooked him.”

“Yeah. Imagine it. That’s what I was using.”

I had a Trout Unlimited meeting that night. I watched the documentary, “Triple Divide”– about fracking the Marcellus Shale, with a focus on Potter County, PA, the site of a triple watershed divide, trout heaven. The movie was amazing, well-documented and unsettling. Ordinary citizens were getting screwed by outside industries and by their own Department of Environmental Protection… On the following day I’d go there to Ground Zero…

headwaters, Ninemile Run

headwaters, Ninemile Run

Typically on Doctor King’s birthday I take a long walk in the snow. I drove to the northern “gateway” of Pennsylvania’s Susquehannock Trail, an 85-mile circuit through the foothills that I’d finished hiking in entirety some 25 years ago. I was ready to walk again, accompanied by numbers that could link my past and present.

I parked at the trailhead near Route 6. Snow was falling heavily on the summit of Denton Hill, a major divide that separates the Susquehanna and Allegheny River watersheds.

I grabbed my camera and a walking stick and followed the tracks of cross-country skiers. I would try to get refocused, comfortable in the snow and winter woods.DSCN5828

I crossed a little brook, the headwaters of Ninemile Run, a wild trout stream that I hadn’t fished since my trail days on the Susquehannock, but one I probably should get working on again.

A great trout of Ninemile Run might be only 12 or 13-inches long. Like a spring creek brown, it too could bend a wispy rod. Maybe somewhere down the mountainside, maybe somewhere close to big Pine Creek, the trout would strike a drifting streamer.

I would be an angler then, and not a number. I would celebrate with the ghosts of might-have-beens, and have a holiday with trout.

[Feeling like a number lately? Get cathartic and discard those prison rags with my fave rock vocalist of the 60s/70s/80s…! Numbers!]




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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8 Responses to Rivertops and MLK,J

  1. I hate to break this to you, Walt, but in the digital age, you’re not even really a number any more. We are all now a vast collection of ones and zeroes, a discrete set of answers to millions of true or false questions. The good news is that we are all being digitized and cataloged without regard for race, religion, sexual orientation or country of origin. But I don’t think that would comfort Dr. King.

  2. Ah, the good old days (pre-digital) when we were simple numbers! Today all those ones and zeroes overwhelm the grey matter, but I know they’re there. Digital or analogue, I like to think there’s still a way to blow ’em off, if only for a long sweet moment.

  3. Brent says:

    This is great! As I’ll be posting shortly myself, I’ve been looking to regain some inspiration and take some time to accumulate some material. It is not hyperbole when I say there are multiple posts’ worth of inspiration that you’ve worked into this one piece. I wish I had access to the STS in lieu of a crowded twice-daily bus ride…

    • Thanks Brent! I’ll tell you, this post actually started out as a piece in search of inspiration… Getting skunked on the stream at a time when all the signs were saying otherwise, then getting into the numbers thing, and the anger building from my viewing of Triple Divide, then to blow off some steam and to regain a bit of equilibrium on the trail… It needed something like a MLK spirit to bring the elements all together. I might just be scratching the surface of possibilities here. Anyway, hope you’re unwinding from the bus trip, and look forward to reading your new post.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Damn…pulling a draft number. I can’t imagine how frightening that had to be. My stepfather and two of my uncles were in Vietnam, and none of them came back the person they were before. On a brighter note, I saw two immature eagles wheeling above the house yesterday – always a welcome sight.

  5. I remember watching the lottery on TV with my parents at a time when I hardly ever saw TV. The number came up and nobody said a word, just kind of scratched our heads, but I felt the fear distinctly. I had friends already going over, trying to stay ahead somehow… On a brighter note, it seems to be getting a little brighter/later out there, with an eagle or two if we know where to look.

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