Bamboo Rods and Prayer Flags

It was a mild late-winter day. The morning sun shone brightly on the spring creek, and it felt good to be back on the water following weeks of northern hibernation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oddly enough, I was the only angler in view. Granted, this was a weekday morning in the winter season and I was merely passing through en route to Rochester, but I couldn’t recall ever having fished the stream without at least another angler or two in sight along the short stretch of public water.

Several robins greeted me along the stream’s edge. I hadn’t seen a robin since my previous visit here, about six weeks earlier. Were they feeding on the midge hatch hovering over the tressel pool and settling along the snowy banks? An occasional burst of cardinal and titmouse song, a swing of waterfowl above my head, reminded me that, despite the frozen aspect of the countryside, a new season was making shift.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ravages of winter lay close at hand. A shard of white plastic shone from the riffles. The torn carcass of a duck rotted in the clear spring water. Several small pools seemed shallower and more silted than on previous visits. And, perhaps most disconcerting, I was not seeing the wild trout that are usually apparent from the stream banks and low bridges.

In fact, with more than two hours of pleasant casting with the “Founders’ Rod”– the split-cane rod belonging to the Slate Run Sportsmen and on loan to me for a year (the term expiring later this month)– I didn’t see a single fish in the clear waters of this creek.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI gave it my best shot while I had the opportunity. Carefully delivering a variety of spring creek imitations on a long, tapered leader (including scuds and tiny midge pupa), I did nothing in the way of a hook-up.

Why? Who knows. The fish were here before the big freeze-up late in January. The stream’s relatively constant year-round temperature prevents freezing in the coldest weather, but it doesn’t prevent variability in other factors.

Hopefully the trout were just hiding from the harsh glare of the sun, if that makes any sense, although I couldn’t even flush one from the usual cover. If the rare sun of early March was a shock to my winter-weary bones, then maybe it was all too much for trout, as well, accustomed to finning away in the clouds for weeks on end.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was starting to feel uneasy despite the beauty of the fly rod and the chance to be outside again. What if the major freeze on other upstate waters had forced the fish-eaters– the cormorants, the mergansers, etc.– to converge on the stream and… nah, I had to banish the thought for now… I’d check on it with professionals when I could.

Which brings me to the giddy subject of personal prayer.

I am not a praying guy. I don’t respond to Facebook whining about every personal hiccup with a statement like, “Prayers sent!” I don’t belong to any one religion but I’m quick to acknowledge a universal spirituality because I think that all living things, including the Earth itself, are linked by a common essence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t talk of God with a capital “G” because my only non-human co-pilot is the world of nature. I don’t necessarily equate God and Nature, as do many naturalists. What I mean by “nature” is the world before me here and now, the world-at-large, consisting of our own kind plus millions of other species.

So, en route to see my wife and daughter in Rochester prior to my wife’s surgery to have a tortured nerve along her spine repaired, I was “praying” in the only way that I knew how.

I was casting with a bamboo fly rod, looking for that rhythmic motion of the line that balances thought and feeling, movement of the arm and the sound of flowing water. At the risk of appearing over-indulgent, I compared the casting of a fly line to the waving of prayer flags on the tops of Asian ridges.

Yeah, the use of prayer flags is an ancient idea, as old, perhaps, as prayer itself. Good wishes are transmitted to the local winds and even to global tempests rather than to one god in particular. Traditional prayer flags are often banded together in the colors of blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Looking around me at the stream, I saw some corresponding elements: the sky, the snow, the chirping cardinal, the watercress, and the all-important sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo put it all together, I could inhale, back cast, pause, then exhale slowly with the forward cast. With the settling of the fly, I could give my humble best for the land and water and all who depend on them for sustenance.

I thought of my wife and her upcoming surgery (all went very well, by the way; she’ll soon be hiking with me to the streams again!). With all my little banners in the wind, I could even wish the trout good health… then wonder where in the hell they went to spend the late winter days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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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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16 Responses to Bamboo Rods and Prayer Flags

  1. Brent says:

    A very nice piece about two of the most important things in your life. When you were on the water yesterday, you weren’t certain what had become of the fish, just as you weren’t certain how things would turn out for mom. In a post about uncertainty, there’s a lot to be glad for in this one!

  2. Doug Paugh says:

    Yes. I like this piece as well my friend. Hope all goes well with the family Walt.
    best, Doug

    • Hey Doug!
      Welcome to this watery (still mostly frozen) blog site! I like to think that poetry plays an important part of its role, so I think you’ll dig it if you hang around a while. Anyway, I hope so, and thanks for the comment and the good wishes. All the best to you and yours, as well.

      • Doug Paugh says:

        I will, and I agree that poetry plays an important part, at least for me. You can find out how much by googling doug Paugh poet, or doug paugh poetry. Doesn’t matter really, accept there are some different things listed from one search to the other. Hope the wife gets better soon. Chronic back issues suck.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Glad that you have some open water to fish, Walt. The creeks here are still iced over, though the thaw is working its magic rapidly, I’m dreaming more and more about springtime trouting. Oh, there’s places to cast a line now, like the ‘Gheny, but that’s a study in frustration unless one likes slinging streamers all day, so I’ll stick to tying and daydreaming for the time being. Please give my wishes for a speedy recovery to Leighanne.

  4. Dr. G says:

    Gator, believe it or not, I *am* a praying guy even though I am not a member of an organized religon, and my prayers will be there for Leighanne to be out there hiking with you soon and feeling great while doing so. Please tell her I send my best. And I hope the Spring brings many great casting experiences your way, Doc.

    • Many thanks, Doc, and Leighanne will be happy that you thought of her and are sending your best wishes, prayer or otherwise. She’s got some rest time now and is doing quite well. Always glad to hear from you, here or via the music reflections. Happy springtime trails to you and J.!

  5. Les Kish says:

    Glad to hear that the surgery went well. Hopefully she will be hiking soon as you say. The walking is an important part of the recovery process. And oh yes, I’d wager that the fish are still there. They just move around a bit during the winter.

    • Yes, and thanks, Les. It’ll be good for her to walk and to feel like she can go the distance without wincing. I think I remember you once saying something to the effect that the back can be a painful experience if left untreated. Otherwise, about those fishies— I’d bet that you are right; the fish do move around a bit, although in this case here, it seems more unusual to me.

  6. Walt
    Absolute beautiful area you were fishing, just to tip one’s wading boot in the waters edge would be enough to connect with nature in that place. I envy all you guys who have such waters to fish, compared to our local tailraces here in the south.
    I like your analogy concerning your spiritual aspect in this post. Glad you wife will be back on the water with you soon. Any guy who has a wife that loves the outdoors as much as he does is lucky. Great Post!!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful and generous comment, Bill. Yeah the wife has always been a fine supporter of the geezer’s habits (well, most of them) so the sooner she’s back on the trail, after being rested, the better. We’ve always the loved the area, backwoods trout streams and all, although admittedly, L. has a more southern constituency so doesn’t like the cold as much as I do (or did). The beauty certainly nourishes the spiritual aspect that I mention here.

  7. Mark W says:

    Glad to hear your wife’s surgery went well. Best wishes for her speedy recovery!

  8. Doug, Thanks for the good wishes. Will keep Paugh poetry in mind and follow your progress!

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