“I Write ‘Um the Way I Feel”

The skies can’t keep their secret!/ They tell it to the hills–/ The hills just tell the orchards–/ And they the daffodils!… (from Emily Dickenson).

prairie warbler

prairie warbler

There’s nothing more resplendent this wide morning than a singing prairie warbler on the hill. There’s no prairie on this great hill, only the clusters of young emerging trees, the ten to twenty-foot trees that prairie warblers need.

The zi-zi-ZI notes, rapidly ascending, are almost imperceptible among the background calls of sparrows, finches and other warblers. The prairie is a small bird with an olive back and streaked yellow underside. It’s careless of a watcher with his eyes and ears wide open. It forages deeply in the summer shrubs. The prairie’s wing-bars and tail-wagging come at me as if from the hillside– from a steep hill in the mind.



From Emily Dickenson… To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,–/ One clover and a bee,/ And revery./ The revery alone will do/ If bees are few.

So, what is out there waits for no one. It engages us, if and when we take the time to care. There is poetry in it, nudging and turning with a flourish. It is wild and has a voice that fills the air.

What’s here?

Blossom of the black-eyed Susan. Black raspberries in the hand. Flat rocks overturned



and flung aside by a hungry bear. The night eyes of a white-tailed deer with velvet horns. A red fox running with a small black woodchuck in its jaws. And best, for me– the dark-furred fisher, porcupine-eater, loping across the gravel road!

What is out there holds its place against the darkness. Simple speech confronts the babble of our world. I listen and write what I hear and feel. No theory now, and no experiment. “Unlimited eventfulness” (Kenneth Rexroth) comes to mind.

Brian Kleinchester

Brian Kleinchester

My long-awaited fly rod comes to mind. It came to me in the mail, from an event two years ago when I placed an order for the rod. No, I won’t catch more fish because of this new rod. But it’s a thing of beauty built from scratch– from bamboo culm, from original taper tested on the stream, from hardware, even, made by one man in a southern shop.

There’ll be no more of them. Not for me. Really! And I may need to sell off other rods to now afford my angling habit, but this one is a joy to cast. It’s my statement of support for the tradition of fly-fishing, for the beauty of craftsmanship (you might not believe how many hours of skilled workmanship go into the construction of a custom rod),  and for my faith in the ways of art and nature.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a rod to be fished through the balance of my days, and then, with luck, to be passed along with even greater value to the next recipient.

The weaver of life weaves his tapestry across the hill. I try to follow, and catch mere glimpses of his work. I take a pen to paper, or I run my fingertips across the waiting keyboard. If my meanings come up short, oh well, at least I’ve tried, and maybe I should just go fishing. Maybe then I’ll do better, and I can thank that newly varnished instrument of mine.

One night I just go fishing on the wide Conhocton. Tim D. leads the way across the

Indian pipe

Indian pipe

restless river as the fireflies appear and a startled heron squawks repeatedly and raises several hairs along my neck. The last glow of sunset fades from the north. An hour later all I see is a dim reflection from my friend’s headlamp as he works to free a tangle from his line.

The river tumbles at my feet and I imagine its dirge for a brown trout’s unexplained burial in the shallows, for a dead deer in the bushes and the possibility of zombie shufflings in the dark.

from Dryden Hill

from Dryden Hill

I catch a good brown on a drifted fly and free the hook by feel alone. I can barely see the fish in my hands.

Another story comes to life about the hills and valleys and the streams and rivers of our time. The tales we bring are spirited and, if we’re lucky, we’ll cut through the barriers between us, like an old knife newly honed!

I think of the prairie warbler and the fisher and the bear and the trout and all the rest. And then, with Emily, I say …In the name of the bee/ And of the butterfly/ And of the breeze, amen!

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 “I Write ‘Um the Way I Feel”

  1. Hey Walt,
    Congrats on getting the new rod finally. Looks like a beauty! What length and weight? Would like to see it sometime. Also looked like a nice trip to the PA limestoners.


  2. Alan says:

    Your thoughts on the fly rod are wonderful.

  3. Brent says:

    Did the fisher cross your path before or after our visit?

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Beautiful rod! Love the subtleness of the swelled butt and the way the wraps compliment the golden color of the cane. I like this kind of post too, where the poet waxes poetic and calls upon those who wrote in verse before, a shared communique across generations musing on the nature of our “place”.

  5. Doug Paugh says:

    You can’t get a more natural poet than Emily Dickinson to quote, And then, with Emily, I say “…In the name of the bee/And of the butterfly/And of the breeze.” Oh Yeah, Amen bro. I am always eager to read your next blogs. Oh, and I love the rod. I have some mail on the way, as I respond to this beautiful work. And an Emily Dickinson quote of one of my own, if I may in closing: From, A Prayer–“I meant to have but modest needs, Such as content, and heaven; Within my income these could lie, And life and I keep even.” “Life and I keep even.” You couldn’t pick a more perfect poet to quote, for your ear than Emily. Keep up the great work brother.

  6. loydtruss says:

    Congrats on the new fly rod, that is something I have often thought about, but never had the courage or cash at hand to buy my own custom fly rod. Is it a 3 or 4 weight and I assume it is under 8 ft? Does it come with a lifetime warranty? So impressed with this fly rod and looking forward to a report on its performance. Thanks for sharing

    • Sure, Bill, I’ll be fishing this rod quite a bit, so there will be reports on how it casts. It’s a 7’6″ two-piece beauty, with a matching second tip, that throws a 5-weight or a 4-weight with absolute ease. It’s very sensitive but also powerful. The swelled butt stops the action at the grip but helps direct a strong cast. No lifetime warranty since it isn’t mass-produced but is built totally by one rod maker. With good care, this should last for many years. Thanks for your interest, and I’ll keep you and others posted how the fishing goes.

  7. plaidcamper says:

    That warbler is a little beauty! Wonderfully immersive piece, and the new rod and your description of it highlight craftsmanship – the rod, the photos, and the writing. Great post!

    • Mr. PlaidCamper, you hit on an important word there, in my estimation, viz., “immersive.” I strive for immersion in the world of nature, as a lot of us do, and I try to reflect that here in the writing of the piece. So thanks for recognizing this and for saying so. Here’s hoping that all is well, and that your guy lines are tight!

  8. Walt, this post left me breathless. You’ve captured (with the help of some beautiful photos and video) what I feel as I start the hopefully long journey to that final river in the sky.

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