Close Encounters

1. The upper Genesee is my home river, and it had not been fishing well through a DSCN6875period of heavy rains. This  morning, however, it was flowing normally for July, and the trout were rising for a while before the sun shone down.

I caught several trout, a brook and browns, on a Blue-winged Olive dry fly, and it seemed my luck was improving when I wasn’t fussing so much over my new fly rod. I was just casting the thing and having fun.

2. The first good photographs of the dwarf-planet Pluto were arriving on Earth and even my chair-ridden mother saw that something new and positive, for a change, was being plastered onto CNN’s steady stream of overkill. An alien world was entering consciousness with something like a Welcome sign.

DSCN6885The spaceship New Horizons passed the little planet like a pair of good binoculars in the hands of an earthbound explorer looking into the trees. It seemed that what is out there in the farthest region of our solar system has a heart and sense of mystery, a certain warmth that our self-centered civilization finds so puzzling.

3. It’s fascinating to receive high-resolution images from the realms beyond. As an earthbound spaceman, myself, I enjoy stepping out with my modest collection of data-gathering instruments– a fly rod, memo pad, canteen, binoculars, and walking stick.DSCN6867

I recently launched myself into a series of neighborhood hikes, long hill climbs into the forest at my door, looking for reclusive birds and mammals while the summer still afforded the opportunity.

The unbroken South Ridge forest is approximately four miles long and has an average width of more than half a mile. Each summer I like to ramble on an old lumber track through its “Hemlock Woods” and listen for the evening (and early morning) songs of hermit thrush and other avian notables.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stood in the solitude of evening woods, with “singing hermits” on each side of me, along with robin, wood thrush, and hooded warbler. The wet, matted leaves on the forest floor had sprung to life with various mushrooms and polypores, but as the light grew dim, the songs of the hermit thrush filled me head to foot.

The hermit has a velvety, flute-like song that’s damned near impossible to describe, although many have tried. The notes, ascending and descending the musical scale like the European nightingale and beyond, can take an attentive listener to unusual heights. In his book Wake Robin, the naturalist John Burroughs wrote about a hermit’s song: DSCN6859… Listening to this strain on the lone mountain, with the full moon just rounded from the horizon, the pomp of your cities and the pride of your civilization seemed trivial and cheap.”

4. On one of the most perfect of summer days, I ventured into the clear and cloudless heights over a local trout stream. Casting my new rod with a feeling of confidence and ease, I surprised myself for fishing the first half mile in two hours without seeing a single trout. I forged on, however, sort of like the New Horizons spacecraft (?), trying various wet and dry fly patterns till I found productive water way upstream.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI caught a mix of nine trout, wild and hatchery specimens, ranging from a seven-inch brookie to a brown of more than 15 inches, all of them on a singular Prince nymph in an afternoon that had looked to be headed for a skunk.

And yeah, the new rod was a pleasure.

5. One evening I descended from the Hemlock Woods in the dim light of 9 p.m. Peering into the forest I saw a black bear that hadn’t seen or scented me as yet. I stood still on the edge of a ravine, watching the dark shape amble closer, figuring that the bear would descend the gully then climb away, but it turned to me and closed the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wanted a camera but didn’t have one with me. Would a flash terrify the bear? A moot point. I had a walking stick and could use it to bop a nose, if need be– if this odd encounter with a bear turned suddenly weird. It’s not unusual for me to find a bear near home, but inevitably it’s hightailing in the opposite direction.

The animal’s face was probably 75 feet from mine and coming closer when I broke and simply said aloud: “Whoa, Bear! Close enough!” It was getting too dark for this kind of thing.DSCN6854

I don’t know who was more surprised, but we were like two aliens in a new world, ready for other places. The big bear bolted uphill, passing the point where I first saw it, and there he paused to turn and check me out. I looked back also. If it’s possible to feel the “Plutoid Effect” (coined by Bill Nye the Science Guy?)– the energy of exploration when beyond our customary orbits– we were feeling it then.

My feet stepped quickly toward the friendly lights of home.DSCN6887



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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22 Responses to Close Encounters

  1. Brent says:

    I like the thread of exploration that runs through the post. The hemlock woods were always very nice–I’m going to have to ramble on up there again one of these days!

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    I tried for years to get Whit interested in the outdoors. She used to like to fish for bluegills, and she could cast a fly rod passably, but her girly-girl proclivities took precedence eventually. But when she started trail running with me, she was introduced to the ethereal sound of the Hermit Thrush. She now refers to them as her favorite bird and once said, “I can’t believe such a beautiful sound could come from a bird.” By whatever means necessary I say, but I wouldn’t have thought the thrush would be a “gateway bird”.

    • That’s excellent to hear, Mr. Bob, from both the hermit and your own assessment of your daughter’s interest. No, you wouldn’t think that the hermit would be the “gateway bird” because of its reclusive habits, but then again, if you get within range of their song, it’s totally logical. It’s enchanting, and I’m glad that she has enjoyed the sound.

  3. Doug Paugh says:

    Well, it looks like you’re getting the knack of your new rod into the wilds of your home Walt. The trout are looking sweet. You didn’t have a camera for the bear? Ahhh, but yes you did. It sets on top of your shoulders. That will be a memory that a real camera could never hold for as long.

    • Yeah, thanks for that, Doug. I just hope the battery for that “other camera” lasts a while. It’s a good memory for now. Am mailing off a little package for you today, in thanks for chaps and CD which I’m enjoying!

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Loved this! Our familiar horizons are never really that with an open mind, a different time of day or year – even a tree can look somewhat alien as dusk falls. I enjoyed your bear encounter; happy to read nose bopping wasn’t necessary. He’ll stay out of your orbit now…
    Enjoy your day!

  5. Absolutely, Plaid! You might take that tree image, for example. In a certain light it’s a “tree,” in another it’s a creature from a different world, retaining a set of eyes, a nose, etc. Yeah I’m glad, too, I didn’t have to resort to nose bopping– that guy could’ve taken me with one paw tied behind his back. Thanks for commenting, and best to you.

  6. Alan says:

    Walt the bear encounter would be to close for me, I would have yelled long before you did.
    The rod is beautiful.

    • It’s interesting, Alan. I’m always trying to find a close-up with a black bear when I’m out hiking, but the problem is that bears like me a lot less than I like them, and they’re probably smarter too, so they’re usually on the run when I see them. But this one just did not suspect me and kept on coming in the near darkness. And I felt the edge of trepidation, you might say, because it was unusual. Now, if we’re talking brown or grizzly bears out West, that’s a whole ‘nother story. Thanks for the nice comment!

  7. Gramps says:

    Walt, I have had my bear encounter, up close and personal for the only time, out in Idaho one day a number of years ago. Hope that was the last one.
    Beautiful rod in the hands of an expert tells all. Love the fish shots, too!

    • Thank you, Mel. Bear encounters teach or reinforce respect for nature, especially if we have no real weapon in our reach. We’ll have a sudden shot of wildness like no other, and that’s a good thing, but only with care. And I don’t need another close one with a grizzly. Black bears are a different matter.
      I appreciate you time and comments here.

  8. Mark W says:

    I’ve had a similar ursine encounter in the Adirondacks. The black bear keep moving closer and closer to me until I had enough and yelled at it and it turned and ran for the hills. I wonder if they don’t see so well because it was looking at me for a while which was getting me a little anxious

    • I think that’s it, Mark. Your experience sounds similar to mine. I had the feeling that the bear didn’t see me despite the closeness. Their other senses are acute, but by being still and having the wind in my favor, I experienced some unusual closeness. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Kevin Frank says:

    I’ve always wanted to see a bear in the wild but never that close. I once had an encounter with a deer like that on the trail. I was maybe 15 or so running on the trail acting like a fool when I turned a corner and spooked a doe. We were staring face to face and I could literally see her nostrils flaring with every breath. We stared at each other for what seemed like a full minute but it was probably more like 3 seconds. Then another deer jumped out of the brush a few feet away and all of a sudden 10 deer started to bound out of the brush and headed up hill. By the time I turned my head back to the doe that was in front of me she had fled. She was gone, joining the pack and heading over the hill. It was one of those experiences that keeps me captivated and always wanting to come back to nature.

    • Nice story of a natural encounter, Kevin. Yeah those are the kind of one-on-one experiences that remind us of our bigger picture in the world and to keep ourselves humble and excited. Thanks for sharing it!

  10. Your walk sounds really refreshing to the soul Walt. But I’ll pass on the bear encounter. Seeing them in a zoo has feed my curiosity sufficiently.

    • Glad it sounds it refreshing, Howard. We’ll keep the bears where they are, though I’d be sad as hell if we found them only in zoos. “Encounters” are good, but with some distance in between. Thanks for walking this one out with me!

  11. Mike says:

    Hey, Walt, that’s a big old brown and a beautiful brookie. A bear at 75 feet is a bit close for my liking but, then again, a suburbanite such as myself is not used to such things! Well done!

    • Yeah, Mike, how’s it going? Fishing here has actually picked up a little, despite the odd weather, or maybe because of it. As for the bear, well, I’m probably not real used to their kind either, even though I’ve been living in the neighborhood for decades. Thinking about it, I guess one of the reasons I’m living in the sticks is to be near the wild ones, so I try to check in with them once in a while, the way I “check in” with folks who do interesting stuff… with blogs, let’s say.

  12. I love it when you take me birding on your fishing trips. Maybe we can do that in person some day.

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