An Annual Bath

Over the weekend I was hoping to find a subject worthy of writing up as my 400th narrative post for Rivertop Rambles. Times were hard, or so it seemed. I managed to secure yet another reading date promoting Beautiful Like a Mayfly, but the tour, itself, was faltering, and my time for fly fishing was minimal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nonetheless, I found myself in the Susquehannock State Forest and the upper Allegheny watershed for some limited casting. I wanted a new experience for my 400th post, and I guess I got one, though it wasn’t quite as “high brow” as I might have hoped to achieve.

About once a year I take a bath in cold river water, in autumn or winter, swamping to my neck while hoisting the fly rod over my head or grabbing at my hat to keep it from floating to the bay. This year’s tumble came on a small stream in the state forest. It was flowing clear and cold and up to its own ears from the heavy rains a few days prior.

I stepped into a braid of water near a beaver dam that looked to be only knee-deep but the silt at its bottom collapsed and sucked me in. If there’s any justice in this ass-over-OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAteacups life of ours, then the small brooks and browns that I had taken and released had a good laugh as I floundered on my back. They would have heard me trying to annunciate a four-letter expletive to every bird and beaver of the neighborhood– a four-letter word now grown to eight or nine hyphenated letters punctuated with an exclamation point.

I don’t care what anybody says, flowing water pours into waist-high waders, no matter how tightly the belt secures one’s nether regions. My wallet is still drying out.

Although the air temperature was rising from its frosted knees to stand proudly in the upper 40s that day, I slogged back through the fields and woodland to the car feeling soggy, cold, and hapless as a Halloween spirit busted for decorating sidewalks with shaving cream and toilet paper.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was wet, and too damned chilled to celebrate a possible 400th post by stopping at Galeton’s Wonder Bar for a beer or two. I drove straight home and changed my clothes.

Everything was warm and dry and peaceful at the house. I remembered an email conversation with a friend a couple of days before…

We had been discussing the possibility of a fly fishing visit to Pennsylvania over the weekend, assuming that the heavy rains wouldn’t blow out the headwater streams.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My friend is a married man with limited time for “play” on Saturdays and Sundays. He was working on the notion of heading out to fish the weekend while “trying to preserve domestic tranquility at home.”

I answered his email, saying, “I know what you mean about preserving domestic tranquility at home. It can be like walking a tightrope over a gorge.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMoments later, I read the response… “A really narrow rope… With the wind howling!

“Amen,” I said… thankful that my wife understands that fly fishing and being in the wild helps to keep me stable and free from a life in the Rubber Room.

I wondered if tumbling into the bottomless creek was in some way like falling off the tightrope over a gorge… No, it couldn’t be. There was peace at home. I had come back with all my bones intact. The only similarity was tipping over and getting soaked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was too late to stop now. I wasn’t complaining. I would do another public reading for my book. I’d head out to fish Dwight Creek and the Allegheny, catching more wild fish and even a spotted rainbow in the river itself.

Yeah, the wind would be wicked on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t easy casting a fly when I half expected to see big trees come falling down. A warm front was moving in, and the sun banged its way through the clouds to the river valley.

I felt clean from my annual washing the day before. The fishing was so-so… Beautiful like… an Egg fly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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20 Responses to An Annual Bath

  1. plaidcamper says:

    This had me smiling for many reasons! Hope your wallet dries out soon and you can get to that bar. Looking forward to the next 400 posts (no pressure…) and enjoyed reading how you maintain your balance, teetering from one adventure to the next. Balance would be boring without a wobble every now and then. The pictures are wonderful, especially of the innocent looking little stream there!

    • Yep, wobbling stream to “innocent” stream, adventure to adventure, I guess, trying to keep some balance in life without getting bored by going straight. Glad I got you smiling there, PlaidCamper, and thanks for your (non-pressurized) good wishes!

  2. Brent says:

    Congratulations on a big milestone in your life as a blogger! Sorry to hear the book promotion tour isn’t going gangbusters, but hopefully you’ve been finding at least a few good listeners here and there. I got a chuckle out of the mental image of your loud cursing in the woods, although I’m glad your accidental bathing ritual left you more or less whole.

    • Thanks Brent! At this point I’m pretty well composed (and dry) and looking forward to a decent turn out in Wellsville tomorrow night. A few good listeners is a pleasant thing to behold.

  3. Tim Arey says:

    Walt great post, glad you can still fish in your area as Maine closes the majority of rivers early. The day after I saw you in Maine I took a much warmer dunking in the Mag, reminded me that a strong Maine Micro Brew even just one can cause balance issues while fishing! What kind of reel is that on your rod?

    • Thank you, Tim! New York’s inland season is closed, for the most part, like Maine’s season, but thankfully Pennsylvania’s wild trout season is more open and liberal given that most fishing is catch and release with artificial lures (need to check for local regs). Yeah a tasty micro-brew or two isn’t always in the best interest in terms of keeping balance on the waters. Generally I’ll wait till the fly rod is put away, but admittedly, discipline isn’t always one’s master. The reel in question is an old Hardy LRH, with a 5-weight line.
      Enjoy your autumn season in the great Northeast!

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    I’ll bet I know what the four letter expletive was! 400 installments of awesome…congratulations and thank you, Walt.

  5. Doug says:

    Wow! That would be a cold one unlike any other. But you are now dry and have managed to regain your warmth after that dunking. All there is to do now, is kick back and have a laugh. Congrats on your 400th post here pal. Enjoy however many readings you have left on the book tour and tilt a few back afterward. I think that sort of streaming requires it.

    • Kick back and laugh sounds good to me, Doug. I’ll give it a try! Maybe tonight. I’d rather have the stream be hop-flavored and controlled than have one flowing through the waders. And thanks for the good wishes.

  6. loydtruss says:

    Not any fun taking a dip in water that is below 60 degrees. It has happened to me once and after that dunk I purchased a wading staff and now never go on any stream without it. Congrats on the 400th. and hope you write many more. Thanks for sharing

    • Yes, thanks Bill! I’m close to the point where I’m taking a staff with me on those stream excursions. Legs are starting to require it, despite the head that says “keep on going light.” For the kinds of streams I fish, cleats are required and (reluctantly so far) a wading staff may soon be required also.

  7. Les Kish says:

    Walt, you know that you’re alive when you feel cold water trickle below your belt line.

    Anyway, congrats on post 400 and for sharing the images.

  8. Gramps Mel says:

    Hello Walt!
    Happy to read that even though you took your “bath” with the trout, that you made it out safely. I would go for warm clothing and a dry area every time, too. I don’t do as much wading as I used too as I don’t seem to be as strong or agile as I once was. Sound familiar…………………
    I have been away from the blogging scene for the summer and just kicked it back in gear in October. Had a hiccup or two with my previous blog site on Blogger so had to start over. Here is my new blog address.
    Hope you add it to your bloglist and stop over and say hello when you get a minute…..

  9. Well damn, I thought that hearing of someone else going for a swim would make me feel less foolish. Even in the best of health I’m a klutz on the water. I’ve just considered it dues to pay for a fly fisherman.

    • Dues to pay, Howard… Like an angling license, gasoline for transport, snacks and beer… I hope we’ve paid our cold swims for 2015! Hearing from you is like getting a receipt for dues paid, with a smile.

  10. Alan says:

    Walt I’m shivering after reading this. We have all done the same, but for me it’s only been in summer.

    • As you suspect, Alan, it’s hard to shake off a cold day dunking. It’s bad enough in summer, if you’re not wet wading, in clammy gear, but in autumn… Yesterday I hit a large creek, prepared with a wading staff, only to find that the water was lower than expected, so the staff wasn’t needed. Better to be prepared, I guess.

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