The Fisher Connection

I was following the tracks of a large coyote along a Susquehannock State Forest trail but thinking that, unfortunately, there was little other sign of bird or mammal life. Then, about a mile up the snowy trail, I caught sight of a motion on the wooded slope to my left.DSCN7406

A fisher (weasel family) was approaching the trail and the stream where I was hiking. The “fisher cat,” about the size of a short-legged fox, stopped on the snow about 75 feet away. It was the first of its kind that I’ve seen while hiking or fishing in the wild.Image result for photos of fishersThe creature, with its diagnostic head (pointed) and long flowing tail, had stopped to look me over, but only for a moment or two. Its fur looked striking, a blend of dark chocolate and ginger hues. I slowly reached for my camera. [Fisher photo by NatureMapping Foundation]

Unfortunately I was wearing gloves and the camera was in a bag behind me. You know how it goes. I’m a hiker, not a wildlife photographer. The fisher retreated quickly up the slope, dodging behind big rocks and logs and trees. I followed it for a short distance, hoping to get a decent photo of its tracks but, alas, the snow was thin and crusty and the imprints poor.

the fisher tracks are in there, trust me

the fisher tracks are in there, trust me

Modern man suffers from a poverty of spirit, said Dr. Martin Luther King. We can do just about anything imaginable with our fine array of technological advances, but we still haven’t learned to “walk the Earth as brothers and sisters.”

Well, some of us are trying to do that, and occasionally it seems that, despite all the mayhem in the world, some advances have been made since the 1960s. I might add that King’s statement about walking the Earth together also applies to our relationship with animals and with outside nature in general.DSCN7390

Each year on or near the Martin Luther King holiday I take a walk on the wild side. I try to connect with the ideas of the civil rights leader by applying them not only to our own kind, but also to honor what gives life and sustenance to all. That might seem a little strange to some, but it makes sense to a well-aged country boy like me. I like to think that the common theme is freedom.

An encounter with a beautiful creature, or with our discovery of something new and different in the wild, helps to boost our personal connections with the Earth. For me, a sudden meeting with a fisher in the mountains makes a good connection.

from my backyard

from my backyard

There’s a lot of folks who just seem lost in life and in need of a “good connection.” No surprise there. I had to laugh at one of the “Top Searches” that recently came through at this blog site, and had to wonder how that searcher landed here. I quote: “Snow railroad-123rf-lady-clipdealer-kootation-creativecrash-girl-shemale-dreamstime-depositphotos-tumblr-classicalnerd-public nuditymen.” 

I suppose it all makes sense in some alternate universe but… “public nuditymen”? Not a chance, buddy, not on Rivertop Rambles! However, I could use a good photo of a fisher (weasel family) in all its naked glory.DSCN7408

Fishers are native to the forests of New York and Pennsylvania and were found here until extensive lumbering in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, plus trapping for their valuable fur, decimated the populations in all but the remotest locations. More recently, a resurging public interest in habitat restoration and all things wild has allowed the fisher to make a modest return to its rightful place in the food chain.

Speaking of food, the fisher is not typically an eater of fish but can run down a high-tailing red squirrel or make a meal of porcupine without “suffering the slings and arrows” of outrageous quilldom.

from a brighter day

from a brighter day

The fisher loves the deep forest where the rivers begin. It loves the country where the brook trout thrives. It’s said to be partial to deep ravines where the small streams meet. Prior to my MLK hike, the only fishers I had seen were noticed from a moving car. This one made the right connection for me. Now, if only I could get one to pause for the camera long enough to say …lady-clipdealer-kootation….

a good spring in fisher town

a good spring in fisher town

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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30 Responses to The Fisher Connection

  1. Mary Frederick Ahearn says:

    I enjoyed this post so much – as a well-aged country girl. How wonderful to meet a fisher! I so agree that there is great value in going out into the wild to be more fully human. Your photos are beautiful.
    Thanks for the inspiration! It’s good to know there are kindred spirits out there,

    • Hi Mary! Always good to hear from you, a kindred spirit from my point of view, as well. I guess we well-aged country kids have not matured to the point where we’ve forgotten some of life’s important lessons. Thank you for the company!

  2. Brent says:

    Those trails look very familiar, from the time I was an unaged country boy walking around during the antiques show. What a great sighting (it seems like the best so often remain undocumented with photos). Hope you’re starting to feel better!

    • Brent,
      Quite a bit improved today, but I’m hanging back for another day at home. Yup, you were an unaged country lad, hardly any taller than a fisher’s shoulder, when you set out to explore the area following the antiques show that your grandmother lured you into (if it wasn’t your mom). I agree that the best photo-ops remain elusive. At least in my case. Thanks!

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Splendid post, Walt! Your description of the fisher sighting was lovely, as indeed are the photographs. Wildlife photography is such a skill, which is why I have so many pictures of mountains…
    Thoroughly enjoyed getting connected here, thank you.
    Very tempted to input that search, but would probably be sorry.

    • Thank you for the kind words and your connection here, Plaid. Oh my god, wildlife photography… not only do you have to know your special camera, you need tons of patience for the really challenging shots. It’s not like you’re doing photos of friends and family in some social setting (unless they’re more than usually inebriated), but you have to know your subject in its special habitat. At least that’s the way I see it from my limited perspective. More patience than I’m allowed to have!
      No, I wouldn’t try to input that search. A rough road requiring high-clearance vehicle. There’s nothing wrong with bushwhacking but, in this case, I suggest the main trail.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    I’m hoping for a up-close meeting with a fisher someday soon. The only one I’ve seen before was from a car – thought it was a woodchuck running along the guardrail until it turned and revealed that distinctive weasel profile and undulating gait. Headed to New Hampshire next week. Gonna mess around in the Presidentials and vicinity.

    • I remember you said you’d seen one before. That “undulating gait” is distinctive, for sure. Be careful with your footing and all in those White Mountains. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and allow you to get in some good hiking and skiing. Thanks Bob.

  5. Les Kish says:

    Walt, what a surprise to hear that there are fisher in your neck of the woods. I’ve always thought them to be creatures of our western mountains. Then again, I’ve never gotten over hearing that you’ve got coyotes back there either.

    The brighter day photo speaks to me as you know that I’m partial to skies and clouds. Keep that camera handy, maybe you’ll encounter Mr. fisher again someday.

    • Les, I’ve got deer and coyote on both sides of the house, and fisher, too, although I’d seen fisher only from the car. As stated, bumping into one while hiking PA was special. I’ll keep the camera handy, though I tend to carry it more in winter when I’m walking than in summer when I’m focussed on the stream. So, it’s tougher to get off a quick snap in January when the temp is 20 degrees and the fingers and camera are slow.
      Anyway, I’m a little surprised that you have fisher in MT. I was thinking marten and wolverine, although you’ve probably got them also, within a reasonable distance.
      I’m looking forward to more of those of those brighter day skies, as well!

      • Les Kish says:

        Walt, continuing on the fisher theme, I had to check into the animals distribution after your comment. Fisher were extinct in Montana in the 1930’s, but were reintroduced into the northwest part of the state. I’ve never seen one, as their range doesn’t extend into my hiking territory. I have seen marten, wolverine and mountain lions though.

        Here’s a link from Montana FWP that may be of interest… Range of the Fisher

  6. Mark W says:

    Thanks Walt, I enjoyed reading this post as well. I’ve seen one fisher when I was out fishing a small stream a couple winters ago. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at!

    • Hi Mark! Thank you. I think winter is the best time to see them because they stand out against the snow, as opposed to just blending into the forest. You’re right, a fisher can resemble different creatures for a second or two before making themselves very distinct. Glad you got to meet one on the stream.

  7. Les: more fisher. Thank you for the map reference. Interesting but in the case of NY/PA it seems inaccurate or outdated. If you google fishers in pennsylvania(I tried to copy the page but missed it) you’ll see how reestablished the animal is. From PA the fisher has traveled north to where I live and beyond. The state of PA has even opened up a limited trapping season on them this year, for guys into that sort of thing.
    I once saw a marten in CO but have not yet had the fortune to see the lion or wolverine.

    • Les Kish says:

      Walt, thanks for the follow up. I Googled as you suggested and was impressed to find that “Fierce Fishers Are Storming Back In Pennsylvania”. Sounds like a second half comeback in a football game! A great reintroduction success regardless.

      By the way, I just got back from a morning of snowshoeing. No sightings of furry critters to report. Did see some ermine tracks though.

      • You bet, Les. I’d say the media could run with a name like the “Fighting Fishers” for a rising football team… I haven’t seen sign of ermine in a long while. They are cute little mousers. One came up our kitchen plumbing once, but unfortunately our cat didn’t like the competition.

  8. loydtruss says:

    What a great post to inspire a fellow blogger on a cold frigid day here in Alabama. My hiking these days consists of wondering up and down the tailrace. I need to get out and do some exploring; hopefully this post will be the motivation I need.
    I hope you guys stay safe with all the snow heading your way. Thanks for sharing

    • Thank you, Bill. Glad that I could spread a little blogger warmth your way, though I suspect that the air temps here are a lot cooler than where you are. Exploring the outdoors, to whatever degree we’re able to do it, is always rewarding in some way. As for the snow, it looks like it’ll mostly pass just south and east of here, though I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more.

  9. John Z says:

    I enjoyed reading this. Nice to know that wild places still hold wild things Walt. That is the order of nature, tucked away in solitude. Sure is neat to see things often hidden and away from main street. Thanks for sharing your glimpses of beautiful places. Makes me think of that Cat Stevens little tune, Oh, baby, baby, its a wild world…

    • Glad the post resonates with you, John. Wild places, by nature, will hold surprises for an outsider (typically human) if approached with an open mind. January in PA is the toughest time of year to see those surprises but, if nothing else, there’s always the stark beauty of the forest and the mountain stream under the ice. Yeah I enjoy discovering stuff and sharing with sympathetic spirits like yourself. Thanks for commenting!

  10. I’m with Bill on this. I enjoy your posts because you take me places I can’t get to any more. Thanks Walt.

  11. Doug says:

    I always love the connections in nature and it’s creations. Another great blog buddy.

  12. Mike says:

    You are a deep thinker when it comes to our connections with each other and the earth yet it is so plainly stated. I just dig it, man! Still here, Walt, thanks for sharing.

    • Mike,
      Thanks! I was getting concerned that maybe our connection got swallowed up by some expanding black hole of the blogosphere, but I’m glad it ain’t so; I’m glad for your response here, and hope all is well!

  13. i made my own connection with nature today when I tromped out the front door and walked right up to a loudly chattering squirrel and stared him in the eyes . . . he moved but wasn’t afraid of me and chattered/yelled all the more. (My “anger” was in jest, mostly. He was getting a little on my nerves, but he and his pal aren’t too afraid of us and I enjoy how close they usually let me get on my way to the car.)

    That aside, great walk through the woods, and I too laugh at and wonder about some of the “top recent searches” on my site’s dashboard. Yours was a doozy!

    • Mary Anne, I’m going to guess that your interesting squirrel connection came about courtesy of a red squirrel… They can certainly chatter away at what they deem is an intruder to their territory. I’ve always admired them when I didn’t hate them for chewing their way into my house. Thoreau liked them, too, for being neighborly like the rabbits that bumped their heads on his winter floor in his cabin.
      Thank you for your story and response, and keep your eye out for those crazy “searches” too!

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