Of Birds, Friends, Trout, and Hiking Trails

I watched a pair of tundra swans on the local marsh. This species, now migrating to the DSCN7848far north, is known to pair for life– an admirable trait for those of us romantically inclined– but the bird whose symbolism really set the tone for my weekend was the common loon.

I was driving to my fishing destination on Saturday when I saw the lone migrator on Crystal Lake. I love to see these singular birds that pass through on their spring and fall migration routes. For me, the loon symbolizes wildness and whimsical beauty (think, “crazy as a loon”). I took the bird as a good spring sign en route to the steelhead grounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFishing for big rainbows wasn’t going to be easy. Not in these days of slim Lake Erie watershed findings. After three hours of hiking and casting, I finally saw my first fish– a squiggly shadow in the rapids that just as easily could’ve been a trembling stick or some flickering ghost of steelhead glory.

I subdued the spawner and quickly set it free. Later, I fished near several fellows in the sprawling waters of Cattaraugus Creek, and no one caught a trout, as far as I could see. Thinking back to my modest catch, I was glad for the persistence involved.DSCN7869

On Sunday I went hiking with my brother and a friend from the Albany suburbs. According to my trusty topographical map, Potter County’s Commissioner Trail was supposed to connect with the Buckseller Trail in the Susquehannock State Forest, but the trail vanished in a clearcut area on the summit of a ridge.DSCN7870

It didn’t matter. Sometimes the best laid trails are like the best-laid plans of mice and men– sprung by circumstance and run amuck. More importantly, the trail and what we made of it were totally relaxing and enjoyable.

Tim and I were students at Alfred University in 1971, forty-five years ago to the day of this particular hike. Thinking back to our initial meeting, I recalled that the Easter sun was out; the snow was melting rapidly. A first woodchuck raced toward its den on the warming slope near Alfred, New York. A small herd of deer leapt across a streamlet in a field of cows.

He's in there, out of his tree!

He’s in there, out of his tree!

He and I had met in downtown Alfred that day. Our walking sticks suggested to each other that perhaps we shared some common interests. We did– we hiked above the village and, eventually, shared 45 years’ worth of rooms and beer and long-distance hiking.

Although we had our family blessings for this latest walk, we three guys missed some holiday fun. Easter eggs were history, but we missed a nice ham dinner and (quite significantly) a miniature whiskey bottle hunt for the older folks.DSCN7872

We might have hiked for six Potter County miles, subsisting on crackers, fruit and peanuts, but the loon spirit came through for us like a piercing roll of laughter.



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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17 Responses to Of Birds, Friends, Trout, and Hiking Trails

  1. Brent says:

    That’s quite a round-up! Glad to see Tim’s doing well (although I noticed the trail nicknames won’t be shared here). It looks like an amazing weekend, weather-wise, with all that sun. Are those little waterfalls on Cattaraugus Creek tributaries?

    • I thought about the trail names, Brent, but tried to keep this chapter short. The weather was perfect for outdoor activities like this. I could hike up the Catt Creek tributaries without breaking into sweat. The smallest falls here are on Commissioner Run. The larger ones near the Catt. Thanks!

  2. I don’t see all that many critters when I’m out and I do pay attention because a healthy environment attracts those critters. I love to look out my window to the small lake across the street and see the loons arrive. Too bad the health isn’t good enough to follow you on some of your hikes because I kind of miss it…especially when you have beautiful scenery and fish. Thanks Walt.

  3. Howard, I think it’s great to have water outside your window that invites the loons to stop over. I usually have to go some distance to see them. As for the other crittters, yeah I feel lucky that I can still hike out there and meet a few of them. Here’s hoping you have a great spring!

  4. plaidcamper says:

    What a wonderful couple of days out you had – beautiful pictures of the water, exotic creatures encountered, and the fish are attractive too.
    Enjoyed this, thanks Walt!

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Love the loons and always head to Chapman S.P. in the spring to see them on their trip north. That call elicits such a primal response, apparently in everyone, because it’s inserted into every movie soundtrack where a suggestion of wildness is needed, even if the setting is nowhere near anyplace a loon would ever splash down. The same way the cry of the red tailed hawk is overdubbed for any TV bird of prey, I guess. How do you like the Echo rod? I’ve toyed with the idea of buying one of their switch rods for big water.

    • Yes the loon cry certainly does it, and the red-tail’s also, though I hadn’t thought of that before– how it’s overdubbed on TV… Maybe ’cause I don’t see the tube all that much. But I can imagine that.
      I like the new Echo rod. I was breaking it in on this venture. Bought it as a four-piece for the trip to St. Croix (my old St Croix 8-weight is too long to carry on a plane & all). I like the casting quality of this modestly priced item. Sensitive and yet a more powerful 8-weight than the old salmon rod. If you’re getting a switch rod, check into one. I’ll bet it’s good. Thanks Bob.

  6. To Spike Jones, Thanks for the nice comment! Somehow your comment didn’t come through here, but it’s appreciated.

  7. loydtruss says:

    I can’t think of a better way to take advantage of the outdoors; hiking, spending quality time with a college buddy and of course landing some outlandish trout. I notice the bamboo didn’t take part in this trip; what weight is the Echo, needs to be heavy weight to handle those brutes. Thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      It’s a fine way to enjoy the big outdoors, for sure. I didn’t take the old bamboo stick out this time. Wanted to gently break in the new 9 ft. Echo Solo, modestly priced 8-weight 4-piece item. It’s the one I’ll use in the salt, even though it might be a little light for inshore fishing. I enjoyed the rod and would recommend it for anyone interested in similar ventures. As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. Nice recap, looks like a full weekend, glad you were able to spend it with an old friend. Wonderful photos of some gorgeous scenery and fish.

  9. Salla says:

    Some beautiful fish!

  10. Mike says:

    Looks like good company, good hiking, and a helluva fish!

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