The Ambassador’s Fifteen Minutes

For 15 minutes I felt like an ambassador to Chenunda Creek…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This stream, in the upper Genesee River watershed of New York, does not yet have any public fishing rights, as far as I know, but folks are working to make a change.

A truck pulled beside me as I prepared to fish on a cold and snowy day in early April.

The bearded passenger, sitting shotgun in the truck, rolled down his window and said, “Hey, I don’t have any posted signs here, but I don’t want guys fishing near the house. I’ve had people throwing shit into my yard and leaving it there for me.”

He didn’t seem to remember that we talked a couple of years before. It had been on a cool October day, the final day of the regular New York trout season, and the old guy had thought the fishing season was closed. He thought that maybe I was poaching near his place, at one of the few easy access points along the creek. We had a brief but good discussion that October day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I talked with you a couple of years ago,” I said. “You’d given me an okay to fish along this stretch.” The old homeowner nodded slowly, as if in recognition.

“Are you a veteran?” he inquired. It was the same question he had asked on our first meeting. Then, as now, two large flags waved prominently in his yard.

“No,” I answered. “I’m not a veteran but I’m a landowner, and I understand your concerns about discourteous guys who trash your yard and property… I make it a point of picking up a few pieces of garbage every time I fish, no matter where I am. If there’s something we don’t need, it’s an idiot who trashes the land and water and makes it difficult for everyone else who cares.”

Goddamnit, I was sounding kind of holy on a Sunday morn! But I meant it. The landowner and the driver of the truck sat with heads nodding agreeably, as if to a sermon on the mount, and saying something like, “Yeah, you go fish, and have a good one. You don’t need to be a veteran to fish here.”

For a few moments I felt… ambassadorial… to a creek. Not in any regal or important sense, like Uncle Ben Franklin chosen to represent a young America in Europe, but in a simple, everyday fashion, as if speaking for an understated trout stream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was feeling good, as on a recent occasion when I saw my book, River’s Edge, among some very good literary company, photographed by South African blogger, Trutta. Thanks for that, Andrew! (See photo below).

I thanked the fellows in the truck and slid down to a cold, full-flowing creek still rimmed with ice. Maybe I could find some new experience worthy of the stories told in my fly-fishing book. But I was tired of the heavily fluctuating weather conditions, of tropical warmth followed by frigid temperatures, etc., as almost everyone seemed to be these days. I waded carefully among Chenunda’s icy holes and rocky edges.

Thanks to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the fishing regulations here were changed about six months ago. They changed from a regular six-month open season to one that doesn’t close, including a no-kill, artificials-only regulation existing for the months of October through March.

I was feeling a little guilty for not yet fishing the stream in the coldest months, but I had reasons for being reluctant and taking it easy, no doubt like some of the landowners along the creek. (I might have been dreaming of an upcoming visit to St. Croix, photo by Alyssa Franklin).

The DEC had posted the new regs along the creek, but I figured that a few landowners might need time to adapt. The creek needs public fishing rights along its banks. Trout Unlimited and other interested parties are being asked by state officials to talk it up with landowners in the hope of eventually buying public access.

I went fishing on Chenunda, pretty sure that I had been a good ambassador for public recreation.

A hefty brown trout answered my wishes and fought me to the bank. I took its photo as if a trout’s image could be a word of thanks for what I’d done.

Actually, it was just a good brown trout pleased to get released and not be frozen into a corpse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was sitting here, composing on computer, thinking about what it feels like to be… ambassadorial… when the phone rang. I answered it. I don’t have Caller I.D. If I had known that a young male caller would identify himself (with a heavy Indian accent) as representing “Windows,” to give an urgent plea to fix my computer before it crashed and took the whole damned country down with it, I wouldn’t have answered the ring tone with “Hello.”

I’d have been a real ambassador for everything good and sacred in the blogosphere. Instead of saying, “Hold it, man; you say you’re from Windows and my computer is about to blow, but Windows doesn’t call me or anybody when the ship goes down. This is bullshit, and you know it!” No, I wouldn’t have talked to him like that if I had known beforehand who was calling.

I would have answered with, “Hello, you’re on the Air!”

I would have listened to him capsize and go silent, as he went when I reamed him out with my tutorial.

That’s what I plan to do the next time “Windows” comes to my rescue, if I can guess correctly on the call. Then I might feel more like a veteran of the social wars, and perhaps a little closer to old Ben Franklin, too.books (1 of 1)

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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14 Responses to The Ambassador’s Fifteen Minutes

  1. Brent says:

    Cool piece, with a lot to unpack, I think. Sometimes everyone (and everything) can use an ambassadorial approach–especially a small stream with little reputation, or a guy who mistrusts outsiders (perhaps with some good reason).

    • I like that idea, that the “little guy” (or landowner, in this case), like the underrated trout stream, deserves a stronger voice in the halls of justice, and can benefit from the ambassadorial approach from someone who cares… Thanks!

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    I’m glad the landowner exchange went well. Too much potential for misunderstanding and ugliness in those encounters most of the time. When is the trip to St. Croix?

    • The potential for ugliness is there all too often, Bob, I agree. I’m knocking on wood here, though, because I fish frequently on private lands and, over all, the landowners have been generous and understanding. Heading into it with the proper attitude is key, in my opinion. As for the islands, we’re heading out on the 22nd, just around the corner. Wish me luck!

  3. I say, well done Walt! I totally agree that a little ambassadorship and courtesy go a long way in soothing the bad feelings that those who have come before us have left behind. I find it hard to be upset with landowners knowing what I know about what they deal with. Enjoy your trip!

    • Thanks Howard! Landowners have put up with a lot of abuse from the callous and careless in the past, so it’s no surprise that access to private lands is getting more and more difficult in sections of our nation. Some of these landowners that still talk to us are awesome and certainly deserve our fullest respect.

  4. Salla says:

    St. Croix looks amazing! Coming from a country with freedom to roam laws, the concept of private, unused land was a bit weird. I think some American walked from Finland to Norway just using private forests and lands.

    • The European freedom to walk concept is amazing, something I’ve always been a little jeolous of, although this nation and its territories (like the beautiful Virgin Islands) has a lot of other awesome compensations. I’ll keep you posted as we visit my daughter’s newly adopted home grounds. Thanks Salla!

  5. plaidcamper says:

    Diplomatic flair! Lines of communication clear, expectations laid out on both sides, mutual respect, and all was well. Great post, lovely photographs, and I can only imagine you’re increasingly excited about your upcoming trip!

  6. Don says:

    I enjoyed reading your piece on Chenunda Creek. I’ve driven over this small creek many times and always wondered whether I should follow it to the headwaters. Nice to hear the DEC is taking a renewed interest. May you continue to enjoy diplomatic success with local landowners!

    • Thanks much, Don. Yeah I’ve wondered about Chenunda over the years and found that the lower half can be interesting, though I’d say the jury is still out on the headwaters. As for the Fulmer Valley trib, we’d better speak in hushed tones over that. Anyway, some progress seems to be made. I hope you have a rewarding spring season!

  7. loydtruss says:

    It is amazing why some individuals don’t have enough respect for our streams, tailraces, and lakes to at least pick up their trash. I still find empty live bait boxes on the Caney and Sipsey tailraces as I fish their banks. I usually participate once a year in our annual clean-up on Smith Lake. We are always amazed each year at the amount of trash we find and collect off the banks of the lake. Thanks for sharing

    • It’s an amazing and depressing phenomenon, indeed, the way some people think nothing at all about leaving their trash for others, and the earth itself, to witness over and over. I’ve been doing clean-ups on our roads and waterways for years. With returnables in recent years, the amount of trash I find might be somewhat less than in years before, but there’s always some no matter where you go (and where people have gone before). All we can do is try to educate others and… keep to our regimine, as before. Thanks Bill!

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