Of Hope and Expectation

“Hope is the thing with feathers– That perches in the soul–,” said Emily Dickenson, who probably had no idea of what a trout fly is, but who certainly understood that

bobolink-- a "thing with feathers"

bobolink– a “thing with feathers”

feathers– on a bird or on a fish hook– have a metaphorical link to hope and freedom.

Not long ago, I brought my own version of hope and freedom to the trout stream, to the West Branch Genesee in an evening when the sulphur mayflies were expected, but at a time when I couldn’t see any stream activity for the first quarter hour of fishing. Finally, trout began to rise to an imperceptible insect at the surface of the stream.

DSCN8978Getting refusals to a Sulphur dry fly and a spinner pattern, too, I chanced it with a small, dark imitation (think Ant, Grannom, Midge) and that was the key. I went from the yellowish fly to a dark Grannom (caddis), sparking a blaze of heated casting that raised my hopes and expectation through to nightfall.

Rainbow after rainbow rose to that dark imitation drifting over the pool with undercut banks. They were stocked fish, but strong, leaping trout that averaged 12 or 13 inches long. And that’s the thing about fishing: there is never any certainty about success but, as long as there’s fish in the stream, there’s always the possibility of a catch.

Although the great majority of our casts do not connect with any living emissary from the depths, every now and then our gamble pays off with a beautiful life form for our eyes (or stomach) to feast upon.

#25-- even warranties will expire

#25– even warranties will expire

We catch a fish; we reinforce our ego and strengthen an image of ourselves as angler or as someone with a shard of natural wisdom. That’s how it goes, at least in theory.

A few nights later I returned to the same stretch of Genesee headwaters, feeling pretty confident about renewed success with the trout. There was no more guarantee or certainty in this act of fishing than in any other aspect of life, but I did approach the water with an increased heart rate and the hope for renewed enjoyment.

expectation rising...

expectation rising…

I also returned with a 25 year-old fly rod, an Orvis Superfine that had been my first ever graphite wand. The company had guaranteed the new rod against breakage of any kind for 25 years, but that night the guarantee was expiring.

If I broke the rod on its 25th birthday there was always the chance that the company would replace it with a comparable new Superfine model, but there was no way I wanted to do that. I’m not crazy about dishonesty and, besides, I had too many pleasant memories wrapped up in the use of that old fly rod.

squirrel away those memories...

squirrel away those memories…

I expected another good evening with the rod and, yeah, I got it, luckily enough. Trout rose quickly to a Cahill or a Green Drake floater, and I knew from experience that I’d better enjoy every moment of the action while I could. Most nights to come wouldn’t be so wild and carefree.

wild brown, Oswayo Creek

wild brown, Oswayo Creek

When the world of work or economic strain or politics or religious fervor or personal grief gets too heavy and begins to challenge our hope and happiness, it’s nice to know there’s another life close by that offers temporary peace and refuge. It might be on a mountain or a seashore, in a forest or a desert or a prairie, or even in a backyard or a city park.

"i hope you know i'm only three and a half months old..."

“i hope you know i’m only three and a half months old…”

One of my favorite places is wherever mind and body can embrace a small stream and its secret (or not so secret) lives. That’s my place where the thing with feathers can be found.

"i hope it's not deer season..."

“i hope it’s not deer season…”

a fine thing, with fins

a fine thing, with fins

sometimes, at the end of the day, there's only this

sometimes, at the end of the day, there’s only this

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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16 Responses to Of Hope and Expectation

  1. Bob Matuzak says:

    Very nice — I know exactly where you are coming from. Just spent a couple of days fishing the Little “J” and Spring Creek in central PA. I saw a bear and a big Porcupine! Loved it! And the fishing was pretty good too! Bob

    • Bob, Glad you had a couple of good days fishing on PA spring creeks with some interesting mammalian company, too. Unfortunately some of the freestone creeks up north are starting to suffer from the heat and the lack of rain. These rivertops need water. Anyway, glad to hear from you, and hope the fishing remains inspiring, too.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head once more! Hope, expectation, the possibility of feeling carefree for a while – all form a sound basis for wandering out there – and when you find them, combine them, or meet them, well, sometimes, at the end of the day, that’s more than enough.
    Thanks, Walt, another fine post, and the photographs are a wonderful accompaniment!

    • Ah, thanks for the understanding and appreciation, PC. Sometimes when I read your comments here I think, oh, I did that, or did I say that, and then I look back and think, one astute Camper, that PC. Other readers here, if you’ve never seen OldPlaidCamper blog, check my blogroll, and enjoy!

  3. Ross says:

    Really liked your post Walt, especially about strain from work, etc gets too much … we can always find some peace & refuge. How true. Great pics too. Sounds like you had couple nice outings.

    • Ross, I’d say that folks like ourselves, who can find peace and refuge outdoors and on the stream, are pretty lucky to live where we do. It’s not far to the river, forest or lake. Without that aspect of life, I wouldn’t be here. Thank you for the comment, and I hope you’re having an enjoyable summer so far.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Damn! I know that you don’t consider yourself a “photographer”, but the pics of the sunset and the vertical trees are downright artistic. I’d be proud to frame and hang either of those on my wall.

    • Bob, As you know, I don’t have much training or expertise when it comes to taking pictures. Sometimes I don’t have much of a clue about a camera’s potential, but I like to think I have a poet’s eye, a sense of fishing for the right effect that complements my text. I don’t often hit it or catch that desired effect, but every once in a while I land a “keeper,” like those two pictures that you mention. So, thank you, man. It’s appreciated.

  5. rommel says:

    You write so eloquently, and it seems effortlessly for you. Very very nice “capture” on that squirrel. 🙂

    • Thanks Rommel, Glad to hear from you. Yeah that red squirrel got caught being very much the barn rodent, blending into the woodwork there and acting manic. Sometimes I enjoy watching these reds, but when they’re too close to the house, they also become a nuisance. Anyway, I appreciate the comment!

  6. Brent says:

    Taking life one day at a time, and trying to find those little moments of peace or hope, is something I’ve been trying to do to stay sane. We stumbled on a drum circle, Sunday evening in a park: hundreds of people watching a crowd of Rastafarian, African, and white drummers improvising, with dancers nearby. Everyone getting along and coexisting, some drinking wine or smoking weed, kids of all races playing together…it was a view of humanity at its best, in my view. Definite feathers of hope in an unexpected place. Nice post!

    • The drum circle must have been a cool event, relaxing and intriguing simultaneously. Reminds me of some of the better days during my college “hippie” youth, of celebrants even near the national monuments in D.C., dancing to a vision we could only hope would jell. So, thanks, and glad you enjoyed it.

  7. Another very timely post for me Walt. It seems like the older I get the more disappointed I am at the human race has to offer But for the moments enjoying the best parts of what our creator gave us it would seem all is lost.

  8. It doesn’t get any easier, does it, Howard. Thankfully we don’t have far to go, to step aside from the mess and see the heart of creation, the place where sanity springs. And thank you, too.

  9. Doug says:

    Sounds like this summer is treating you well Walt. I love Rainbow Trout. They are so pretty. I once caught one at a County Park in the Newark Valley of New York. About 30 to 40 miles outside of Binghamton that measured 16 inches. Largest one I ever caught. I felt so renewed as I took it off my hook, caught on a red worm, and set it free, as I am strictly a catch and release fisherman. I haven’t had the chance to test the NC waters as of yet, but my health improving do to changes in my diet and lifestyle. Walking every day with no cane, back brace or pain killers to mask the serious back I’ve dealt with the past 5 years, I plan to soon. I am into photography more and more and can’t wait to capture something more positive to occupy my time. I love the blog. And I always love the photos. Keep ’em coming bro. In a way, your helping my rehab. Peace.

  10. Excellent to hear you’re on the mend there, Doug, back on your feet without supports! Was worried about you for a while. Before you know it, you’ll be wrestling rainbows or something and getting the muscle tone back. Keep up the good work, and I hope your photography continues to bring deep satisfaction, along with the poems. Appreciate the kind words about the blog; we’ll keep carrying on…

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