Old Woodenhead’s Appointment

Old Woodenhead is a carving of an image of yours truly made by artist David Castano, by request of a special woman I know. Old Woodenhead, the fly-fisher, replete with a fishing creel that I have never used, has appeared on my December blog posts over the past few years, and this year the tradition continues.dscn9504

Winter has come again to the rivertops, with plenty of snow for a change, and Old Woodenhead, holding to the spirit of Winter Solstice (his favorite “holiday” in this very long season of holidays) made an early appearance on his home water looking for a fish. Yes, indeed, he caught another trout and pulled it out briefly, as if it was the sun, our local star, ready for a slow return to the northern hemisphere.dscn9481

It was nearly the Winter Solstice, and the bare-bones scenery of the flowing landscape was alive with universal spirit. There was no white steeple of a church in sight, no flag blowing in the wind, only a deer stepping carefully down a steep, snowy slope, and Old Woodenhead waiting for his appointment on the hill.

Unfortunately, the appointment had to be cancelled only hours after making his appearance at the stream.dscn9483

Over the years, the purpose of the appointment was to enjoy and fulfill a family holiday tradition.

Through no fault of his own, my son, Brent, could not be here with us this year to participate in the tradition of a Christmas Eve hike to the summit of a hill nearby. The hike had always been designed to meet my brother by an old car in the woods. Brother Pete lives in the original farmhouse that my parents bought in 1972. My parents moved on, building a new home just downhill of the old place. Anyway, we’d meet on the blustery hilltop, get slaphappy and then continue on to my mother’s house for celebration (or in more recent years, to the neighboring farmhouse of my brother).dscn9485

My son had been a part of this tradition for 20 years or so, but it’ll be 2017 before the old ways are installed again. Meanwhile, we’ll be visiting him in Virginia over Christmas, and I’ll have more on that event in an upcoming post.

I was glad that my daughter, Alyssa, had been able to make her holiday visit from the Virgin Islands, and that she was ready to fill in for my son on the hill climb through the snow and rain to meet my brother for a small family reunion. We were ready for indulging in the taste of winter spirits when the word came that my mother died after suffering a short illness in the nursing home.

Christmas Eve, 1991, w/ my parents Ilse and Walter D. Franklin, and my son Brent, age 6.

Christmas Eve, 1991, w/ my parents Ilse and Walter D. Franklin, and my son Brent, age 6.

Understandably, Old Woodenhead’s appointment on the wild and woolly hill was cancelled for this year. With heavy hearts, the family raised a glass to the long and wonderful life of the matriarch who had hosted friends and family with love through many Christmas Eves and other bright occasions.

Ilse Franklin (1926-2016) @ age 81, with 2007 H.S. grad, Alyssa Franklin.

Ilse Franklin (1926-2016) @ age 81, with 2007 H.S. grad, Alyssa Franklin.

It was almost Winter Solstice, and Old Woodenhead was ready for the sun’s acknowledgement of continuity and hope. The sun would return, and life would go on. He was looking forward to some fishing on Virginia’s Rose River between Christmas Day and New Year’s. There was fun and celebration slated for the near future and, as I said, you’ll hear more of that quite soon.dscn9495

Till then, Old Woodenhead and I wish you all the best for the peace and joy to be cast for in this season.dscn9505

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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34 Responses to Old Woodenhead’s Appointment

  1. Leigh says:

    Walt, I am sorry to hear of your loss. I know it must be tough on the family. I hope the New Year brings you, Leighanne and the rest of the family much prosperity and many chances to fish.

  2. Thank you, Leigh, and all the best to you and yours, as well. I’d welcome the chance to get on the river again next year and do some casting together!

  3. Brent says:

    It’s a small thing to hold onto, but I like that Alyssa was all geared up to make the hike. Traditions are powerful, and that one is rooted in one of grandma’s signature events. Christmas Eve at her house is one of my warmest, most cherished memories. Her presence itself is one of the most inseparable components of nearly all my formative memories: every holiday, every concert (however painful those elementary school shows must’ve been for you all to attend), every moment where she stepped in to indulge a grandchild. Even recognizing as an adult how complex a figure she was, I will miss every memory I made with her as the anchor of our family. I think she’d be happy knowing why “Old Woodenhead” was prepared to embark a few days early on a long-standing tradition.

    • Your grandmother would’ve been very happy knowing that, indeed. I’m so glad you guys have those memories of her. She really loved her grandkids. Thank you for these reflections, and we certainly look forward to this week’s events!

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Ah, Walt, so sorry to read about your mother. Thinking of you and your family.
    All the best,

  5. So sorry to hear about your mother so close to Christmas, may the joy of her memory carry you through your grief

  6. Doug says:

    God bless your mom Walt. Every child should be so lucky, as to be surrounded with so much love
    for the holidays. I had a grandmother like that and they’re special. May they Rest In Peace. I also lost my mother 4 months before her 80th birthday, January, 2011. Great family roots are essential to a child’s growth in order to become good human beings. Great blog my brother. Merry Christmas to you all and to Pete.

    • Doug,
      I’d say you hit the existential nail, the spike of truth concerning family, on the head with, “Great family roots…good human beings.” Thank you very much, and best to you and the family through the time of Christmas and the looming new year. And I’ll extend your good wishes to brother Pete.

  7. Rob Smith says:

    Very sorry to learn that you lost your mother. Although a full life, very tough to lose our parents. Your writing, the pictures and the warm tribute by Brent highlights how special she was and her life remains to your family.

    • Thanks so much for your words here, Rob. They reach me at the core. You’re right, it isn’t easy, but we’ve got what it takes to move on. I wish I could say that for a mutual friend referred to in the holiday cards. Be well, and all the best to you, Ben, and Sue.

  8. Sincere condolences on your moms passing Walt. That’s tough around the holidays. Bless and keep her and the rest of your family.

  9. beckyparkins says:

    So sorry to learn of your loss. She was a gracious and generous woman.

  10. Mark Miles says:

    Very sorry to hear about the death of your mother. My own mother is in her sixties, so I think about her mortality more than I used to. Glad to see you could get some good use out of Old Woodenhead though. 👍👍

    • Mark, I know I don’t need to remind you that the hand that rocked your cradle rocked the world, and that we should all keep a bowed attitude or memory of that power that rocked our own. As for Old Woodenhead, yes, he’s an archetypal dude who typically steps to the plate (or streamside) at this time of year, and he’ll probably break his fly rod before he runs out of crazy ideas. Thank you, and best wishes for a happy winter season.

  11. Les Kish says:

    Walt, perhaps the best part of the holidays is remembering and reflecting on the lives of those important people who are no longer with us. Both of my parents, now gone too, passed around Christmas. Adds a bit of poignancy to the season, but good memories just the same.

    • Yeah, how true, Les. Additionally, we might add, appreciating those we love and who remain to help us through it all. Remembering those who can’t be here physically any more, but who bring that poignancy and depth to the beauty of the time. Absolutely. Thanks, man.

  12. JZ says:

    Sad to read about the loss of your mother Walt. God Bless you and your family during this holiday season. I would add, hold onto those strong traditions that your mother helped instill. They become sacred bonds that strengthen the family circle..

    • I’ll do the best I can, JZ. With the help of friends and family and the good folks who visit my blog, the circle will be strengthened and traditions upheld. Thank you for all, and I wish you the best for the holidays, plus a great new fishing season, as well.

  13. loydtruss says:

    Sorry to hear of your Mom’s passing especially during the holiday season; hope you and the rest of the family have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. —much fishing success for 2017!!

  14. So sorry to hear about the passing of your mother. Wishing you all the best for the remainder of the holiday season, and the year for that matter.

  15. Thank you, Douglas. I appreciate it. Happy Winter Solstice and beyond!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Please accept our condolences.
    Pete and Karen

  17. rommel says:

    My condolence, Walt. It seems to me she lived a life full of happiness, love, and companionship.

  18. Yes, and thanks much, Rommel. I appreciate it.

  19. JZ says:

    May your New Years be peaceful Walt…

  20. Thank you, JZ. A peaceful, happy new year to you, as well.

  21. marymaryone says:

    Sorry to hear of your loss so close to the holidays. May the happy memories of times together bring you peace in the coming year.

    • Thanks Mary. The timing made it seem a bit surreal, but things are getting back to normal, and good memories will keep me afloat. Have a great new year. I look forward to continued good reading on your blog.

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