On the Rim of the Year

With the air temp registering 16 degrees F., and with a mountain breeze cutting the day to a chilled clarity, it was too cold to fly-fish, but the prospect of an upriver hike seemed appealing.

Allegheny-Ohio-Mississippi River top...

Allegheny-Ohio-Mississippi River top…


An afternoon sun broke sporadically from a crystalline grayness, and I was glad to be walking an abandoned railroad grade along the upper Allegheny River protected from the wind that raked the hilltops. I was also sheltered from the sights and sounds of a hydro-fracking operation where (judging from the parked machinery near the trailhead) the work of mining the Marcellus Shale layers for fossil fuel never ceases.

fracking never sleeps...

fracking never sleeps…

I had just purchased my 31st consecutive non-resident fishing license from the state of Pennsylvania and, although a sane attempt to fly-fish in this weather would not be possible (please don’t ask me to define a sane attempt at fly-fishing), it was good to celebrate three decades of a love affair with rivertop country by hiking toward the source of the Allegheny-Ohio-Mississippi watershed, one of the longest river systems in the nation.

rivertop trail...

rivertop trail…

Just moments after hitting the trail, I could feel the rush of wildness like a cool breeze through the warm layers of January clothing on my back. Coyote tracks were freshly printed in the granular snow, and there, approaching the ice-beds of the freezing Allegheny– the indisputable tracks of a fisher, paw-prints similar to coyote’s, but rounder and clearly punctuated with impressions of five long toes.

fisher country... camou-trak?

fisher country… camou-trak?

I could hike for several miles before nearing the highway to Gold, and I had time to think. I bought my first Pennsylvania angling license in 1987, a year in which Michael Czarnecki and I were busy publishing and promoting the Upriver Poetry Chapbook Series, with works by Graham Duncan, Karen Blomain, Barbara Crooker, and Terry Keenan (FootHills Publishing and Great Elm Press). Shortly thereafter, I published an anthology of outdoor writers called Riveries, appropriately enough.

Upriver Chapbook Series plus Riveries anthology...

Upriver Chapbook Series plus Riveries anthology…

I may have been leaving the strict realms of poetry at the time in favor of exploring the region’s fly-fishing opportunities and writing of them in prose but, looking back, I don’t think there was real separation as much as a merging of literary and other outdoor opportunities.

I opened Barbara Crooker’s chapbook, Starting From Zero, (1987), to the first poem called “January,” and was stunned by several lines that seem so connected to this recent Allegheny River hike: “…And here we are, poised on the rim of the year,/ this icy globe turning./ We’re caught in suspension,/ our every breath visible./ The silence between us deepens,/ blue as the shadows in snow.”dscn9560

I seemed to be hiking the rim of the year, listening to the blue silence in the snowy headwaters of a very young river. When I reached one of the uppermost trout pools in the Allegheny, a placid forest scene only a mile or so from the river’s source, I paused and remembered my unfinished poem whose first lines I recited at my mother’s memorial a couple of days before New Year’s:

From “Poem, 2:30 A.M.”: She who brought me/ into this river of life/ brought me to a love/ of flowing waters….

"river of life"

“river of life”

It was time to turn around and head back down to where I started from. I wanted to fish here again, in springtime, when the native trout are eager for a dry fly cast from a short bamboo, but at this point we were all moving out, poised or faltering or otherwise evolving, on the tentative rim of a new year.

if I was one to hibernate...

if I was one to hibernate…

perhaps the highest trout pool in the Allegheny...

perhaps the highest trout pool in the Allegheny…


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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23 Responses to On the Rim of the Year

  1. plaidcamper says:

    Lovely lines here, Walt. The Crooker lines you shared, and your own about your mother, simply beautiful. Poised indeed.
    How wonderful that a fisher is in fisher country, you were able to go tracking, and walk away from the curse of fracking. Fracking. Sounds exactly like an insult being added to evident injury…
    Another fine post!

    • Thank you, PC. It was a simple winter walk, yet poised, on the rim of possibilities, with fishers of different form and temperaments, away from the fracking but close to the heart of nature, to the place where poetry and science mingle as one. Your words are much appreciated.

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    I’d like to walk that water with you sometime, as well as show you around downstream.

    • Sounds good, Bob, especially since this water kind of knocks on your own back door with middle stretches that I’m not familiar with. Late spring would be a good time to have some fun on the headwaters. Let’s go for it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful post Walt. Your writing and ability to communicate through language play and poetic prose are a gift to your readers. I’m sure you know that by the number of books you have written and authored. Speaking of your books, I’m ashamed that I have not read any yet. That will change soon! Changing gears, I, like you, have been hiking a lot during these cold spells along retired rail paths. There is something special about forging your way through snow covered landscapes and seeing your breath as you trudge about. It is good exercise and the scenery is of a sleepy dreamy like magic. Pushing your eyes far past horizons than you would be able to see in other seasons.

    Your unfinished poem recited and read at your mothers memorial is beautiful. Your words were written from the heart and shared during a heart broken time. Special in spades Walt, special in spades. As for the fracking, its an industry that extracts energy from the ground and gives workers families the means and ability to make way in life. Nice to see that hiking near such a site, you found a renewed energy within yourself. Nature and industry can coexist even in the most delicate of places, if balance is found. Always being mindful that all living things need watching…

    • “Anonymous” is probably accidental, right, my friend? Thank you very much for these kind words about my writing and for the support of my books. God knows such words will keep an old fool chugging along the rail trails and trout streams like a gallon of premium coffee and a bag of sweetened mix.
      I’m glad you’re enjoying some of the state’s abandoned rail trails, too! It’s a great way to continue being outside when the fishing is suspended, and a way to enjoy brisk solitude without the compromise of machinery.
      I appreciate your response to my unfinished piece that came to me quickly when awakened suddenly after my mother’s passing… Yeah, from the heart and gut…
      I note, as well, the last line of your comment, “Always being mindful that all living things need watching…”. In my opinion, hydro-fracking needs to be watched and even monitored by fishermen and groups who love cold, clean water. I was instrumental in getting the EPA to clean up oil and gas pollution from some small trout streams and marshes in my local area, and that was from age-old, hit-and-run operations that were tiny compared to the big operations we see today. Yes, it costs money, but I’ve seen what can happen if things aren’t done correctly or according to specs.
      Again, thanks so much.

  4. Doug says:

    Very seldom does anything leave me speechless, but this has done it. And it has left me speechless in a good way. Well done brother.

  5. Brent says:

    Although I didn’t inherit the fly-fishing madness, I’ve nevertheless always been captivated by bodies of water. I remember walking the little hollows as a kid and always saying to myself, “Keep going until you find the spring!” Maybe this stems from our little walk to search out the source of Bootleg Hollow on that early spring day, or maybe (as mom says) it’s all genetic. In any case, this was another lovely exploration of roots–the roots of a stream, the roots of a hobby/passion, and your own familial roots.

    • I’ll always remember our walk toward the source of Bootleg Hollow Creek and, of course, I could tell that you, too, liked this sort of journey work on waterways. I’d say genetics is partly responsible for this lovely form of madness that applies, as well, to map work, for which you should probably receive an honorary doctorate from some regal institution in Scandinavia or elsewhere. Thanks!

  6. It was a good day for a walk in the woods. We were out snowshoeing, a little too cold for piscatorial pursuits!

  7. I echo what Doug said. This left me speechless and will now send my time scrambling to find Riveries. Thanks once again Walt.

    • Howard, Hey, I’m very pleased that this struck a responsive chord in you. Thank you kindly, and, if you’d like a rare copy of Riveries, I can get one to you (and maybe a surprise additional) at a super low cost. Just send your street address via the email listed on my ABOUT page, and I’ll ship it pronto. Take care, bud.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Walt, Great read and wonderful shots. Not sure how I missed your blog? But you are added from here on out. .

  9. JZ says:

    Definitely not anonymous Walt, my apologies. I also agree with you Walt that those areas in concern and that we dearly love need to be safeguarded…

  10. No problem, JZ; I thought it might be you, but wasn’t 100% sure. I know that it can be tricky sometimes hitting the desired signature on these blogs. Anyway, I’m glad you checked in!

  11. A wonderful read. Beautiful words and pictures, as always. Thanks for helping me get out on the water from the warmth of my office.

  12. loydtruss says:

    The fracking really disturbs me, along with a host of other environmental issues which can be traced back to climate change. Thanks for sharing

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