It was a pleasant January weekend. Although the air temperature on Sunday rose no higher than the freezing point, the Morning Star lent a blue dome overhead and even managed to push some brightness into the Pine Creek Gorge where my wife and I enjoyed a leisurely four-mile walk.
Although we saw no creatures more exotic than a rough-legged hawk and a belted kingfisher, we kept our eyes peeled for river otter, especially along the brushy edges of the high-flowing Pine, places not unlike the site where I watched an otter a couple of winters back.
Our chances for encountering another river otter were pretty slim given the presence of crusted snow and ice along the trail. Last week’s flood conditions followed by freeze up and then the breaking of ice by trail officials left patches of ground where it was like walking on ice cubes. The result was worse than ambient tourist noise. It’s not that there was anyone else around, but an otter in the Pine Creek Gorge could have heard us in stereo and hunkered down while we were still a quarter mile away.
After the hike we ate a meal in The Burnin’ Barrel near Ansonia, a hamlet at the upper end of the canyon. I hadn’t been in the establishment since the 1980s when the classic old structure was called the Twin Pine Tavern.
It was a place for good stories and for decent food and drink. I recalled my poem, “Twin Pine Tavern,” that was soon collected for a first fly-fishing book, The Wild Trout (1989). Its four stanzas are in the voice of a drinker who I met while sitting at the bar. Here’s how the poem begins:
There’s at least two ways of seein’ things./ Pine Creek’s Indian name was Tiadaghton,/ ‘River of Pines.’ Used to run clear and deep/ and cold all summer long. A century back/ it earned its name by floating logs. The Turkey/ Path was railroad track. A three-mile loop/ to drop 800 feet. 1910, the forest slashing/ clear to Gaines caught fire,/ cooked up every brook trout in the county….
While my wife and I enjoyed our lunch in The Burnin’ Barrel (yeah, I like the original name better than this, but the spirit of the place seemed familiar), we met a friendly old guy from Galeton who appreciated the fact that we, too, were hikers and lovers of the big outdoors as witnessed in north-central Pennsylvania. The guy reminded me a little of the storyteller in the Twin Pines long ago who taught me a thing or two about this wonderful region.
On Monday, the weather, sunny and in the 30s, simply invited a return. This time, though, I was out to build on my Martin Luther King Day tradition of hiking and/or fishing. I could have been really traditional and “progressive” by doing some community service but, as a teacher, I do a bit of that already. On this occasion all I did was sign a couple of political petitions and collect some roadside garbage prior to hitting a favorite trout stream.
Sometimes all that we can do to make the world a better place for everyone is to get some nature in us and some peace inside the head. As Thoreau might have said, we can’t get enough of that great commodity, nature, an alternative program to the status quo.
There was still some snow in the mountain forest, enough to reveal the tracks of fisher (yes, again) hunting slowly along the rocky run or sometimes bounding upstream, with three-foot spaces between each set of paws. On this date a year ago, I surprised a wild fisher near the trail at this location, but for now the fresh tracks were good enough.
Casting in the solitude of this scenic mountain stream was what I needed to go forward with another week of public work, and to help me step aside briefly from the nonsense and bad vibrations emanating from the world outside. It felt safe inside this mountain where the brook trout dwelled among the rock-formed pools and eddies, where the gravel beds and clear cold waters sang of promise and good will.
It was good to catch small fish, to observe and then release them to the song of tumbling water, to a power not unlike the voice of a great American who fought for the equality and freedom of us all.
This alternative programming brought to you by Mother Nature: indifferent to the petty concerns of the human realm, even though our actions too often affect her. I, too, am excited to escape the current insanity for just a moment, to experience the seclusion of a wild canyon and (hopefully) find some evidence of the wilder world. Nice piece!
Thanks, and enjoy it, guys!
A beautiful day for reflection, Walt. In today’s Warren paper, the Jamestown Audubon Society’s naturalist Jeff Tome (a relation) reports that three otters have been spotted in and about the compound. Thinking about driving up to see if I can spot them.
Hope you see one or two, Bob. That would be “otterly cool.” Keep me posted.
I hope you find all the alternative programming you can in the next little while. Really enjoyed this, from the song of the stream to the lyrical history shared from your early poem.
We are heading to the safety and calm of our nearby mountain realm tomorrow – a healthy alternative to seeing or hearing the shudder-inducing “vision” of the next four years.
Enjoy your weekend!
Enjoy yours, as well, my friend. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, you’re quite fortunate in living so close to beautiful “alternative programming” there in the mountains. I’ll brace myself and wish everyone Good Luck.
What a great day for an outing, to enjoy some fantastic scenery, especially those streams. Thanks for sharing
Hope you’re enjoying some winter opportunities, as well, Bill. We’ll take them when we can, eh? With thanks…
This made me want to take a walk…I think you otter write another book Walt. I’m going looking for The Wild Trout.
I otter thank you for that comment, Howard (I’m working on one!) and hope your fisher hooks up with a good walk or two in the coming days. Thank you!
Thanks i needed a good story, i never see otters in the genessee river any more i miss them
Is that you, Spike? Welcome aboard the rambling machine! Sorry to hear that the otters have gone missing (apparently) from the Genny waters. I’ve never seen one on that river though I’ve heard that some were released near the Letchworth area. Hopefully they continue to adapt to some of the wilder areas in the watershed. The only eastern ones I’ve seen were in north-central PA.
That alternative programming is what keeps my sanity, although I can never seem to get enough. And down here, the snakes like to hide where you don’t expect to see them. I wish I could get more of that in. Having not only rattlers, but an over-abundance of copperheads and cottonmouths, you have to be totally aware of your surroundings with every step, which does keep your eyes from possibly seeing the hidden dangers. Rattlers I don’t mind. They let you know they’re there. But, especially water moccasins, make me nervous.
Yeah, I don’t have much experience with the southern reptile varieties, but I know that timber rattlesnakes in PA add some spice to the wild adventure. I don’t fear them but, in season and in special rugged terrain, I keep an eye out so I don’t disturb one at its nap. The few times I’ve encountered them they’ve been cordial, giving plenty of warning before I got too close. That seems sensible to me, a fair exchange when I encounter them on their home grounds.
Thanks Doug, and good luck with the alternative programming!
Love your writing and pictures…it puts me in places where I would rather be… thank you! This weekend a saunter in a foggy Sproul State forest – the fungi and lichens were brilliant!
Thanks for the compliment, Mamaw, and welcome to RR and the fine state forestlands of PA. I agree, this past weekend was a great time to saunter the foggy hills and dales of Sproul or Susquehannock while inspecting the streams and fungi. I’m glad you enjoyed, and please stop by again.
I just read the river otters are making their way back to Boulder Creek here in Colorado. I would love to see one (or two).
That’s good news, Salla. And we can use all the good news we can get, at this point in our political lives. I hope the otters say hello to you!