Song of the Kettle

I’m growing silent these days. I’m not sure why, although I’m also angered and saddened by political events and tragedies occurring in this crazy world. I’m growing silent at a time when my voice should be loud with protest. I’m so quiet that the stream and the forest call to me as if they were my home.

I have words but they are few. The torn curtain of this modern life is pushed aside. I seek  solace with the wild things of the mountain. I step slowly, carefully, so not to spook the trout of Kettle Creek. I cast a 10-foot tapered leader with a tippet like a spider’s thread. I listen to the cricket songs, the squawk of a jay, coming from the drab October leaves and streamside vegetation. The ancient hills rise up as if to cradle my advance, to paint me with a hint of autumn flame.

with fire in the blood…

There are times when the poet should be quiet, saving his voice for later. The wildness of the mountain streams, the framing sense of place that gives each day new meaning, has no need for talk. Still, I hear a message to be thankful for my years, thankful for the fire in my blood.

low water… normally these logs would be in the flow…

Without a sound, I lay a long cast of an Adams dry fly on the pool where caddis hatch. Another small brookie rises quickly and comes in. I kneel at the water, wet my hands to release the hook and then the fish. The bond is set.

one dry Adams did the trick…

Years ago, I wrote a poem with this headwaters on my mind, the stream that has seen me year after year, that will see me, surely, when my time comes to an end.

Kettle headwaters…

Sononjoh (aka Kettle Creek)

October mountains/ rise above/ Black Kettle’s fishery,/ over “strange/ romantic land”/ of pioneers who/ feared the wild.// The slack line drifts/ repeatedly/ above elusive trout/ past the boulders of glide and pool.// Sononjoh: one/ sunlit riffle sings/ the ancient name.


I was going to be silent (almost) but instead I’ve fished for words. As a writer, I suppose it’s normal to be filled with contradictions. So I catch a few words, release them on the page. The voice swells slowly as I think about the huge machine called civilization. The machine is glittery and assuring till we learn its ways. Its creature comforts hide the cost. It spits away our children as it eats the earth with war and murder and pollution.


We can protest but the big machine has room for that. It almost smiles and lets us be. I’ll rage nonetheless (as time allows) and hope for better days. For now, I’ll fish in silence and be well.

caddis rock



[Playing the album “Marquee Moon” by Television (1977) always helps me when I’m down. Its final cut, Torn Curtain, is an astounding finish to one of rock’s most perfect albums (don’t just take my word for it). From the “painfully elegant” chorus to the guitar coda that feels like “falling off a cliff,” the song has always made me want to “shed the tears I never shed.”]

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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28 Responses to Song of the Kettle

  1. Brent says:

    This is beautiful. Events have been bringing me to the point where I wonder, “What else can I say, that I haven’t already said in bitterness or anger or horror?” And I wonder whether it’s worse that I don’t have words, or that somehow it no longer horrifies me quite as much as it used to–or as much as I feel it should. Thanks for finding something to say.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Keep fishing for the words, and keep releasing them. God knows, there’s a need for voices speaking out, quietly or otherwise, in the face of modern madness.
    We’re on the road just now, a short trip to the coast, and it feels like we’re running for shelter…not running away, more running towards something with depth and quiet. You expressed it better, being the poet!
    Don’t go completely silent, Walt!

    • We’ll keep on singing and fishing for words, my friend. Have a great little journey, PC. That coastal place sounds wonderfully quiet and embracing, with the kind of peace that’s needed elsewhere in this world. Be well!

  3. I think any sane human being (oxymoron?) is feeling a pain so intolerable that all we can do is struggled for words and keep running to our prospective safe places. I have been struggling as well and having difficulty finding words that will offer even a slight bit of solace. So I’m running away for two days to hopefully find some words and a few beautiful fish.

    • I hear you, Howard, and know that you understand the struggle very well. We’ll keep on dealing with the oxy(morons) of this life the best we can. Have fun out there on the water. I know you’ll have good company.

      • Walt, I did indeed have a wonderful time on some beautiful water. I may have mentioned before that I sometimes fish a Kettle Creek Riffle 5wt. as a tribute to those beautiful waters.

  4. Spike jones says:


  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Ah…when I read the words “torn curtain” I wondered if you were alluding to that 1977 masterpiece, and behold! And your words put me in mind of the song “Poets” by The Tragically Hip, though infer nothing, this is just how my messed up brain works: “Don’t tell me what the poets are doing / Don’t tell me that they’re talking tough / Don’t tell me that they’re anti-social / Somehow not anti-social enough…”. Fish on, and on.

    • Thanks for that connection, Bob; I can’t believe I somehow missed the music of The Hip– their songs are interesting. I must have been listening to another Canadian band of even greater obscurity, Simply Saucer, their Cyborgs Revisited, a 70s classic of punk psychedelia. Lots of good stuff from the Northlands. As for Marquee Moon, “I remember how the darkness doubled/ how lightning struck itself…” Amazing. Always puts a fish on the line.

  6. JZ says:

    I’ll be back on that creek soon enough and should be able to swing an extra day somewhere else on another nearby water. Sure glad those waters were healing enough for you Walt. Crazy world and even crazier times. Me and my wife were just at Vegas exactly one month ago from today. We stayed at the Bellagio hotel on the strip, not far from the tragic scene. We caught a few shows, such as Cirque Du Soleil and even feasted at Gordan Ramsey’s restaurant. Comedy shows and Hoover Dam were awesome. The Muhammad Ali museum in the hotel was great to see! Vegas is a neat place if you allow yourself time and freedom to enjoy it. It can swallow you up if you don’t have a reliable inner compass inside though.
    I lift my heart felt prayers to those who have died during that concert and recent hurricanes. Wishing continued strength for the injured and those whose lives have been tragically altered to some degree. A huge thanks for the first responders and hospitals whose jobs are everyday critical. I’m not a gambler, never spent a dime at a casino. However, if I was, I would wager you that the American resolve and spirit is rock strong. Much stronger when it is tested, as it is now!
    I wish that your healing continues on its path. I wish the same for everybody else. Touching base with nature help speeds that process. So cast your line and release a fine colored fish. We all have something in common. God Bless.

    • Sounds like you had quite a time in Vegas, JZ. A recent visit to the place brings a sharp focus to the more recent tragedy, I’m sure, and having a reliable inner compass on your visit no doubt points you in present time to that rock strong spirit and resolve. But so many lives were shattered for no sane reason whatsoever. Thanks for all your good words, and your heart-felt wishes for those people whose lives have been cruelly disrupted.

  7. JZ says:

    Walt, just compared a picture taken like 2 weeks ago where those logs (stream deflectors) were totally exposed. Big difference as those logs were in the water somewhat more from my latest pics. Man, place needs water. Wonder what that pool looks like where the board and steps are just above? I was going to fish above where Germania dumps in here soon, still will cause there are no thermal issues..

    • Yes, the water levels have come down drastically in just a few weeks time. A lot of the pools are hard to recognize or are so shallow that the fish have moved out. When the time comes to fish the area and you want some company, give me a holler. I’m not that far away.

  8. RR received a response to this post via email that I thought would be valuable to other readers so I decided to include it here:

    “Song of the Kettle” resonated with me this morning. I feel that I’ve had a similar struggle. Always part of my nature, silence and introspection is my default. But I also find an undercurrent of guilt and frustration that I am silent at a time I know I should be loud. But what would I say? In a world where so much is broken, what needs fixing most? And do I actually have any power to change it if I tried? My internal struggle between silence and protest often ends with a feeling of futility and a need to retreat. While she is harsh and unforgiving at times, Mother Nature seems to provide me the most comfort in what seems to be a harsher world. So I end up immersing myself in nature–or even in the moment, when the wind and sun are strong on my face–and feel well. After all, Mother Nature, Earth, and our universe will remain constants in the centuries to come, despite human squabbles and treachery. I find comfort knowing that humans are just a tiny speck in the universe, and even if we destroy ourselves, the earth will still rotate around the sun.

    • Hi C.,,
      I’m glad that the post resonated with you. Yeah that inner struggle that you very well described is probably more common among us (the more sensitive of our species) than we suspect. We get bombarded with bad news from so many directions that we’re inclined to go numb– words may seem to fail us, for how can they possibly describe such atrocities, and how, as responsible human beings, can we ignore them? We can’t, really, but a lot of us respond by retreating to our favorite opiates like drink or TV or religion or by wanting to sleep it off. Luckily, for a few of us, at least, we work toward an understanding of our place in nature. It’s a small place, for sure, but the view from there is awesome, and it gives us the strength to say something important to those who count, as well as to ourselves.

  9. Jet Eliot says:

    I enjoyed your words here, Walt, especially the comparison to catch-and-release fishing. There is nothing like the calm of nature to soothe our bruised and battered days.

  10. loydtrussl says:

    An inspired post, I just wonder what this place will be will look and be like for the coming generations—-I am concerned for my grandchildren—-thanks for sharing

    P.S. Sorry haven’t been up to speed on my blogging the back is still giving problems, I hope the second Epidural I had yesterday will work!!

    • We have to wonder, Bill, for the sake of future individuals who would care, as well as for all wild life in the area, and hope for the best. Thanks, and I’m wishing you a speedy recovery so that you get your back in form and in good health!

  11. Howard,
    Glad to hear it! And yeah, I remember you have a Kettle Creek Riffle rod. Today I fished a wild tributary of the Kettle, its mouth very close to the fly shop that sells Riffle rods.

  12. Ross says:

    well said Walt, well done.

  13. Thom Hickey says:


    You’ve removed Nederland me how much I love Marquee Moon (must write about it soon!)

    Regards Thom

  14. Thank you, Thom. I’ll look forward to your writing of it. What an album.

  15. JZ says:

    I know this is last minute, but really I just found out that I could fish. Work, home life can weigh you down and make it tough to get away. Responsibilities first I say, fun second. I’m going fishing tomorrow somewhere in them mountains we cherish. I was there for two days over Columbus with a friend. Respond here or 717 468-3527. I always enjoy reading your excursions in the field Walt..

    • JZ, Yeah work and home life. I need to work tomorrow and have family commitments for Saturday (though I’m usually ready for the stream on Saturdays). I’ll get in the water on Sunday. I hope that your excursion into these lovable hills is thoroughly enjoyable. Should be nice, for all the color and crispness and the willingness of the trout. Keep me posted on how it goes!

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