Living in a drab political climate where the powers-that-be continue to hack away at our natural world for all the usual reasons such as money and self-interest, I’m feeling the need to add some color to this life while trying to reinforce a little of the beauty that remains around us.
In a way, we’re living in a frightening black-and-white world. I don’t feel much hope or optimism when I learn of the continuing attacks on our environment, most recently at our national monuments for resource exploitation and at democratic-era programs that facilitate our nation’s fight against the ravages of a warming globe. I need to add some color where this dimming world intersects my place, so I heed the invitation from several trout streams in the area to come along and do some fishing.
Streams are powerful natural forces (even in times of relative drought) and have a way of twisting my arm until I say Uncle (Sam), until I say, Give me three steps to the tackle closet, Streams, three steps to where my rods are kept, and I’ll be gone!
For the lack of adequate color in my waking hours, I’m starting to see raw color in my dreams at night, the color of nightmares that I thought I’d left behind a good long while ago. To paint a better picture for myself, I fished the long weekend of Columbus Day (honoring the blunders of the past as well as the hopes for the future) and visited the upper Allegheny and Genesee rivers, plus a trout stream in the wildest woods of Pennsylvania.
On Monday, I did my casting in the lovely, much-needed showers of Hurricane Nate that sleepwalked over the Allegheny as it passed north through the mid-Atlantic region. The trout I caught and released there while envisioning three ships sailing on the tranquil ocean were stocked fish but, no matter. Stocked or wild, autumn rainbows in the 15 to 17-inch range are full of stormy weather.
The river was cool, the flow was narrow, and these fish could hit a dry fly and then rocket from the tombs of water to the sheltered undercuts of freedom before you knew what snapped your tippet. They brought color from the stream but not as much of it as the smaller trout, the wild brookies, from the day before.
On Sunday I had ventured into Pennsylvania’s proposed wilderness, a thirty-thousand acre green spot on the map that’s managed as a roadless “wild area” (rather than a fully protected wilderness) because of private leasing in some sections by a gas company. At its lower access point, I drove the jeep trail toward an end-point near a scenic trout stream. Fog enveloped the mountain shoulders, and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” entered my ears from a satellite of Earth. I was ready for the upstream hike into brook trout country.
“Mystic Run” seems as good a name as any for this mountain stream. I hiked past the final cabin in this area and entered the backcountry. The stream was low and clear but surprisingly strong considering its short length of nine or 10 miles. I had fished and hiked along this waterway a dozen times or more, but on each occasion Mystic Run looked different to me. Its one constant is the wild trout, native brooks mostly, with some brown trout near its lower end.
I passed the Beech Bottom Natural Area catching small trout after small trout on a dry fly Adams, Humpy, and Rio Grande King, good floaters on the riffles and occasional pool. I felt like I was on a never-ending journey toward an intimate knowledge of a place. I was adding autumn color to an overcast day, the way poetry can add to and enliven a prosaic hour:
We hiked to virgin hemlock trees/ climbing through mountain clarity,/ autumnal quietude repelling/ volume in our speech; subtleties/ of boulder, moss and tree/ preempting expectations…. [from the poem “Beech Bottom” in my book Earthstars, Chanterelles, Destroying Angels from FootHills Publishing, 2016].
The backcountry has a way of eliciting a “Land ho!” exclamation from seekers of color in a place like this. Columbus exclaimed it in his way, and I exclaimed it in mine, but we too readily forget the natives, the first-timers, extirpated by explorers. We too easily forget about the natives still surviving in the form of beings such as hemlock trees and beautiful trout.
Speaking of native life and its historical context, listen to a song by the Canadian artist Buffy Saint-Marie. Her enjoyable and thought-provoking “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (1992) has the power of poetry and music, plus the color of social and environmental justice. [Scroll down…]