On Skis, an Open Letter, 1989

[ I recently found a copy of a letter to a friend with whom I used to correspond, a friend who wouldn’t mind this link to the present time…]

Dear C.,

Last night we had our first significant snowfall of the season. Seven or eight inches of the cleansing, heavenly powder have domed each twig and tree trunk. My god, how long has it been since we’ve had snow or rain?

looking back– at the bear track in the yard…

I stepped into my skis today and poled up the north ridge toward McKenna’s sheep farm. I turned westward on the plowed gravel road. Skiing was delightful in the bright morning air. I stopped and listened to my heartbeat for a spell, then heard a shotgun blast from far away. The wooded slopes shimmered with a sheen of snow and ice.

There was no fishing on New Year’s Day. I could barely summon the tying of a single Conhocton mink caddis…

The peace and solitude were like candy to a kid. I tried being “here and now” like a Zen practitioner, knowing that moments like this in troubled times are hard to find. Occasionally I thought about the nuclear waste dump proposal for our area, of how such evil sharpens an appreciation for a simple act like fishing or cross-country skiing.

Yeah, New York State in its political wisdom has selected the 10 poorest and most rural counties as possibilities for the siting of its nuclear waste dump. A county neighboring my home is one of those 10 places, and within the county are five townships that qualify for nuke waste, according to the state. Two of the county sites are roughly 25 miles of where I skied today.

I much preferred taking notes, observing Tim at the tying vise…

The siting commissioners came to Belfast a few weeks back, to the high school complex that managed to absorb 5,000 angry protestors (roughly one out of every 10 residents in Allegany County!). I even made the late-night TV news in Buffalo that evening, thanks to the Earth First! sign I was carrying.

He’s a masterful creator of the big fly– here the famous Black Ghost. Also, looks like I’ll be casting a 4-weight silk line this spring, at least occasionally.

No one seems to want the nuke dump (“We don’t make it; we won’t take it!”), and many don’t want to see it anywhere, myself included, feeling that it’s time to get serious about our energy use and to open the door to less consumption and to more sustainable means. But Governor Mario Cuomo will not listen. One commissioner at the Belfast meeting actually fell asleep amidst the uproar!

I skied through an old apple orchard, gliding slowly, listening to a pair of hairy woodpeckers tapping at the aged trees, then flying in a wave toward the sumacs where I paused. A raven gave a rasping croak and flew overhead. A bit of wild Appalachia filled the space between that bird and me.

Raven takes me there…

C., we humans have really done it– separated the egg yolk from the white, as you have said, and created one helluva meringue in this life. The poet Ben Jonson may have said, “An Egg is but a Chicken in Potentia”– I would add that our scrambled eggs are prelude to a monster.

It’s a good thing to be fueled by vision (if not with less glorious substances), by poetry, even if you haven’t composed a line. Incidently, my hemlock poem is finished but it needs some aging before I send it out. My birch poem, too, is brewing slowly. But I am enclosing a copy of the long Survivor, written last fall and accepted by a new journal giving voice to Appalachia and its wider spaces.

With an overnight rain, our waterfall switched from solid ice to flowing energy…

I skied through a stretch of land posted with “Experimental Wildlife Area” signs. The out-of-state owners have been busy planting groves of pine and spruce. Surrounding brush has been cleared; bluebird houses have been set up in the open areas. Fruit trees have been planted and protected. Skiing through abandoned farmland has been comforting. The “improvements” are largely for the many deer to be hunted on this summit, a selfish concern perhaps, but the work and planning have benefits for other species to be found here through the year.

Thanks again for the Agee article. I found it intriguing though a little too self-conscious and artful, as if looking for the “movie rights” alone, like Castanada. How I loved to read the Don Juan writer till I learned that the work was more for art than anthropology. The truth probably suffered. Currently, there’s a sense of the creative Sixties in the air, short-lived perhaps. We need another burst of fresh air, wouldn’t you say? More light. More snow. A new revolution.

Yours, on cross-country skis….

“Energy is eternal delight”– Wm Blake

old blade on Dryden Hill…

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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15 Responses to On Skis, an Open Letter, 1989

  1. Brent says:

    This is a nice snapshot from a different time, but one that isn’t so unrecognizable. Maybe you’ve traded the skis for more sophisticated fishing gear, maybe the trees have matured a bit on the slope around the house, and maybe (probably) New York has started to better factor environmental impacts into its decision making. But other things are still the same: localized conservation to advance narrow human recreational interests, and a struggle to balance economic gain with the need to preserve our best wild areas.

    • Thanks! Indeed, the passage of nearly 30 years hasn’t wrought a lot of physical changes to the land or how we view it. There’s another similarity in my view: big changes are coming. No more threat of a nuke dump, but ominous vibrations can be felt, from the national level right down to the local. I don’t know what to do, other than trying to appreciate the beauty while it’s still here.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Walt! It left me in two minds – how some things don’t change, and that’s good, and how some things don’t change, and that’s not so good. Threats to the natural world are, if anything, greater than ever, but so is the ability to take action and voice concern, highlight the idiocy. And such idiocy, new depths…
    I think I’ll be appropriately energized by your blast from the past – there are still trails to hike and ski, rivers to fish, and places to find solitude, and the extra effort makes the reward greater.
    Thanks again, and enjoy your weekend!

  3. Thank you, Adam. I agree; there’s two minds about all this (at least!). A cloud of idiocy looms above us all, yet we can probe it for a hopeful ray of sunshine. I’m glad the energy is penetrating, pal. Enjoy those hikes and ski jaunts, and have a peaceful weekend.

  4. Thanks Walt! This is a good reminder to me how much my views have changed over the years. For the better I hope. Time gives a better perspective.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Wow. Thoroughly enjoyed this “blast from the past” and it’s many references and allusions to things important to you and I and like- minded folks. As I’ve told you before, your account of the fight against the waste dump contained in A Rivertop Journal is one of my favorites. Tell me, are you a fan of the writing of the late curmudgeon Ed Abbey?

    • Glad you caught those references and allusions, Bob, quite admirable since you don’t have my age as yet to juggle them around. Also, I sure appreciate your taking the time to read and meditate on that section of A Rivertop Journal called “A Region of the Will.” At the time of my writing it, I was inspired by curmudgeon Ed (and other environmental writers), especially by his Desert Solitaire and The Monkeywrench Gang, inspiring non-fiction and fiction, respectively. His books continue to be important.

  6. Jet Eliot says:

    Enjoyed the poignancy of this 30-year old letter, Walt–the love and sharing between you and C., the threats of the time that are still the threats of this time, your passion for the land and enjoyment of it. Loved that photo of the blade, too. Enjoyable and thought-provoking post, thank you.

  7. loydtruss says:

    I could see the Black Ghost getting a take below those falls. No one wants a nuke waste dump in their community; we live in dangerous times! Thanks for sharing

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