Wings Over Water

There were plenty of quiet moments at the book signing event, so I was glad to have some fly-tying stuff on hand. My books were piled up on the corner of a table in the store; my vise stood before me, surrounded by grizzly hackle (olive), calf-tail, dubbing, moose hair, thread, scissors, whip-finisher, everything needed to tie the Western Green Drake for an upcoming trip out West. Everything was here, except…except the hooks. Dammit. I felt like a wingless bird showing up for spring migration.

Slate Run/Pine Creek

Now what? The store managers were busy doing whatever they do when business gets really slow, so I rose from the table and began perusing the Used Book section of the aisles. I found a nice hardcover edition of the Tao Te Ching and decided to buy it and refresh my recollections of the ancient Chinese classic. Chapter One: The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. Of course. Words get in the way. The name that can be named is not the eternal name… The tier who forgets his hooks is not a tier worth his salt. The tier who forgets his hooks is… just a buyer. The gate to mystery has a squeaky hinge.

white pines grow large along the Oz

The highest good is like water. We moderns who enjoy canoeing, hiking, fly-fishing, etcetera are well aware of this. Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive. It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao. Water filled my head and I was fishing like a demon in a daydream.

I would soon be casting on the “Oz,” my name for Oswayo Creek. With an overcast sky and heavy water from recent rains, I was hoping for a good caddis or mayfly hatch downstream from where I usually look for wild browns. Two spin-fishermen worked their way close to where I stood in a big wide pool. One angler asked, “Are you fishin’ the Derby or just fishing?” I hadn’t known anything about the local Rod ‘n’Gun Club derby going on at that moment, so I simply answered, “Just fishin’. Any luck?”

high pine

The sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking. The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease. I wasn’t feeling particularly wise, especially in this company of local fishermen pursuing tagged trout with the spirit of a horse-better at the Preakness. I certainly wasn’t keeping my mouth shut, either, when the guys asked where I’d started from and what pools had yielded trout. I stretched the truth a bit, for sure, but remained completely honest about the kind of flies I used. Dry flies weren’t connecting. There were no “ten thousand trout” rising and falling to a hatch of caddis, Sulphur or March Browns.

I caught rainbows on a small bead-head emerger, my Conhocton Mink Caddis, and even more trout on a conehead Woolly Bugger. Rainbows, browns and brook trout came out for a quick release. They were hatchery trout, certainly, but pleasant accomplices in my search for a river hatch. Oh, a singular March Brown appeared, and a first Sulphur for the season, but conditions just weren’t favorable for surface fishing.

Oswayo Creek

Earlier in the day, I had the best time watching birds. Spring migration was at its peak, and numerous fliers had settled near the yard for the season or were pausing for insects and tuning up their vocal chords. I, too, attempted to hone my skills with 10-power glasses and a careful late-spring shuffle.

Under heaven, all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil. Listen to the news from around the globe today, and go for the truth. Thank god for wild birds. Wild trout. Flowers. Wild men and women. Children who can tell what’s real and what is fake.

Barn swallows lilted over the roadway scarfing up midges near the ground. An indigo bunting fed among the apple blossoms, its plumage slightly darker than the sky beyond. A Tennessee warbler sang a loud migration song, its chipping notes breaking into a rapid jumble at the end. A wood thrush piped an endless three-note territorial song from the trees beyond the creek. A Baltimore oriole perched nearby, a beautiful orange and black songbird alternately whistling and fluting for a mate in a never ending quest for continuity and survival.

Looking up beyond the forested hills, I was taken by the sight of a raven (legendary corvid) chasing a red-tailed hawk across the southern sky. Both birds were living fully in the Tao. Beauty seemed to outshine ugliness, for now.


Through the winter a red fox pulled an autumn deer carcass across my field. Here at the den the carcass fed the foxes to the present time.

red fox pup sez an odd bird’s looking my way…



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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14 Responses to Wings Over Water

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    My comments here will echo your words, Walt. My “fishing vacation” of the last week has largely been a bummer, if in fact that’s due more to the expectations I place on this time of year versus the actual situation, foolishly trying to bend reality to fit my expectations. First…the bugs, where are the bugs! Scarcely any emergence of consequence has greeted my days astream. Sure, there are the trickle of occasional mayflies, caddis and stones, but nothing to elicit the action I’ve been searching in vain for. I’m starved for some match-the-hatch style dry fly action. Nymphing and streamers have produced the bulk of the fairly meager number of trout I’ve caught. I fished a small, nameless tributary of another small tributary of one of my favorite streams, and it yielded about fifteen fine, wild specimens of s.fontinalis, so I’m thankful for that. It’s seldom that I’ll bitch about rain, but a little less will do nicely to bring the water to a more suitable level, at least according to a fisherman. On the other hand, the birding and wildflower spotting has been fantastic. In fact, if I wasn’t so distracted by them, I might actually catch a few more fish!

  2. Bob, It seems to me that over the past few years (at least) the local fishing scene in May has been rather underwhelming compared to those years that formed the expectations we now have. I don’t know why that is, if sudden weather changes or dramatic fluctuations in water levels are to blame, or what, but the season has been tough, aside from the gifts that small stream brookies can provide. It will soon heat up again, I’m sure, if we don’t get too much rain. This area here was hammered pretty hard the last couple days. Till then, keep on enjoying what you can of this wonderful season out of doors.

  3. Brent says:

    Is that a new or recycled fox pup picture? Glad they’re sticking around, though, keeping Brook and Mustache company under the poplars. How much rain did you end up getting over the last week? We’re on 8.5 inches and counting since last Monday, although it looks dry for the next few days.

    • That’s a new pic of the red fox. I’ve been watching three of them, plus an adult, at times. They’re growing fast. I’ve lost track of how much rain we’ve taken since last week. There’s been plenty of downpours but I don’t think there’s been as much as your area has received.

  4. loydtruss says:

    Oh, how I wish I could see and hear my favorite species of birds at my feeders again. Your statements concerning the different bird species brought back memories. I could see the fiddlehead framed and hanging on someone’s wall den. Enjoyed the read, thanks for sharing

  5. Bill, I’m glad you could appreciate the bird reflections. Our lives would be much diminished without their great variety. Thanks, too, for your appreciation of the fiddlehead unfurling!

  6. Dick R. says:

    Pure poetry in prose…sunshine in my day.
    -Dick Rothwell

  7. plaidcamper says:

    Splendid stuff, Walt! The gate might squeak, but you’re opening it and finding the beauty out there, from birds and birdsong to the delightful fox pup – a lovely photograph, along with the fiddlehead shot.
    Thanks for this one!

  8. I’m less than an amateur birder, but there is nothing like the singing of birds to brighten a day. Loved the photograph of the Fiddlehead and the fox, great work.

  9. Jet Eliot says:

    Oh so lovely, Walt. Loved the easy flow of your words, laced with the Tao readings, and highlighting the miracles of nature. Of course the bird paragraph sent me fluttering, your eastern species such a joy to witness, even secondhand. Loved the photos of the deer carcass, the kit, and the newly emerging fiddlehead — all these stop me in my tracks when I’m on the trail, so I was glad to see them here. And congratulations on making it through a book signing, that’s not easy.

  10. Thank you very much, Jet; you’re right, those signings are more difficult than, say, a mountain climb adorned with birds….

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