Old Man Knows Good Beer

The work week was winding down; I was standing at the check-out counter with a six of a favorite IPA, thinking of the fly-fishing prospects for the weekend and a slew of odd jobs that required doing before the long trip West beginning June 22. A couple of young guys stood behind me, waiting to pay for their own quantities of a very popular “Lite.” I tried to ignore their commentary on what must have been an attractive female in the store, but when I heard a fella say, “Old Man really knows good beer,” I looked back at them and said, “You guys talking ’bout ME?”

“Yeah,” said one guy, “I like your taste in beer.” Now, I really don’t mind being called old. I’m rather used to it. But I’m glad these whippersnappers weren’t being facetious about my choice in brews. I checked myself to make sure my ears were on straight and that I hadn’t heard, “Old Man doesn’t know shit about good beer.”

hatchery brook

I didn’t have to raise my macho timber. I didn’t have to make a fool of myself by saying, “Listen punk, if you wanna step outside, me and my IPA will kick your Lite Beer ass!” Instead we had a brief and sunny rap about alternatives and new choices that we make while forking up our hard-earned dollars. After that, maybe the world was just a little bit brighter. Who knows.

Kettle ledge

Actually the comment at the beer check-out made me feel more purposeful. Old age is never easy, but confidence is reassuring, especially when considering other more difficult choices that we make, those paths we’ve chosen to walk on into the future.

I’d taken a day from work to fish on Kettle Creek and to experience the Sulphur and Slate Drake hatches (not the strongest I’ve ever seen but satisfactory nonetheless). Then I’d walked into the back country of a tributary where the brook trout were willing to take almost any dry fly pattern as long as my approach was quiet and respectful. I would also fish an upper stretch of Cross Fork Creek and find it pleasantly productive.

I was making progress in my preparation to see and fish great rivers in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Once again I heard “Old Man really knows good beer.” I took it to mean more than simply a supermarket choice.

If all goes well, I’ll hit the South Platte and Frying Pan in Colorado. My wife and I will tackle a mountain peaking at 13,000 feet, but we’ll probably stop at the lake with cutthroat trout. If not now, when? We’ll move on to Wyoming’s Snake, Greys, and Gros Ventre rivers near the Tetons. We’ll try Slough Creek, once more, where the grizzly bars roam, and do a follow up on classic Montana streams, and maybe a few surprises.

Hardy/Phillipson combo

I don’t plan a strict itinerary. If an opportunity presents itself, I move toward what interests me, based on past experience and what may come of it. Financial and temporal limitations have to be considered, of course. But if I get the green light and my body says go, I’m set.

When my wife called me to dinner and I heaped the plate with fried catfish, seasoned crispy cauliflower and lemon-spiced arugula, I tasted everything with delight. The cold IPA was good accompaniment, but the dinner overall was surpassing.

It inspired me to take an evening hike up Dryden Hill to check on the fields with their bobolinks. I’ve always loved these interesting blackbirds and their bubbly song, but unfortunately they were flying low and in the distance this year. Returning down the hill, collecting some trash along the way, I paused at a clearing and listened to a wood thrush piping, and a young red fox barking harshly from a ravine. A barred owl hooted from somewhere in the valley. Then I heard a different song…

at Long Run

I hadn’t exactly given up on hearing whip-poor-wills in the East but, frankly, their numbers seem to be diminishing, and I hadn’t heard or seen one in 38 years, since my days of living near the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had hopes of encountering them again, especially since Bob Stanton played a recording of one while we were fishing on Slate Run a couple years ago. Earlier, Bob had found a whip-poor-will somewhere near his home in northern Pennsylvania. And now I was hearing one again.

Whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will…, on and on. I listened and followed as the bird moved slowly down the valley toward my house. Eventually the bird crossed the creek and started up the other hillside with its lush green forest. Losing auditory contact, I was nonetheless elated at my rediscovery. Walking toward the house as night closed in, I was about to enter when I gave one final listen. There it was again, the calling from the distance…

Whip-poor-willthe Old Man-knows-his birds… the streams-are-calling calling… I’ll-be gone-for a while… but I’ll-be back-most surely… repeat-repeat-repeat….
Everyone, have a great summer!

bear track, upper Cross Fork Creek…

bobolink fields forever! (I’d like to say, but the turbines are coming soon…)

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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22 Responses to Old Man Knows Good Beer

  1. Brent says:

    Maybe an old man, but still living it up in a way that light beer drinkers (perhaps) may not appreciate. I wonder if they imagine the “old man” competing for mountain trout with grizzlies, or hiking at 13,000 feet. (Just a heads-up: for some reason, the first picture doesn’t load when I click on it. Maybe it’s not a big deal since it’s clear enough without enlarging!)

    • Brent, it might be that they can’t imagine much beyond what stands in front of them or roams around in a store, but then, I’ll be nice and not judgmental… As for the pics, I don’t know. They’re from the Nikon this time around and I had a helluva time doing uploads, for some reason. Almost threw the damn computer out the door, but finally they came up. There might be some kind of glitch.

  2. JZ says:

    Stuck here at work trying to put something together, laugh. Old man must know something about beer if he likes IPA’s. Enjoy spending summer traveling around with your wife Walt. Its a good gig and what great companionship to share your adventures with. I hope you catch a lot of fish and find great spots to eat. Please, stay away from the bears, they can cover ground quick and get hostile even quicker. Its funny, my wife wants to stay at a Cedar Run Inn for a weekend to read, take walks and drink wine this August. She has never been there, but wants to accompany me on a fishing trip in the mountains. Ill spend some time on the creeks and with her…27 years of marriage in July, were doing something right…

    • If the trip is half as much fun as last summer’s run, JZ, it’ll be a blast. And yeah, I’ve learned to be bear wary in the Yellowstone region after a close encounter eight years ago. As for the Cedar Run prospect with your wife in August, that should be a good relaxing time. The streams should be low and clear and challenging, with plenty of rewards; and the Inn and its environs are a perfect getaway for two!.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    A refreshing post, my friend. I know that you know beer; I know too that you know much worth knowing. I was reading some passages from Streamwalker’s Journey recently and happened across your essay on the importance of idling, and consequently, reflected long on my own career as an idler during a stroll on the North Country Trail the other day. Subconsciously, it’s been my chosen path since I was a lad, I suppose. When people ask what I do for fun, I just tell ’em that I’m a “nature nerd”. It’s easier than explaining why I’m into bugs and birds, wildflowers, trees, hiking and catching fish with bits of fur and feather tied on a hook. Have a great time on your westward trip – looking forward to reading about it!

    • Bob, I like to think that we “idlers” are like the naturalists of old, who saw the world of nature reflected in themselves and who saw themselves in various degree reflected in the bugs and birds and fish and mammals and all the land forms that contained them. We may not have the nerdiness of specialized knowledge, but we know that the basics are fun and very satisfying. And you know, listening to that wandering whip-poor-will took me back to that connection you shared while climbing out of Slate! Thank you very much.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    An addendum on bears: Saw a mother with three cubs tonight on a drive around the Allegheny reservoir. The cubs scampered up a tree while mom watched apprehensively as I failed miserably to get a picture. As we drove past, she reared up on hind legs from about five yards away, ready to subdue any threat we might have posed. Potentially hairy (har, har) situation but picturesque as all get out.

    • Awesome. I’ve seen a sow rear up once or twice before. But never as close as this encounter! We were talking about bear families last night. I haven’t seen one yet this season. Maybe soon.

  5. Dale says:

    Hi Walt
    Hey have fun on your trip ! I used to hunt elk over near the frying pan camped over in the white river natal forest.
    Have a safe trip.


  6. plaidcamper says:

    Enjoyed this one, Walt! Looks like you’ve an excellent summer lined up in front of you. A road trip, fishing trip, beer run and the right companion to enjoy it all – have a blast, and may all the bear encounters be at a distance. Saw my first of this season the other day, as it strolled out of the forest and over the road without so much as a glance in my direction. Purposeful.
    Keen eyesight, excellent hearing, can tackle mountain hikes, and good taste in beer? Doesn’t seem old to me…
    Safe and happy travels!

  7. Another very nice story Walt. You make it look so easy. Enjoy your trip out West!

  8. Ross says:

    Enjoyed your post Walt. Beautiful streams the Kettle & Cross Fork. Great luck to hear the whippoorwill. Enjoy your trip out west, sounds like a wonderful time.

    • Those streams are flowing gems, as you know. Thank you, Ross, for the comment and for mentioning the whippoorwill too. The bird used to be fairly common in the area of these streams. Enjoy your summer, my friend.

  9. loydtruss says:

    I remember listening to the sound of the Whip-poor-will at dusk on the back porch of our country home as a little boy with my Dad. Funny I haven’t its sound since leaving our old home place. I would imagine the Whip-poor-will is still making that wonderful sound in the woods there.
    I could see a hungry brown nailing a dry near the Kettle Ledge. Looking forward to a few reports while fishing in paradise—-stay safe and many tight lines!!! Thanks for sharing a great post

  10. Thank you, Bill. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks, too, for that whip-poor-will memory from youth. May it always be heard.

  11. Les Kish says:

    Have a safe and fun trip Walt. We’ve still got high water. That’s the bad news. Good news is that we’ve still got water. By the time that you make it to Montana the creeks and rivers should be running just about right.

    • Thanks Les. I’m in CO at the moment and hoping for the best. Rivers kind of low but pleasant. Looking forward to the northward run. Good luck with your fishing this summer!

  12. Anonymous says:

    You know what, Walt–and not that I am surprised–but your writing can really catch me off guard. I can’t explain it, but I found this piece very moving. A perfect balance between the mundane or normal day-to-day aspects of life and an outward-looking wonder and hope. A lovely grouping of contrasts that pull attention in this direction and then that direction, but all in the perfect ways.
    And to top it off, eloquently illustrating that aging isn’t something to fear. Instead, aging brings an awareness of and appreciation for life in nature. And for good beer.

  13. Catherine, I’m glad that “Beer” caught your attention and that you got through here with your thoughtful comment. When we’re lucky, age brings an occasional moment of clarity representing the pull and push of contrasts. If I captured it here, I’m pleased, especially since you found it too.

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