Autumn Run: Four Strands

1/ The first full day of autumn brought the usual blend of premonition and seasonal promise. I drove to Lyman Run, thankful for the sweatshirt on a morning as chilly as the John Cale tunes, like “Fear is a Man’s Best Friend,” that I was listening to. Yeah, the hot summer days were fading now, replaced slowly by a “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” a John Keats tune. A recent storm had ushered in the cold front. Air and water temperatures along Lyman Run would peak at around the 50-degree (F.) mark, equalized like the lengths of daylight and night-time hours on this date. I quickly caught a wild brown trout with a dry fly floating on a feeder stream, but the main stem of Lyman Run was not yet energized or productive.

2/ I love the deep woods for the way the forest brings the ego to its knees, and for the way it reconstructs a balance in the seeker of solitude, the wanderer who needs to see the wild resurface in his or her life. I love the deep woods for the magic that’s imparted there, and for the hint of danger, too. The act of balancing the wild and civil elements within the self may be only short-lived but, as long as tumbling water sings of rocky passages or the wind strums its way across the hemlock boughs, the balance there is real.

3/ My late September visit to the West Branch Genesee responded to the sudden clarity of air and water, but there was little to remind me of a similar visit at the same time, 31 years ago. I wrote a poem then (from The Wild Trout (1989), including these fragments: “September willows/ line the banks and mask/ the corn fields and the woods./ Raccoons leave gnawed cobs/ and pawprints. Muskrats lengthen trails/ beneath the asters/… Three brook trout/ seize the fly./ Fog regains the valley./ Twig by twig/ the silent birds/ move south.” There’s little animal sign today. No brook trout appear. A singular vireo flutters silently. At least one hatchery brown and a rainbow have survived the summer heat and flooding waters. Best of all, I came close to landing a big brown in the wild section, after it rushed a Prince nymph from a hide-out in a great white pine tree’s undercut.

4/ With the intentness of a heron staring through the pond scum in the rain, I fished a favorite mountain brook for native trout and found what I was hoping for. The wild stream was flowing full but clear, and the brookies were eager to seize a drifting nymph or a floating dry. I fished upstream through the state forest for about two hours, catching and releasing numerous trout. The fish ranged from small young-of-the-year (a good sign) to hefty adults with spawning hues, prepared to dance the gravel beds in water song, the work of continuity and survival of their kind. September closed its shop here, balanced on the slopes between two seasons, but with autumn coloring the spirit in shades of a wood duck’s intricate plumage, a brook trout’s speckled sides.

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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13 Responses to Autumn Run: Four Strands

  1. Brent says:

    Did you intend that the orange belly of the brook trout, contrasted with the green and brown of its back, would echo your theme of emerging autumn? If not, it’s a happy visual coincidence. A nice piece to lead us into one of my favorite times of year.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    I enjoyed weaving in and out of these strands. Your lines, those from Keats, and the ringing notes from river and forest made for a fine words and music combination.
    Beautiful photographs of fish and streams, really showcasing early autumnal delights – I hope the fall season continues to be a good one for you.
    Thanks, Walt!

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Nice post – Keats and Cale! I was watching some clips from the Velvet Underground’s ’93 reunion gig the other day. What a band. Daily woods walks are what the doctor ordered, though I have mixed sentiments about fall. It’s a complicated season.

    • Yes and yes to VU. And those daily woods walks are especially important to me now, albeit very short walks. They’re sweet but you can feel time slipping away… Thanks, my friend.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Nice post that stirred my wild beating heart a little. I’m ditching work tomorrow and heading northeast with a friend to some little wild place tucked hidden in the hills. Great pictures Walt! Can’t wait to see them specks of color against a wilderness background. Have not touched water since Sept 19th and it’s killing me inside. It is especially magnificent in the fall when fishing small streams for Brooks. The rustling wind through the tree leaves that sound like the old baggy parachute pants I wore when running in my youth. The deep smell of mossy earth that lingers in the air on a quite pool. Not to mention the cool brisk mornings and days that beat a day bushwhacking in the heat. I am glad you have enjoyed your outings Walt. Especially like line 2 in your written excursion blog. It keeps the faith faithful.. Semper Fi from this old salty Marine and loved those pictures..

    • Thank you, dear Anonymous Old Salty, for the kindness here. I know what you mean; it’s hard to stay tethered on the job when the wild breezes and the brook trout come calling in early autumn. Here’s hoping you guys have a great outing in the northern hills. It looks like the weather might be brightening around here, at last, and that should spur some wild trout action and some corresponding heat in the old bloodstream. Keep in touch, and keep the faith with Mother Nature!

  5. JZ says:

    Sorry Walt, that was JZ. fished yesterday on what I thought was Billings Branch. Nope, fished Big Spring Brook until it faded out a mile up the hollow. Two separate underground springs that meet at a fork close to the mouth of Kettle. My friend missed 4 and I missed 2 on that gradient stretch. We then fished the beaver dams down below on Kettle. That’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t on Billings Branch earlier after seeing that water pouring over a rather high embankment at the twisting braids (LOL). To my surprise, it was just above the beaver dams and the unnamed tributary that crosses under the road into Kettle. This is what happens when you show-up at your long time fishing friends house at 4:15 am and say “where do you want to fish” (LOL). Spur of the moment decision making without prior night map reading. We both know the area, but not all precise specifics. Over time, we fished Sliders, Cherry, Germania and now Big Spring Brook (LOL). Yep, there is a creek on my hit list that is class A and runs 2.5 miles that needs to fished. Just want to make sure the PFBC has got it right…Semper Fi

    • JZ, I had a sneaking suspicion! Glad you figured out that tricky upper Kettle watershed… I’d be there myself this weekend, but I’m on the Atlantic, in Rhode Island. Will hopefully visit the upper Kettle next weekend, before you guys educate all the trout!

  6. Jet Eliot says:

    Such a joy to be here, Walt, your photos and words, a true pleasure. I especially liked #2, an ode to the deep woods and all that they do for us.

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