A Small Stream Fantasy

At last the upstate temperature had risen into the 50s, and snow-melt rushed down from the hills. In this topsy-turvy world of climate change, the New York weather might now be warmer (again) than the winds of Barrow, Alaska. Oh, cold weather would return in a night or two, but I couldn’t complain (too much). 23 Canada geese battled northward underneath the rushing clouds; a few robins and sparrows flitted from grove to grove; the signs of spring were slow to arrive.

Winter still ice-bound in our little waterfall…

My impatience for the change of season was an indication of my own advancing years, no doubt, and its vehicle seemed to come here in the form of small stream fantasies, that itch to be near the water once again, with fly rod in hand, and with new dreams as a highway to spring.

Spring fantasy in an old discarded bottle…

Recently I’d been thwarted from a mountain stream in Pennsylvania because of deep snow on the long walk to the water; I was turned down from an outing up at Spring Creek in New York by sudden winds and an apparent lack of trout; my sense of freedom felt the pang of discontent and the presence of a barrier that would not dissolve or break away. Sure, I could fight the “shack nasties” by staying home and reading books, tying flies and taking weekend hikes, as I had done since early January, but man, I had to stop complaining and get a grip on seasonal progress.

Thwarted from a PA mountain stream…

I knew the Green was out there, just beyond my grasp. The fantasy might corral it– the belief that the season will arrive as it always has, in due time, without the cold and snow, the grayness and the bodily afflictions. The beauty of the dream is this: when it’s actualized it won’t look the way that I imagined it. The range between reality and dream exceeds our expectations. That’s not a bad thing, when you think about it– without the range there’d be little to define our individuality. Patience and humility are difficult subjects to grasp and assimilate.

Caledonia (Seth Green) fish hatchery, oldest in the land…

The fantasy is generic and doesn’t name the streams and rivers to be fished, or the trails to be walked in getting there. The land and waters might belong to non-human realms, to the birds and fishes and forests of our dreams, but they’re extremely vital and are linked directly to the Quest. We’re rooted in a larger sphere of beings, and to acknowledge that world and appreciate its beauty, all we need to do is get immersed, to seek the slightly different angle in the track of the familiar. As Thoreau said, move yourself a hair’s breath from the path of usual routine and you’ll find yourself with a fresh enchanted view, the small stream fantasy actualized.

Looking down on Spring Creek where I saw two large brown trout, very mobile & uninterested in a fisherman’s pursuit…

“Beauty and music are not mere traits and exceptions,” he said. “They are the rule and character…” We get a sense of our place in the universe, the larger community of life. The voices from the land and water merge with human voices when their speakers capture our imaginations. We listen as if from a timeless space because the sounds are ancient and mysterious, present and alive.

Pinus strobus, favorite evergreen leaf & cone…

A recent comment at this blog expressed a reader’s wish that the phoebe would soon return to his haunts on Fall Creek in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. I responded by saying that it won’t be long; the flycatcher would soon arrive. The reader’s comment reminded me of a poem included in my chapbook called Rootwork & Other Poems. Here’s the first of four sections in the poem called “From the High Hills to the Bay”:

“We’re awakened in a late March dawn/ By the phoebe flown in from the South,/ Rasping from walnut boughs above the shed./ Phoebes, feathered spirits of the place,/ Have nested here even in the empty/ Interim years between former inhabitants/ And our own arrival years ago./ Already they’ve begun to reconstruct the/ Fraying nest still glued beneath the eaves./ They teach us how to live here, how to know/ A place as they might know it homing in blood/ Through a northward passage in cold night./ Although each autumn’s silence wings them south,/ Phoebes hold to knowledge of return….”

Franklynisa fungi, growing on a fallen birch limb in the backyard…

A small stream fantasy helps to reinforce my sense of place, of where I live, and what I hope to achieve. The lands and waters will be opened once again, despite my current qualms and pessimism. I will feel like I belong there once again. I’ll add my voice to the province of the wild, to its plants and animals and their foothill homes. A new season can’t be far away.

Genesee River, waiting for the ice to move…

Flowers in the cavity shout to my skunk cabbage fixation– Happy Spring!

Waterfall break-up, east-bound & down, heading for the Equinox, at last!

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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12 Responses to A Small Stream Fantasy

  1. Brent says:

    This is beautiful writing. You’ve managed to express how I’m feeling when I (much to C’s vexation) often fixate on planning a new place to explore, even when we haven’t yet embarked on the trip that’s closest for us. I still can’t help poring over maps, reading about trails to be explored, and admiring pictures of beautiful scenery that I haven’t yet taken in. It doesn’t necessarily matter where–the fantasy is often generic, as you wrote, and it’s merely the knowledge that something of beauty is out there wanting me to get to know it better.

    On another note, I liked the humor of the “Franklynisa fungi” scientific name, as well as the symmetry of framing this post with progressive pictures of the little waterfall!

    • Thanks Brent. I figured you, being the original Map Reader, would get the gist of this quite readily. Poring over the maps, wherever they might lead, comes easily as the land and waters open up (or as politics & economics work to keep our “winter of discontent” inside their grasp), and we can dream of exploration….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this! What a great read. I felt as if I was there. I could see and smell things and hear things along with you. THANK YOU!

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Won’t be long now, as the equinox looms, harbinger of all things dreamt of this long, crushing winter. Spent the day driving around northwest Pennsylvania, checking on trout streams big and small, preparing a mental checklist of flies to be tied, gear to be readied and trips to be planned. Mission: Salvation through salvelinus (salmo will work in a pinch).

  4. plaidcamper says:

    I hope you find yourself soon escaping the tight grasp of your long winter – the yearning and dreaming will keep you warm enough until then, and patience will be rewarded! I’ll admit for me that it isn’t really patience, more a resigned acknowledgement that the time passes regardless of desire. Still, your time spent planning hikes, poring over maps, tying flies, and sharing your earlier lines is a good way to get past those “shack nasties” and prepare for the green. Thanks for this one, Walt, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  5. Mark Wittman says:

    Thanks Walt, I enjoyed reading that this morning. I could do with a little less fantasy and a little more actual small stream experience right about now!

  6. loydtruss says:

    As always your post are so realistic; hopefully winter in your area is finally coming to an end and you can take Chester on some fantastic trips soon. Thanks for sharing

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