Fishing the Lost Terrain

I’ve got this notion of a “lost terrain” and think I might discover it through my wanderings. Hiking with a walking stick or fishing with an artificial fly, I imagine there’s a special place that’s close at hand, mysterious but attainable with a mix of luck and effort. It could be a sanctuary with a natural contour that’s beyond all human constructs.

Trillium’s natural contours– 3 petals, 3 sepals, 3 leaves…

I might hike to see it from a ridge top; I might catch it with another long cast of the line or stumble on it while inspecting riffles up around the bend. I’ll listen to an unfamiliar bird song or inspect the colors of a brook trout in my hand. It’s there– something that beckons the inquisitive spirit from the heart of wildness or the realms of backyard nature.

from the heart of wildness & back…

Voices seem to call us from the landscape. They might speak to us of freedom and of wildness, matters that are only words to most of us. If we heed the voices and proceed in their direction, we’ll be stopped– unless we’re careful and acknowledge our humility. Almost by definition, the lost terrain cannot be found, and yet it’s there. My effort to unveil it might be just an after-thought that follows outdoor recreation. It might feel imminent but unavailable through conscious effort. I think of the terrain as uncivil ground, an entity unto itself, indifferent to our cares and wishes.

uncivil & indifferent, tumbling into Slate Run from… beyond…

In the quiet woods, beside an ocean dune or windswept lake, in the recess of a mountain slope or upon a river valley, there are places that were home to us before the rise of civilization. They call to our modern lives through dreams or kindred spirits of the wild. Our hunting, fishing, hiking, and exploring are activities that strive to keep us on the path to our original home.

such were the places… a gray day on the Middle Branch Genesee…

Occasionally the lost terrain seems underneath our noses. It’s paradise regained, or as close to paradise as we will ever get. The gritty, chartered streets of William Blake’s “London” (1794) seem in synch with an ethereal “Waterloo Sunset” of the Kinks (1967). We’ve absorbed a wider view of home by catching fish or by feeding dried wood to a campfire at the dark end of a trail.

underneath our noses… nymph emerges from the lost terrain…

Our “home” might be found by rambling on Thoreau’s  “Old Marlborough Road”:

“When spring stirs my blood/ With the instinct to travel,/ I can get enough gravel/ On the old Marlborough Road… If with fancy unfurled/ You leave your abode/ You may go round the world/ By the old Marlborough Road.”

hatching mayflies (E. subvaria) covered the Conhocton River one afternoon…

We’ve hit the river or the trail, thinking to find a place of interest. We’ve discovered that  enjoyment of a lost terrain is proportional to the effort made in getting there. We’ve found it, surely, but there’s more. There is always more.

clouds were spitting snow, but fishing was good on the East Branch Genesee…

leaves of Trout Lily echo the brookie’s back…

friends from the lost terrain…

friend Jim K. approaches a mountain pool….

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 Fishing the Lost Terrain

  1. Wickes says:

    Superb entry. Thanks, once again.
    Warm regards,

  2. plaidcamper says:

    I enjoyed this – as always – and particularly liked the thought of terrain being uncivil and indifferent. Puts us in our place…
    Thanks, Walt, for sharing your efforts in searching for the lost terrain.

  3. Peter says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

  4. Brent says:

    To my mind, one of the great human tragedies is that, seemingly alone of all species, we can’t accept the “uncivil and indifferent” terrain and meet it on its own terms. Even those of us who are most conscious of our species’ unreasonable demands, and actively consider the implications of our Earth citizenship, are occasionally guilty of asking the terrain to bend itself to our will.

    • That’s it. I don’t think there is another species so unwilling or incapable of dealing with its own broad nature. When the mind’s at ease and we are capable of delving, wonders can occur. Sadly, though, the lost terrain is more often ignored or abused.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Always on the lookout for it, though I tend to term it “the last good country,” with a nod to Papa H. It’s what drives me – even as a kid, I would go as far into the woods as I could to get that taut, “high lonesome” feeling and see what I could see. I’ll email you soon with my upcoming days off if you want to do the Long Run thing we’d talked about last fall.

    • Bob, thanks for making that Hemingway connection. Wish I’d thought of it, remembered it. B/t/w, you got a comment yesterday on your post. I mentioned that I would pass it along to you. And yeah, email so maybe we can get an expedition on the calendar.

  6. loydtruss says:

    Nice images especially the mountain pool images, just curious did Jim take a trout from its waters? Thanks for sharing

    • Bill, This pool is often productive for brook trout but on this occasion both of us struck out here. Ironically, a hatch occurred just after, while we were on another stretch, and then the catching began.

  7. JZ says:

    Have not been lost in awhile Walt. While I would welcome the terrain, things have been quite busy. The high water marks have seen there time and chores and work have seen high times too. Still, there will be plenty of time for me in the weeks and months ahead to lay down a line. The creeks will be there hidden between the peaks that shelter and hold the brooks. I’ll make my way as I usually do, fly rod in hand, and hope to spy glimpses of spectacular wonderment that abounds. Thank God for those places Walt!

    • There you are, JZ. I’m glad you’re staying within the high water marks and not getting too lost amidst all the rain and job responsibilities. Take good care, and I’ll join you there in spirit, ambling through the trouty shadows of the lost terrain– refound!

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