The Wild Boy Cycle, 1870

Winter: Klukey died in a bear trap he had set near Kettle Creek. Klukey died three miles from his cabin, wandering in the deep snow till his feet accidently struck the pan. Those jaws sprang up– held him through the pain, the cold, the nights and days, the hunger. Held him as the eyes of wolf and bear drew near. Hunters found old Klukey’s bones– clean and scattered, with bits of skull and hair and beard. Those iron jaws gnawed at his feet and lower legs, held him like society had held him till, at last, he came to the Kettle to hunt and trap for 40 years, alone. They found my old friend’s bones. Near the hatchet that he loved, near the pocket watch that never stopped its ticking.

Spring: Wish that I could fish like Henry Glassmire. Henry’s got only one arm. Left his other on the battlefield, but he fishes like a madman. Baits his hook by holding it to a stone with his boot. If no rock’s available, he holds the hook between his teeth and threads the worm. A strong taste of garden worm? So what. He’s good. He fought for the Yanks, and really, it’s nobody’s business but his own.

Wish I had the good sense of the Jordans. John and Maryanne, up in Jemison Hollow, my East Fork “neighbors.” John once poled a year’s supply of goods from the Susquehanna. A keg of whiskey and a half-barrel of flour had a fine ride on his boat. Why the hell did you haul so much flour? quipped Maryanne. They know the value of a well-aged drink. For raising a barn, collecting logs, and purifying the blood.

Summer: A few summers back, the East Fork had a dam right here, the flood-trash forcing water through the branches and around its ends. It formed a beautiful pool, a home for a large trout that several people wanted. Trees and brush overhung the pool, so there was no way to fish for that trout except from the tricky dam, itself.

The fish was in plain sight but he was smart. Ignored my “stone fish” and the worms that floated toward his nose. I’d cast a fly–  the trout would dart off to the side. I tried to catch him for about two hours till I saw the light and changed my ways. A cricket chirped and grasshoppers leapt along the bank. I walked to the meadow and collected hoppers.

Stepping back on the dam, I waited, then flipped a hopper to catch his eye. Another and another, till at last the great trout rose and splashed and gobbled one. I baited my hook, slowly and carefully, and gave him time to think about the taste. I tossed the hook and… whoosh! He rose. I lost my balance, slid off into waist-deep water and lumbered away– toward the far end so he wouldn’t tangle in the roots or flood debris. I worked him slowly to a gravel bar. Pulled him out and held him in my shaking hands. So handsome, this fruit of my labors. The only fish I caught that day.

Fall: I venture to my homestead boundary, to the fence-line edge of useful things. I find some Vinland vines, fox grapes, hanging in tight blue clusters.

Juice breaks out of dusty skins; the globules are eaten from hand, their taste as colorful as autumn’s palette, waving on the tongue like Viking spirits.

Here the waxwings feed by day, and the red fox passes at night. I venture toward the limits of knowledge, tasting the wild grapes, late summer fruit. I’ll jump the back fence of experience– before the frosts of autumn come, before the winter bones start creaking.


Too late for the run of autumn browns on Naples Creek (11/18/19), I caught only bunches of these little streambred ‘bows…

An 80-year-old South Bend 359 at rest… A “rescue rod,” I bought it 20 years ago from an “abusive owner”– note the hook marks in the cork handle…

No wild boy or modern super-hero is gonna harness the energy of this waterfall…

Jim caught the only fish on our recent afternoon outing, a fine landlocked salmon.


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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16 Responses to The Wild Boy Cycle, 1870

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    Wow! Some of those passages – ” to the fence line edge of useful things…”, ” waving on the tongue like Viking spirits,” ” I venture towards the limits of knowledge… I’ll jump the back fence of experience…” blew me away, poetic and image-conjuring. Thanks, Walt!

    • I’m glad these struck home with you, Bob. These autumn lines of poetry bring me closer to that Wild Boy theme, at least I hoped to have closed the gap a bit. I appreciate it, and still hope to get out fishing in PA with you, but it’s hard to figure a place & time. And weather is more of a factor now, but we’ll get there.

  2. Dino Cappuzzo says:

    Nice Walt, I enjoyed that. Especially the first and last “Winter” and “Fall.” I enjoy fiction/poetry that conjures imagery, especially when it’s tied to a historic time period. And the connection to fly fishing is an added bonus. Would I love to see Steuben County in 1870, how different it was then, eh? No wind towers on the ridges and hills. I visit your blog often, although in full disclosure I don’t often agree with you when you veer off into political thoughts, but hey, it’s your blog. Another reason I visit is I believe you live not far from my folks, and my uncle, who reside on top of Bronson Hill in Wayland. A precious place to me, but alas, I live 500 miles south in Virginia now.

    • Dino, great to hear from you! Especially since you know my home ground and also have a real-life connection to Virginia, which I often visit & write about. Where about in the Old Dominion State? It’s funny, you mention how different the times are, 1870 to the present, in this rural location. I was just through Wayland yesterday & took stock once more of those big turbines on the ridges, and reflected on how they’re coming closer & closer to home. Yeah, I guess my politics is kind of anarchistic but I do see the need for federal legislation especially in the environmental field. I try not to get too heavy with it. Anyway, I’m pleased to hear from you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I hope that you stay in touch.

  3. Brent says:

    I’m curious where you came across the old stories of Klukey, Henry, and the Jordans to weave into this tale about the passage of time. Sometimes I wonder if we’re all just one or two steps away from stumbling into a bear trap that we set ourselves.

    • These characters are fiction, although the germ of each “event/experience” is real, with an anchor in an old historical book of Potter County, PA. For example, there really was a guy who stepped into his bear trap set along Kettle Creek in the winter. I changed his name & tried to imagine what it was like to die there like that, an old trapper friend of the Wild Boy who lived alone a few ridges over from him in that time period. And yes, in my estimation, too, that bear trap carries some symbolic weight… Ouch!

  4. Jet Eliot says:

    Truly fascinating accounts you’ve written, Walt, and much appreciated. Your 1870 theme held together well, characters very real and whole (not easy to do in short fiction), and the pace was a handsome clip. My favorite was the Summer with the smart trout and the hoppers. Also enjoyed the photos, especially the waterfall and Jim with his prize. Thanks for this entertaining post.

  5. plaidcamper says:

    I’ve an idea I’ll be troubled tonight, falling asleep thinking about old Klukey’s demise. A tough way to go, and I see above you were inspired by real events. Only too possible, and maybe whiskey played a part…
    Fabulous tales, I thoroughly enjoyed reading these – will there be more, an extended Wild Boy collection?
    Thanks, Walt!

    • It was a grizzly way to go (sorry, black bear) for sure, Adam. And you’re right, whiskey may have played a part. Anyway, I thank you for this, and maybe for planting a seed of inspiration for an extended collection. Hmm….

  6. JZ says:

    The images and scenes you poetically tossed around here were masterly written. I particularly liked, “Those iron jaws gnawed at his feet and lower legs, held him like society had held him till, at last, he came to the Kettle to hunt and trap for 40 years, alone”. That’s bone chilling stuff there, if I don’t say! As always Walt, simply love your blog and you often brighten my day reading your pieces. Its kinda magical in a way. You have a wonderful talent and you write about things I embrace. Fishing , wildlife and woods. Plus you carry a bamboo rod, like I do, rambling through your adventures..

    • Always great to have you on board here, JZ, and when I read your detailed response about the bone-chilling stuff peppered with the words “kinda magical in a way” I perk right up as if from a mug of Wild Boy coffee! Thanks pal, and here’s to a happy & healthy holiday season to you & yours & the bamboo wands, as well.

  7. Anonymous says:

    ‘Wild Boy, a Collection of Short Stories by Walt ………..’ – Now there’s a book I’d buy. 😉
    Good stuff Walt!
    I read something titled similarly to ’50 ears a trapper and Hunter’ (to paraphrase the title) within the last year or so. They spoke of setting dead fall traps for black bear. I think that was outlawed some time though after the era the writer had used them. To think that someone would hike regularly up and down the mountains there in PA to hunt (Market Hunt no doubt) for deer and bear – as a way of making a living – just blows my mind – just a little bit. Conjures up the notion of what it must have been like doesn’t it? Wait a sec, no, Walt just did that here didn’t he? Nice!
    Mr. Stanton – the recipe for the Bleeding Heart is much appreciated. I’ve tied a few and posted them over on the Slate Run Sportsmen website under the BLOG tab, then Flies and Fly Tying tab. The March Brown variant doesn’t stand up to my level of scrutiny but, as they say, it’ll catch a fish I think.
    UB (awaits Walt’s new book ‘Wild Boy, a Collection of……..’)

    • UB, I like the “Wild Boy” suggestion & will keep it in mind… Who knows, maybe some year down the road (and up the mountain, if I can still climb).Yes, Fifty Years a Hunter and Trapper chronicles a very different era of our PA history in the wild. Market hunting, long hikes over hill & dale (when not only bears climbed over the mountains), slaughter, deforestation, fire, etc., seemed commonplace. Our impacts today aren’t necessarily more “civilized.” As for the Bleeding Heart recipe, I’m glad you found it useful & worthy of trying out. I’ll pass this along to Bob Stanton, who will probably find it interesting. Thanks again, Marion.

  8. tiostib says:

    Always a treat to listen to your poetic narratives, this one especially so.

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