Wild Chemung

1.  Trails.  Chemung– a river in the large Susquehanna watershed of New York State and Pennsylvania. A place of towns and cities, Corning and Elmira, linked to farm communities, even to pockets of wildness, vestiges of pre-colonial America.

Looking back– low mountains wild with “game lands” and a bit of public access. Seven miles of trail for recreation. Two miles into the forest, I recalled a fishing jaunt for smallmouth in the river just below a major bridge near Corning. Stone and concrete rained down from the bridge’s underside, spattering water like a hail of bullets. I got out of there then took a phone call from my wife. An earthquake had rippled northward from Virginia. Our technology and hubris, our shields from the “acts of God,” were not as impenetrable as we’d thought. The Earth, after all, was alive and breathing.

Soon the wild Chemung diffused the traffic sounds, replacing them with water, wind and birds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks perched in a solitary maple functioning as a rest stop on their late migration. Sun reflected from these black-and-white songsters, drawing the eye especially to the rose-red plumage of the males. Eventually I came to a stony outcrop overlooking the river valley. There a timber rattlesnake, large and brown, sunned itself beside a crop of violets, raising the pulse of wildness to the surface of my skin.

Returning to the sadly broken world, I flushed a bald eagle from a field’s edge where it fed on road-killed deer deposited by government workers. It flew toward the river and its promise of a fresher meal. Each pocket of the wild connects us to a universal nature. We can try to harness and control our world, assault it with machinery and logic, but the hope for peace and natural beauty will remain– a feather wafting slowly on the breeze.

2.  The David. We stumbled in, not quite knowing what it was. Yeah, The David’s neon glow, its name, its fine location on a brick road lined with boarded architecture.

Something other than our wisdom told us this was not another biker bar. A line of dour-looking drinkers studied our approach– in ragged jeans and jackets of uncertainty.

With a beer in hand, we walked toward a quiet, nebulous den at the back of the establishment. We could play pool there underneath a low-hung chandelier, an ornament that might have passed review in a grand hotel, but looked ridiculous among the graphic posters nailed to plywood walls. Whoa! … A blast of cruel guitar notes slammed us to an island of complete sobriety. A globe light spun alive and washed us in a sea of colors.

Welcome to The David! Welcome to Michelangelo’s sculpture, rising to perfection out of marble– body so composed, so tense, titanic, anticipatory, and, for local purposes, entirely naked! We were stranded, dazed, until the bartender strode to our rescue and controlled the speaker’s volume.           Image result for Michelangelo's David Scale

In appreciation, we brightened the chandelier for billiard action underneath the watchful eye of public-service posters pushing condom use. One poster showed a modern Adam with a coil of chain where the fig leaf should have been. Afterward, we joined the bar and took stock of our company.

An obese fellow sat alone with his drink. A white youth and an older black man stood together, speaking and occasionally groping at flesh. Two women sat in a booth and whispered face to face. With beers consumed, we dropped our redneck ways and exited The David. The old brick road led outward to the boulevards of revelation.

So, welcome to the corner bars of Earth! To the realms of black and white, of East and West, of Mexico and Canada, of communion and conviviality, of Irish pub and topless bar, of opium saloon and geisha lounge… From The David to The Boar’s Nest to The Lions’ Den, from refuge to refuge, far from the madding crowd… We could tour the great night of Chemung and sculpt new memory– like Michelangelo at his marble– if we did it right. If we toured it artfully, careful not to sculpt a masterpiece of trouble with the blade of stupid drunkenness.

3.  Emily’s Tale. My name is Emily. Last name doesn’t matter. Came from Michigan to Elmira to be closer to my daughter, and farther from my marriage and divorce. When I was little I had blondish pig-tails. Liked to sit with my dad at shows featuring Lenny Bruce. Got theater-trained and played in TV soaps. Later, did stand-up comedy but didn’t really like it. I got lonely. Friends said, try the singles’ bars and make them happen. Huh! All I’d do for their horny studs is brand ’em with my insults. What I’d like to work again is theater, but I’m 40 now, and these crows’ feet ’round the eyes won’t help me much.

I do write poetry. Reams of it. I went to a reading the other night. Afterward, met the featured poet at a neighboring bar. I asked him if he published much. He had. Would he like to read some poems I’d written? Sure. He gave me an address. I would send him work. Oh, the drinks were really good. He got excited. Me? I felt like a goddess turned from Hell to languish in some paradise. Was he married? I didn’t ask. Was it friendship I needed, or just someone who could save my poems?

We stepped out to the open air and locked our lips as one, you know? Man, I was rising from the mud, from dungeon to steeple, from an old self to a woman in revision. But– it couldn’t last. I said, “I’ll send some poems. Be honest with me, and please– no bullshit.” Yeah, that was it. He had miles to go. Then it dawned on me. I’d never told him my last name! Well, it doesn’t matter now. Maybe saying “Emily” was enough.

I won’t ever write him. I have poems that wait for me alone. I’ve got a daughter who I love.

Pine Creek headwaters, 1.12.20…

Spring, Pine Creek headwaters, 1.12.20…

Bootleg Hollow Creek, 1.19.20.

Bonus pic: Tim, w/ Atlantic salmon from our 2nd trip north this month. Unfortunately, photo doesn’t do the kyped salmon much justice…

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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15 Responses to Wild Chemung

  1. plaidcamper says:

    A good mix this, Walt, two hearted and two spirited, in the best way, with all manner of life present, absurd and not so absurd. Thanks!

  2. tiostib says:

    Thanks for the richly colored picture of a small piece of America, teh perfect antidote to an otherwise gray winter day.

  3. Brent says:

    I’ve really enjoyed these recent forays into character sketches that complement the ecological themes. The people and characters who inhabit a place round out its ecology, for better or for worse, and including them offers a more comprehensive picture of a time and place.

  4. JZ says:

    Great writing Walt. I got lost in the David, although it reminded me of my tour in Japan where I was lost & found. Coming out of the field in Korea and being blitzed by a city of lights where everything goes. Keep your senses behind the bottle and watch your comrades is what we all did. I love this style of writing! Its like a warm brownie double dipped along-side vanilla ice cream. Keep it coming..

    • Thank you, JZ! Yes the likes of The David are an easy place to get lost in, whether we go there accidently (as in this case) or by design. Human nature, being what it is, can be a maze of both positive & negative stimuli, and sometimes it just helps to go with their flow & learn a thing or two, and maybe enjoy… I’m glad you had a double-dip tasting here!

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Yes, yes, yes! As Brent said, the character sketches “flesh out” the theme. Human history and natural history are forever interwoven.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The brewery for the ‘Two Hearted Ale’ is about 30 minutes away – in Kalamazoo. I’ve never partaken – as I’ve probably said in the past, I’m more of a 12 year old Scotch sort. Had a friend from PA come visit once a few years ago. Took him over there and he got a ‘sampler’ of their assorted product. He didn’t complain.
    Those headwaters look inviting.
    The separation in the hands on the Salmon pic adds scale and ultimately, veneration (was going to say ‘awe’ but googled, preemptively, and mended my ways).

    • ‘Awe,’ thanks, UB. It sounds like you live close to the source of one of my ‘go to’ commercial beers, the one that often puts me in a kind of Hemingway mood, and tastes pretty darn good, to boot. It might even go well with some 12-year-old Scotch. Anyway, I like living pretty close to the headwaters of Pine– always “inviting,” as you say.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I did chuckle in your use of ‘awe’. take care – UB

  8. Anonymous says:

    Pine Creek is one of those streams that makes us all appreciate the art of angling. Great read, thanks for sharing

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