Common Sense is Like Running Water

Moss Lake…

I have a new book of poetry just released from FootHills Publishing in Kanona, New York. From the High Hills to the Bay is a 72-page hand-sewn book with spine– pretty cool, even though I understand that poetry is not a favorite genre for most of us. But modern poetry doesn’t have to be abstract and unemotional, out-of-touch or lacking good sense. Take one poem, for example, the book’s “Common Sense is Like Running Water”:

When straying from the path without/ A compass, even the game trails fade./ In dense fog and fern, the beauty/ Of a wilderness ridge is palpable/ But mind and map sing different tunes./ The notion to get back before/ Darkness overwhelms your heart/ Slowly fills the mind and takes/ A crazed possession of the peace/ You sought and found. Forgotten facts:/ Common sense is like running water./ In each hollow lies the brook/ Whose flowing song will lead you home.

on the mat of the carnivorous…

My wife and I recently visited Moss Lake, a remnant of the glacial age, in the Allegheny foothills of New York. Moss Lake is a classic kettle bog with open water and a quaking mat. There is no feeder stream or outflow to the lake. The water’s 12-foot depth covers another 12-foot depth of peat (the incomplete decomposition of plant matter). The lake’s original 24-foot depth of water is slowly filling with decayed vegetation resulting in low levels of dissolved oxygen and a high acidic value.

Since acidic water inhibits bacteria from breaking down and fully decomposing plant matter, Moss Lake has little of the nutrients typically found in freshwater ecosystems. In place of our common wetland species, the lake has insectivorous pitcher plants and sundews that flourish on the bog mat. These carnivorous species can be studied from a boardwalk, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy that monitors the water and its forested margins.


No stream flows in or out of Moss Lake but its stillness brims with wild nature. For many outdoor people, a meandering flow (along with lakes and oceans) is easier to relate to than a bogged-down ecosystem laden with insect-eating plants. But all of these forms are good; they’re all essential elements of life on Earth. Like literature and its varied genres, these creations can invite us to a realm of beauty and enjoyment.

osprey nest at roadside…

Flowing water always seems to beckon. Just before a recent evening on the stream, my friend Tim pointed out an osprey nest overlooking the Conhocton River Valley. We would soon be near the river’s tinted pools and riffles. I would note the arrowhead plants  directing thoughts to the world of trout. We would cast our flies and have some luck, and then, just before dusk, move downstream into the darkness. From there, we would fish until the midnight stars and fireflies winked their messages of sleep.

Arrowhead plants, pointing the way…

I had recently finished reading about E.R. Hewitt, a noted Catskill Mountains angler, author and conservationist, whose name is linked to the historic Neversink River. Hewitt is known for having created the Neversink Skater and Bivisible dry fly patterns, among a host of other accomplishments. Just before our fishing venture, Tim supplied me with a couple of Neversink Skaters he had tied, even though I hadn’t mentioned anything about Hewitt and his fly creations.

Conhocton River…

Friends are like that on occasion. They appear like flowing water when your senses get turned around by the confusion in the world. The Neversink Skater settles on my river space and I’ll give it time to drift. The flies are tied on a small hook, and their hackle is unusually long. Tim advises using a stouter tippet, say a 3x diameter rather than a 5x, so the hook settles toward the surface of the water.

flower of the pitcher plants, Moss Lake…

So we skate off on the warming surface of the summer… If you’re interested in adding “From the High Hills…” to your library, you can order from FootHills Publishing ($16), or you can get a signed copy from me– just send your street address and request to my email, I thank you one and all!

pitcher plants, Moss Lake…

Neversink Skater, by Tim Didas.


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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20 Responses to Common Sense is Like Running Water

  1. UB says:

    Another great post! That skater reminds me of Art Flick’s oversized hackled fly for some reason. Think it was in his ‘Streamside Guide……’ book. Also, when I was in the UK a few years ago, the guide had a ‘skater’ pattern he spoke highly of. There is definitely something to that pattern!
    Great pictures of various plants, nature and the skater.
    ‘Just’ another great post Rivertop Rambles! … UB

    • Yeah the photos in Art Flick’s “Guide” show his Variants tied with oversized hackle like this. I hadn’t seen an actual fly like the Skater since the time when I was a kid & had a rusty-colored Skater in my fly box. Thanks for your comments, UB, and for pointing this out.

  2. Don T says:

    Great pics again. I think the Neversink is calling you. If only we had enough time to do it all.

    • You’re right, Don, I hear the Neversink loud & clear… Now where will I find the time? Driving by there next week en route to RI but we’ll be carrying two cats, so time is of the essence. August I’ll be away, but maybe early fall? Just finished reading the Catskills book. What a gift!

      • Don T says:

        That didn’t take long. Glad you enjoyed.
        I’d be up fall a fall trip if you want company.

  3. Enjoyed it. Very thought provoking, but I like history to begin with. Yeah a fall trip might be fun. Let’s consider…

  4. plaidcamper says:

    The Neversink once again! I think you – and Don T – are heading that way, sans cats, and curiosity/time allowing…
    A new volume of poetry? Yes, looking forward to that, and I’ll enjoy it enormously. Have been spending this past week getting lost in fog and ferns, in the best possible way, with running water guiding us home.
    Thanks, Walt, for another good one!

    • I think you’re right, Adam, and it’s good to know you’ve been getting lost & found to the beat of running water out there by the coast. Again, happy Canada Day (soon), and thanks, my friend.

  5. Brent says:

    This post reminds me of the lessons on poetry you’d occasionally deliver to schoolchildren, helping them appreciate a genre they hadn’t understood or been able to connect to their lives. The more receptive ones would come to realize that poetry is personal song, and it’s not organized as prose because that’s not always how the human mind speaks to itself. Here, you’ve just done that for adults, using the beautiful Moss Lake pictures as educational aids. Once an educator …..

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    I’ve always held that flowing water is like the human memory; sometimes forceful, sometimes less so. Sometimes deep and consistent, often as not tenuous and changeable. I even wrote some prose to the effect, long since lost, now at the mercy of my weak and fluid memory. Moss Lake sounds like a prime place for a visit, a chance to explore an ecosystem that I’ve got to get off the unglaciated plateau to see. My favorite line from above: “…mind and map sing different tunes.”

    • I too associate memory and water flow in ways difficult to explain but real nonetheless… Personally I hope my memory doesn’t become as still as the water in Moss Lake, which has no “flow” whatsoever. If so, I wouldn’t be able to remember my name, let alone yours, Bob. But I’m glad you once made that connection in prose. By the way, Moss Lake isn’t that far from where you live– a little north of Olean, east of Arcade, in Allegany County.

  7. loydtruss says:

    The average fisherman doesn’t take the time to stop and observe the flowers, plants, and even the different variety of trees that covers our great outdoors.
    Technology has made us a very impatient society, sorry to stray from the post subject. Beautiful images, thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      I agree with you. High-tech has created a very impatient society, with many people, fishermen and otherwise, too self-involved to take the time to appreciate the natural world around us. Your comment, rather than straying from the subject at hand, fits the content meaningfully, and I thank you for it.

  8. JZ says:

    Patience is a virtue they say. I showed the virtue of that patience recently fishing Long creek, Truman’s run and Cedar on 4 separate days fishing. Truman’s was hit twice and picked-up where I left off the week before. Glorious full days spent wandering alone in the backcountry. Long and Truman’s were high gradient creeks where I casted caddis and yellow stones within there pockets. I observed what nature wanted to show while prodding my way along. Wild flowers, bees nest, fallen timber and deer/bear tracks firmly planted in the black mud. This was Gods country Walt, meshed in the green, brown and black fall backs. Armed with a cane rod, line, reel and a imagination to see what’s around the bend. I see your doing the same Walt and skating with friends..

    • Patience and a careful step obviously pay big dividends when fishing on the runs. Thank you, JZ. I’m glad you’re getting out there, keeping track of all the wild tracks in these trying times. I don’t think I’ve been on Truman’s yet but look forward to that area when the temperature cools and we get some needed rain. Long Run was productive for me back in spring. Great country all around. Thanks again & keep us posted on your whereabouts!

  9. Jet Eliot says:

    Great adventure to be here with you at Moss Lake, Walt. Pitcher plants, peat, the lake, great world you shared here with us. I find it so interesting when there are unusual lakes, like Moss Lake, and their unique waters and growth patterns. Your poetry is delightful, and I would indeed like to buy a hand-sewn autographed book. Will contact you via email. Many thanks for sharing your words and ruminations, Walt. Best wishes with your latest publication .

  10. Dan Hayes says:

    I tied Neversink Skaters to use on streams in Potter County after reading an article about the in Sports Afield back in the 1970’s (yikes!). I was fishing one at dusk on the Oswayo and, when I was false casting, the line began to move up and away into a rapidly darkening evening. The poor bat who decided to take that feather duster of a fly engaged me in a tug of war that I would just as soon forget. Of course, I likely never will.

    • Thank you, Dan. I know what you mean. I’ve had similar experiences while casting at dusk, to the point where I would have to glance around for bats then do a quick roll-cast before another winged member got fooled. My book River’s Edge relates a few strange hook-ups on our local waters.

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