Suddenly the sky was clear, and the temperature rose well above the freezing mark. Although the ice on local streams and rivers was only now beginning to crack and drift away, I drove to Pennsylvania eager to prepare for a new season on the water. There would be no fishing yet, but at least I could obtain my 35th consecutive non-resident trouting license, along with a few supplies, and then enjoy a solitary ramble down Pine Creek.
There was much to look forward to this year, but the winter had been mostly comfortable and rewarding for me, so I wasn’t in any hurry to push ahead. One of my recent accomplishments was to read or reread a bunch of books that I acquired from my father’s library after he died about eleven years ago. One of my favorites was The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, about the early U.S. President whose savvy and intelligence and desire for democracy was refreshing to encounter and to contemplate, especially after a long period of suffering political scurvy in our highest offices.
Another pleasurable volume was an old edition of Washington Irving’s Sketch Book or, to be exact, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman. The book is famous for containing the early American tales of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (how I loved these stories as a kid growing up near the author’s Catskill Mountains!), but there are also numerous accounts of inspired rambling through Great Britain and western Europe in the first decades of the nineteenth century.
A chapter of the Sketch Book called “The Angler” came to mind again while walking meditatively along the rail trail of the upper Pine… Irving/Crayon marveled at a Welsh angler humping from one side of a stream to the other, waving his fly rod in the air to keep the line above the ground or free of the hungry branches nearby, adroitly placing a fly beside a twisted root or underneath an overhang where a large trout was apt to rest.
The observer was something like the scholar in Walton’s The Compleat Angler, receiving instruction from the sage-like Piscator. Irving/Crayon admired this manifestation of the British angling mania, but he also had to chuckle at the “score of inconveniences” that the angler had to carry and deal with. “Angling is something like poetry–” he noted. “A man must be born to it,” to really get the picture.
One old fisherman, of humble means, that Irving spoke about was active year around. When the aged outdoorsman wasn’t casting, he was often telling fish tales in the village tavern and was known to his friends and neighbors as a sort of taproom oracle who could entertain, philosophize, drink, and make predictions like a pro. On some winter evenings he would work beside a crackling fire, fixing up his tackle, prepping for the next campaign, or building rods, nets and artificial flies for pupils and for customers adventuring from the confines of the gentry.
Hiking along Pine Creek, anticipating trails (and trials) along its well-known tributaries, I was almost ready for another spring of happy solitude, or with that small but cheerful brotherhood (and sisterhood) of the angle.