The Pulse of the Run

The deep woods hike in middle March was a tough climb through the melting snow, two miles up the Pennsylvania tributary, and back. I wrote of this mountain hollow in Beautiful Like a Mayfly, 2015:

“The tributary flows through the remotest section of the river’s watershed. Its valley is mostly forested, with intermittent clearings where willow trees and alders predominate, and the brook’s flow is mostly paralleled by a jeep trail that provides limited access to a series of small hunting camps. I’ve fished the brook in springtime for nearly a decade and have never seen another human on those walks.”

upward, like a woodchuck from its den…

There have been some minor changes since the book came out, most notably from an alternation of severe drought and flooding, as well as from encounters with a human or two.Β  For instance, I crossed tracks with a fur trapper, a cabin-dweller, who was pulling up his line, who said that a flood, two or three years ago, slammed the brook trout population, and the fish are still struggling to return. Again, from the book:

“This back country stream averages only four or five feet in width. I worked my way up through the hollow, alone with my thoughts, toward a natural spring significant enough to be labeled Spring on the topographic map of this area. A winter wren, with its stub tail and eye stripe, flitted from an undercut bank to perch on a mossy log. As it broke into a long and intricate song, the stone-sized bird seemed perfect for this woodland habitat.”

pileated dining spot…

Stepping through the brilliant snowmelt, I knew it was still too early for the wren’s song, but a pair of pileated woodpeckers filled the forest emptiness with cackled notes. I plodded onward like a woodchuck just emerging from its den, turning from the hollow toward the distant summit. I could heed the sage advice of the trapper who suggested that I keep an eye out for the waking bears, but I preferred to daydream of the brook trout that were living well (I hoped) in the small stream down below.

The Lodge…

the pulse…

the drip…

Three days later, I was fishing on a neighboring tributary where the flow was downright cold, but where the atmosphere was toned like a bluebird’s song. The trout, those native “dwellers of the spring,” were shy and thoroughly hidden, but I felt their presence nonetheless. They were like a pulse that issued from behind the snow-capped rocks and log debris, growing stronger, warmer, every day. In the woods beyond, maple sap was dripping at a quickened pace, the various buckets filling where they hung on the rough-barked trees.


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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26 Responses to The Pulse of the Run

  1. Don T. says:

    I always enjoy fishing those tributaries in PA. They are about more than the trout. It will be interesting to see how many survived last year’s drought.

  2. Dale H says:

    Hi Walt
    Hope all is well all good here! Thinking of getting a bamboo rod maybe a 7ft 4wt what do you think? Good choice for kettle,slate,cedar etc.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    The pulse is quickening. That mossy log looks almost exactly like the one I stepped on and promptly bit it right into the mud hole I was trying to avoid on my hike the other day. Tundra swans and hooded mergansers on the open water, in addition to the usual suspects. Pan’s seasonal dance will soon be full-fledged. Or as Bob Marley said, “soon come…”

    • Watch out for the mossy logs that swim away from you, Bob, or soon come the upending. Tundra swans & bluebirds through the spitting snow today suggest the full dance soon come, too. Thanks!

  4. UB says:

    I’m getting like a kid before Christmas! Am planning on getting back the end of the month. In my best Lin-Manuel Miranda/Hamilton voice …. I got ‘my SHOT’ today! πŸ™‚ 3 weeks till the second one. It’ll still be quite some time till we can breathe a sigh of relief but maybe we can at least inhale about now. Wait a sec….. ther eis NO intended reference there…. lol….”till we see – ” ….. UB

  5. loydtruss says:

    I have a feeling you will be back fishing this awesome-looking stream soon. The perfect combo with Chester and I assume an Orvis reel? It’s rare nowadays to fish a stream without seeing evidence of human footprints. Thanks for sharing

    • I’ll be back there soon, Bill. This little rod is a “Riffle,” with yes, an Orvis winch, but Chester is itching to get out there on the water soon, especially in the Blue Ridge, which is like a first home for him. And you mentioned the lack of human footprints… that’s what I noticed on these early season streams: my boot prints were the first ones in the winter snow. Thank you for the visit!

  6. Brent says:

    Beautiful little stream with those long riffles feeding into pools. Down here, we’re seeing redbud and early cherry, speedwell and crocus, and even some early dandelions. On Saturday we “discovered” a new (for us) duck as it stopped by the National Mall on its migration route: a northern shoveler. In a few weeks, I imagine I’ll be seeing many of the same in Greenwood!

    • Can’t wait to see those blossoms again, especially the redbud! Seeing the northern shoveler is a good find. Not too many stop by in this neck of the woods, but when they do, they’re memorable. Saw a flock of tundra swans flying through the snow today. Looking forward to that Greenwood visit!

  7. plaidcamper says:

    Walt, it’s good to read about the signs of spring and pulse-quickening activity.
    Heartening to read in the comments so many getting their shots – something working right is quite a relief after all that went before last November…
    Great photos to go with the shared thoughts – thanks for another good one!

    • Thanks Adam, and absolutely! We’ve sorely needed a shot of good news, haven’t we. The sky is still cloudy here, and in many places still spitting snow, but the light of day is a whole lot clearer over all, and I, for one, will take it!

  8. Dale H says:

    Walt what do you think the bamboo rod I mentioned 7ft 4wt med or med fast action?

    • Dale, Personally I prefer a slower action rod on the small/medium-sized streams, which can work to your benefit with roll casting, too. So, of the medium fast or medium actions, I would choose the medium. And I think that would make a neat little rod for what you want it for.

  9. Dale Houseknecht says:

    Thanks Walt
    Hope to see you soon!

  10. Klausbernd says:

    Dear Walt,
    great picture.
    Thanks for sharing
    The Fab Four of Cley
    πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  11. nativebrownie says:

    Beautiful pics – as usual, really enjoy your thoughts… agree on the 7′ for those places. Trying a 6′ 3 piece this summer from a great maker – can rest in my pack on the walk in. Avoids the conversations that I like to avoid on well traveled paths…
    Enjoy all of your books… thank you for the Blog

    • Thank you for these comments, NB, and am pleased to hear from you. A well-made 3-piece six-footer sounds like an interesting rod for the small streams. Not sure I’ve ever seen one, let alone used one, though for a while I went as small as 5’9″ (an instrument that never felt comfortable for me). And you’re right, a small rod tucked away on the long hike doesn’t draw unnecessary conversations! Let me know how that rod works for you.

      • nativebrownie says:

        Yes, I do remember that you enjoyed a glass 6′ on a beautiful stream that is very special, no doubt. I have wonderful memories of spending days in that same gorgeous State Forest. Hopefully, the short rod will work out in those very tight and beautiful headwaters – with of course, beautiful small natives.
        Again, for years, your thoughts and photo essays have added much peace and quiet joy of the natural world. That allows me to “travel and walk and gaze” when life’s duties keep me away from my wanderings… Thank you, again…

  12. And thank you, also, for reminding me of that little glass rod– my dear Fenwick, how could I forget (I won’t go there), but I’m ready to bring it out again for those little streams & to join you there in spirit!

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