Our muscles tighten and our lungs adjust, whether we seek the headwaters for trout because the lowlands have been flooded, or whether we lift our feet and pull with our arms along a skyline scramble for a special view that might come from above. We accept the challenge in our search for the beautiful– the wild bird, fish, or flower that accompanies our glance from an unusual place inside our lives. Climbing is a fun and healthy way of getting there.
We inhale the cooler air and revel in the majesty of a great white pine or, higher up, express new wonder at the jagged rocks and stunted trees. It’s best to apply more caution now; the path has faded and our way becomes irregular. Stumbling as we climb can bring unwanted consequences: a fly rod can snap, a water bottle drop away or, worse, a body part could be injured, finishing our day.
So we strive for balance and implore the gods to show their mercy. Each measured step brings satisfaction, hopefully, rather than a warning of fatigue or danger, and the growing prospect of a view absorbing our words and previous expectations.
Climbing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I look down at the valley of the Rapidan and wonder where it was I fished in that wild scene. Later, climbing a short distance on a feeder stream above Kettle Creek in northern Pennsylvania, the mind’s eye struggles for a view of the big stream’s oxbow and the headland that forces the renowned trout water southward and then north and southwesterly again. The natural formation has been said to resemble a tea kettle, thus inspiring one possibility on how Kettle Creek got its name.
Observing a topo map or getting a bird’s-eye view from above might offer the suggestion of that implement. Tea kettle or not, the only certainty obtainable from climbing is a draft of cold clean water like a spiritual reward.
The Native Americans referred to the Kettle as Sononjoh. I like that name. It sounds romantic and befits one of Pennsylvania’s most scenic valleys and its fertile waters. Sadly, our American ancestors were driven out from here, as well as from many of their homelands on the continent. Climbing up above the mundane realms of our workaday lives can help restore a vision of the greener past, and maybe even offer an idea of how to save a remnant of a wild place still attainable.