[In which we hear an echo from an earlier post or two at Rivertop Rambles, now an excerpt from my book Wings Over Water (available from Amazon, Wood Thrush Books, or myself). That said, Old Woodenhead, my Christmas confidante or alter ego, wishes everyone aboard a very healthy and enjoyable holiday season!]
“Walt Franklin on the Stream” is a wood carving that my wife gave me as a Christmas present years ago. The sculpture, an example of Pennsylvania folk art, was produced by David Castano, a full-time wood carver from Potter County, PA.
Castano’s approach to working with a knife might be construed as an attempt to represent an individual in the context of family and work traditions. According to the artist, his wooden figures reflect the value and diversity of workers in America. He was once commissioned to carve the figures of nine surviving mine workers rescued in 2002 from the Que Creek coal disaster in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Since fly-fishing isn’t usually thought to be a part of America’s work traditions, I was fortunate to be considered a suitable subject for the carver’s time. But wait a minute– can’t fun be part of the work experience, too? Let’s look at this example…
Winter had been present for a while, but on Winter Solstice, the astronomical gun-start for the season, rain was on tap for the region, and the temperature was rising quickly. Since the weather hadn’t registered above the freezing mark in more than two weeks, I wanted to fly-fish if the signs were good, so I packed a couple of rods for the drive to the Kettle Creek Tackle Shop. The plan was to fish, if possible, and to drop off one rod that I’d broken in November.
Phil Baldacchino’s shop near Hammersley Fork is a favorite fly and tackle center in my region, and the owner had agreed to make a replacement tip for a bamboo rod that he had sold. Phil was quick to show some of the latest fly rods he had built, cool fiberglass and bamboo instruments. I stood there in the narrow aisles of the shop as he handed me one rod after another, expertly providing the statistics for each one. In the dim glow of the quiet shop, I was like an old salmon that had found his natal river, like a kid aboard the Polar Express that pushed across the Northern Lights.
I was there only to deliver a broken rod and maybe to buy a few small items, but the fun that came from looking over all the new stuff started to reveal the dark side of the sport. It began to feel like work. Putting thumb prints on a gorgeous spacer carved from box elder and testing the “speed” of various rod tapers, for example, wasn’t easy, but I thought, what the hell. It was the Winter Solstice; why not stand back and enjoy?
Returning home in the rain, I slowed the car at numerous bridge crossings and threw a long eye to the widening streams. The waters were rising from a sudden snowmelt. Road slush was accumulating and preventing a safe stop, so I limited my day’s work to the job description of a stream monitor. Difficult labor, maybe, but somebody had to do it.
At home, I took David Castano’s carving from the shelf. I turned it upside down and read the statue’s title at the bottom. “Walt Franklin on the Stream.” I took it to our creekside by the waterfall and stood the statue at the water’s edge, the way a kid might play with sticks beside a pool. The carving looked right at home there by the creek. I thought about the fishing creel constructed at my side. Although I’d never worn a wicker basket even in the formative years of youth, the notion of it smacked of tradition, so was fine with me. The scene looked almost celebratory in the rain. A gift from the past gave me enjoyment in the present. I even had a fish pulled from the water, lively in the air.