As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Started by Yallerhammer, September 27, 2019, 16:47:22 PM
0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.
The Cherokee, and probably other people, had a ritual called "Going To Water." It was a ritual of purification, observed before any major ceremonies, important decisions, pivotal life events, or other times of stress or strife when cleansing and purification was needed. It involved submerging one's self in a flowing mountain stream, and purified the participant, both physically and spiritually.
I am not a Cherokee, but over a half century of life lived outdoors in these same mountains they inhabited has given me similar thoughts about the land surrounding me. They were here for at least a thousand years. They know the place like no other folks have before or since. They noticed minute details of this ecosystem and the physical and spiritual aspects of living in harmony with these ancient mountains. They were right. The older I get, the more I believe that.
It's been awhile. Several weeks. I have not been back in the woods, nor waded into cold mountain water since mid-August. That won't do. Sunday morning. Many folks head to church. I am much the same, except I head back into the mountains.
I wanted to go out and fish awhile today. I didn't really even care whether I caught a fish or not. I just wanted to be there. Away from here. Away from people, problems, bills, and life. I want to be there. Back in that place where time melts and nothing exists but you, the flowing water, the fish, and the breathing woods around you. Hollers so dark that a few katydids sing even at mid-day. No other people, no problems, no worries. Just the water and the fish. And me. With me being the smallest part of the equation. My body and soul were hurting. I needed to Go To Water.
I didn't even have to think about the place. A nearby valley in the Smokies draws me like the needle of a compass. It's where my ancestors eked out a living from the mountain soil and water for a hundred years before the park service ran them out in the 1930s. Their bones still nourish the thin mountain soil here. It's the place I first learned to fly fish, from those who were Going To Water long before I was born; even if they didn't completely understand what drew them to the cold, dark currents that spill and drip from the ridges, brooding cliffs, and dark hollers. Or maybe they completely did, and just kept a tight lip about it, because thoughts like that didn't mesh with the fundamentalist culture of the influential folks in mid-1900s southern Appalachia. It's the place where I learned about how I fit into these mountains. It's my home water. When I am in this valley, I feel like I do nowhere else on this planet. It is a place of renewal. A place of purification. The influx of tourists the last few years can't change that. The place still speaks to those who belong here and open their spirit to hear its voice. Everything else is just superficial chatter.
Successful fishing and spiritual cleansing rely on proper nutrition. I recommend two gas station sausage biscuits. Just be careful where you eat them, the Tall One likes them too:
You cannot see attachments on this board.
It has been unseasonably hot and dry for the last month. When I pulled up at the trailhead, the main creek was low and gin-clear. And crowded. Sundays here used to be peaceful. Now they are riots of folks in Subarus, Priuses, and various SUVs, came to See The Elk. They line the fields like a drive-in movie. They come and stay, but they don't see. They never really feel the primordial energy here. They are drawn here without understanding why. They can't let go of their artificial lives and join the world that they so desperately want and need to. Their priorities are skewed. They are static. I wanted to avoid static.
So, I hiked about three miles up one of my favorite small tributary streams. Past the trailside creek waders, the photographers, the Tenkara hippies who feel the primordial energy but don't understand it. If you weren't born here, with your ancestors' bones building the soil you walk upon, you never will, unless you are very lucky.
It is good to belong to a place and understand it. and to understand how you fit into it.
On the hike in, the creek beckoned, but I resisted the urge. I wanted solitude.
This late in the season, not much is blooming along the trail. Some blue wood asters:
And white snakeroot:
The white snakeroot holds a mysterious and fascinating story. Long ago, in late summer, a disease called milk-sick would strike mountain settlers. It was characterized by fevers, trembling, severe intestinal pain, vomiting, and partial or complete loss of muscular coordination. It was often fatal. Abraham Lincoln's mother died from it. No one knew the exact cause, but it was noticed that it affected those who drunk milk from cows that were grazed in certain shady, north-facing mountain coves. Eventually, it was discovered that the "disease" was a direct effect of a toxin called tremetol that is present in the white snakeroot plant, which, once ingested by the cow, was transferred through its milk to those who drunk it.
As if to make up for the lack of flowers, partridge berries are ripening, and brightening the trailsides:
Cinnamon-barked Clethra, a large shrub or small tree, sprouts up through the doghobble and ferns with its shreddy, exfoliating bright red bark. The pictures don't do it justice:
Overhead, Fraser magnolias are crowned with umbrellas of two-foot-long leaves:
After awhile, I stopped at about the fifth creek crossing of the trail. I was far enough back. At three miles in, if you meet anyone, they are probably there for the same reasons you are. It was time to Go To Water.
I rigged the rod and headed upstream.
To be continued.....
The creek. It flows endlessly across ledges of quartzite, graywacke, schist, sandstone, and gneiss, wearing them smooth over timeless eons.
Yet, among the timelessness and silence, one senses things. For thousands of years, copper-skinned people have roamed this valley, hunting, camping, fishing, and existing. A hundred years ago, the banks of this stream were in many places cleared, plowed, and planted. Huge poplars and hemlocks were girdled, their skeletons standing bare and stark in the fields until they fell and were piled and burned. Hammer mills and gristmills ground the corn that was raised in these newly-cleared fields, powered by the same current that still flows after most of the signs of the mills are long since gone. Houses and cabins were built along the banks, children walked to school along the same trail that I walked in on, cattle and horses grazed along the streambanks, and men in overalls seduced colorful speckled trout from these same holes, with a piece of stickbait strung on a horsehair line attached to a cane or birch pole. Then, in the years when the south fought the northern invaders, the dregs of both sides spilled into these isolated valleys, bringing death and suffering with them. This valley in particular ran red in blood more than once. The bones of some of the victims of Civil War bloodshed still lie here on the banks of this stream, forgotten by most, their graves slowly becoming indistinguishable with every passing year.
The ghosts of generations still linger here, even though the creekbanks are long since thickly grown back over with rhododendron, laurel, and doghobble; and respectable-sized hardwoods and pines rise once again from the former cornfields of men both red and white. It seems lonely, but you are never alone here if you stop and listen.
I tie on a dry fly, because I want to see the trout. I want to entice them into my space. Make them meet me halfway.
As I work my way upstream, the creek is blocked with boulders, small waterfalls, and huge logjams. Since the hemlock woolly adelgid came here from Asia, thousands of our virgin forest giants have died and fallen. Massive hemlock boles are piled across the stream where the spring floods left them, tangled masses stripped of bark and limbs by violent, rushing waters. Climbing over these logjams ranges from mildly annoying to downright strenuous and dangerous.
At least someone left me a lucky buckeye in the middle of this one:
I said earlier that I didn't care really if I caught a fish or not. That isn't really accurate. Fishing is always better when fish are hitting. And they were here. Abundantly.
The bug of the day was my version of an Orange Palmer, an old, traditional fly pattern that originated here on the streams of Haywood County. I couldn't buy a decent hit on anything else, but fish rose to this fly eagerly.
Up this high, the fish are small, but they are wild, spooky, energetic, and colorful.
Rainbows in the 6"-8" range were plentiful. I soon lost count.
In this hole, a foot-long rainbow with a wide, crimson stripe engulfed my fly with a classic head-and-shoulders rise. When I set the hook, it streaked to the end of my line in less than a second, launched itself two feet straight into the air like a missile, and left me standing there in awe with my fly hung in a tree limb fifteen feet overhead.
Even this high up, browns are here, exhibiting the same European wanderlust that brought us to this continent and led us to spread out back up into the hills and hollers. These browns have taken on the colors and spirit of the place. Brilliant golds and scarlets complement the colors of the leaves that are beginning to change along the streambanks:
To be continued even further.....
But-this day was mostly about the specks. The natives. The fish that have lived in this creek since mammoth and mastadons trumpeted along the banks, giant ground sloths ripped the branches from the trees to feed, and dire wolves and sabertooth cats lurked in the same shadows where katydids sing at mid-day today.
Once, specks ruled the waters here. Eventually, logging, farming, and introduced rainbows and browns drove them upstream, back into the icy headwater trickles where their enemies couldn't follow. After a hundred years of regrowth, they are moving back downstream. They are reasserting their place in the hierarchy of the stream. Every year finds them further and further downstream. I applaud them. They are survivors. They outlasted the Pleistocene megafauna. They outlasted the loggers and farmers. They are learning to deal with the rainbows and browns. They are back. And I wish them well.
I caught dozens of these little colorful jewels, the fish that belong here. Fish from out of the mists of deep time that shroud these ancient mountains.
Most are in the 6" range. But, I also encountered this 8 1/2" fat butterball sporting a black mouth, and the beginnings of a hook jaw and fall spawning colors. In a few weeks, he will be fertilizing eggs in a redd fanned out by the lady of his choosing:
Back into the creek to get on with making some more specks for next year and the generations of fish and fishers to come:
It seemed like a fitting point to end the day of fishing.
As I broke down my rod and walked back out, I heard a sound that echoed down the hollers and through my spine, leaving me with a strange tingling feeling. There are a few sounds that can affect me this way.
The wind howling through a rocky pass at high elevation. Snow hissing quietly through the trees on a still winter night. The whisper of moving water falling over a rock ledge. The howl of a wolf or coyote. The otherworldly call of an owl or whippoorwill. The plaintive, minor notes of someone like Ralph Stanley singing a hymn A capella in the mournful, quavering mountain minor key. An electric slide guitar in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it.
And this sound. The bugle of a rutting bull elk. It reverberated down the hollers. It echoed off the cliffs and ridges. It blended in the distance with the roar of falling water. And it stirred my soul. Even with the influx of tourists they have brought, I am glad they are back after 200 years of absence. I could hear all of the pent-up anger, loneliness, and frustration it was experiencing in that shrill, guttural cry. It raised the hair up on my neck.
I headed back down the trail, revitalized and satisfied to be walking through a place where time sometimes stands still, sometimes rushes ahead or oozes backwards, but always moves in circles. What is old is new, what is new is old, and it all fits in with the overall plan of time. It was a good day to be alive and to be in these timeless mountains.
Wow what a great read, this has to be one of my all time favorite reflections of a day spent in a very special place.....and "Going to Water". You have a very special gift.
Hell Yes --- Great report and wonderful narrative. You write well,sir. When someone writes and makes me feel like I am "there" , It grasps my attention. Good flicks also
Hell yes, Yaller. As Stone-Man says, wonderful narrative. You make it come alive. Thank you for taking the time to take us along. :banana011:
I've never been there when the water was that low! They look like different streams.
Very nice and refreshing. Some people just get it and feel it inside themselves when in special places like this, some don't, and that's sad.
Sidenote - Some pics and the music video aren't showing up.
Yaller fixed some of the pics earlier, then others that were showing up disappeared. Keep working on it, Yaller, please! I like looking at them more than once!
If you refresh the page, it usually brings up the ones that don't load the first time.
Very, very solid report, my man. Thanks for taking us there.
I wish I had a small stream to get on. I'm leaving my drought stricken waters alone. Probably won't hit until post spawn. Keep entertaining me.
That was excellent. I've been stuck in damn airport in Chicago all day and this eased the pain a little. Thanks for sharing.
Quote from: Dee-Vo on September 28, 2019, 07:43:45 AMVery nice and refreshing. Some people just get it and feel it inside themselves when in special places like this, some don't, and that's sad.
Sidenote - Some pics and the music video aren't showing up.
not sure why they aren't showing up... it is probably something to do with this being the low rent district. suspect there is a timeout issue.
Thanks for sharing your trip - and your gift
Damn you for setting my expectations for all future reports so high after reading this one. I'm not sure I'll appreciate them quite the same. You certainly have a talent for the narrative, and I thank you for sharing it with us.
I haven't fished that valley yet, although I've backpacked in the area. I'm planning on making a multi-day trip there in the spring to get my feet wet (pun intended) and hoping for my first wild slam. You can bet I'll think back on this report, and it'll make me appreciate it all the more.