Earlier this month a friend and I hiked the Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen state park. During the descent through Ganoga Glen, we paused to watch a feeder stream rush down the steep hillside into Kitchen Creek. Although dwarfed by the spectacular falls along Kitchen Creek, the small cataract on this feeder stream exhibited a charm of its own. We debated a name. “Let’s call it ‘No-Name Falls,'” I suggested. “How about ‘Imagination Falls?'” my friend said. I’m unsure what name stuck, but I shall always recall the vibrancy of the clear white water as it tumbled down over the rocks beneath the small wooden footbridge on which we stood.
“Wild water left to itself can never fail to be beautiful,” Odell Shepard writes in his treatise on angling Thy Rod and Thy Creel; “and it will not endure the slightest ugliness about it.”
As I look back over my youth, I am struck by the number of creeks, streams and rivers that formed and deepened my appreciation of the natural world. “We need the tonic of wildness,” Thoreau writes, and what can be more wild in the eyes of a boy than a stretch of free-flowing natural water?
I think back to the streams of my Pennsylvania childhood: Echo Valley Brook, Trout Run, Indiantown Run, Stony Brook, Swatara Creek, Quittapahilla Creek (the Quittie) — streams in which we played and fished and swam and paddled. Later the circle would be expanded to include others: Broad Creek in Stroudsburg, Pine Creek in Wellsboro; the Musketaquid in Concord; Riga Brook, Salmon Brook, the west branch of the Upper Farmington; and the Rio Sor, which cascades down through the mountains of northern Spain where a good friend from long ago and I fished one summer.
I think of them now with a certain warmth and pleasure, thankful that I had the chance to know them intimately, as a lover knows his beloved.
In the final pages of his boyhood memoir The Old Man and the Boy, Robert Ruark lovingly relates the final trek home back to North Carolina with his aging grandfather:
When we got to a place called Jackie’s Creek, where we had seen turkeys and shot quail, the Old Man said, “Stop the car. I want to took at it.”
When we got to a place called Allen’s Creek, and Moore’s Creek, he said the same thing. We stopped and we looked. The Old Man nodded his head, and said, for no reason at all that I could think of, “I’m satisfied. Nobody owes me nothin’.”
As I look back on these streams, the streams of my youth, the streams of my middle years and those of my older age, I find myself thinking the same thing.