Archive for the 'Beyond the Beauty Strip' Category

Jul 05 2012

Beyond the Beauty Strip: More Trash Talk

Nobody admits to getting off on garbage. Well, nobody I know, anyway. But if your backcountry haunts are anything like my home waters, you just can’t get away from it. With apologies to the Troggs, garbage is now all around us. And no, I’m not talking about the Big Issues here: huge gyres of eternal plastic waste swirling ceaselessly in the mid‑Pacific, endless tailbacks of creeping cars belching carbon dioxide, methane clouds bubbling up from thawing permafrost, gender‑benders dumped in lakes and streams insidiously transforming bull gators into meek momma’s boys… These things all have profound implications for the continued well‑being of our own species, of course, but they are (mostly) invisible. So we find them easy to ignore.

And I’m ignoring them, too. Instead, I’m talking ordinary, everyday trash. It’s right there for all of us to see and (often) smell. In your face and up your nose. Like I just said, it’s all around us. Still, when I allowed my feelings on the subject to spill over onto these virtual pages a while back, I figured the column would elicit little or no response. Or, if anyone did bother to write, the letter would likely be something of this sort: “Eww! Why do you have to talk about such negative stuff, anyway? If you can’t say something nice…”

I’d have understood that. I’d even have sympathized with the writer. I don’t enjoy talking trash all that much, to be honest. Given my druthers, I’d rather natter on chirpily about sleek boats, glorious sunsets, singing birds, and dancing waters. Who wouldn’t?

Of course, the garbage would still be there, whether I talked about it or not, and as I explained in my earlier column, I haven’t learned the Art of Not Seeing. Nor am I interested in trying. So the bile that rises in my gullet whenever I confront the trashing of my home waters eventually bubbled out into virtual print, though when Farwell asked me about it, I confidently predicted I’d be talking to myself. But I was wrong. The article generated a lot of mail — the most mail I can remember around a column, not to mention the longest letters. And I don’t think a single writer took me to task for my negativity. Quelle surprise, as they say on the Champs‑Élysées.

Well, I asked for it, didn’t I? Yes, I did. My column concluded with these words:

Have you ever revisited a favorite spot in the backcountry, only to find it transformed into a passable imitation of a poorly managed landfill? That’s been happening more and more often to me these days. Now I’m wondering if it’s just a local phenomenon, or if the problem’s bigger. The upshot? I’ve spent this week talking trash. Let’s hope that it’s just the start of a long and productive conversation.

Not that I expected anyone to take me up on the implied invitation. But since so many folks did, I figured it was incumbent on me to keep the conversation going, so to speak, especially as my correspondents made it abundantly clear that the trashing of woods and waters wasn’t simply a local problem, confined to my corner of the northern Adirondacks. I got mail from folks all across the continent. I even got letters from foreign parts, places where I’d imagined that things like picking up the garbage were better organized than they are here in Liberty Hall.

Anyway, here goes: A small sampling of the mail I received, reprinted by the kind permission of the writers. And just to prove I’m not wedded to negativity, I’m going to begin on a positive note, with the words of a man who does a good deal more than point with alarm. In fact, he takes the direct approach: Picking up other people’s garbage… Read more…

May 29 2012

Monofilament, Lead, and Hooks—Deadly Legacy of the Innocent Art of Angling

Good weather has brought anglers out in droves these past two weekends, and I’m finding new tangles of monofilament blossoming forth on many trees and shrubs along the water’s edge. So I thought this was a good time to reprint an earlier article….

I grew up in the shadow of Vermont’s Green Mountains, within a few miles of one of the country’s premier trout streams. Whenever I got the chance, I’d cycle to a bridge that crossed the ‘Kill just above a favorite pool and stop my bike in mid span. Then I’d lean out over the water, hoping to catch sight of an angler languidly casting tiny artificial flies, a supple line coiling and uncoiling behind him. The rituals of fly-fishing captivated me, and it wasn’t long before I started badgering my grandfather to reveal the fraternity’s secrets. He resisted initially — it was a fraternity, after all — but I wore him down, and in the end he gave in. He insisted I learn the basics of fish stalking first, though. Several months of intensive tutelage followed. We bushwhacked in to remote beaver ponds. We waded shallow, impatient mountain rills, and we fished the banks of the turbulent river flowing past Grandad’s Adirondack cabin. But while he worked the water with a delicate bamboo wand, tempting trout with scraps of feather and fur dressed on hooks forged from fine wire, I dabbled heavy, barbed irons festooned with writhing worms from a short metal rod. It was more like work than play, to be honest, and my work didn’t end when we got back to camp, either. The braided Dacron® line in my open-face spinning reel soaked up water like a sponge. It had to be stripped and dried before Grandad would let me put my tackle away. Even then, I still had one job left. Grandad’s silk fly line was thirstier than Dacron braid, and the fragile gut leaders always needed special handling. In my role as apprentice, their care became my sole responsibility. So, for several hours at the end of each day, Grandad’s yard looked like a giant spider’s web, and more than once an evening thunderstorm sent me rushing out in a frenzy to gather the threads of my far-flung net before the wind blew them all away.

The nuisance of drying lines and caring for tackle almost put me off fishing altogether, especially as summer drew to a close with no sign that my fish-stalking apprenticeship was coming to an end. I was certainly no closer to learning the secrets of the fly-fishing fraternity. Then something happened that made this seem unimportant: I discovered monofilament nylon. It was magical stuff — strong, elastic, and nearly invisible. Better yet, it didn’t need to be dried at the end of each outing. I began to see spin fishing in a new light. Monofilament wasn’t perfect, of course. When new, it came off the reel in tight spirals, and the knots I made in it seemed to loosen almost as fast as they were tied. But I didn’t mind. Monofilament spared me the chore of drying my line.

With what result? That’s easy. Long after’s summer’s lease had run its course, I continued my apprenticeship on my own, exploring the small streams and beaver ponds close to home with monofilament on my reel. (I even ventured out on the sacred waters of the ‘Kill now and then.) But a new problem soon emerged. Trees crowded close around many of my home waters. Moreover, I didn’t have a boat. My barbed hooks snagged limbs with disconcerting regularity, and no matter how artfully I tugged, I often left monofilament behind. In the end, the cost of replacing lines and terminal tackle — by this time I’d graduated from bait to spinners — was simply more than I could afford. I retired my metal rod for good and turned my attention to other things.

Years passed. I bought my first canoe. I learned to climb. And then, quite suddenly, I returned to the fold. I built a Fenwick® spinning rod from a kit, fitted a Scientific Anglers™ reel, and went back to the river of my youth. It was good. The Fenwick was a delight to cast, almost as lithe and active as my Grandad’s venerable bamboo. And I caught trout. Often. Yet my joy was short-lived. I released most of the fish I landed. Or at least I tried to. But the barbed treble hooks on my spinners were nasty things, nearly impossible to remove cleanly. I still snagged tree limbs, too. Soon I was seeing tangles of monofilament everywhere I looked. I couldn’t pass the buck. I’d met the problem, and it was me. I decided I had to do something, and I did. For the second time in my life, I retired a spinning rod. Then I bought a fly rod and taught myself to cast. Before long, anyone stopping on the bridge above the pool would have seen a new figure silhouetted against the setting sun, her forearm sweeping up from nine o’clock to one and dropping back again, line coiling and uncoiling behind her.

Except that it didn’t. Coil and uncoil behind me, that is. At least not often. Why? Because — like my Grandad before me — I’d adopted the roll cast. It all but eliminated snags, even among the tangle of toppled sycamores at the foot of the cutbank just downstream. Of course I had my bad days, too, days when a flaw in the wind would grab the #18 black gnat at the end of my leader and toss it into a thicket of branches from which no escape was possible. On those days, I walked away from the river in a funk, while the tag end of my tippet waved an ironic farewell from a high limb.

Then I met a wildlife rehabber. And she opened my eyes to another dimension of the problem. Monofilament was far more than an unsightly addition to the growing tapestry of riverbank litter. It was a deadly menace. In other words, monofilament kills, and so do hooks and lead shot sinkers… Read more…

Further Reading


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May 04 2012

Photo Finish for May 4, 2012: Dew Drop In—Not

Bloodroot, trout lily, hepatica, wake-robin (also known by a less euphonious tag, stinking Benjamin)… Wildflowers carpet the forest floor in spring, a timely reward for any walker who takes the trouble to look around him. But not every walker bothers. Some see only a convenient dumping ground. Does a garnish of ‘Dew enhance this cluster of white trillium? You be the judge.

Mountain Dew and Trilliums

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