Sliding down cellar doors, slapping a hand ball against cement stoops, drawing on steamy, black asphalt with chalk bought at the corner deli…these were my day-to-day adventures growing up in Queens, New York. Any sign of greenery was sparse: four sycamore trees that lined our corner row home, a 10’ patch of “grass” in our tiny yard, and the occasional dandelion that found its way into the cracks of the endless sidewalks. Skies rarely brightened beyond a smoggy, pale blue and the only likeness of a stream was when the street gutters overflowed during a major downpour.
Nothing was more exhilarating than when my parents piled us in our Plymouth wagon and headed for the extraordinary landscapes of the Catskill, Adirondack or White Mountains. I couldn’t jump out of that car fast enough when we arrived … bee lining it for whatever lake, pond, river, creek or stream escapade lie ahead. It was in those unfamiliar and unusual paradises where my senses came alive and my heart and soul felt truly at home. I prized those hours catching salamanders, crawdads, tadpoles, frogs, minnows, butterflies, and of course, those magical fire flies. Jewel-like quartz, wish rocks, and perfect skipping stones were among my favorite treasures. Scrambling over moss covered boulders across waterfalls, building stone bridges and cordoning off side pools to capture that elusive Brookie were the grand missions of the day. I didn’t want those precious times to ever end.
It was no wonder that many years later, the person with whom I would choose to share my life, also found sanctuary on the mountain stream. He had been happily spending his summers on Knapp Creek and the Greenbrier River at his beloved grandparents’ home in Marlinton, West Virginia and pontooning for enormous stripers on Lakes Marion and Moultrie in South Carolina with his father and brother. Unbeknownst to each other, we were both building up stores of our fondest childhood memories whiling away the years on streams, creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes up and down the East Coast.
Our first fishing excursion together took us to the legendary Trout waters of the Catskills. That trip was unforgettable and I knew then there would be many more: Catfish on the Susquehanna Flats in an old family Jon boat with a temperamental trolling motor, Smallmouth Bass on Triadelphia Reservoir with picnics under a giant willow, Walleye on a partially frozen Deep Creek Lake in a freak April snow storm, Brown Trout on the Savage River during the most brilliant fall foliage display we’ve ever witnessed, large mouth bass on the Potomac during a violent summer thunderstorm, and rainbow trout on the Cheat River in West Virginia where they were deliciously prepared that evening at the local restaurant. We enjoyed our days side by side on the stream basking in the mountain air, our nights by the camp fire sharing dreams about our future together.
We were young, college students who relished any weekend we could sleep under the stars in our one-and-a-half person tent and plaid sleeping bags picked up on sale at Sears. We didn’t need much else … a deck of cards, a couple inexpensive spin rods, a childhood tackle box, a green, rusty, Coleman cooler packed with the day’s lunch, a six pack of beer and a styrofoam container of worms, all crammed into a 1973 1/2 Datsun 260Z. That … and whatever stunning destination that lie ahead. Life was simple.
Leap forward 30 years. Medical school, art school, residency, fellowship, 4 moves, 2 houses, 6 cars, 2 beautiful daughters, and countless fishing/camping trips later and now, as empty nesters, we have more time for each other than we have had since those splendid days in that Z.
Our favorite outings together are still spent seeking lush, quiet streams amidst towering trees and brilliant blue skies, preferably somewhere in the mountains. A few things have changed. My husband now packs a beautiful handmade bamboo fly rod, a hand crafted wooden net, water-tight waders, a wading staff, polarized sunglasses and numerous boxes of his own hand made flies.
I prefer simpler activities that require less equipment. My favorite hiking boots and a backpack filled with sketch books and drawing supplies is all I need these days. Instead of searching for the rising fish, I search for the perfect landscape composition. Instead of securing knots, I sharpen my pencils. Instead of turning stones, I hike among them. And besides honoring the beautiful Rainbow that my husband nets, I also celebrate the summiting of a nearby mountain and the successful print I pulled of the day’s perfection. The stream and all its environs, including the women and men who fish them, have now become inspiration for my art. In these bucolic locations, it is easy to quiet the mind and settle the heart, the perfect recipe for creating an image that can be revisited over and over as a piece of art.
While carving and building new plates in my studio, my mind’s eye quickly slips away to the creeks and trails of recent trips as well as those babbling brooks of my youthful years. With each etched mark and brush stroke, I imagine cerulean skies, moss covered stones beneath clear, flowing waters and breathing in perfumed, mountain air. I can feel warm breezes tickling my face and hear the rhythmic dance of a nearby casting line.
Fishing has returned us to all those magical places I delighted in as a child: the Beaverkill in the Catskills, the Ausable in the Adirondacks, the Saco in the White Mountains as well as countless others along the East Coast. But whether we are hooking a trout or capturing a scene, we still lose our selves and find each other in the serene beauty, and peaceful tranquility of these waters. And even now, 30 years later, we enjoy our days side by side on the stream basking in the mountain air, our nights by the camp fire sharing dreams about our future together.