With spring only a couple of months away, I think it might be time to revisit this post from 2 years ago – What the Cormorant Told Me.


The cormorant swims upstream past the canoe launch on the Indian Head River, occasionally poking his head beneath the river’s slick surface as he paddles by me. Upon reaching the bend some fifty yards up current, he turns and allows the flow to carry him back past where I’m standing at the ramp. Then he turns and repeats his upstream search. We’re here, the cormorant and I, for the same reason. We’re looking for trout. To be more precise, we’re waiting for trout. The hatchery truck hasn’t arrived yet, but we remember that at this time last year the river was full of trout.

The annual trout migration, via state owned tank trucks, has been delayed by a long winter and a late spring. The cormorant and I have been conditioned to arrive at the river at about this time every year with the expectation of finding a stream full…

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In The Manamooskegin – The Return of a Native



The wild requires that we learn the terrain, nod to all of the plants and animals and birds, ford the streams and tell a good story when we get back home,
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

“How am I theirs/If they cannot hold me/But I hold them?”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Earth-Song from Hamatreya

At Listening Point

At Listening Point

The ice is no longer safe to travel on, so I’ve taken the snow covered trail to the back end of the pond. One of my destinations is a small point of land jutting into the blue gray ice, a point distinguished by the tall and graceful white pines that sough in the winds there and catch the gold of sunsets on their rough bark. This is the place where my childhood fishing buddy, Donny Loud, taught me how to gut and scale yellow perch, roll them in flour and then fry them in butter in a skillet over a fire of dead pine limbs until they were golden brown.

For the purpose of this story, I’ll call the place “Listening Point”, in part because, in its small way, the place reminds me of Sigurd Olson’s description of the point where his cabin was situated at the edge of the Quetico-Superior – and because it is a place that I have been retreating to for most of my life for the purpose of listening and watching.

On this evening in late March, Listening Point is different than it has been in the past at this time of year. One difference is that there are no spring peepers – at least not yet. In a more normal year I’d be hearing their first tentative peeps at this time of the evening. And then, with the sun slipping lower, more peepers would begin taking up the song. At last, with the red sun dropping below the cedars on the far shore, the song would arrive at a crescendo of high celebratory trilling from the thousands of impossibly tiny frogs that are all raucously bent on reproduction. This strident announcement of the amphibian’s triumph over winter always marks the true start of spring for me. But this year, at the end of March, ice and snow still prevail. At Listening Point, true spring has yet to arrive.

There are, however, hopeful signs that winter is at its end. The pond is open where the current of Beaver Brook flows in; and narrow leads of open water extend down the pond between where I stand on the point and the long, oak and pine forested island that casts its shadows across the rotting ice.

Motion at the edge of the ice draws my attention, and for a moment I assume that it is a muskrat exploring the extent of open water, until I see the shape of the animal’s head. Long and wedge shaped, the head belongs to a beaver.

Beaver are common enough in southeastern Massachusetts these days that people should not be surprised to come across one. But this beaver happens to be the first one that I’ve ever seen in the Beaver Brook watershed, and I’ve been tromping around this brook for over 60 years.

Watching this beaver, as it cautiously works its way up the narrow open channel in the ice, it seems ironic to me that it has taken beaver so long to return to this place that was named for them. This prodigal beaver, testing the ice, is a late comer. With much fanfare from Fish and Game, deer and turkey were “restored” decades ago. Beaver are another matter. Like our “bush wolf”, the Eastern coyote, the beaver is deemed a nuisance, and has had to find its own way back.

The Wampanoags had called this granite ledged divide of land where rivers are born, Manamooskegin, which was translated by the English as meaning “land of many beavers.” The English name for the stream, Beaver Brook, is likely to have been based more on the Wampanoag’s naming than any first hand knowledge. The beaver had been trapped out of the Manamooskegin by the Wampanoags and the Massachusetts before the mid 17th Century, traded to the English in exchange for guns, iron kettles and a dependence on English technology that ultimately proved to be disastrous for the Native People of the region. The English settlers, in turn, used the beaver pelts from the Manamooskegin, and elsewhere, to pay off their debt to the Merchant Adventurers; that motley group of 17th Century venture capitalists who financed the English settlement in Plymouth.

The Manamooskegin is a height that, in many places, is too subtle to detect unless you happen to be one of the type who watches running water. Here the water runs in tannic rills out of the cedar swamps that collect rain in the shaded bowls between the ledges. These swamps and bogs feed the streams that flow into the two great river systems, the Taunton and the North, that define this bio-region of Massachusetts.

Today the Manamooskegin is, in one respect, similar to when the beaver lent their name to it. It is a watershed of dams and ponds. But unlike the beaver and their dams that once came and went across the landscape as fluidly as the waters of their streams, the Manamooskegin that I live in today, is a place long ponded and sediment choked by the centuries old rock walled mill dams that now stand as useless monuments to a failed civilization.The mill dams, the endless miles of stone walls that wind through the woods, along with the grown in cellar holes and old rock wells, are relics left by a people that gave up on trying to eke a living from this hard land.

As the sun drops, the beaver slowly makes its way back toward the brook, sometimes putting its weight on the ice, as if it is trying to break it and hasten the widening of the narrow channel. In the dimming light, he slips beneath the slick pewter surface of the water. The spell it had cast is broken, and I remember that I’ve walked the mile or so of woods road that tracks north along the pond for a reason other than visiting the point.

Where a thin trail rises to higher ground out of a dark grove of cedars, I stop at a massive beech with gray bark the color of elephant skin. This was the trail that, as children, we would take on our way to fish at Listening Point. Where the brook flows in, sunlight reflects off of the open water of the pond sending ripples of amber light across the broad trunk of the beech.

Across a small stream on the far side of the cedars there is a field growing up in buckthorn and juniper where an ancient slate headstone marks the resting place of the farmer who labored to contain his hard won fields within stone walls. We would pass the stone in the early light of April mornings, shouldering rucksacks, carrying our fishing rods like lances, our thoughts full of fish. If my little sister was with us, I’d carry her piggy back across the stream and through the puddles between the cedars. On one morning we stopped, and as kids will, carved our names and the date into the beech tree where the trail begins to rise.

The names are gone, reduced to scabs decades ago. The beech grew and healed like the forest that has reclaimed the farmer’s fields. I’m at the beech to check on a more recent carving, one that I dug into the bark of the tree last February. And, as I knew they would, the cuts are beginning to fade. The carving reads: D. Loud 1946 – 2014. In the fading light I stand by the tree wishing that I could tell Donny about the beaver… so I do.

“Donny – man you would not believe what I just saw.”



A race to save the remnants of America’s 1st Sport Fishery

Farmhouse Log, April 2, 1893 – Frank W. Benson – The Sporting Art of Frank Benson
“All drove to Fresh Brook, South Wellfleet to try for Trout. Tied the horse and fished downstream to the Railroad [bridge]. In the pool above the track F. W. B. [Frank W. Benson] caught a half pounder, then another half pounder then a one pounder. The others arrived and we caught from the pool 13 more fine Trout… The 15 fish weighed 17 pounds after they were brought home and washed.”
“The idea of shifting baselines is this: Every generation has its own, specific expectations of what “normal” is for nature, a baseline. One generation has one baseline for abundance while the next has a reduced version and the next reduced even more, and so on and so on until expectations of abundance are pathetically low.”
From Paul Greenburg’s book Four Fish: His explanation of David Pauley’s concept of “shifting baselines” as it applies to fish abundance.

Wellfleet, Massachusetts, June 2007: We are chasing salters.
The green pick up truck is bouncing down a sandy power line road in the town of Wellfleet on lower Cape Cod. Southeast District Fisheries Biologist, Steve Hurley, is at the wheel. Michael Hopper and I are seat-belted in beside him. Stashed in the back of the pick up are the Division’s back pack electro-fishing equipment, measuring board, rubber gloves, five gallon buckets, a cooler and three sets of waders. We are looking for Fresh Brook; a spring fed coastal stream that according to MDFW records, provided good fishing for native, salter brook trout as recently as 1955. Of one thing we are certain – this will not be a déjà vu of Frank Benson’s experience. Instead, we’re hoping that we can locate a few surviving descendents of the brook trout that Benson and his friends caught in 1893. As we bounce toward Fresh Brook, each of us is mulling the question: Are we are chasing salters, or ghosts?

A couple of months prior to this survey, Michael Hopper had convinced Steve Hurley that Fresh Brook might still have brook trout in its headwaters. Mike had grown up in Wellfleet during the 1970’s and 80’s and had first heard about the trout in Fresh Brook from an elderly fisherman from whom he had bought a shellfish grant. This past winter, a friend of Michael’s reported seeing fish darting about in the impounded upper section of the brook. Hurley had sampled the brook in 1991 and hadn’t found any trout, but he admitted that he could have missed them. Steve has a small list of streams where he has found trout on his second search. In each instance, these are very small populations of brook trout barely clinging to survival.

Through a series of e mails we had agreed to meet at the Cape Cod National Sea-Shore parking lot where we would leave our cars and join Steve in the four wheel drive state truck. From the lot we’d head out over some woods roads and a power line right of way in search of Fresh Brook.

And so this is how it happens that, on this perfectly clear bluebird June morning, we are bouncing through the pitch pine forest of the Cape Cod National Seashore in pursuit of salter brook trout.

After driving along a power line for some distance, Steve parks the state truck at the top of the stream’s valley and we unload the battery powered back pack electro-fisher along with a measuring board, rubber gloves and nets. From where we unloaded the truck, we can see that the bicycle trail is somehow backing up the brook, creating a long impoundment that seems to fill the narrow valley. Upon closer examination, we discover that, at what had been the site of Benson’s railroad bridge, the culvert carrying the brook under the bike trail has a raised lip built into it. The culvert serves as a dam. Fresh Brook has been deliberately turned into a pond.

What has led us to this tragic little pond is Michael’s interest in the history of salter brook trout. To say that Michael is interested in salters is an understatement; actually, he’s obsessed. And, he’s far from being alone with his obsession. Because of their beauty and their unique life history, salter brook trout have been the obsession of a long line of anglers, many of them famous. When we summon up the names of the obsessed, Daniel Webster comes to mind first, followed closely by Theodore Lyman, Grover Cleveland, Robert B. Roosevelt and John Phillips.

Like many of those who today share a passion for salters, Michael is an avid angler and an amateur historian. He has spent long hours in libraries and on-line searching for historical references to salters, the sea-going members of the brook trout tribe. Moreover, as a long time supporter of Trout Unlimited, and a founder of the Sea-Run Brook Trout Coalition, Michael is committed to conserving and restoring the eastern brook trout.

What Michael and a small group of researchers have uncovered is the largely untold story of America’s first sport fishery. The scope and fecundity of the Massachusetts sea-run brook trout fishery in the 18th and 19th centuries is mind boggling when viewed from the present day. Old journals and news clippings report brook trout weighing up to five pounds. Catches were measured by the bushel basket. On Cape Cod and in coastal southeastern Massachusetts, it appears that streams that did not support brook trout were in the minority. Well into the 19th century wealthy anglers and famous political figures journeyed to Massachusetts to catch salter brook trout in much the same way that one might travel to fish for trout in Montana today.

How the Massachusetts salter fishery was lost is best left for another blog or even a book. Obviously, the industrial age and the dams that it required for power played a role, as did agriculture, and the well intended but mistaken belief that trout hatcheries could somehow replace lost habitat and natural reproduction.

As we hike along the pitch pine and scrub oak shaded rim of the valley where Fresh Brook once flowed, we are haunted by Benson’s description of catching brook trout. From the top of the valley wall we can see that the entire headwater of the stream – from the old rail line to where the first feeder springs seep out of a hillside to give birth to Fresh Brook – is a silt choked deadwater.

By bushwhacking down from an ancient earthen path named The Kings Highway, we arrive sweating and thorn lashed at the first flowing water. But the water doesn’t flow for long before it is swallowed by the impoundment. Steve Hurley’s electro-fishing only serves to sound the death knell that we sensed was coming when we viewed the flooded valley from its rim. In places, we can feel what had been the hard bottom of the stream channel that had become buried beneath two feet of silt. A few elvers and a small largemouth bass are stunned by the electric current passing through the water, but no trout. Looking at his thermometer, Michael tersely comments that the short flowage entering the dead water is 62 degrees – trout water.

But the trout are finished. Their spawning gravel is smothered. Their access to and from the sea has been blocked. The singing, sun dappled riffles and pools where they once finned – the gold vermiculations of their backs matching the pale gravel of the stream bed – are flooded, still and drowned in sediment. We have arrived too late. There are only the ghosts of these trout now, and they weigh heavily on us as we wend our way out of the valley of Fresh Brook.

On a Winter Evening – Life Comes Full Circle



I’m walking south across the frozen pond at dusk, the tracks of my snowshoes trailing behind me on the wind carved snow like some meandering and fading allegory for my life. The moon is rising in the east, and beside it there is a star, or planet, one that I have been told is not Venus. Too bad, because Venus is a fine idea to contemplate on a cold winter night, as the moonlight takes over from the sun now lost behind the stark tree line of the pond’s western shore.

It occurs to me that I was in almost this same spot at almost the same time last year, except that last year I was on skis.

On this night I’m walking on my 40 year old ash, Michigan style snowshoes made by Snocraft of Norway, Maine. The webbing of the old shoes is rawhide that I have to protect with a coating of spar varnish from time to time. The snowshoes are 4 feet from tail to tip and 14” wide. The white ash is bent into graceful curves that flow back to the narrow tails. They are slightly upturned at the fronts, just enough to keep the shoes riding over the snow with each forward step. The bindings are leather. One can see why the French Canadians called them racquets. These old ash racquets are made for travel in trail-less country, unlike the narrow aluminum and plastic shoes that many people hike with today. Their broad surface will carry you and a heavy winter backpack across several feet of fresh powder. I know this from experience, having used them to break trails into wild country in the dead of winter.

Until the blizzard came earlier in the week, the winter had been a long, monochromatic state of depression. The ice fishermen were happy because it had been cold. But cold without snow is visually dreary, and as hard as the shoveling is getting for me as I get older, I found myself actually looking forward to the storm. One problem that any big winter storm presents is the possible loss of power, and the best way to cope with this, other than a generator, is to have a wood stove and a supply of dry firewood. I had the stove, but not the fire wood. Buying firewood has become outrageously expensive where I live, enough so that it is no longer competitive with oil. I did have some wood, much of it old lumber left over from past carpentry jobs. The day before the storm I began cutting it into stove lengths. Then, as the storm approached, I cut up deadwood lying around my property and drove over to the log cabin of my friends, Randy and Mary. The first snow was bleaching the forest around Randy’s cabin in a haze of white flakes when I pulled into his yard. We loaded the saw and gas into the back of Randy’s truck and he brought me to some wind downed oaks where his land fronts a small river. Later, with darkness descending into the snowy woods, Randy brought the lengths of oak that I had cut, up from the river in his pick up, and helped load them into the capacious trunk of my old Buick. With some help from my friends, I now had enough dry red oak to last a couple of weeks if need be.

The blizzard of 2015 howled for more than a day and left over two feet of snow drifted around the house and barn. I had spent much of the storm resting and reading Jim Harrison’s novellas, “The Land of Unlikeness,” and, “The River Swimmer,” both a welcome diversion because the stories are set in the summer season.

I never did lose power, but burned some of Randy’s oak anyway to beat back the sub zero wind chill that crept into the old house as the storm rattled the storm windows and turned the air outside into a horizontal river of snow flowing out of the north.

The Sunday before the storm I received an e mail from John Kokoszka informing me that he’d been to Red Brook and had seen the year’s first trout fry nonchalantly feeding on micro-organisms as they hovered above a submerged log. Last year we had seen several brook trout fry during a visit to Red Brook on February first. And just as I had done last year at about this time, I marveled that brook trout fry would leave the safety of the stream’s gravel womb to range the brook in the midst of the frigid winter. Last winter I worried about the tiny fry, less than a quarter inch in length, wondering how such seemingly small and frail creatures could survive the winter’s cold storms and tide surges. When it finally became time to survey the brook’s trout population in late June, I was amazed at the number of young of the year brook trout that were found in Red Brook’s lower reach. The spawn of the year before had been a success, and the brook trout fry that had emerged, in the storm blasted midst of a very cold winter, had defied my concern and had survived the cold very nicely. I suppose that I should have expected this brook trout tolerance of cold beginnings. They are after all cold water creatures, charr, an ancient salmonid race that has thrived for far longer than we have in the shadows of glaciers.

I’ve been told that in a past life I must have been a trout, and while I don’t believe in reincarnation, I do feel that it may be in some ways an apt metaphor. We ignore the life that we share with all other creatures at our peril. We are all made of the sun, and the soil, water and the wind of our planet. And call it what you will, we all share the same origin.

Trudging down the length of the frozen pond beneath the winter moon, I’m beginning to understand why I need the snow. It brings with it a resurrection of wildness, if not actual wilderness. The pond beneath my snowshoes groans with the cracking growth of its ice, while above the pond the universe arches across this winter sky, a mysterious and glorious wilderness of fire and infinite cold. It feels good to be humbled – to be loose in this vast beauty.

Why I Belong to the Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition



Answering Why the Sea-Run Brook Trout Coalition…?
The bottom line is that there are still brook trout in an enormous number of our coastal streams from Long Island to Maine. They suffer from stream fragmentation and riparian degradation, but they’ve managed to hang on for this long. The Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition was formed because we could not idly stand by and watch these fish die. The death of each stream population of brook trout also marks the death of the stream that they had lived in. At the point at which the brook trout die, the stream itself has been dying for some time, and after their passing it becomes a tomb, a collection of memories that soon fade. There are things that we can do to stop this die off – things like dam removal, safe minimum flow requirements, stream buffers, land protection and increased public awareness… but we have to do these things now. This is not a situation where we can afford to just focus on the streams that are in the best shape. Along the east coast, if a stream is in decent shape, it is only because it has been taken care of for a long time. That population is probably least in need. To save salters, we have to become involved in restoring streams. Making the low hanging fruit and easy fixes a priority will not work for salters. Do that and you’ll witness the demise of most of what remains. The Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition is dedicated to trying to keep that from happening.

Two small poems for rivers at Christmas



Herring follow the Sea Path
Grazing on the Sun
Abiding the Moon
Sacrificial from their beginning

Thirty six cycles of the Moon and in that spring
The Mother River calls

At Namasakeesett
Bears once swayed with the brook song
Hind feet in the skunk cabbage
Swatting herring to the bank
Herring bringing the Sun up from the Sea
To ease the pangs of winter

Have we forgotten all of it?
That we were once bears
That we were herring


Who recalls Dogger Land?
The sea gives up its mammoth’s teeth and red deer antlers incised
With maps of the spirit worlds
The sea recalls
Rolling across the strands and poisoning the sacred oaks
Until they were crooked fingers standing in the surf
Pointing up at the angry, gray sky
Flooding the salmon rivers until their headwater lakes
Became estuaries and bays
Filling the valleys and flowing over the low hills
Until the stone circles that had tracked the movements of gods
Across the skies
Became the temples of cod

The sea recalls the change
And admonishes with its prophecies gleaned from our nets

Christmas is a time of hope, when we bring nature into our houses in the form of fir and other evergreen trees.We look to the lengthening days that give us sign of rebirth.In streams and rivers life grows in the gravel womb of the stream’s bottom.Join with all of life, and persist with faith and humility.