Fatherly Words of Wisdom About the Fish in the Stream

My father, a country boy, was obliged by circumstances to live a few years in a city, so I was born in a city. But then my dad was able to go back to his beloved countryside and he was happy as the clam at high water, and as I would be lonesome alone, he took me with him.

Just as my father was appreciating again the wonders of his youth, I was there to help him, and hand in hand we went about to look and see and enjoy and understand. A peripatetic Mark Hopkins, he was, who showed me my first chick-a-diddle and had me pucker for a dee-dee-dee.

Today, my dearest wish for all little boys is for daddies who know as much as mine did and who have the time and inclination to whistle with them when a bird flies by. I heard a speaker once who promulgated great truths and was compensated liberally who said that a boy starts to grow up when he first realizes that he knows more than his father did. I've some distance to go yet.

At the old farm where my father was born, there is a spring in the field behind the barn of the kind Maine people call ''boiling.'' The water, coming many miles in underground veins, bursts to the surface and constantly bubbles and swirls in a gushing stream. The water is cold and pure, and such a spring is a jewel in the farm's prosperity of he who owns it.

This spring makes a small brook within a rod of its source, and by the time it has passed that first field it is a watershed that beavers have dammed. After a mile or so the brook joins another, and then they flow together into Little River and pass to the sea.

My father, taking me down along that stream by one hand, said that as a boy he would jump from bed of a likely May morning, run to the brook with his bit of string, and quickly bring to the house enough trout for breakfast.

This led to his fixing a couple of maple saplings for fishing rods, and on the next dull morning suitable for brook angling, down we went to course that little brook and we couldn't stir up a thing. He showed me as near as he could remember where he had found fish in his time, and then he would say, ''The brook has changed. It used to be deep here.''

He said, ''Well, tomorrow morning we'll go over to Booker's Brook in the Kingdom, and we'll find some trout there.''

Which we did. But he made me notice that Booker's Brook was quite another kind of brook. It still ran through woodland and did not have open fields, gardens, and orchards along its banks. He was able to show me the chompings of a bank beaver's workings and said, ''Beavers make good fishing.''

He said, ''When my grandfather first came up from the coast to clear a farm, that brook on our place was about like Booker's Brook today. Trees and shade, with plenty of birds and animals, and not a house in some 25 miles. No footprints except his own. He began cutting trees for firewood and lumber, and for fields to plant. He set out an orchard and grafted for apples. He cut hay and built a big barn to store it.

''For a little while he could still go down and snag some trout for breakfast, and there were birds and animals, too. But things had changed. One day he couldn't find any cress in the brook. Because he'd cut trees, the sun got in, and cress like cold water. Trout like cold water. The beavers moved away for want of trees to chew.

''My grandfather and the other settlers didn't know what they were doing, and because everybody else was doing the same thing, they thought it must be all right.''

My father said, ''You see, son, it isn't exactly catching trout that does away with trout. There's always a trout or two that nobody catches, but when fall comes they need a place to go to where they feel wanted. You cut down some popple trees so you can grow turnips, and the beavers go away, and without a beaver dam the trout are perplexed. This is hard on the trout, but when our farmers want to grow more turnips, they cut some more popple trees.''

My father said, ''The world won't survive by turnips alone.''

I'd guess it's a good 40 years now since I walked over one day to see how Booker's Brook was doing. I didn't go to fish.

Fact is, I wondered about the dog-tooth violets that used to grow along the bank so close together you couldn't step without crushing one. They come in May at just about the time the trout are ready to rise to a fly.

It isn't the violets that bring up the trout. They have nothing to do with that.

It's just that the snow has gone, the frost is out of the ground, and the warming sun is stirring the land to embrace a new season. Whatever causes the violets to burst and bud has an equal influence on flies and mosquitoes, and all at once we have insects in the air and dogtooth violets on the ground. The trout, every time, will opt for the insects.

But this time I found no violets. Fields had been mowed the previous summer right to the stream's edge, and a herd of cows on the next hillside was nibbling new springtime grass. I watched a while, and Booker's Brook flowed quietly, without a rising trout to prove my father was wrong.

From very far away, over the rise, I could hear the whirr of farm machinery. It was a soft sound, not loud enough to be disturbing. It was rather a friendly sound.

Somebody was about to plant turnips, I guess.

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