Someone else’s dog met me in the parking lot and decided to tag along.
It’s the last week of grad school, a month from now I’ll be somewhere else, exploring somewhere else. So for now, I’ll venture farther downstream than I’ve been before, deepening limestone cliffs sloughing dark wedges of fossilized clams, dripping with ferns and studded with coral bells.
One of the favorite papers I found in graduate schools studied the cemeteries of this region. The oldest, from the late 1700s, harbor stately shaped stones and immaculate engraving crafted by people taught elsewhere. Over time the spelling falters, the S’s carved backwards, the stones rougher and misshapen. By the early 20th century they’re entirely blank, just slabs of rock stood upright or tented over resting places. It took three generations for people to lose those skills. That knowledge. That history and heritage.
Streams are the same way. Folks settled along the banks, cleared forests for agriculture, built mills for lumber and grain. Goods were transported up and down rivers, news, information, towns and cities linked by them. By the early 20th century roads and rails linked those communities, by the 30’s and 40’s massive dams were going up for flood control and power generation and those streams were lost. Forgotten. They’re still forgotten, in a lot of places. Why thrash a half-mile through brush or negotiate private lands when you can back a BassTracker down a boat ramp? Why fight progress?
The streams fish well though, the farther you get from the unimproved access by the bridge where someone else’s dog met me. Big rock bass, bigger than I’m used to, with deep red eyes and black-margined fins, are tucked under boulders and ledges. Smallmouth, some impressive ones, pounce on crayfish patterns worked through rock gardens. In the faster water there’s blue-bellied Coosa bass, planted back in the sixties when some idealistic biologist wanted better small-stream fisheries. Probably unnecessary, but they’re fun on a light rod and bright-blue poppers.