Nick Adams fished here, little more than a century ago. I couldn’t remember why Seney sounded familiar, it only hit with the tent up and the fire glowing, cudighi sizzling in a skillet, halfway through a beer. The town didn’t burn up, like he said. Just burned out, exhausted with the last of the virgin white pine. A century after his visit, it may as well have- little more than a gas station and a party store. I had forgotten most of the story now. I wish I carried it with me.
Today I fished the same stretch as Nick Adams. Or nearly so. The river was a working landscape then, a denuded pine plain with meadow along the river. Trees have grown back and shade the river, its bank choked with alder, its waters choked with spruce sweepers. I wish for a long, lithe rod I could thread between fallen branches and logs to charm native brook trout from deep, swift water. I manage a few.
When the sweet fern grew back from the ash of a burned away, logged away forest, enterprising locals cut them and baled them and shipped them to Chicago and Detroit for flower arrangements. Closed canopy shades out much of the sweet fern now, and a century’s wroth of accumulated duff feeds fungi and ghost flower.
Nick Adams described threading sooty gray grasshoppers onto bare hooks. The grasshopper on my tent is sooty colored above, well enough, green and tan underneath. The sun is low, about to dip behind the horizon. I am gathering firewood, trying to make sense curious gray claw-shaped galls hanging from pendulous branches of a pine tree. I inspect them a long time before realizing they’re not galls at all, but cones, encased in pitch and adapted to open when licked by flame. With the duff and logs and litter burned away, new trees take root in bare mineral soil.
Fire hasn’t touched this landscape since Nick Adams fished here.