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The Digressions of dr sanscravat

(e-pistle: 29 August 98)

Route seventeen rolls along New York's southern tier, periodically dipping toward the Pennsylvania border -- then rising as if to pay a visit to the finger-lakes. It passes places with names that stir the imagination -- Red House, Painted Post, Horseheads. We've seen these signs many times. Karen merely nods toward a particular sign to indicate that she already knows what I am going to say. I say nothing, and we chuckle over the untold jokes.

The sun goes down, and I keep on driving.

Karen doesn't like driving at night, but I am actually a safer driver in the dark.

During the day, I can't help noticing the beds of ancient Devonian streams, filled with rounded gravel that rolled along in their currents a hundred million years before the first dinosaurs. I know not to look for dinosaurs here -- any rocks that might have held their bones and footprints long ago washed into the sea. Where those rocks had been are rounded mounds of sand and gravel left by glaciers only yesterday.

With night, I am not so distracted. There is only the road.

Karen gradually falls asleep and I am left to think about night-driving. St.-Exupery I'm not, however, and until we pass through the convoluted and brightly lit area around Binghamton, little of interest occurs to me. I suspect that this is the sort of state in which drivers fall asleep, but a quart of Starbucks, from Erie, Pennsylvania, is still working.

I keep driving.

Around Deposit, the road begins to climb and descend and twist about -- we are entering the western margins of the Catskill plateau. Signs indicate the nearness of the Delaware River. Place names -- like Hale Eddy, Long Eddy and the enigmatic Fishs Eddy, conjure visions of giant trout swirling in the darkness.

We pass over a hill and enter the Beaverkill watershed -- hallowed ground for fly fishermen. If there was enough light, I would find it hard to resist watching the air above the streams, looking for the tell-tale swoop of swallows and darting of cedar wax-wings that indicate a hatch of may-flies or caddis-flies, checking to see that fishermen wade near the best positions in the stream.

But it is night, and there is a car tail-gating me. The car is so close, I can see the ribbed texture of the glass over his headlights in my mirror.

We pull into a rest area between Livingston Manor and Liberty -- the tail-gater follows us in, then parks several cars past us. No one gets out of the car. Perhaps a dozen cars are parked there -- but no one is walking around. We notice that raincoats and such are hanging inside the car next to us, and the windows are covered with condensation on the inside.

At the back of the rest area, flowing silently in the dark, is the Willowemoc -- the most trouty of the streams that feed, first, the Beaverkill and then the Delaware. The cars are filled with sleeping trout fishermen. It is nearing midnight, on a Friday, and they have driven -- probably straight from work -- so that they can wake up next to some of the prettiest water in the east.

Karen dozes lightly through the familiar mountains as we drive the last hour or so.

I smile in the dark, picturing the white inside a huge brook trout's mouth as it tries to inhale my home-made dry fly: the fly bouncing along perfectly, swinging naturally through the darkness under a mountain laurel that overhangs a Catskill stream, the great spotted antediluvian head emerging from unexpected depths.

The image is a quarter century old -- I did not hook that trout, but I have seen its rise a million times, in perfect clarity. I no longer fish for actual trout, but still, I envy the sleepers in the cars. Not, of course, the aching stiffness they will certainly feel in the morning -- but definitely the cool damp grass before dawn, the taste of coffee from a stainless steel thermos, and the promise of that glossy black current beneath the mountain laurels.

Read more of the good Doctor's writings.

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