Litchfield County Sketches
By Newell Meeker Calhoun
Litchfield County University Club
SHOULD you ask some of the Sons of Litchfield County concerning the most fascinating bits of scenery within her borders, they would be sure to tell you that these were to be ‘found along her many trout streams running among the hills. These will give you, it is true, only what we have called bits of scenery, but they are like those bits of Venetian tear vases from the old Roman tombs, valued not for their size but for their marvellous beauty. It is doubtful whether any one can enjoy these leaping, rushing, gurgling, laughing streams quite as much as he who goes a-fishing.
Everybody knows that there is fishing and fishing. That is not the best in which you catch fish simply. You can get a]l the glory ‘of the mountain and the morning, tingling nerves and warm, rich blood, even though your creel may be empty. The recreation of fishing is quite independent of the fish. The ideal fisherman fishes not to ff1 his basket, but for appetite and health, for communion with Nature and with himself, for life’s best wine drunk in with the pure air, for the sunshine and the bird notes. These he may always “catch.” The pursuit of the fish or the game just gives zest to the trip, and furnishes a good excuse for his being out of doors in the Springtime. To know the beauties of our mountain county you must follow the trout brooks through woods and meadows until they lose themselves in the rivers. You certainly will not know the charm of these hills to the full until you do.
You are going a-fishing for trout, then, and will take a friend along with you. It is a proof of friendship that you should ask him to go, for at such times men get close together, and tell each other their hopes and fears, their plans and purposes. The morning dawns bright and clear, for you have watched for the warm morning after the Spring rain. The phoebe bird salutes you from the ridge of the old barn as you pass out into the presence of the new day. The robin chorus was finished while you were dressing and taking your hasty breakfast. By the way, what a fine chorus it is, with the catbird for a soloist! The leader evidently spends his nights in a treetop, on some rise of ground, where he gets the first peep of day in his eyes. Immediately he sounds his waking call, and straightway is answered by one here and another there, until the trees of the wood and the orchard seem full of the members of this Litchfield County choral union. The air fairly vibrates with their songs. They sing before breakfast, and the sun is no sooner up than their music dies away, and they all go a-fishing for worms on the lawn and in the meadow, and after that turn their attention to prospecting for nests and following architectural pursuits for their working hours. You see that a pair of these musicians, having agreed to live together “until death do us part,” have very nearly finished a nest in the cherry tree, which has decked itself in milk-white blossoms for the bridal and the homecoming. Passing down through the rows of pink and white apple trees, we hear the woodpecker calling his mate from the dead limb of a tree, using it for a drum. White mist, like a soft bridal veil, hangs over the lower reaches of the brook which we purpose following. Like good fishermen, we choose to fish down the stream, and so follow a wood road far up the valley until we come to the upper reaches of the brook, where its cool waters are gathered from springs that bubble up from mossy banks. As we adjust our fishing tackle—what excitement there is in getting ready to fish !—we hear the exquisite music of the, wood thrush, as it comes up from the depths of the forest below. There is hardly any other bird which puts so much of mysterious melody into its singing, making you to dream of all sweet sounds and voices you have ever heard. NOW you hear the gurgling and purling of the brook, as it winds in and out over the stones, or its soft plashing as it falls over some moss-covered rock. The yellow cowslips are flecking its banks, like glints of noonday sun. You creep cautiously up toward the bank of the stream, arid let your hook float with the current as it swirls under an overhanging bank, where the bushes are provokingly in your way. Once, twice it follows down with the stream without attracting any attention. Little you know ‘what sharp eyes are watching it, for the third time there is a break in the pool, a dash down the stream, a quick pull on the line, a thrill up the rod and through your arm, as you feel that the fish is hooked. These brook trout on the smaller streams do not ordinarily have to be played long, as their size is not great. Soon you have him in your basket, along with some fresh ferns, and have an opportunity of seeing the most beautiful fish that ever swam in water, the true Salvelinus fontinalis. The brook trout has well been called “the speckled beauty.” Behold him now as he lies there freshly taken from the cold water; how perfect his tapering form, built for speed like the racehorse, colored to suit the light or dark water in which he lives, and never so beautiful as when just taken from a cold mountain stream and resting upon ferns or moss from his own brookside!
As we follow along there is time to note the familiar white blossoms of the shad-bush (A melanchier) , among the early blooms in the New England woods. The maples are beginning to show a tinge of red in their unfolding leaves; violets are scattered about with a lavish hand, while adder tongues and bloodroot peer out at you between mouldering logs and in fence corners. Clambering over one of the fallen giants of the ‘forest, you sit down to rest a little, while your friend, coming up, shows you the contents of his basket, and both are reminded of the pocket luncheon which was brought along for just such a moment as this. So we sit there munching our bread and butter, swapping fish stories and listening to the music of the woods. Our lungs are filled with purest air, sweet water from the brook quenches our thirst, while the woodsy atmosphere surrounds us, causing us to pity the poor city people who neither know nor love the country, and those poorest of all poor people who never went a-fishing on a May morning in a wild mountain stream. This fisherman has fished for trout in a burn in Glen Argyle, flowing into Loch Katrine; in the woods of Michigan, and among the Green Mountains of Vermont; in ‘the streams of Massachusetts in sight of the Holyoke range, and under the shadow of Mount Lafayette, in New Hampshire; but the streams of Litchfield County are dearer to him than all the rest combined, and more beautiful. “0 stream of the mountains, if answer of thine Could rise from thy waters to question of mine, Methinks through the din of thy thronged banks a moan Of sorrow would swell for the days which have gone.
“Not for thee the dull jar of the loom and the wheel, The gliding of shuttles, the ringing of steel; But that old voice of waters, of bird and of breeze, The dip of the wild fowl, the rustling of trees.”
Alas, that so many of our dear old brooks are sadly changed! From lazy, laughing trout streams, playing at hide-and-seek all the day long, they have become working “water powers,” with prosy lengths of mill dam and flume, and dull monotony of whirring wheels. We have come to put a mercantile value upon them, these rushing mountain torrents, and figure out what they are actually worth for the driving of dynamos or looms. Unfortunate, is it not, that in the progress of civilization we must sacrifice the beautiful to the useful?
On the other hand, some of these remote brooks are going back to their old-time wildness and idleness. It is no uncommon thing to find one in the northern part of the county, on the upper reaches of the Housatonic or the Farmington, with the old mill in ruins, the wheel stranded among the rocks and overgrown with Virginia creeper, more picturesque in death than in life, while a deep pooi shows us where the mill dam stood long years ago. You may sit on the rocks and dream of the old days when the farmer’s boy brought hither his grist upon the back of the family horse, waiting for it to be ground, and in the mean time fishing off these same rocks, until the miller warned him that the millstone had done its work for him. The boy has grown to manhood now, and is a busy doctor in a far-away city. I wonder whether his heart does not long for the old days when he used to go a-fishing.
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