Springtime always calls me back to a river.
The way I figure it, I may have been wandering Kentucky’s stream banks since before I was born.
In the months before I came along, my mother often took long walks up the sycamore-shaded “creek road” that bordered our family farm on the Hanging Fork of Dix River in Lincoln County.
In those days, we lived just upstream from the site of the old Dawson’s Mill, which had been dismantled years earlier. One of the heavy millstones served as a doorstep at our home when I was a boy.
Despite Hanging Fork’s dark and mysterious name, it was a most peaceable and picturesque creek back then. It was even used in scenes of MGM’s 1957 epic Civil War film, Raintree County.
Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift went wading not far from where I caught my first fish—a sun perch—with the help of my dad and a cane pole. We threw the sun perch back, but I was hooked for life.
In all the years since, Kentucky’s creeks and rivers have never loosed their hold on me.
Each spring, I find my hip boots and wade into the Salt River upstream from Taylorsville Lake, at a place known as the Mill Hole. It is the site of another long-vanished gristmill on the edge of an old farm that I laid claim to several years back—mostly because the river runs through it.
I wanted my own creek road and sycamores, and I wanted those little gifts that a river can bring when it is on its best behavior.
Among the unusual walking sticks that have found their way home with me over the years is a favorite that I spotted on the river bottom in three feet of water one spring. A beaver had cut a slender, straight limb into a length of nearly six feet, then gnawed away every inch of the bark, leaving only hundreds of intricate tooth marks.
Another year, in a dead snag near the river, two baby pileated woodpeckers poked their heads from a hole in the trunk almost each time I passed. I finally realized they were mistaking my footsteps for the sound of their mother returning to the nest.
A few springs ago, while I was fishing in midstream above the Mill Hole, two Canada geese, which have nested for several years on a small island nearby, suddenly came riding the swift water down a stair-stepped riffle just upstream.
They did not seem to be trying to guide themselves, but were happily swirling and bobbing like toy rubber ducks that a child had tossed into the rapids. Once out of swift water, they lifted off, chattering past me on their way downriver.
But in no time they flew back upstream and, to my surprise, came floating, side by side, spinning and bobbing through the rapids once more.
Maybe they’ll be back again this spring.