Against the current

God's In Heaven

by Bob Romano

March is a time of transition on Bonnie Brook. Ice that gripped the stream through the cheerless winter may hold fast for another week or so, but as the month draws to a close, the hills that gently slope down toward the stream become a patchwork of hard pack and decaying leaves.

Temperatures during March have difficulty rising out of the high forties. Yet, the fish are there, groggy, but slowly waking from their winter doldrums under a current swollen with snowmelt and from early spring spates. By the end of the month, brook trout will take any pattern that imitates a black stonefly—an aquatic insect that rises from the bottom of the little stream in great numbers during this time of year.

April is a month of awakening. Phoebes build their annual nest under the eave of Trish’s gardening shed. The mottled heads of skunk cabbage have erupted from the moist soil along the back eddies of the little brook and now look like purple pods that may contain an alien species. Coltsfoot stretch across cobbled shoals. The plant’s yellow flowers blossom upon a single stalk before its leaves begin to sprout.

The earthy smell of damp soil and decaying duff drifts up from the forest floor. As the month proceeds, I must watch my step to avoid clusters of delicate bluets and violets that have sprung up along the sun-dappled path paralleling the stream. While colonies of trout lilies and Mayapples spread outward from the edges of the narrow path, one or more trilliums may hide under the shadows cast by a nearby conifer. Bird song now fills the air, redstarts, orioles, and vireos providing glimpses of crimson, yellow, and orange as their wings flash among the tangle of streamside bushes.

As the stoneflies wane the fish continue to take patterns fished under the surface, but resist looking upward until the latter weeks of the month when a series of mayflies, commonly called Blue Quills, Quill Gordons, and Hendricksons, stir from the stream’s cobbled bottom to rise in close succession. This is the time when rainbow and the recalcitrant brown trout, join their brook trout cousins—all three now rising to the surface to dine on this cornucopia of insects. For many anglers, these mayfly “hatches” signal the true beginning of the fly-fishing season.

But of all the months of the year, May is my favorite. Garter snakes stretch harmlessly across the path as they snooze under the noonday sunshine. Birds flit from branch to branch while the trout now come willingly to my flies.

Taking a knee, I can stare down at the tiniest of toads that stare back at me through the most innocent of eyes. With each step of my wading boot, frogs hop from the bank into the stream with a loud plop. Life appears to burst forth from the hardwood canopy down to the bottom of the stream where caddisflies now join stoneflies and mayflies to provide the fish a varied diet. The trout of Bonnie Brook appear as giddy as kittens playing with catnip-filled toys, willing to slip away from their hidey-holes, eager to grab any fly cast with a bit of skill.

This is a month of promise. Birds are nesting, does giving birth. Black bears have emerged from their dens, their cubs intent on mischief. Young cottontails have yet to learn the danger posed by owl and hawk. Another generation of chipmunks and groundhogs scamper from their dens to take in the sun-filled days while groundhog pups waddle across the lawn to graze on newly sprouted dandelions and fresh plantain. A line of young skunks follows their mama, seemingly amazed at this new world of wonder into which they have been born.

One of the woodland’s true enchantments is a succession of olfactory delights provided by barberry, honeysuckle, and wild rose. In many places, their thorny puzzlement of branches and vines forms a tunnel through which the stream flows.

As the month begins, the barberry’s bell-shaped flowers release a heady perfume, followed around the middle of the month, by the sweet scent of wild honeysuckle, concluding with a delicate fragrance given off by the tiny white-and-yellow blossoms of wild roses.

In this time of twenty-four-hour news cycles, divisive politics, never-ending wars, and exotic viruses, I find myself returning to Bonnie Brook during these precious few weeks of spring, when the woodland flowers are in bloom, the earth’s young are still filled with wonder, and the trout of Bonnie Brook are once again willing to come out and play. For this remains a time when God is in heaven and for a brief time all’s once again right with my world.

If you enjoy Bob’s essays, check out his blog.
This story was first published: Spring, 2020
Stay in the Loop!

Get our newsletter, This Week in the NJ Skylands, with updates, special offers and good ideas!

Read current newsletter

Privacy Statement