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Pepacton: A Summer Voyage
by [?]

WHEN one summer day I bethought me of a voyage down the east or Pepacton branch of the Delaware, I seemed to want some excuse for the start, some send-off, some preparation, to give the enterprise genesis and head. This I found in building my own boat. It was a happy thought. How else should I have got under way, how else should I have raised the breeze? The boat-building warmed the blood; it made the germ take; it whetted my appetite for the voyage. There is nothing like serving an apprenticeship to fortune, like earning the right to your tools. In most enterprises the temptation is always to begin too far along; we want to start where somebody else leaves off. Go back to the stump, and see what an impetus you get. Those fishermen who wind their own flies before they go a-fishing,–how they bring in the trout; and those hunters who run their own bullets or make their own cartridges,– the game is already mortgaged to them.

When my boat was finished–and it was a very simple affair–I was as eager as a boy to be off; I feared the river would all run by before I could wet her bottom in it. This enthusiasm begat great expectations of the trip. I should surely surprise Nature and win some new secrets from her. I should glide down noiselessly upon her and see what all those willow screens and baffling curves concealed. As a fisherman and pedestrian I had been able to come at the stream only at certain points: now the most private and secluded retreats of the nymph would be opened to me; every bend and eddy, every cove hedged in by swamps or passage walled in by high alders, would be at the beck of my paddle.

Whom shall one take with him when he goes a-courting Nature? This is always a vital question. There are persons who will stand between you and that which you seek: they obtrude themselves; they monopolize your attention; they blunt your sense of the shy, half- revealed intelligences about you. I want for companion a dog or a boy, or a person who has the virtues of dogs and boys,– transparency, good-nature, curiosity, open sense, and a nameless quality that is akin to trees and growths and the inarticulate forces of nature. With him you are alone, and yet have company; you are free; you feel no disturbing element; the influences of nature stream through him and around him; he is a good conductor of the subtle fluid. The quality or qualification I refer to belongs to most persons who spend their lives in the open air,–to soldiers, hunters, fishers, laborers, and to artists and poets of the right sort. How full of it, to choose an illustrious example, was such a man as Walter Scott!

But no such person came in answer to my prayer, so I set out alone.

It was fit that I put my boat into the water at Arkville, but it may seem a little incongruous that I should launch her into Dry Brook; yet Dry Brook is here a fine large trout stream, and I soon found its waters were wet enough for all practical purposes. The Delaware is only one mile distant, and I chose this as the easiest road from the station to it. A young farmer helped me carry the boat to the water, but did not stay to see me off; only some calves feeding alongshore witnessed my embarkation. It would have been a godsend to boys, but there were no boys about. I stuck on a rift before I had gone ten yards, and saw with misgiving the paint transferred from the bottom of my little scow to the tops of the stones thus early in the journey. But I was soon making fair headway, and taking trout for my dinner as I floated along. My first mishap was when I broke the second joint of my rod on a bass, and the first serious impediment to my progress was when I encountered the trunk of a prostrate elm bridging the stream within a few inches of the surface. My rod mended and the elm cleared, I anticipated better sailing when I should reach the Delaware itself; but I found on this day and on subsequent days that the Delaware has a way of dividing up that is very embarrassing to the navigator. It is a stream of many minds: its waters cannot long agree to go all in the same channel, and whichever branch I took I was pretty sure to wish I had taken one of the others. I was constantly sticking on rifts, where I would have to dismount, or running full tilt into willow banks, where I would lose my hat or endanger my fishing-tackle. On the whole, the result of my first day’s voyaging was not encouraging. I made barely eight miles, and my ardor was a good deal dampened, to say nothing about my clothing. In mid-afternoon I went to a well-to-do-looking farmhouse and got some milk, which I am certain the thrifty housewife skimmed, for its blueness infected my spirits, and I went into camp that night more than half persuaded to abandon the enterprise in the morning. The loneliness of the river, too, unlike that of the fields and woods, to which I was more accustomed, oppressed me. In the woods, things are close to you, and you touch them and seem to interchange something with them; but upon the river, even though it be a narrow and shallow one like this, you are more isolated, farther removed from the soil and its attractions, and an easier prey to the unsocial demons. The long, unpeopled vistas ahead; the still, dark eddies; the endless monotone and soliloquy of the stream; the unheeding rocks basking like monsters along the shore, half out of the water, half in; a solitary heron starting up here and there, as you rounded some point, and flapping disconsolately ahead till lost to view, or standing like a gaunt spectre on the umbrageous side of the mountain, his motionless form revealed against the dark green as you passed; the trees and willows and alders that hemmed you in on either side, and hid the fields and the farmhouses and the road that ran near by,–these things and others aided the skimmed milk to cast a gloom over my spirits that argued ill for the success of my undertaking. Those rubber boots, too, that parboiled my feet and were clogs of lead about them,–whose spirits are elastic enough to endure them? A malediction upon the head of him who invented them! Take your old shoes, that will let the water in and let it out again, rather than stand knee-deep all day in these extinguishers.