Sports column by Mattthew Dickerson: Finding water
My wife and I have been celebrating milestones lately — by which I mean opportunities to be more aware of my increasing age. Two summers ago our oldest son graduated from college, got engaged and declared his fiscal independence. Last summer we hit the point where we had been married for half our lives. This summer our oldest son got married, our middle son spent his first summer away from home, our youngest graduated from high school, and we crossed the barrier of having lived in Vermont for half of our lives.
Twenty-six years ago I was just settling into Addison County. Other than the first five years of my life (a period I don’t remember at all), and four years of graduate school, I have lived in small, rural, New England towns. The half-year I had of kindergarten was in a lumber-mill village of 400 in western Maine. Though both of the mills on the lake have long since closed and the economy is depressed, it is a place I still return to regularly.
I spent the next 12 years — my days of primary and secondary schooling — in a little apple orchard community in central Massachusetts an hour or so west of Boston. Though over the next 40 years it would grow to 5,000 residents, when we moved there in 1968 it was a town of only 800. Aside from an old farmhouse dating to the 1730s, for a few years we were the only residents on our wooded dead-end street.
Then I was off to college in Hanover, N.H. Though it sits (just barely) on the wrong side of the Connecticut River, it is a small New England college town not unlike Middlebury. Even the city where I spent my four years of graduate school was a relatively small city in the midst of a rural area in New York’s Finger Lakes Region. I could leave my apartment and be hiking or fishing within 10 minutes.
I have colleagues and acquaintances who moved to Addison County from large cities, and had a (sometimes painful) period of adjusting to small town life (where stores close at 5:30 p.m., “ethnic food” means “Tex-Mex tacos” and, as one colleague told me, “nobody uses blinkers because everybody already knows where everybody else is going”). For me, however, there was no need to adjust to rural life. If anything, the adjustment went in the other direction. My hometown had no grocery stores or restaurants. Bristol had both. Plus bakeries, gas stations, convenience stores and a great hardware store. Commuting to Middlebury, I had to get used to big city traffic; sometimes I’d have to wait almost two minutes to get through the town green rotaries and the Routes 7/30 intersection!
But I did have one important and painful adjustment. I didn’t know any of the local fishing waters in Addison. And being new to the area, I didn’t know anybody to show them to me. Local rivers and lakes have always been the points of reference by which I know and navigate an area. Even more than that, they are an important part of my sense of belonging and rootedness to a town or county.
I have long since forgotten the names of most roads in the town where I grew up. But I could sit down and sketch out a map of the three primary year-round streams that flowed through the town — mostly through woodland and wetlands when I was there in the 1970s, but now often through back yards and McMansion-style developments. I could sketch in the ponds as well, where I swam, canoed and cast rubber worms and hula poppers for largemouth bass. (I’m not sure if my memory is aided or hurt by the fact the Little Pond was the larger of the town ponds, while West Pond was the one to the east.)
One of my first tasks in college and graduate school was to discover the streams within biking distance of my dorm (I didn’t own a car until I got married). There was only one trout stream in Hanover, but it wound quite a distance around town so there were several places I could get off into a wooded section and fish. I still remember them. As for graduate school, I haven’t fished Ithaca in a quarter century. But I have a clear mental map of several rivers and streams and gorges that cross the landscape like veins at the southern end of Cayuga Lake.
Then there are the rivers and streams of western Maine where I went to kindergarten. I have no problem remembering them because I still visit them several times a year. They were foundational to my shaping as a stream and river angler. The names are like a balm on my tongue. Rapid. Magalloway. Sunday. Bear. Androscoggin. Concord. Kennebago. And as a teenager, the most important of all, the Little Androscoggin.
It was not until I really began to know the local rivers of Addison County — and a few of the better bass and pike lakes and mountain trout ponds — that I really felt at home here. Not until I knew the various characters of the Middlebury and New Haven rivers as they changed from mountain brooks to tumbling gorges to sloggy sine curves meandering through agricultural land.
Various regions also have their seasonal patterns. September has a very particular rhythm in rural agricultural communities in the Northeast — similar in all the towns I’ve lived in. College towns have a particular added element to that rhythm: the return of students, and the seasonal influx of new members of that community.
Every year, it seems, one or two of those new entries into our community — freshmen or new faculty or staff members at the college — will be a fellow angler, eager to be introduced to the local waters. Somebody like myself who will feel displaced until they knew where they can go cast a line with some chance of that line going taut. A few of them find their way to me. And I will end up taking them to one or two of my favorite honey holes, thinking not about how that will make my favorite spot a little more crowded, but more how it will make Addison County a little bit more like somebody’s new home. Even if only for four years.