Dennis Ryan

Wellsville, New York
Dennis Ryan
Wellsville, New York
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Trout Fishing With Louie Scarlotto In The Genessee River Valley

April 7,2021

As a boy growing up in the Allegheny foothills of southwestern New York state—otherwise known as The Southern Tier—I would go trout fishing during the spring, summer and fall with a local barber named Louie Scarlotto, a friend of the family who had plied his trade for more than forty years in my hometown of Wellsville, New York. Wellsville is located in the Genesee River Valley on two of the tributaries of the Genesee River, these tributaries joining together at Island Park, their confluence then flowing through the middle of town at the West State Street bridge. There are a plethora of other streams running through the county, and needless to say, we didn't have to venture far to find a trout stream, the closest one a mere ten-minute walk from the front door of my boyhood home, a stream flowing up and over a tiny dam on Miller Street, then down a steep decline into a large pool in which we swam as children in July and August each year. The water, you see, was pretty clean in those days.

This particular stream goes by the name of Dyke Creek, and Dyke Creek runs for miles through small county towns and hamlets such as Andover and Elm Valley, its waters finally entering the Genesee River as it journeys north to Rochester and Lake Ontario. At one time, Dyke Creek flowed under six bridges in Wellsville before making its way to Belmont, New York and then farther north, running through Letchworth Gorge on its way to Ontario. But those six bridges—that was a long time ago.

If memory serves me, five of those bridges are still in service today though they need constant maintenance. I should know. I was part of a work crew for two summers in the early 1970's that maintained these bridges, removing rust, dirt and various defects, then repainting them. Some of these bridges Those bridges.

Louie and I would leave home early, at daylight. On fine-weather days. It would be crisp and cold outside as we drove to different fishing spots: Crider Creek in Whitesville one week, Trapping Brook the next, Dyke Creek just west of Andover the following week. I have vivid memories of these locations, others, and there were certain places in each stream where I planted myself just because of the look, a certain composite look: the water sparkling and rippling over rocks, stones, the sunlight shining on the foliage, the trout just visible under the surface. They test one's patience: trout feed only at certain times, and for a short period of time during mornings and evenings. One's opportunity to catch them is time-limited, finite. Like life. If one doesn't catch them then, it rarely happens. At least that's my experience.

I best remember fishing mornings. I would stand on a stream edge, at the Crider, and wouldn't get a bite for maybe a half hour. Then the first trout would strike, then another and another, but gradually such strikes would end after forty-five minutes to one hour. If lucky, I would catch one, two brook trout, a larger brown trout on occasion, and on the rarer occasion a rainbow. It's not easy to catch trout in these smaller streams. They're smart. They don't go after everything, after every worm dangled in front of their eyes. They like flies, and are easier to catch if you are a fly fisherman. I never learned that art; I wish I had.

In any event, catching trout is a boy's dream. Yes, a boy's dream. I felt a certain excitement each time I would find myself fishing a stream, catching trout. As an adult, I realized that trout fishing was one of the things I could do to alleviate the boredom of everyday existence. Stay it. As you and I know, boredom, and loneliness, are human problems that we must work at to alleviate. To mitigate. To stay. Certain human activities like fishing help us in this regard: we can focus our attention on something, on something other than mundane existence. Then, we do not feel the clock ticking, sense the seconds passing. Enduring becomes less of an issue. As you and I know, we spend so many days and hours of our lives finding things to do to occupy time. In the end, though, we know that the ultimate human problems—boredom and loneliness included—are unsolvable.

After fishing, I dreamt of the trout, the streams, the locations where I caught them though my dreams would transform the facts into something rich and strange. I still dream these dreams: I am following the stream where it leads, around a bend, and suddenly trout appear, swimming and jumping for flies. Around the bend. The trout. Their sides flashing. The tops of their backs, darker, skimming along just beneath the surface. In some instances, I catch them with my hands and hold them up to the sunlight. Other people, strangers who I don't know, are doing the same. Reality has turned fantasy.

In essence, trout fishing had become a portal for my boyhood imagination. It remains so today.

In the process, the natural world, the stream, its environs had become a second home, a wellspring of comfort, peace and solace. It still is.

And I had been gifted this by the kindnesses of one man. And other kindnesses followed—though I was too young at the time to fully appreciate them for what they were, for Mr. Scarlotto for who he was. He had a daughter, but no son.

Many years later. A winter night upstate. Married, I went out to dinner with my family. We ate at a restaurant in my hometown that in its previous life had served as a pharmacy. My father's. Hall's Drugstore. I had worked in that pharmacy for five-six years before going off to university, and knew its every nook and cranny, its every corner and crack. The pharmacy had been housed in one of the oldest buildings in town. It had a rope-drawn freight elevator between the main floor and second floor, which served as a storage attic. And this attic held a treasure trove of antiques: hand-blown prescription bottles, old top hats,19th Century scales, weights and measures, studies and portraits of great philosophers, complete collections of Dickens and Thackeray. To enter that attic was to enter another place and time.

The pharmacist E.B. Hall had been the original proprietor and supplier of this attic. He had had the Italianate Pink House built in Wellsville in 1868 in the manner of an Italian mansion he had seen while traveling abroad. It remains family-owned to this day. Hall had reportedly practiced alchemy, tried to turn base metals into gold, and had built a special oven at the back of the pharmacy in an attempt to do so. He was a thinker and experimenter in his time. All this and more. But as is the case with much of this story, that was a long time ago.

In any case, back to the restaurant, to the seating near the front entrance which had once held the displays of Fanny Farmer chocolates. At a corner table, in the flickering light, I glimpsed Louie Scarlotto! What luck! Scarlotto among friends. I approached his table, but he didn't seem to recognize me. So I introduced myself, and he finally said, in a faltering tone, "Denny, is that you? " He had recognized my voice. He was a very old man. We stared at one another. He was wearing those high waders again, making his way across the stream at Trapping Brook after hooking a big one near that fallen timber, joy written across his face. The trout came out from underneath. The rod bent. The stream was there. The trout were there. We were there. The Easter Pie was too. Mary served the thick-packed slices of ham, cheese, eggs and greens to me and members of my family. Torte Pasqualina. Thirty-three layers of crust for each year Christ had lived.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Topic(s) of this poem: time,memory,meditation,friendship,kindness,home,fishing,easter,father and son,family,appreciation
POET'S NOTES ABOUT THE POEM
This prose poem is a meditation and an appreciation of lost times and places, and of one person in particular, conveyed as a fishing story that takes place in upstate New York in the late 1950's-early 1960's.
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