Upstream from us just a couple miles is the Elizabeth Mine, a now closed copper mine that produced some 8,500,000 pounds of copper in the 150 years or so that it was open.

Downstream from the mine is the western branch of the Ompompanoosuc river, the river that runs through the valley below our house and that feeds the waterfall we hear from our open summer windows. And through that river ran, for all those years and since, the rain and groundwater runoff that trickled through the mine’s tailings piles, picking up sulfuric acid and dissolved metals on its way.

21 years ago, nothing of any size lived in the west branch. The insects were killed by the contamination; nothing larger that ate the insects could survive. People were the life in the river. We swam it, we waded it, we hiked it, we did everything but drink it.

Somewhere back a couple decades ago, people started getting serious about cleaning up this mess. Years after that, serious work began on capping the tailings piles so that they were no longer exposed to rain, weather, and erosion.

At some point, we started to see tiny inch-long fish in the river, and crayfish, and lots of insects. We’ve had two generations of dogs whose hobby it’s been to stand in a shallow part of the river watching those little fish and wag their tails in greeting.

Late last week, the dog and I took our customary walk along the river. We’ve had a dry spell and the river’s running low for the first time all summer. The dog decided to go in for a wade and I followed. I was in up to my ankles less than a minute when I saw a flash of silver alongside a half-submerged rock.

A brown trout, nearly 8 inches long, lay on its side, pinned to the rock by the force of the current. It hadn’t been dead long. I was delighted and dismayed. A fish that size is unheard of in our river, and yet there it was: a miracle, a treasure—and dead.

I turned it over in the water to examine it. It was perfect. I don’t know what killed it, but its scales, fins, eyes, all were just as if it had been skimming below the surface of the water minutes before.

I took a picture to prove I hadn’t dreamt it up, and then left it as it was to feed some other creature.

On the walk back, I thought about abundance. How things appear where you least expect them. How a leaf-littered trail gives up a woodpecker’s feather. How a hay field is a wildflower garden. How a small tree branch can hide seven crows. How a single minute in a walk can contain an entire mystery: the ripple, the fish, the sun sparking a golden streak across the water’s surface, the dog’s tail wagging, the human leaning low over the fish, the life of a river returning hour by hour.

52 Photos ~ Where I would take you

Take me to the river

Last week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project was to take a picture of a place I would show you in my town.

We have a small town. There’s a combination post office/village store/gas station. The store doesn’t stock much, but if you need a bag of chips, or a dusty can of soup, or a dozen eggs, or the newspaper, you can get it there.

There’s a town hall. A town garage. A community center. Several schools. Several churches. Several cemeteries.

There’s a beautiful nursery where we buy our apple trees and blueberry bushes and other perennials.

There are many farms. Many trees (the maples are tapped for sap this time of year).

We have two covered bridges.

We have a dam.

One cafe.

A bank.

A river.

With two branches.

Which is where I absolutely would take you.

The west branch of the Ompomanoosuc river runs through the valley behind our house. Most of the year, H can hear the river’s waterfall from her bedroom window. Right now the river’s run is mostly locked up in ice and snow and the waterfall is just a ripple.

In the summer, we go to one of the swimming holes, and pilfer the day. We hike up the river (water up to our knees) and play in the riffles. We sun on the rocks like sleepy seals.

The picture above was taken last week, before the vernal equinox. Now that it’s spring, the difference is that there are six more inches of snow on that layer.

I’ll tell you what.

I’ll take you to the river, but let’s wait until July. We’ll pack a picnic of a sourdough loaf, a round of bloomy goat cheese, and quart of sweet strawberries. And a thermos of ice-cold lemonade and a jug of beer. We’ll wear our sunglasses and sunscreen and sunhats and moan with our heat-induced laziness. And we’ll try our darndest to remember what winter felt like.


This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

All this and a mystery, too

Phoebe's Field

Rainy day.

I’ve been quite inclined to do very little. But the dog will have none of that.

We walked in the rain, which is actually very fun, assuming 1) you abandon yourself to getting wet, and, 2) you can come home to dry, clean clothes.

The walking gave me time to think about words and things I ought to be doing and people I miss. It also gave me time to watch the river, in a big ol’ hurry to get over the rocks and under the bridge, where it settles into a slower flow.


High water

After we got home, I dried the dog with a towel, then went to make tea. The dog disappeared. I don’t know where he went. I looked upstairs to make sure that I wouldn’t find a soggy dog on the guest bed. Nope. No dog.

I looked on our bed, but all I found was a napping cat. I didn’t find the dog anywhere. After awhile, he reappeared and curled up on his bed next to my desk. I’m trying not to pry, but am very curious where he was.

A Wednesday mystery.

I think that’s kind of great.

And all this is mine.


This afternoon, I’m turning that rhubarb into jam by roasting it with brown sugar, ginger, and cinnamon.

Oh, and I enjoyed reading this article about R.F. Scott’s Antarctic medicine chest.

And this? Well this just made me smile.

52 Weeks ~ Symmetry (46/52)

RSiegel_Week46 - Symmetry

I’ve been staring at this picture for a week, and I find I don’t have anything to say about symmetry.

Symmetry is complete unto itself, beautiful, self-explanatory, and nothing I can say would add clarity.

Bridges, too, are beautiful, and perhaps I have more to say about those, but didn’t I once before? (Not that I’m opposed to repeating myself here, as you’ve seen.)

But when I look at that picture, I think, “railroad bridge”, which naturally takes me to “trains”.

Which I love.

There are piles of things to write about trains—their hypnotizing clickety-clackety rhythm; their openable windows (at least in Europe); their elegant lean around curves; the glimpses of new towns; the rush through empty stations; the ability to get up and stretch your legs on a long journey; the lonesome whistle—but here’s one that became obvious to me this week: there are approximately a gazillion train songs.

Really. Stop for just a moment and you’ll easily come up with a dozen that mention trains before you even start to really think.

Off the top of our heads, in just a few minutes, we listed Gentle on My Mind, 500 Miles, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, 3.10 to Yuma, Steel Rail Blues, Betting on Trains, Rainy Night in Georgia, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Take the ‘A’ Train, The Last Train to Clarksville, City of New Orleans, Wabash Cannonball, The Locomotion, Paradise (Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train), Midnight Special, Runaway Train (Roseanne Cash), Runaway Train (Soul Asylum), Hello Hopeville, If Love Was a Train, The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore, Slow Train Coming, This Train is Bound for Glory, plus about seven others that I can’t remember right now.

Go ahead and try it. You know a long list, too, right? When the first rush of titles slows, you can always check out this list of train songs.

This morning, I’m writing in a dark motel room. Everyone else is asleep. And every 20 minutes or so, I hear a distant train whistle. Lonely companionship, regular and reliable as time.

Christmas eve morning. Sun rising. A song or two on my mind.