Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature


I never order trout in a restaurant.  Though I was tricked once by neat rows of trout on ice at my local fish market.  Never again.  Their taste, at best, only a vague resemblance to what I’d grown up with.

My dad always carried the fish he’d caught in an old wicker creel.  Straight from a mountain stream to our kitchen.  Brookies, he called them, which I discovered later are the Pennsylvania state fish.  These red speckled trout went from creel to newspapers at the kitchen sink for cleaning.  Then my mother rolled them in corn meal and sautéed them in butter in a cast iron pan as old as my dad’s creel.

“The best meals I’ve ever had,” my niece once said of the delicate smell and taste of the sweet trout from those long ago lunches.  That this tribute came from a granddaughter who later turned vegetarian makes me smile.

When I was old enough to walk the creek, I learned to fish in Double Run, my dad’s favorite spot.  A mountain stream of white waterfalls, flat rippled stretches, and deep pools, it runs frothing down the hillside into Loyalsock Creek, which drains into the Susquehanna River, the center of one of the largest watersheds in the country.  This, then, empties into the Chesapeake Bay, and from there into the Atlantic Ocean.

This afternoon, a grey day in late September, my adult daughter and I are near the end of a five-hour drive back to where I grew up.  As we start  up the valley , the mountains around us feel like old friends.  Today, though, there is something different.  The winding road, usually deserted, is full of traffic.  A  steady stream of pick-up trucks and tankers rolls along just barely keeping to their side of the narrow road.

“What’s going on?”  Jessie asks.

“Frackers,” I say.  Quitting time on a Friday afternoon, the workers are streaming out of their natural gas drilling sites for the weekend.  Bumper to bumper traffic in a rural area that has always had  just one traffic light for the whole county.  Clearly, there are changes ahead.

“More wet weather coming,” the rental manager says when she checks us in.  “That flood last week from the storms, and now there’s more rain.”  She hands us keys to the small stone cottage we are renting that sits on a privately-owned parcel of fields and woods.  “Call if you need any more firewood,” she adds.  “And don’t be surprised if you hear a helicopter buzzing around in the morning.  It’s the frackers.”

I open my mouth, then close it again.  There are at least two sides to the word.  Ironically, this undeveloped area is eager for jobs, including those with fracking.  But the area also relies heavily on tourist trade, people drawn to the pristine beauty of these mountains.  Raising the possibility of a disastrous collision somewhere down the road.

‘Stop this!’ I want to say.  But I don’t live here anymore, and people who do seem to feel I have lost my right to object to this fracking invasion.  Nonetheless. I worry about the pressurized fluids the frackers inject into the ground, a sort of slurry of water and chemical additives (some still unidentified to the public).  Particularly when I am right here – in the mountains.

In the morning, it’s raining, the kind of steady rain that usually signals an all-day affair.  No matter, we put on our raingear and drive down to World’s End.  In the center of this state park, orange traffic signs close the road to the town below.  Through the drizzle,  I can make out thick trees and saplings along what used to be the edge of the creek now toppled sideways or into the water.  The flooding from the unusual pattern of heavy storms has pushed the creek banks back, leaving thick deposits of rock and gritty dirt on top of what had been a green forest floor.  And some of the heavy wooden tables where we often picnicked are now tipped on their side, others flipped completely upside down, carried distances by the surging water.

“Look!”  Jess points to the lower end of Double Run, where it empties into the Loyalsock.  “The trail’s closed.”  The trunk of an uprooted, thick hemlock blocks the path as frothy water roars down the creek bed.

Heading back to the road, I remember a picture from a time when my dad brought Jessie and her brother as preschoolers to this same spot.  A picture that now sits on my son’s bookcase back home.  Over the years, it has survived two moves though Chris only sees it now on  his visits home for holidays.  My daughter, in her little blue jacket, stands beside her even then taller twin brother, both of them grinning as they hold up their catch.

Congruently, there is (somewhere) a small black and white picture of me, about that same age, fish proud, with my thumb stuck in the gills of a Double Run trout.  And from further back in time, in a family album, another black and white photo, my dad looking much younger than I ever remember seeing him.  Striking a cocky young man sort of pose, pipe in mouth, showing off his catch of the day.

Sunday morning, the rain has stopped.  I pour coffee, then lay kindling for a fire.  An odd, out-of-place sound registers, a distant humming, first faint  then more distinct.  It grows into a loud mechanical buzzing  that thunders right overhead.  The frackers.

I run outside.  A silvery helicopter is tacking back and forth over the fields beside the cottage, a thick cable suspended from its belly.  The cable hangs straight down with a rectangular metal box attached to the bottom, a box that stays smoothly horizontal just yards above the ground.  Sensing equipment.  Looking for more places to drill.

“Go away . . . Go away,” I yell, arms waving over my head.  The whirring buzz drowns me out, but I keep on.  I frantically jog in place, shifting to face the helicopter.  But it is oblivious; its path does not change.  It continues back and forth over the fields.  Then whirls around and heads down over the hill, its sound fading to a muted buzz, then silence.

My daughter stands in the cottage doorway.  “Oh, Mom,” she says.

I hug her and weep.

The flood damage we saw yesterday along the creeks  was bad.  But over the years this area has survived flooding, hurricanes and even a tornado.  The land and waters have always righted themselves, proving their ability to absorb and repair damage from these sometimes strong but natural events.

But fracking feels different.  Unknown.  Even with all its scientific data, man is at the helm.  Not nature.

Aldo Leopold wrote, decades ago,  in his classic Sand County Almanac:

“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.  Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.”

In my mind I see my dad, creel still in hand, pausing only a moment before he answers.

By Jacqueline F. Robb

6 comments on “DOUBLE RUN

  1. tbtam
    August 1, 2015

    Having just eaten the best smoked trout of my life, caught in the little loyalsock, this post really hit me hard. We are so so worried that the effects of fracking on this wonderful place could be permanent.

    Here’s a blog pair I wrote about the trout (w recipe) http://www.tbtam.com/2015/07/smoked-trout.html

    Tried to catch some fish today but no luck .i think my hook was too small. Would love to know where you used to fish in double run.


    • jfrobb
      August 2, 2015

      As I remember, from when I was a kid – On the road from Eagles Mere to World’s End and Forksville, down over a steep hillside of trees to Double Run. Of course, the deep pools are the best. With the water level, surprisingly, up for this time of year because of all the rain. Your smoked trout, by the way, sounded and looked very tasty.


      • tbtam
        August 3, 2015

        Thanks! That was what I was thinking. Hiked alone double run a couple of years back. Got me the right hooks (I think) and am going to try next weekend. Late in the season I know, but my cousin scored three last week, so I \m going to hope.


  2. tbtam
    August 1, 2015

    Just smoked up some brook trout caught in the little loyalsock not far from double run. Here’s the recipe –

    Your post really hit home . So worried re the permanent impact of fracking on this beautiful piece of heaven in Pennsylvania.

    Thanks for writing this


  3. Patricia Nugent
    June 24, 2014

    This is a beautifully written story. I feel the author’s deep sense of loss, and it heightens my own fears about what fracking is doing to our environment. We continue to hold the line in NYS but the natural gas lobby is so strong that constant vigilance is needed. Thank you for publishing this reminder of what we could all someday lose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jacqueline Robb
      June 24, 2014

      Kudos to NYS, which I think is doing a better job (with its moratorium bills) than PA of paying good attention to fracking. It’s a complicated issue, with both environmentalists and industry reporting data they feel support their side of it. But clearly we only have one shot at this. I like what your State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is quoted as saying, in terms of questioning the need to rush into fracking. “The natural gas deposits within the Marcellus Shale are not going anywhere.” Let’s hope and stand for wisdom all around to protect our natural environment. An environment that includes Double Run, its watershed, and all the other watersheds across the country.

      Liked by 2 people

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