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Fishing at Willoughby Falls

05/15/04 12:00AM By Alan Boye
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(Host) Today, a curious swimming event inspires commentator Alan Boye's latest walk.


(Boye) I came to Willoughby Falls in Orleans, Vermont hoping to see one of nature's most dramatic rituals. Each spring about this time the leaping Rainbow Trout make their annual migration up the Barton River to the mouth of the much smaller Willoughby River. There they are confronted with a 3-foot tall waterfall and a series of violent, foaming rapids.

I walk from the small parking lot following three people carrying fishing gear, but as they turn right on the trail that leads to the river below the falls, I turn left. I follow a couple of muddy ruts that serve as a path. On the opposite shore of the river is a square, stone spire, the only remnant of some long-vanished mill.

Soon I stand above the tumultuous river. Below me the Willoughby River tumbles past a ledge of rock so straight it seems as if it has been cut by a mighty saber. The rock creates a dozen churning chutes of whitewater that shimmer in the afternoon's glowing sunlight.

The rainbow trout usually make their spring migration up Willoughby Falls between the final week of April and mid May. No one can predict exactly when they might show themselves. Their migration depends on the amount of water in the river, the sunlight, the heat of the day, and other mysteries we may never understand. Still, several other people are standing on the rocks below, motionlessly staring at the foam.

I climb down a wooden staircase and stand at a narrow waterfall of pounding water. Near me are three other people: a couple and an older woman. The older woman nods at me. "My daughter in law here is from Florida," she says above the roar. "She's never seen anything like this."

I stand and study the foam. The endless rumble of the water calms me. There seems to be nothing else in the world but this peaceful May afternoon, a sky as blue as hope, and the river's wild roar.

A black flash: nothing more than a shadow - but as vibrant as pure life. Then, I see it again: the sleek, dark shape of a trout breaks through the foam and swims - if only for an instant - straight up into the spring sky. Free from the chains of water it swims the pure air, full of the lust for life. For a split second it hangs in the sky and then disappears into the water just above the falls.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.
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