River and Rain

by | Nov 22, 2020 | 11 comments

Tap, tap, ta-tap, tap, tap-a-tap.

The rain is steady. And thick limbs on the hemlock above me are soaked. Even the bark on what was the dry side of the tree trunk is dark and wet now. But the hanging boughs collect raindrops and provide a canopied shelter for me. Water slides down thin stems, joining with other tiny streams from sister stems, until those streams merge on thicker, parent branches.

Just above my seat at the base of the oldest tree in the valley, the stream of water flowing along a hemlock branch stops at a knot in the wood. Most of it diverts to the junction with the tree trunk, but some of it splits from the stream and falls in thick drops that travel thirty feet, straight down to find the grey nylon hood of my wading jacket.

Tap, ta-tap, tap, tap-tippy-tap, tap.

The rhythm lands in time with a Beatles song. And for the next few minutes, Strawberry Fields fills my head. I hum a few bars and lightly sing the chorus under my breath. That’s enough to earn the attention of River, my five month old Aussie pup. And his wet nose pokes under my shady hood to press against my cheek for a moment. He leans in hard with his wet body, and I cradle an arm around my friend for a long hug.

It’s good to be fishing with a dog again. I remember sitting through hard rain like this with my Border Collie, Dylan, so many years ago. He loved the woods too, and something about a storm engaged his senses. While I’d take up shelter under an evergreen, Dylan would tear off through the woods at full tilt. He’d make laps around an imaginary perimeter, with his head held high, staring into the rain with a smile that only friends of a dog can understand.

But River is different from Dylan. He’s a mirror. Whatever I do, he does, and at five months, that’s not so unexpected from a shepherd. I wonder what he’ll be like five years from now. Surely, we’ll sit in the rain many more mornings together, so I’ll find out.


Drip, drip, drip.

A Blue Winged Olive hovers and flutters next to River’s face for a moment, and he sees it. (River doesn’t miss much.) Tilting his head, he’s just about to lunge for the mayfly when a large raindrop knocks the hapless Olive from the air — more confusion in the life of a puppy. I chuckle, and River relaxes while I start to tell him a story . . .

Dad and I camped in tents early on. And I remember those dark nights, lying awake on low cots and breathing the cleanest, coldest air I’d ever felt. I wanted never to fall asleep, but to lie there content, awake and soaking it all in. It rained often on those spring trips. I heard songs in the raindrop patterns then too. And music accompanied the sleep when it came.

Tap, tap, ta-tap, tap-a-tap.

I’m thankful for rain again. I’ve been through enough decades in these woods to see a little of everything, but the extended drought this summer was different. I never worried for the trout, because this limestone spring-fed region holds its baseflow well. But I grew tired of the fishing routine, as our trout seemed stuck inside of summer until these last few rain events finally bumped the flows.

I love it here for the constant changes. Four seasons. We have it all. There are weekly and daily amendments to the habits of trout, inspired by fluctuations in the flows and the rise or fall of temperatures. I’m thankful for that.

River stirs. He leaves my side and walks to a fallen log carpeted with dripping green moss. He places two paws on the log and lifts his nose into the rain, taking in colorful scents that I can’t even imagine. He lingers there, and for a moment I see everything that he will become. It feels good to be fishing with a dog again.

When he finally leaves the log, River returns to me and repeats the wet-nose-to-the-cheek routine before settling under my arm for a second time. So I finish my story . . .

The tent always had a leak somewhere, and while the music of the rain was welcome, the invasive water brought with it a wearisome chill by the morning. Somewhere, always, cold rain made its way to the interior of my clothes. And now, under this tree, it seems that the slightest trickle of water is running down the back of my neck.

I’m unsure if my jacket has failed or the water traveling along my spine is what was gathered in my hood before I finally flipped it up a half hour ago.

I watch the hard rain land on River. Most of the drops bounce off his thick coat, but plenty make it through. He’s soaked, no matter how often he shakes his body to shed the rain and start anew. River doesn’t care. But my nature is to be concerned about the water on my back. It’s early in the day. Will I be wet and uncomfortable in forty degrees and gusty winds? Hopefully I’ll warm up when I get back to fishing.

I stare at River and admire his abilities. He lives each moment. Every event stands alone. With no thoughts or burdens of time, the next raindrop isn’t even a notion in River’s mind. His senses are pure, without concern for the future.

I can learn a lot from that.

Fish hard, friends.


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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Your story reminds me of Tuffy, my border collie/Aussie shepherd mix. Both of these breeds create extraordinary individuals. Best buddies ever.

  2. Love your dog..you’re a lucky man. I enjoy reading your stories on this off season for me..reading them puts me there fishing with you and River. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Great story…Greater relationship…yer a lucky guy…and Oh Yeh! so is River.

  4. I’m curious if you are concerned he could run up against a rattler or copper head in the warmer months and how to teach him to stay away? That would have me nervous all day.

    • Hi Mark,

      It’s a fair point. My Dad used to say that about Dylan. He also said Dylan was going to break a leg or get a stick in the eye by running through the woods so fast. All of it could happen. It’s a risk. But I guess I’m just the type of person to live with those risks so I can live the way I choose. If I was too worried about what could happen, then I wouldn’t make all these great memories with my dogs. It’s a life decision, really, and not so much about a dog. It’s that’s just the way I approach life.

      River got his foot in a fox trap today. That was a bad scene. (He’s okay.) I got it out in less than ten seconds, because I’m prepared for it and I know how to release them. Dylan got his foot in a trap four times. It’ll happen again to River, and it will be horrible. But the trips will still be worth it.

      I should mention this, though: You have to keep in mind that my dogs are shepherds. They are bred to work with people. A good shepherd constantly looks to his owner to see what is next. That’s their job and their purpose in life. Most breeds aren’t that way. A terrier, for example, wants to root around and dig for mice and other things. That will put him in more danger around snakes. I’ve been around a lot of Labs and Rottweilers. Most of them would chase deer, racoons, squirrels, rabbits, etc., and they might paw at a snake (I’ve never seen it). My dogs just walk right past snakes and they don’t chase animals. It’s just not in their nature much.

      Make sense?


  5. Thanks for the reply my pups close to the end I’ll look into a Shepherd as I believe it could add a lot to the day of fishing with your dog along. They’re always ready to go.

  6. Thank you, Dom, for the reminders of our best memories and a need to let the future take care of itself.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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