Monday, November 26, 2012

Golden Rainbows

About an hour north of Atlanta, Georgia is a little town of about 5,200 people named Dahlonega.  Historically important as the location of the first United States gold rush in 1828, it is also 20 miles east of Springer Mountain where the majority of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers begin their northward trek.

Ten years after the mining began there, the government established a small mint that produced $1, $2.50, $3 and $5 gold coins until 1861 when the Confederacy laid claim to the mint upon secession from the Union.  It was on the steps of the Dahlonega mint that those famous, although probably misquoted, words “There be gold in them thar hills!” were uttered by Dr. M. F. Stephenson in 1849 while motioning to the mountains around Dahlonega.  He was trying to convince prospectors to stay in the Georgia mines instead of chasing after the gold recently discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California.

In the fall of 1954 another type of gold was discovered in Petersburg, West Virginia by Vincent Evans.  One female rainbow trout in the fish hatchery in Petersburg displayed a genetic mutation that made her a golden color.  She subsequently spawned hundreds of offspring which carried the golden gene and through selective breeding produced the West Virginia Centennial Golden Trout in 1963.

Fertilized eggs from these West Virginia trout were then transported to other states including Pennsylvania which began breeding the golden rainbows with regular trout producing a lighter hybrid known as a palomino trout.  Pennsylvania began stocking these gems in their streams and lakes in 1967.  Eleven years later, on my 13th birthday, I was fortunate enough to stake my claim to a bit of this gold as I pulled my first, and only, descendant of that golden West Virginia trout from the Kettle Creek in northern Pennsylvania.
 
**Photo courtesy of http://www.attractionsinpa.com/place/kettle-creek-state-park/

Every year in late April or early May, my family would go camping for a few days at Kettle Creek State Park in Renovo, PA.  It was a wonderful place where we would spend our days fishing, hunting mushrooms, learning about the flora and fauna from park rangers, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire and playing cards if it rained.  There was an upper campground above the Alvin Bush dam that overlooked the lake and a lower campground, where we stayed, that was along the stream that flowed from the base of the dam.  Is it any wonder that as I prepare for this extended camping trip that my mind again turns to the delightful provisions of the mountain streams?

Those cold, refreshing, crystal clear streams of the Appalachians provide stunningly beautiful waterfalls and meditative melodies to sooth the soul.  These streams also provide life to the plants, birds and animals of the forest and are a critical part of the support system that sustains hikers on their journey.  A hiker satisfies his thirst, fills his bottle to carry to the next stop or carries water to camp to cook his evening meal after cooling swollen feet in the icy mountain medicine.  In the hottest of months and if the pool is large enough, the hiker may strip down to his shorts and enjoy a swim; a little recreation and relaxation from the daily dirt pounding.

When a hiker of the A.T. takes a day off it is known as a Zero day for zero mileage or is a Nero day (for near zero) when only a few miles are hiked before stopping for the day.  On these off trail days, hiker’s do laundry, repair or shop for replacement gear and supplies, take showers, take naps, catch up on communication with family and friends, rest, seek medical help, if needed, and did I mention, sleep? 

For this hiker, I’m hoping to pan a little more gold from the hills on my Zero/Nero days.  It will be an added expense to acquire fishing licenses for the state I happen to be in at the time, but I would much rather spend those off days resting by a babbling brook or being lulled to sleep by the lapping of lake waves against the shore than being in a motel room.  And should I be a fortunate fisherman, there will be fresh fish to fry for dinner.
 
While it would be nice to once again harvest some gold from the waters of the Appalachian range, these nuggets are a rarity and I will be thankful for whatever jewel or gem --- be it trout, catfish, sunfish, bass or walleye --- that I am hopefully able to hook.  What a rich reward to receive!  And who knows, maybe there’s still some gold left in them thar hills!