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A River Close to Home



Dennis Yates

One afternoon, I stepped into an ale-dark current thick with leaves. A steady drizzle had turned into a fine sleet, icing clusters of bittersweet berries and the oval scarlet leaves of burning bush along the banks. In my hip-boots I stood beneath massive sycamores and maples, rhythmically casting a streamer toward undercut banks and half-submerged timber. Somewhere in the loss of time that ensues from this Zen-like activity, I was transported back a thousand or more years, reminded that the course of this riverbed still follows to some degree that of a more ancient Pomperaug.

Like many streams throughout New England, the Pomperaug is a beleaguered river. Dammed for mills during early Colonial times, its aquifer tapped for water, and its waters silted by effluents, the river flows approximately 14 miles in a southwesterly course before emptying into Lake Zoar, a 975-acre lake formed by the hydroelectric Stevenson Dam. Prior to 1919, from this confluence point, it flowed the entire 26-mile length of the Housatonic River into Long Island Sound. Still, meandering through the southwest hills of Connecticut, it is trout country as boreal and wild as any of the more fabled streams of the Northeast.

Working a tangle of roots, my five-weight rod jolts in my hands, and I play a scrappy 15-inch brown trout. It is sleek and sinewy in my net and hands—a cold microcosm of the river itself. I release it into the current where it hovers over the variegated bottom. The Pomperaug, regrettably, is a kind of elegy to other once-native species as well, including anadromous populations of shad, blueback herring, and alewives. These migrations up the Housatonic and up that river’s tributaries—the Still River, Naugatuck, Shepaug, and Pomperaug—ended with the construction of the Derby Dam in 1870, and the more formidable Stevenson Dam.

Evidence of another species that used to inhabit the Pomperaug came to my attention a few years ago, when I began encountering a strange-looking rake at local yard sales and in the musty corners of antiques stores, one akin to Poseidon’s trident, only smaller. These were probably the implement of choice for the harvesting of American eels, until their disappearance with the Stevenson Dam. For the original peoples of this inland region, the migratory runs of fish were essential. One can imagine the traces of smoked freshwater eel wafting over the fields and woods. Alas, the epoch when the Pomperaug teemed with fins is long gone, and the stone weirs of Indians found a few miles north on the Nonnewaug, are a remnant of this vanished prehistory.

The river seems at times like a secluded patch of wildness, but this is misleading, since at times you are confronted with massive contemporary homes that appear through the woods like suburban monoliths. A stretch of the riverbed in Southbury is ornamented with thermoplastic stones, indications of the golf course through which it passes.

Being on the river in late fall has its benefits, not the least of which is the absence of fishermen. Add to that those coveted moments that are ineffably primordial: a 16-inch brown trout engulfs your streamer, and you are engaged in a piscatorial struggle that snaps you out of this world and places you squarely in the presence of fishermen a hundred or even 2,000 years ago.

The Pomperaug may not be the mightier Housatonic a few miles to the west, or the legendary Farmington, but when I’m standing in it, names disappear and the small river is just as significant and wild as any. There is the earthy waft of decaying leaves, the cidery smoke of the air, and rising mineral vapors. I like the idea that the water pushing against me will make its way, slowly, into Long Island Sound, 40 miles to the south, and that maybe, with the possible installation of fish passages at the Stevenson Dam, the primitive shapes of eels and herring will once again be seen.

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Cost: free

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Loft Gallery at The Smithy
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View map »


Sponsor: Loft Gallery at The Smithy
Telephone: 860-868-9003
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Website »

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Where:
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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View map »


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Telephone: 186-086-87586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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View map »


Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
Website »

More information

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View map »


Sponsor: New Morning Market
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More information

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Cost: free

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Sponsor: Litchfield Farmers Market
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Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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View map »


Sponsor: Oliver Wolcott Library
Telephone: 860-567-8030
Contact Name: Victoria Kiszka
Website »

More information

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Cost: $100

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View map »


Sponsor: Hunt Hill Farm
Telephone: 860-355-0300
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
Loft Gallery at The Smithy
10 Main Street
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View map »


Sponsor: Loft Gallery at The Smithy
Telephone: 860-868-9003
Contact Name: Susan Newbury
Website »

More information

Scott Bond is pleased to announce three events to be celebrated with an opening reception on Friday August 24 from 6-8pm at “Byrde + the b” a full service hair salon, art gallery and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06794
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

More information

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Where:
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View map »


Website »

More information

Opening Reception: August 11, 4-6pm. This event is free and open to the public. MAQUETTE: The Art of the Model is an exhibition of maquettes or models by many of the sculptors currently...

Where:
Washington Art Association
Gallery 4 Bryan Memorial Plaza
Washington Depot, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

Washington Photographer Philip Dutton’s dramatic photos document The Chief Bigfoot Memorial Ride of 1990, a momentous event that helped commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Massacre at...

Cost: Free

Where:
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5 Wykeham Road
Washington, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 186-086-87586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
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Woodruff Lane
Litchfield, CT  06759
View map »


Telephone: 860-567-3871
Website »

More information

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