I’ve been going to Sterling Pond off the Smuggler’s Notch Road for a quarter century. It’s a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life; soak in the Western Alpine atmosphere; and dip a fly line in the water to angle for one of its once plentiful, self-sustaining Brook Trout.
I used to go there several times a year, both in the Summer when the swimming was excellent and in the Fall when the foliage was matched only by the radiant colors of the Squaretails - a colloquial and vanishing name for the Brookies.
I kept returning to Sterling Pond for the purity of its waters - and the fact that I could always count on landing at least a couple of fish. Brook Trout are Vermont’s only native trout and not really even trout at all, but rather a species of char, living only in exceptionally cool, clean and pollution free waters.
But the last few times I’ve hiked up to Sterling Pond I’ve left with nary a nibble. In fact, I went just a week or so ago and I’m not sure if my lack of angling success was due to simply a lack of prowess or the fact that there were no fewer than 4 dogs swimming its waters and roughly 40 people along its shores.
The trail up to Sterling Pond is short, but steep and trying, and serves to screen out visitors who aren’t serious about seeking its solitude. But I worry that, like other natural wonders, Sterling is possibly becoming a victim of its own beauty. On my last visit, something more than fish seemed to be missing. Maybe it was the crowds; the fact that it was a weekend; or maybe it was just my perception. But something felt different.
I was reminded of Henry Fonda, who died a year after finishing his last movie, “On Golden Pond,” released in 1981. And Fonda’s character, Norman Thayer, in turn reminds me of Norman MacLean, author of “A River Runs Through It” who wrote, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
And given the statewide concerns about water quality this year, perhaps we all are.