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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Van Wie

The Four Freedoms

The bridge near Norman Rockwell's home on the Battenkill

On Monday, I gave a talk about the Storied Waters tour at Orvis headquarters in Arlington, Vermont to about 25 Orvis associates. Nearly everyone in the audience was a fly fisher and a reader of the fly fishing literature, of course, so the Q&A session was a good exchange of experience about fishing along my route and authors. I picked up some good contacts for help in Michigan and the Adirondacks, plus an offer to use a camp up in Maine off the Golden Road.

I swapped books with Tom Rosenbauer, who writes many of Orvis’ how to books, and signed some copies of The Confluence.

After Orvis, I zipped back into Manchester to meet Bob Ruley, Kate Achor and Peter Nardini at the American Museum of Fly Fishing. The museum is closed on Mondays, so they gave me a behind the scenes tour, even including the hoard of flies, fly rods, books and stuffed fish up in the attic and in the basement.

Mystery at the Museum

My wife, Cheryl, loves the show Mysteries at the Museum on the History Channel, so I asked the AMFF folks if they have any mysteries to share and explore. Bob pulled out

some old bamboo fly rods and showed me the metal ferrules that hold the sections together. “Why,” he asked, “do bamboo rods have female ferrules on the butt end section, with male on the second section, but all modern rods have it the other way around?” Hmm, well, I will keep asking and see what I can find.

We also talked books and authors, and their library is amazing. I could have spent six weeks in there thumbing through probably every book written about fly fishing. But time to push on!

Rockwell Reflection

On my way out of town I stopped at the Sugar Shack in Arlington, a classic Vermont tourist shop near the Battenkill that makes maple syrup products and sells Norman Rockwell prints, books and memorabilia. They have a gallery of prints and magazine covers that covers Rockwell’s career, especially when he lived in Arlington from 1939-1953.

Knowing that Rockwell fly fished the Battenkill, I went in looking for a painting that might show the Battenkill or someone with a fly rod in their hand. Found none of the sort, only a few goofy gag pictures, typical of Rockwell, such as some guy fishing in a bucket.

But I did find a surprise.

Rockwell’s career spanned the WWII and post war era, so the topics of his illustrations and paintings reflected the nation’s mood and issues of the day. Front and center in the gallery was his most famous series of paintings: The Four Freedoms. (The originals are in Stockbridge, Massachusetts).

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his Four Freedom’s State of the Union Address, and Rockwell honored that speech with his paintings: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.

The last thing I expected was that the Storied Waters tour would get political, but this was just too poignant to let pass. But how relevant are the Four Freedoms to today’s world? Maybe it is a good time for both conservative and liberal Americans to reflect on these pictures and Roosevelt’s speech.

Rockwell's Golden Rule

And there was this one from 1961 that honored the United Nations and the diversity of the global society. The inscription of the Golden Rule is a stunning reminder of that bedrock of civil society. Wow, do we ever need this now.

On To the Catskills

I climbed back into the RogueTraveler, and headed downstream, following the Battenkill west through West Arlington, where Rockwell lived near the red covered bridge, and on into New York State. Following my own personal story, I went through Cambridge, NY where I learned to ski at Willard Mountain, then past the Schagticoke Fairgrounds where I nearly threw up on the roller coaster on a date with Mary Behan in 8th grade.

Route 22 took me down through Speigletown where I could look up and see the Bald Mountain, where I grew up. We sold my childhood home years ago, so no reason to stop. On I went, down Oakwood Avenue in Troy, past Oakwood Cemetery where my parents are buried. I’m not much into visiting graves, so I tipped my hat and waved hello as I drove past.

Approaching downtown Troy, I could see the Albany skyline with the Catskill Mountains in the background. I grew up looking at that view, but I had never stepped foot in the Catskills. But I would soon enough.

In Troy, I crossed over the Hudson River then headed south on Interstate 787 to Albany, and onto the NYS Thruway. At the Catskill exit, I started to climb into the hills, then up a steep ascent along the Kaaterskill, up the Rip Van Winkle trail.

Halfway up to the Catskill highlands is Kaaterskill Falls, the tallest waterfall in New York. Even taller than Niagara, this was once one of the biggest tourist destinations in the US, during the height of the Hudson River School of painting, founded by Thomas Cole with his paintings here in the Catskills.

My, was Henry’s ghost excited! We were back in his era again! These were his contemporaries.

I pulled over into a turnout and hiked the half mile up to the falls. What a spectacular sight! Here is a picture of Henry's ghost in front of Kaaterskill Falls!

I took a few more beauty shots and a little video, then HDT and I headed back to the car to get to Hancock before dark. I was hoping to cast a fly in the West Branch of the Delaware at dusk and meet Craig Sutton for dinner.

And on we go, thankful for our many freedoms.

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