Penn’s Creek riddles

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Last Friday, I accompanied my brother on a quest for the Appalachian tiger beetle (Cicindela ancocisconensis), which inhabits sandy river banks of wilderness-quality creeks and rivers, and is thus rare throughout its range, though locally common. We went to Penn’s Creek, a world-famous trout stream that winds through the Seven Mountains north of State College, Pennsylvania. It’s one of the few places in the state where C. ancocisconensis has been collected. We found one beetle within the first half-hour of searching, but it eluded Steve’s insect net. We spent the next hour and a half clambering over slippery rocks and around huge hemlock trees to search the few, small beaches in the Penn’s Creek canyon in the vicinity of Poe Paddy State Park.

While Steve concentrated on his quarry, I found myself composing riddles in my head about everything I saw. I don’t think these are especially difficult. I’ll post the answers tomorrow in the form of an update to this post Answers are at the end of the post.

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A dark waterfall of fur
slipping down the rocks at
the river’s edge, soft yoke
no neck will ever wear.

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Though green, I am no plant.
Two kingdoms live in me, but no ruler.
I’m a colonist of places
where nothing else can survive.

*

Death comes to the hemlock trees
in grayish white clots the size of pinheads.

*

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We combed the banks of a rocky peninsula formed by a sinuous loop of the creek. The water was muddy from the rains the day before, and few fishermen were willing to try their luck in it, so we had the creek mostly to ourselves. The flowering dogwood appeared especially brilliant against the dark hemlocks, and wild geraniums, Virginia bluebells and white wood anemones bloomed among the rocks. Unfortunately, I knew we didn’t have the time or the proper vehicle to drive the rough road up to the view of the gorge, which is quite spectacular.

*

I have lived for two years, but this
is my first full day. I have a mouth,
but no stomach. I will die before dark.

*

Condemned to live outside
my true element, I curl up & hide
until the urge to hunt stretches me
to my full length, & I curve
into the current like an arrow
crossed with a bow.

*

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The roof of one large fishing camp at Poe Paddy makes room for a tree in a manner reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece Fallingwater.

Temporary fishing camps were rising on poles at the state park campground, as well. Solemn-faced men got in and out of pickup trucks, or stood around in small knots by the shore, staring at the turbid water.

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Rubber udders, two long nipples each,
for the cow called Land to offer its milk of men to the creek.

*

Nymph on a silk leash,
creature of knots,
deadly desire given angelic form.

*

Grain routed through fire, water & air
lands at last on ice: two temporary containers for light
resting in a third, which was once a handful of sand
but now offers smooth resistance to the fingers
& culminates in a screw where lip meets lip.

*

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At last, Steve caught a single specimen in the front yard of the fishing camp pictured above, near where we parked. One of the owners of the camp, who was relaxing on a bench by the water, gave us permission to collect the beetle. Some better pictures of C. ancocisconensis are here. And by the way, in case you’re wondering about the Latin, Steve told me its intended meaning is a complete mystery.

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Answers: a wild mink; a green lichen (see here for factoids about lichens); hemlock woolly adelgid; mayfly (see “Ephemeral” at Chronicles from Hurricane Country); northern water snake; hip waders; an angler’s fly; whiskey in a jar (what the old fellow at the fishing camp appeared to be drinking)

12 Comments


  1. I know!

    Well, all but two…still pondering two

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  2. Hey, sylph! Even though you guessed most of my riddles, you still make me feel smart, because somehow I knew you’d be the first to leave a comment on this post. But I also figured you wouldn’t want to commit your guesses to print…

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  3. I got the first two… and the last three. But those middle three have me stumped so far! I’ll keep thinking.

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  4. Yeah, the middle ones were the most obscure, weren’t they? The metaphor in #5 is probably misleading.

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  5. Qualities in search of an object. Thanks for putting me in places, along the shore that I don’t recognize. Is this amnesia? It’s right in front of me but I have no idea what it is!

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  6. These are clever! I wouldn’t have gotten any of them, although I knew the 5th one was some sort of snake. I like that one in particular, the arrow crossed with the bow.

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  7. Bill – “qualities in search of an object” is an excellent definition for this kind of poetic riddle.

    Leslee – Thanks! I’m glad you liked the water snake one, because that’s the one I had the most doubts about. If I had quicker reactions, I might’ve gotten a photo of one swimming – a striking sight.

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  8. I never did figure out those missing three, and seeing the answers now, I wouldn’t have, living here. Of the five I guessed, I missed two — but they were darn near misses. The first riddle I took for an otter. The last for a bottle of beer, which would be chilled, though not served, on ice. It’s all in the interpretation.

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  9. Yep. I was sort of imitating the Exeter Book riddles, where guessability so often seems to take a backseat to poetic quality.

    Do women wear otter pelts around their necks, though? (That’s the sort of thing I wouldnt know, living here!)

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  10. I’m certain that the poetic quality was why I enjoyed them so much. No complaints here.

    Sure, otter fur has been used for articles of clothing, everything from robes to mitten trim. Humans are the main predators of river otters, going after them for their pelts. The longer guard hairs are usually removed, which leaves the fur soft. Sea otters, now listed under the ESA, are at least somewhat protected from being hunted, though. That’s about all I know. Oh, and that they’re pretty funny to watch eating — all that crunching and munching you can hear from so far away!

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  11. Thanks for the follow-up. I envy you that sight. I’ve seen otter sign in other states, and we do have a fairly decent population established in the wilder river systems of PA, but the only time I’ve actually seen them here was to watch a couple pairs being reintroduced to a river SE of here. And they didn’t stick around to pose for the cameras, let me tell you.

    Reply

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