The Last Word: High Notes

Hymn on the South Branch of the Au Sable

Few things concentrate the mind like the unexpected music of a celestial choir. It certainly brought me up short, midstride on the trail along the South Branch of the Au Sable River, fly rod in hand, listening over the murmur of the water and the sounds of the woods. It was the kind of glorious afternoon that can follow a cloudless, cold October night in northern Michigan, brilliant and clear. No doubt about it. There was the trout stream. These were the woods. And that was a hymn where no hymn should be.

But as soon as I remembered where I was, I knew exactly where that unseen choir stood. The South Branch runs for miles through a section of land given by one George Mason to the people of Michigan on condition that it remain undeveloped, and the Mason Tract is a place of solitude and understated beauty. The only man-made structure along that part of the river is a small chapel, which Mason had built on a high bank above a trouty stretch of water about halfway in. It is a spartan affair of wood and stone, open to the weather, a landmark for anglers and canoeists, and I was maybe seventy-five yards downwind of it, across the stream and on the other side of a thick screen...

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About the Author

Joe Schultz lives in Maryland.