Nature Boy has seen a lot in his 17 years. A lot considering that he grew up in Silver Spring and has done most of his exploring within walking distance of home.
He's seen foxes and squirrels, raccoons, opossums, doves, hawks, rabbits, deer. He's trapped bullfrogs and listened to the cheeping of peeper frogs in the swamp. He's even caught trout.
Nature Boy is a tag Alan Eckelman gave himself. He's been wild about the woods "ever since I was little," he said. "Well, I can't really say since I was little, but ever since I was real young."
Eckelman is still little. He wrestles for Kennedy High School in the 98-pound class, which is as low as the classes go.
He's small and savvy.
"Hear that?" he asked as we stomped along his home stream, the Northwest Branch, looking for trout last weekend. I turned an ear and caught a screeching sound that pierced the general din of the woods in spring.
"That," said Eckelman, "is a hawk." He pointed and we watched a big red-tail swooping near the treetops, searching for some helpless mouse or bunny to claim for dinner.
A little later we listened to the cooing of doves as they prepared to bed for the evening. "I see them all the time right around my house," said Eckelman. "Just about 5:30 in the afternoon or so. They must be getting ready to roost. One time I was walking through the woods and I stepped right into a whole flock of them."
That was all very well, but we had another mission on Saturday. We were going to wrestle a trout dinner from the waters of the Northwest Branch, which runs near Eckelman's house where it crosses Randolph Road near Kemp Mill Road.
"I'll show you my best spots," Eckelman said. We walked downstream from Randolph Road, tramping through the thigh-deep water in our waders.
The state has been stocking Northwest Branch, which feeds the foul Anacostia River, for three years before that it was widely regarded as just another silted-out storm sewer runoff.
The Branch turns out to be a delightful stream in spring. The water is cold and clear and there are gravel bars, deep pools and plenty of fallen trees to provide cover for fish.
Northwest Branch will never support reproducing or even holdover trout populations because the water gets too low and warm in summer. But for a stocked spring fishing hole within 20 minutes of Washington, it couldn't be much better.
"Throw it in there," Eckelman told me when we reached the first deep pool. He pointed to a channel edge with some brush fallen in it.
"This creek's been hit pretty hard," he said, "but if it hasn't been fished out I'll find where the trout are. I guarantee it."
I tossed the bait -- the ubiquitous Velveeta cheese ball so despised by fly fishermen, exactly where Eckelman said. "Bink," went the line. "Bink-Bink."
A trout was fooling about.
"Bink-bink. BINK." It hit and took the bait. I jerked the rod gently, reeled in and in a few seconds had a kicking, thrashing, nine-inch brown trout for supper.
Eckelman caught another a little farther down, but when we got to his guaranteed, can't-miss-will-find-your limit-here hole around the bend four youngsters were already ensconced. They had a nice stringer of fish and wouldn't give us fishing room.
By that time we were pretty exhausted anyway.
We had met before dawn and spent the first eight hours of the day investigating Little Seneca Creek near Germantown, which neither of us had ever fished before.
Unlike the Northwest Branch, Little Seneca is a stocked trout stream of long standing. Saturday was opening day of the season. Where we found four kids in our way at Northwest, we found a whole armada of grown men in our way at Seneca.
No matter. There were plenty of fish and they were all starved.
And we had a secret weapon. Fourteen-year-old Mark Satterfield, Eckelman's pal, was going to show us the Seneca ropes, based on his vast experience.
One year Satterfield got his mother to drive him to Seneca and he caught a trout. Based on that history he was going to show us the ropes.
Unfortunately, Mark fell in over his waders about 10 minutes after we started and went back to the car to warm up. We didn't see him again for two hours.
Meanwhile, we poked around among the riffles and pools and managed to get a mess of bites and three fish -- two browns and a rainbow.
We froze in the morning but as the day wore on it turned warm and lovely.
We caught some fish and discovered some new places.
Best of all, I made friends with Eckelman the Nature Boy, who is only 17 but already makes a lot of sense.