By my reckoning, we sit almost smack dab in the middle of Autumn, 2009. By the calendar’s telling, it began on September 21 and ends on December 21. Tonite, the moon wanes a week from full and pokes through showery clouds. The storm wet us down last night enough to raise the northern rivers a bit, but nothing of any appreciable runoff. Maybe in a utopian climate, fall would steadily evolve from summer’s drizzle into warm, light rains punctuated with the occasional heavier shower at night. These would be the Chinook rains where the rivers would raise slightly, allowing early fish to enter the coastal rivers. The rains would continue on and off, in a gentle, easy fashion, and we would say this is fall, regardless of the day or week or month; the time of passing rains. Chinook would find the lower rivers fresh and dependable generation after generation. Heavier rains would kick in around Thanksgiving and an early winter would set in. By Christmas, the rivers would all be swollen and open to the wanderings of steelhead and winter Chinook for several months. But it’s too easy to describe the ideal and, rather, fall seems to be a time of change with persistent bouts of summer hanging on and weather that remains uncommitted, or hesitant, maybe.
I am always intrigued by some of the reports from the early 1900s of fishable runs of Eel River fish showing in late August. Did the rains start earlier back then? Did the greater abundance of fish back then simply give way to earlier fish? In the 1930s, for example, Clark van Fleet wrote of fishing steelhead on the lower Eel in September following freshets that raise the river a bit – something almost unheard of these days. Newspaper reports hint at fishing for Chinook at the Van Duzen confluence in late August. Certainly, less aggraded rivers back then would likely have meant more surface water available in late summer, so maybe rainfall was not as essential for early fish as it is today. Still, though, the thought of rains routinely setting in during September on the coast is almost deliteful, if not disturbing to know those times have passed.
Now, here in early November, we can sit on the porch listening to the light shower dance down on the roof and dream of rivers and fish while the full moon lights a canvas of broken clouds. We can dream of those years when the rains come gentle and easy, guiding our way through a season like so many before. Instead we are left to guess and hope. Then again, maybe this is the essence of fall; a time of hope mixed with the turmoils of change. The frustrating part is that I could have told you September 21st was just as much Autumnal as is today. Interesting to note that December 21 marks the date of some of the more significant storms to pummel the north coast since records began. But even then, on the shortest day of the year, Autumn is everywhere. Then again, I could find you a Chinook in that same river, September, October, November or December. And they know, despite their chances early or late, that they will get it right. Now, relieve me of the bondage of this absurb notion of time so that I might better know the essence of this season.