Sketching Halloween’s Coming

Fishing the wide water
Fishing the wide water

Dark, quiet mornings linger almost to lunchtime before bright skies appear from nowhere. Here in the valley, this is late October in any year. A couple of rainstorms have put things in their place – the valley on its way into winter’s rest. A handpainted sign in front of the garden advertises free pumpkins and the tomato vines hang with rotting fruit still clinging fast. Out on the gravel bar, the water has dropped down nearly to summer levels showing a fresh stain of silt running along the edge from a good rain two weeks prior. In the foggy morning the river carries on with a soft murmering. Pumpkin-colored maple leaves hang over the water, waiting to test a soft breeze that might stir in the afternoon.

The mornings are always hard going now – soft grabs in the shadowed water make me wish I’d stop tying these flies with such damned long hackles. They just nip at the wispy trailing fibers – frustrating teases that come far too seldomly. The pass through campbell run is rhythmic and routine, maybe a bit impatient, since the best water always seems two steps below. I move down to fish the opposite side of the tee-pee and nab a feisty half-pounder right off, then get the one long, slow pull down deep – then nothing.

2:00pm. Move to new water.  Lowermost North-South. This run above the big bend at the bottom of the valley usually always holds a fish or two. The bright sun now shows the clear water sliding over the riffle at the bottom of middle North-South. I pause a minute to watch for moving fish. Nothing. Crossing is the usual half float, tip-toe dance down and across. I arrive at the lower run with fish showing up and down. Salmon porpoising – some bright, some dark. Steelhead splashing in the fast water. Sweet. By early afternoon the river is chattering away.

This is a long run and can consume the better part of an afternoon if fished thoroughly.  But the sweet spot is about the size of a car. Sure enough they soft-grab the swung fly and cannot hold on. Again and again, before it shuts off.  I leave the run to fish one more bit in this section that nearly always proves reliable and come up with a hatchery fish of maybe two pounds that tears into the backing before giving up and coming to hand. I move up to finish at upper North-South as the evening shadows creep across the water. Everything has gone quiet now. Evening here in late October is a subtle transition. Wood smoke filters down across the field in the still, heavy air. The pasture across the way bathes in honey colored light. And along the way, the river has returned to its shadowy mutterings.

Sparkling October

Up the road, above town, the river takes a hard turn leaving the road in a long, tight meander.  A pullout reveals a little hidden trail that follows the ridge out then dives down onto the gravel bar at the far end of the river’s big turn.  Far away from the occasional passing car, a cool morning offers up the last little bits of summer, sparkling in the trees. The place I go not because I want to boast of the fish I catch, but the place where a quiet day can be had.

Chest deep slow water, long casts and a few surprise fish.
Chest deep slow water, long casts and a few surprise fish.
A giant riffle slows down and deepens against a backdrop of early fall foliage.
A giant riffle slows down and deepens against a backdrop of early fall foliage.
...and even a fish or two can't resist the movement of subtly colored pulsing feathers.
...and even a fish or two can't resist the movement of subtly colored pulsing feathers.

Almost…

Watching the river cool a bit each morning… still too warm to swing a fly through the low flows of summer, but almost…almost…

Biding time tying a few utility fles.
Biding time tying a few utility fles.

Talking weather with the boys down the way

Here are the stories (summarized) that the old men down at the corner bar tell of the weather here on the coast.

Summer:  Fog rolls in and out.  When the fog is out the sea breeze kicks in fresh and brisk.  Sometimes the fog lays along the coast for days – not a ground fog, instead a low ceiling that hides the sun – an important distinction.  A few times over the summer, the fog’s ebb and flow will vanish, the wind will disappear.  The day will start warm and end warm.  The sea will be greasy flat.  This is when the boats run long distances searching for tuna.  The local farmer’s market swells through the summer – reaching a crescendo into the early fall.

Fall:  The best time of year.  The fog starts to get more playful.  It comes in lower, rolling across the bottoms like a wave swallowing everything up.  But it lapses, steamy warm days are most likely now.  Then the first rains come and settle the dust and the warm sun returns.  Maybe it will be a warm rain – sun – rain in a perfect march that lasts for weeks, though the fall rains seem to come later now.  Regardless, the sun’s angle now starts to cast everything in honey-colored light.  Clouds, sunsets, wet, dry and the first south winds keep everything in play.  Mushrooms start to show in the woods, rivers are refreshed.  Summer’s fruits and vegetables are still to be had.

Winter:  Big winds, long rains and chilly mornings hide some of the best days of the year:  well-lit celebrations after days of rain – maybe even warm then.  After the big storm, maybe a day or two of showery weather – rain-sun-rainbow-rain-sun – moving through the days – the temperate rainforest at work.

Spring:  First really warm days.  Showers, sneaky storms and attempts at summer.  Time to step outside and stretch and yawn – birds start singing in the mornings outside the window.  Things transition to summer when the Swainson’s thrush sings in the bushes.

Leaving Autumn Dreams Behind (with much reluctance)

Endless, golden October afternoon

.

There we found our river,

A simple quiet.

Our place.

.

Along ocean sand.

Under a setting November sun.

Another afternoon for us

Each walking little paths,

Soon shared.

.

Returning,

We convened with water.

Falling from dark December skies.

We found ourselves then.

Picking up little bits

of the dreams to

Hold us tight.

.

We wondered along the creek

Through snow, woods and

All along the grassy hills.

.

Together,

At year’s end we met these places.

And we arrayed our dreams and desires

Like Christmas gifts under our tree.

.

I saw the blue green water dreams

Deep in your gaze.

You saw those places in my eyes,

Color of fall.

.

And I still want to hold onto it

Before you are even gone.

.

Now all those little dreams

Scattered.

Washing away in the rain,

Across the hills,

Into creeks, rivers and oceans.

Back to those places.

.

But these places,

We will walk again

On our own paths,

Gathering up all of those dreams

And the new stories they will tell.

.

Goodbye, my love.

I will always hold you

In my dreams.

Descent into winter

These days

Falling into hushed calm

Of mornings lingering

And afternoons brief.

I cannot say

Those fearful words

We’re done

And yet you persist

And I find you there.

Find me again

Along the river

Starved for rain

As I gather the last memories

As fast as I can.

Swinging through the tailout on a river starved for rain under an incessant sun.
Swinging through the tailout on a river starved for rain under an incessant sun.
Early December is here and, save for the fleeting days, it could as well be late October.
Early December is here and, save for the fleeting days, it could as well be late October.

rain, sun, rain

Started out early in the rain, then things briefly cleared to warm sun in the early afternoon, then a walloping downpour came through late afternoon.  It came slowly over the western edge of the valley looking like a giant wave.  Only one small steelhead to hand, but a slow and steady stream of mystery grabs to keep it interesting.  I was “asleep at the reel” for the best grab of the day.  Some late salmon showing in the runs.  Water was the color of very light tea and all of the traditional runs were very fishable at 1,900cfs.  No wind ever really appeared until the very end as the downpour commenced; making for a simple, quiet outing along the river now completely bathed in fall.  If nothing else, everything just seems quiet now and it’s easy to loose track of time altogether while working through the water.  I fished the new (to me) spey rod that Jonas from Norway sent me and it took me awhile to get in the groove, but once I did, I settled into an easy rhythm with it.  The pace of the day was easy, and the schedule was just right, getting me home in time for an early dinner.  Despite the lack of fish, it’s days like these that make me want to go back again and again.

River notes – November comes in on a storm

A certain tension, maybe, seems to develop as Fall progresses.  Teased on with a few light rains, the hills start to play the role with colorful trees and a few choice mushrooms showing.  But down below, the river still speaks summer with low, clear water.  I think that might have changed this weekend.  Maybe:

Follow him down the dirt road past the apple orchard, fruit still hanging fast, leaves half gone from the wind the night before the rain. Along the trail are the first shaggy manes pushing through the damp earth – good eating if they can be brought back home and cooked soon enough. Follow him to where the old road fades into a trail and winds through the blackberries. If you’re not careful to stick to the paths that the bears trampled down during the height of it all, you’ll find all that’s left are the leaves and arching canes full of thorns that have a knack for reaching out and grabbing passersby. Along the way you might see the tiny shriveled berries still there, like you could reach out and grab summer back again.

Past the berries, the silt on the high river bank is cool and damp; settled by the rain. The dust is all gone now. The old dried weeds through here are turning from golden yellow to light brown and slowly collapse under their own weight, aided on by a day’s worth of wind and rain, working their way closer to, and back into, the soil. Along the gravel bar, the cobbles and boulders are shiny new again.

The water’s edge has reclaimed some of this. The river rises slowly, over the course of a day. The last green grass stands knee deep in the water now, gently washed by the waves lapping up. And like the berries behind, the algae still clings to the rocks out further, but the currents slowly wear it away and carry it suspended through the run. The water is now the color of strong tea. In the pool below, waves of leaves and algae well up in the backwater and leaves collect here and there along the bottom, occasionally scooting along at their own pace. You can’t miss the bright maple leaves whisking by in the faster water. A small willow branch floats by, probably blown in on the wind.

It won’t get muddy until the next storms really let loose on wetter ground. The emerald green water of winter is still a ways off. Everything balances here now. Down here, summer passes by in the currents. Up there, summer works its way back into the soil. Out there, another storm is pushing winter in a tad bit closer.

Winter Cometh Soon and a Pause

The latest weather forecast paints a lengthy period of rain starting later this week suggesting rising rivers and a big step towards winter.  Granted, winter is still a ways off by the calendar.  We are likely on the cusp of the more classic fall – damp ground, the river valleys shrouded with smoke from woodstoves, a new round of fall colors, and a burst of mushrooms from the forest floor – rather than this faux summer we’ve been living through lately.

So far, looking back, the season started with a bang in August and then progressively got more difficult in terms of hooking fish – though, I must admit, some of the most satisfying days have been those with one or two good fish hooked.  And difficult is not the right word – intense, maybe?  If I had to talk about catching fish, it’s less of a number game and more of the cerebral quest of finding a piece of water, methodically working through it and being rewarded with one good fish. That seems to make the whole crazy thing worth it.  I won’t argue with the fast and furious early season evenings – those are special times.  But there is something to be said for the focused pace through a piece of water, getting the swing just right and, finally, on the 23rd cast, connecting with seven pounds of electrified wild steelhead and then finishing with nothing more than that.  Of course, a single seven pound steelhead probably qualifies as a good day in most people’s ledgers around here.  If it was all easy catching, that would soon get tiresome (I think), and if nothing were ever caught, then, well, that speaks for itself.  It’s about landing somewhere in the middle which is, in practice, rarely enough.

I think the satisfying thing about it all so far is that I’ve managed to fish the water I just needed to fish, covered the water I wanted to fish and found a few new spots along the way.  Best of all, the old water was revisited and fished in a new way this year.  I think if the rain happens just right and the rivers come up about a foot or so, it will all start over again.  Pause…

Sitting on a Rock in Late October

Find me along the river

Dreaming in golden afternoons

Telling of long summers

Not yet ended.

Find me holding you there

Lightly to a touch

We tell all those things

Seen along the way.

Will you still be here

With springtime?

April showers perhaps?

And scurry for cover

Under the mossy rock ledge?

Will you show me those places

Only you might see

on a starry night?

Maybe, then, we might forget

consuming our time.

What is this time?

How we found little blue flowers

Did you see them?

Hidden among the drying grass.

Or were you dreaming

While I crouched to trace

Little furrows in the sand

Casting long shadows

On a late October afternoon.