November on the Klamath

Night’s silent choir,

Patiently gathered around the roots of trees,

Inside the river’s long bend,

And in the shadows of boulders,

Passing time under morning’s great bridge.

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Across:

The orange of maples.

Ahead:

Paws of a lone bear.

Behind:

Tracks of a fisherman’s boots

Through the damp, grey sand.

.

These might be cobblestone dreams

On a lazy afternoon,

But that was October’s rhythm:

Summer’s back porch, shaded

In creaky planks

And sliced tomato gluttons.

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Now, the soft arc of light,

Chilled in air gone stiff and still,

Begging for hunched voices,

That dare not stir old winds,

From behind sedge and willow.

.

A conversation,

The groans and gripes of water on rocks,

Goodbyes of frogs and leaves and liquored blackberry sunsets,

The gratitudes of full moon clouds,

A gift of rain.

.

Hurry,

The long gaze of night

Will soon turn us to pebble and stone,

Smooth and round, barely colored,

In the fading light.

October 19th from the eyes of a 19-year old.

This is what I wanted to say

Before I fell muttering over sour coffee:

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On october 19, at sunset,

A bright glow traces the place where summer ends

And the promise of winter begins.

.

Never quite seen then.

Sure, we’ll get the hope, But

Only see how summer has gone woefully stale,

Even wrong.

.

After a few more years,

The rhythm plays loud,

Then, the time will come,

And catch us muttering,

As we look far across the field,

Into the bright October sky.

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The Way Summer Turns to Fall

It carries on the last bit of her laughter,

That last breath hanging in the air,

Just for a moment.

When every piece of her

Comes forth in smile and laugh,

Like some restrained ecstasy

Seeming ready to burst.

Then floating off,

Then, stillness.

She moves with purpose now,

But with a strange habit of

Great drifting circles and musings,

Like a big river, meandering, eddying, floating,

And, in time, maybe, finding itself again

Where the wandering currents combine,

And move onward to far off places.

She tells the story ever so carefully,

A story told again and again,

A story of places, a story of movement

All the while,

Her arms carry it along,

Her hands bring life to those places,

Her voice fills me.

Then, the long pause in her eyes.

Long after the last piece of laughter

Had vanished into a long wait

A fear comes over me,

If only I could sit still then, instead I’m frozen

Again.

This is my one chance, before I miss it all.

Again.

You see,

Hers is a story of the way things are right now.

Not what will be, as I want to think.

Nor just the way I remember it.

In that kind of way that memories can become.

Maybe,

Someday, I say, I will get the joy,

The essence, see that moment

when her laugh never stops.

Enter her stillness where we trace those circles,

Recounting the stories again, all full of life

And look out from her eyes

Onto the way things really are.

Time again…

 

Darkness sets in on arguably some of the best steelhead fly fishing on the planet this time of year ... all whipped to a frustrating froth by a wind that refused to ease up at sunset.

Right on schedule … mark calendars … Fall has begun and now is the time to convene at the river…

All the willow trees, blackberry bushes and dried grasses are almost the same as last summer. Except the blackberry crop this year is late, owing to the late rain and cool summer. This probably also explains the lack of algae along the rocks in the faster sections of river; the streamflows were likely high and fast enough into the summer to preclude the development of slippery substrates through much of the faster moving water. In places, the river bed is stunningly clear. Water quality is correspondingly improved as well (except for temperatures which are their usual late summer stressful levels). The relatively stable footing on the clean riverbed is an entirely new sensation for these parts at this time.

Right on time, as in years past, a weak front moved through yesterday moderating water temperatures and raising hopes of a windless afternoon. No such luck. The winds were strong and unabating into the evening making Slate Creek a “wind whipped hellhole” as I was prone to calling it long after the sun had sunk below the ridge. Despite this, the fish did come on the bite as darkness started creeping in. All half-pounders, with a back-to-back hookup at one point. Maybe four fish to hand and a few more LDR’d on a floating line. Very difficult conditions in the wind to control line, swing and patience. Regardless the fish are here. Did a quick pass through house-sized and sea-monster early with nothing. No fish showing on top at Slate Creek until near darkness, but difficult to see and hear in the wind-stirred froth. Now, from here on out, it’s all a matter of watching water temperatures, prospecting windless afternoons and reminding the boss that I will be scarce until at least November. All social and domestic obligations will be thrown aside. The time has come to convene at the river…

Still Fall Day

Soft afternoon sneaks under morning’s hold

Faint breeze hoisting tiny bits of almost forgotten summer

Save for a little dry stick along the path

Snapping under foot, cracking into the damp green new grass

And carried along on the breeze.

Gentle, slumbering afternoon for remembering a thousand other places

Just like now.

When this breeze might ruffle the curtain of summer’s open window

Or spoil the warmth of spring’s first day

Or maybe whisper “Here I come” on the edge of winter.

And this afternoon falls into the long hold of night

Long after the breeze passes to those other times

Where the morning, the night, the day

All hang in one long breath

The Essence of Fall 2009 – Celebrating Anadromous Fish

purple
Tying steelhead flies provides escape into the fantastically infinite world of intuition, dreams and pure, raw thought. Who invented calendars and watches and such that strive to pull us away from the real, into a place delineated by boundaries and frustration?

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.

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.