The Third Season
The Best of Times
by Tamia Nelson
It's late morning of an August day, but you'd never know it to look
out the window. Low cloud brushes the tops of the taller pines. A
steady, gentle rain falls. The Flow is quiet. Only a family of common
mergansers disturbs the surface of the water, their wakes colliding with
the pattern of expanding rings left by each rain drop.
And it's chilly. Step outside in your shirt sleeves, and you'll soon
wish you'd worn a sweater. As mid-day approaches, the temperature's only
59 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn't look like its going to get much
But it's August. It should be 80 degrees in the shade, with
thunderheads building up to the west. So what's happening? Simple. A
cool air mass is sagging down across northern New York, and a series of
mid-level disturbances is spinning along the margin of the cooler air.
These cyclonic perturbationsknown as "short waves" in the jargon
of the weather tradeare not unlike the small whirlpools which form
along the edges of eddies in fast rivers.
The result? Rain showers, pleasantly cool temperatures, and
intermittent northerly breezeswelcome relief from the recent siege
of hot, humid weather. Even the pros in the meteorology offices are
moved to comment. One writes of an "October-like day"; another exclaims
that "fall is definitely in the air."
And so it is. Notes of red and gold are appearing among the maples
and birches on the far shore of the Flow. The surviving merganser chicks
are now nearly as big as their parents. They move with an exuberant new
confidence as they work the shallows, herding schools of fish into an
ever-smaller space before diving to claim a meal.
There are signs in the heavens, too. The days are perceptibly shorter
than they were in June, and the sun sets further to the south with every
passing week. In little more than a month, it will set due west. At
night, in the half-light of false dawn, the stars of Orion's bow can
just be seen above the eastern horizon, coming into view for the first
time since May.
Summer's drawing to a close in the northern hemisphere. The third
season of our year is now at hand.
There are other indications, of course. The local malls are
advertising back-to-school sales, and the woman who runs a nearby
sporting-goods store tells me that the hunters among her regular
customers are beginning to trickle in. Now they're "just looking," but
soon they'll be shopping in earnest.
Anglers, too, have reason to look ahead to fall. All summer long,
lake trout have swum deep in northern waters, and fishing for them has
required techniques and equipment thatto my mind, at
leastsuggest anti-submarine warfare more than sport. Come October,
though, the big trout will be moving into shallow water, where they can
be taken near the surface on light fly-fishing or spinning tackle.
For many hunters and anglers, fall is the season. Canoeists
and kayakers, however, have been curiously slow to follow the
sportsmen's lead. True, whitewater enthusiasts eagerly await the usual
bump in stream flows that follows fall rainsand let's hope that
those much-needed rains come soon to the drought-plagued mid-Atlantic
statesbut other paddlers seem to disappear from local waters after
I've never understood this. Perhaps it's simply a matter of habit.
Hunters and anglers look forward all year to fall. They make their
vacation plans accordingly. I was a hunter and angler for many years,
and canoeing and kayaking were always part of my fall outings. Now I no
longer hunt or fish, but fall still holds a special place in my heart.
On the other hand, paddlers who've never hunted or fished, and who
have children of school age, are more likely to schedule their vacations
with an eye on the school holidays, rather than the start of deer
season. This makes sense, of course, but there are still plenty of
opportunities for fall excursions, even for paddlers with kids in
school. Weekends afford excellent chances to explore local waters, and
the long Columbus Day weekend (the Thanksgiving Day holiday in Canada)
gives families plenty of time to venture further afield.
I'd encourage them to do so. Let's look at some of the rewards
awaiting fall paddlers.
The obvious things first. Though jet-skiers and water skiers don't
disappear from inland waters after Labor Day, their numbers do
decline. By early October, silence returns to even our most crowded and
congested waterways. You can now paddle across many formerly-busy lakes
without wondering whether you'll be buzzed or wetted-down. You may even
be able to hear the gabble of geese as they assemble for their fall
This silence has other dimensions, too. Just as the whine of the
jet-skis is temporarily stilled, so too is "the importunate Bizz of the
Moskettoe." By September at the latest, the biting flies which plague
summer paddlers are gone, save for a few solitary stragglers. I harbor
no malice toward mosquitoes, blackflies and punkies, of course; each has
its role in the greater scheme of things. But I'd just as soon they
didn't dine at my expense. It's a delight to be able to walk about
unencumbered by gloves, long sleeves and head net.
And then there's the glorious palette of fall colors. The scarlet of
the maples, the red of sumac, the yellow of birches, the copper beeches,
andbest of all, to my mindthe shimmering golden-yellow of
the tamaracks, those deciduous conifers whose glow is the last thing to
brighten the northern forests before the snow returns. Photographers and
painters will find subjects everywhere they look, and so will folks who
only want to stand and stare.
Wildlife, too, is everywhere to be seen. Chipmunks are gathering nuts
and seeds. Bears are gorging in preparation for their long sleep. Beaver
are out and about at dawn and dusk, laying in a winter store of poplar.
The antlers of deer and moose shine clean and bright. Skeins of ducks
and geese wind over the hills, calling on the wind. The fall paddler is
reminded at every hand that, as yet, we're not alone. (On a more
practical note, it's wise to remember that bears and chipmunks are quick
to seize the main chance. Their understanding of property rights may be
more elastic than yours. To avoid problems and short rations, be sure to
keep a clean campand always hang your food bags!)
Peace and quiet. The woods aflame with color. Unparalleled
opportunities to observe wildlife and waterfowl. The third season sounds
almost like paradise, doesn't it? And so it isan earthly paradise,
at any rate. But don't forget that even Eden had its serpent. There are
perils as well as pleasures in store for fall paddlers. You want to be
prepared, don't you? Join me next week, then, and we'll look at the
other side of the third season.
© Verloren Hoop Productions 1999
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