It’s late August in the Adirondacks, well past midnight, and I’ve spent most of the day wandering around the house with no clue what to do with myself. I’m not sure, for example, why I’ve gone to the refrigerator 17 times in the last four hours. I should have figured out on the third or fourth trip that whether I open the door fast, slow, or with intermittent jerks, there’s still nothing in there that interests me. What’s really pathetic is that on the last few trips I didn’t even bother to open the door; I just paced around in the fridge’s general vicinity. It’s that horrible late-August thing: The trout fishing stinks, the hunting season hasn’t started yet, and I’m at a loss.
I wasn’t excited about it, but I did go fishing today — not because I thought I’d catch anything but because if you keep pacing back and forth from the fridge to the television, you start to feel an awful lot like a gerbil going from the toilet-paper tube to the water-dropper, which can be depressing. So I packed up my gear and went to the best local trout stream, which by any standard is barely mediocre and at this time of year is absolutely awful.
The main problem with fishing a small stream like this in August is that there’s no sense of promise, which is what makes casting a line worthwhile to begin with. Theoretically, you know that a portion of the fish that were here in the spring are still here; they’re just a little harder to find. You know you should look for a spring hole or a tumbling tributary where the trout will have gone to find cooler water. But none of that matters: You look at the low, clear water.
You feel the sun beating down on you like a gorilla. And your gut tells you that all the trout have disappeared into a separate reality, that they are stacked up in a pile right next to all the socks you’ve lost doing laundry.
I went through the motions for a couple of hours, but it seemed pointless. On the way home, I stopped at a convenience store and bought a couple of those wrinkled, leathery hot dogs that spin for weeks at a time inside those little food-tanning salons. They tasted every bit as disgusting as I knew they would. I didn’t care.
When I got home, I did a variety of nothing until about midnight, when I decided to go out on the porch, rock in the rocking chair, and read for a bit. I opened the door and felt a breeze run across my face. It was the sort of breeze that sometimes comes ahead of a late-summer Adirondack cold front: cooler than a cool summer breeze and carrying just a hint of the smell of snow in the distance.
I stood there for a few seconds, just taking it in, and in my mind I could see the leaves of the beech trees that grow in the woods behind our house. They’d turned yellow and were edged white with frost. My hunting jacket hung from a nail beside the woodstove, and I saw our little creek running black beneath a film of ice…and deer tracks pressed deep into new snow.
I grinned like a kid…a grin that comes from the knees, for no apparent reason, and makes you feel silly for grinning. I ran into the den and dug out my doe permit application, which had been buried for a couple of weeks. I filled it out and ran it to the mailbox. Then I organized some hunting gear that didn’t need organizing. Tomorrow I’ll sight in my rifle, or maybe I’ll wake up before dawn to glass some fields for deer.
What hit me was the first chill of fall, and now I’ll be fine until February.