Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Mourning summer

By Chris Hunt

As Phoebe danced around the truck, anxious to start the walk up the familiar trail past a few bends in the creek, I donned my wading sandals for what would almost certainly be the last time this year.

I was in a gloomy mood. Changing seasons, earlier sunsets and, of course, the inevitable prediction of that first high-country dusting of snow had me in a funk. Couple this with the constant challenges life throws in for seasoning, and it’s a recipe for the blues.

My kingdom for a soulful harmonica solo.

Yes, it’s still summer for a few more days, and fall fly fishing is a truly wonderful experience that doesn’t deserve derision. But things start to die back this time of year. Aspens are changing up high, going from brilliant green to dying yellow. The grass is dry and crackly. Even the grasshoppers are sluggish, having grown fat and clumsy over the last few weeks.

Life is slowing down again. Soon, snow will fall on the peaks and the tourists will marvel at how beautiful it is and, then, winter will hit the backcountry and everything will come to stop. They don’t call it “termination dust” in Alaska for nothing. We Idahoans don’t have it quite so bad, honestly, and there’s plenty do in the winter around here … if you like winter.

As you might have guessed, I’m not a big fan. A friend once told me not to mourn someone before they die, and that’s advice I repeat in my head a lot, especially this time of year when the simple act of strapping on a pair of wading sandals spurs pangs of seasonal sadness. Mourning summer when, according to the calendar, it’s still summer.

But not for long, damn it.

Soon, perish the thought, I’ll have to wear socks. And when I fish—and I will, almost certainly—I’ll have to don waders and wading boots and a wading belt and fleece and gloves and knit hat. It’s a lot of work for a guy who spends his summers barefoot wearing cargo shorts filled with tippet, nippers, Gink and a small box of dry flies.

I strapped the second sandal on and stood up from the bumper of the rig. Phoebe stretched and yawned—that stretch and yawn that comes with that anticipatory whine—and looked at me as if asking, “Hey, bud. Can we get a move-on here? Time’s a wastin’.”

I grinned, fluffed the fur on her neck, and, just to piss her off, turned her left ear inside out (she hates that). She shook her head violently to adjust her floppy ears and fell in behind me as we started up the trail.

It was late afternoon, but already the sun had dipped below the western ridge along the stream, leaving much of the creek shaded and making it tough to see my fly, even a high-floating ‘hopper with a big, yellow foam “Here I am!” tag tied to the top. I caught a couple of respectable brookies, beautifully adorned in their pre-spawn regalia, but it was almost as if they, too, knew these blue-bird days were numbered. Phoebe watched patiently, pleased with each healthy char that came to hand, as always.

After a couple of hours, we found the well-worn path again and wandered on back to the trailhead. She caught a glimpse of the truck in the distance and pranced ahead, again admonishing my listless pace with over-the-shoulder glances. “Are you coming?” she seemed to ask. “What’s taking you so long?”

I didn’t speed up. She could wait. I was mourning the last moments of my dying summer.

Soon, I’d have to wear socks.

Chris Hunt is the national digital director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.

By Chris Hunt.