2009-08-15 / Outdoors

Summer snapshots

We are passing the halfway point of summer. The brilliant greens of June are gone. Already, occasional red maples are beginning to show some foliage and the chokecherries no longer wear green.

It has been an odd summer -- wet, rainy, and cool. The warmest temperatures we have experienced were during a three-day 90-degree heat wave in April. Since then, the temperature has not broken the 90 mark even once. It has been a good summer for trout fishing and tree growing, but a tough one for making hay and harvesting grain.

As of Aug. 12, I have not yet heard a katydid, a testament to the cool summer. It should just be a matter of days until they begin to serenade us.

This summer, I've taken on a new appreciation for the Chinese chestnut trees growing on the edge of the woods. In July I imagine that they were full of pollinators and now decaying blossoms are attracting a whole different group of insects.

Birds are taking advantage of the smorgasbord, especially on rainy days. At times the trees are full of songbirds. I am not much of a bird identifier, but I have seen scarlet tanagers and cedar waxwings on numerous occasions, as well as multitudes of others.

Last Friday I had an interesting bird encounter. I was walking the edge of an old field that had scattered pasture thistle plants. Pasture thistle is a native wildflower that has a three-inch brilliantly pink flower head.

Without paying attention, I walked up on a gold finch, filling his belly on thistle seeds. From ten feet away I watched. He was beautiful with his brilliant yellow plumage. He had a sparkle in his eye as he pulled at the downy seed head, eating the tiny seeds. Many of the pasture thistle flowers were bursting in pink, adding more color to his magnificent yellow.

As a result of his actions, fluffy thistle seed parachutes floated off lazily through the air and littered the ground around the plant. It was a moment frozen in time.

It has been a great summer for wild trout fishing. Many of our small mountain streams that are often bone-dry by now are flowing at their April levels.

Last weekend my cousin invited me to accompany him on one of the streams we used to fish heavy as teenagers. If there were ever a stream where you were guaranteed to catch 10-inch wild brook trout, it is this one.

We fished the final hours of daylight in a light drizzling rain. He fished bait and I cast dry flies. We caught our fair share of brookies, most of them rather small. At the final pool we fished, darkness was falling, especially under the hemlock canopy. I laid the fly up into the middle of the pool.

I couldn't see the fly, but I saw the flash of a trout at the surface and instinctively raised my rod to set the hook. I was into a nice fish for such a little stream. A minute later I had a gorgeous 11-inch wild brook trout in my hands.

I admired him for at least a minute, half submerged in the water. He was vividly colored, with bright halos, red belly, and red spots glowing in the fading daylight. He was long, but not skinny, and his well formed jaw left no doubt that he was a male. It was a good way to end a wellspent evening.

I haven't spent as much time tromping around the woods this summer as I would like. But when I look back, there are snapshots of beauty and unique encounters -- moments of peace and tranquility in a busy schedule.

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