“Near side or far?” I thought. Pausing in a young patch of goldenrod, I considered my options. The dawn light sat low enough that it hadn’t yet burned the overnight dew from the surrounding greens and yellows. Reds were mixed in too, with plenty of browns. Fall happens all at once, and even if you’re on the water every day it still sneaks up quickly. Yesterday I noted the patches of colored leaves pushed up and gathered against rocks in the shallow riffles for the first time this season. “Was that there yesterday?” I wondered. And now, to suddenly be standing among the goldenrod . . . “Where’d this come from?” I thought out loud. “But more importantly, which side of the river will I walk down this morning?”
The far bank holds nothing but scattered deer trails and no clear path. Even the deer haven’t seemed to come to any collective agreement on the best course through the floodplain. This river washes out and floods easily, so every big rain knocks down a few overgrown trees that are forced to give up their dominance in the soft ground. Dense brush then takes root around the fallen timber, and saplings compete to fill in the sunny gap left by an old fallen tree. Years later, one of the growing saplings wins and the others die off. The strongest tree grows large enough to cast the shade that eventually becomes its own demise. The dark ground turns soggy again, and another adult falls quietly into the muddy riverbank.
Walking the near side is easier. It could be a pleasant hike, but the nagging awareness that you’re trespassing mostly kills the mood. I don’t trespass much. In fact, when I know the landowner is serious about it, I never walk through. But if the signs are old and tattered, if there’s no sign of activity on the property and there’s enough cover to keep my activity low-key . . . well I might forget to see those signs some morning. Most are probably hung to keep hunters away and not fishermen anyway. This river has a few miles of these old signs on the road side. The other bank is a state forest, providing access to anyone with a little ambition.
After a minute more for thinking among the wet goldenrod, I decided to cross to the other side for the walk downstream. The peace of mind is worth the extra steps.
What’s another twenty minutes of motion anyway? I already missed dawn — I left the house too late and stopped for gas. But that’s alright. Because I know I’ll be out here all day. And when you’re in for a full day trip, the river feels different. Give me twelve guaranteed hours on the water, and I can sink into these moments. From the beginning I’m more patient, more aware of the woods, more willing to pause and gaze at the eagle above, more interested in the mystery of the side channel, more apt to explore low-prospect water just for the hell of it.
There is no feeling like the newness of fall and the unanswered questions of a full day ahead.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N