The Quickening

I have never figured out why once these good short months of harvest and hunt come, my thoughts never drift to fish. It’s as if, come the end of summer, all thought shifts, because even if I were to concentrate heavily—really try—I couldn’t make myself think of fishing, let alone actually go fishing.

Perhaps it is the hunting equines in my pasture—all slicked off and tough muscle from a summer of riding and pack trips, now honed and hair coming back, foretelling winter. Perhaps it is the school of bird dogs twirling at my feet every morning when I walk into the meadow in my robe, coffee steaming. I stand and pee into the morning chill—a man has really arrived at the top of the food chain when he can brace in his morning robe and urinate onto his own ground without the neighbor calling the cops—and I watch the quartet peel out into the pasture, jitterbugging and two-stepping, ready. Sometimes there is a misguided flock of huns out there.

But I think it is something more, something deeper, from one of my ancestors who stirred sleeplessly in his woolly mammoth robes when the hunt was before him. My nephew calls it Wapiti Anxiety Insomnia. He has it, and so do I.

Sometimes, when I actually can sleep, I’m caught up in the current of the hunt. Last night I dreamed of it: two good friends with whom I rarely hunt anymore, a bull coming in hot and angry, and an arrow drilled just right. So here it is, all the way from the caves of our kind to the keyboards of modern age. It beats, anchored in the blood. The hunt.

Young August does not do this to me. Then, I dream of fishing, high country, a good horse, and dusty trails. My kitchen table is clothed with maps, and the maps are painted with pencil lines, routes, quests. Young August puts me in places where Indian paintbrush and Elephant’s Head speckles in green meadow, where cutthroat rise to well-thrown flies. Young August has mosquitoes buzzing at my lobes and songbirds twittering in streamside willow.

Old August has none of this. Old August has perhaps one last frantic day on the water, maybe a day of calling in sick so I can make one more drift down one more river. Old August, the back end of a short summer, grays like my temples, follicles of grass fading from green to palomino. This year, autumn came on an evening in late August when rain rose out of the west and washed the high peak. When I woke that morning and took the dogs on their polka, there was fresh snow up there, up high on the tallest peak in the range. And so that very morning, I forgot almost instantly about trout and grasshoppers and mosquitoes and wildflowers. If were I a golfer or a lifeguard, I would be one depressed son of a gun. But instead of crying for lost time when Old August arrives with her gray hair, my heart beats faster and nearly explodes with anticipation.

And so the bow came out and the fly rods went away. The rifle came out and the summer sleeping bag was stowed. The wall tent was checked for holes and coated in water repellent, and the drift boat was washed, cleaned, and parked in the garage for the season. The boots greased and the waders closeted.

So the hunt is upon us, a welcome cloak. Maybe this year, I’ll take a day and fish.

Probably not.