Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The second to last summer

The Beaverkill. Upstream.
Summer is toying with us. With crisp mornings mimicking early fall and lush greens that remind one of late spring, August is all wrong. Even the dogwoods, which by now have usually become ugly, shriveled, befungused drooperies along the edges of the deck, still look robust. I sense sweltering late summer days are coming but for now I'll toy with dreams of cooler streams, perhaps cool enough for trout fishing.

In the Catskills summer is stunning. The folded landscape shimmers as sunlight slides between heavy white clouds and dapples the shoulders of the ridges. Deep in those folds fabled trout streams named in a different era -Willowemoc, Beaverkill, Neversink - tumble over freestone and beckon with sparkling winks through trees heavy on their banks.

Camping in the land of Gordon, Wulff and Van Winkle has become an annual event for my clan. We've not yet been doing it for long enough to call it tradition, more of a habit I suppose, but it's something I've come to look forward to each year when the days grow long and hot. This year good friends joined us. It was perfect.

If angling were our purpose we'd be in tents on the banks of the Beaverkill earlier and later in the annual cycle of hatches but that's not why we've come with houses of nylon. I'm not really sure why we do it beyond the fact that it feels right that in an era of connections that are less and less physical and more and more transient that we should gather in one place with the ones we love, disconnect and share for a short time intense periods of that other connectedness that we seldom experience.

We may have one more summer together in a tent. Twelve months from now my eldest will be preparing for his first year of college. If we're lucky we'll get him to ourselves on one more camp before he starts traveling his own road.

I still remember dark, quiet nights just after my children were born when Ann and I would lie awake listening to their deep rhythmic slumber. You almost couldn't bear to be separated from this new life and yet over the years you've let the distance grow, nurtured the independence, though you secretly wish you hadn't. Saturday night we slept together, all within arm's reach of each other, for what may be the last time in our lives.


The sun was likely too high to make fishing worthwhile but the time seemed right for many other reasons so we were off to the water. Up here, far from its merger with the Willowemoc, the Beaverkill is a stream not a river. Calf deep in the heart of the riffle, we marched downstream to the pockets and seams that had yielded trout in the past.

Sam has been fly fishing on and off for the past four years and at fourteen, his physical stature and talents have finally caught up to the geometry and physics of the sport. He casts wonderfully when he focuses on the fundamentals and even his bad casts are pretty good and he's tolerant of my coaching. In the time he's become a better angler I think I've become a more patient coach. I suppose there's room for us all to grow.

Fresh air and fine weather conspire to inspire a nap.
We worked the water hard for a few hours with a variety of summer flies. We talked about the stoneflies and caddis whose homes and shells littered the water's edge. We spotted minnows in the shallows feeding on the detritus kicked up by our steps. We fed them some more. But we saw nor hooked anything fish shaped.

On the way back I noticed a dark slice of current running against the bank under overhanging hemlocks. It sure looked fishy and my Yellow Sally dry drew two splashy rises without a connection. In hindsight, we probably should have looked for faster water. It's a summer tactic that I had forgotten. Next time.


Looking up at the stars late at night, the campfire tricks the eye. I'm sure it's a trick of depth of field as the mind tries to sort out the starry expanse from the amber light on the branches arcing overhead. Against the black sky the layers of branches seem flat, painted on a wooden panel and artistically layered, a perfect viewing portal for the wonders above.

Sitting around a fire, the night held at abeyance, intimacy is enhanced. The cold, dampness which places ache and stiffness in older joints seems to soak truth and passion from the conversation. In this safe place we talk about secrets and remembrances and dreams while still allowing for that deep lean back to silently view the expansive, endlessness of the night's starry sky.

We're not what one would call minimalist campers 

Nothing is better than an evening card game at camp.

Don't bet against the capacity of adults and teenagers to invent wiener jokes during a hot dog roast.


  1. Thanks for sharing. With a 2 and 4 year old who, are still learning to sleep quietly in a tent, it's great to hear your thoughts looking back on the years of camping with your kids.

    1. Keep at it. While the kids complain, some of our most memorable moments have come while camping.

  2. Good writing that. And a darned good time it looked, too. (The car looks particularly fine).

    We bought the big tent this year. I'll be round to borrow/pilfer the rest of your gear next spring...


    1. Thanks Jonny. Perhaps the clan should join our next Beaverkill adventure. I'll keep you posted.