I hate to be Debbie Downer here, but summer is over. I’m surrounded by clues, though none speaks louder than the unpacked remains of August travel. Nothing announces the changing of the seasons more clearly than summer’s final road trip.
Not that I’m one to miss the season all that much. Autumn is my favorite, and it’s especially appreciated after a month of forest fires and hoot owl restrictions on rivers across Montana.
August road trips hold special powers bestowed upon them by the calendar. We anticipate them all summer.
“It’s coming,” my siblings and I would tell ourselves when we were growing up. “Soon the Country Squire station wagon will be on the road. It’s Mount Shasta or bust.”
The vacay couldn’t happen soon enough. Through the dog days we’d mope about, bored with our surplus free time. The road trip glimmered out there in the future like East Egg, just out of reach. We’d get there someday, but Mom was gonna make us clean the pool and mow the lawn quite a few times to earn it.
Here’s the problem: You anticipate all summer long. Then it happens. You see the park or fish the lake or climb the mountain or whatever your family is into. Then you get home and before you have a proper interlude to regain your bearings, Mom is waking you up and telling you to hurry and brush your teeth or you’ll be late for school.
We squeezed in one last road trip this August, a run out to the coast to witness the wedding of my nephew. This was a rather momentous occasion, as the kid is the first of Mom’s 13 grandchildren to get hitched. We weren’t just marking the passing of the season on this trip. This was official confirmation to my siblings and I that we are getting old.
That’s not to say the trip wasn’t great. My girls and I were well provisioned for the trek across the badlands of eastern Washington. An important road trip food for me are nuts of some kind, still in the shell. I do two things to keep myself alert behind the wheel: crack nuts and crunch ice, especially ice that has marinaded in cola. Sunflower seeds are my road trip snack of choice, unless I’m headed to Havre, which isn’t often. Then, I much prefer leftover peanuts from Moose’s.
Sure enough, upon our return the mood had changed. The Endless Summer that stretched before us in June was nearing the end. I unpacked only to start packing again for my return to the rural college where I teach. One daughter had a bit of packing to do as well as she will live this fall in a dorm room in Idaho. Did I mention I’m getting old?
We did have time to squeeze in a final float. After a summer of diligence my girls have turned themselves into pretty fair fly fishers. One hooked maybe the largest North Fork cutthroat I’ve seen on that river. She played the fish with a deft touch, easing the trout toward the boat despite the hard current.
Then we noticed a dark shape, maybe twice as big, rising up from beneath the cuttie. It was a bull trout big enough to make that hooked 18-inch fish look like a minnow. The big bull shadowed the cutthroat the entire fight, which lasted more than five minutes. If there’d been some frozen smelt in the cooler I think we could have had a double.
I’d like to say that the battle ended with a glory photo and release. Despite doing everything right, just as my girl eased the fish within range of the net it slipped off the hook, drifting back into the current trailed by that bull trout.
I know it hurt. Your first really big fish on a fly rod is a big deal. But later that evening as we decompressed during dinner, instead of being down, the kid reeled off a list of all the trout she intends to catch — browns, rainbows, goldens, tigers — when we get the chance to fish again.
It’s moments like that when you know summer never lasts long enough.
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