We’re in the shoulder season now. Summer — this year a particularly hot, smoky version of the period — will soon give way to fall.
I always relish this transition, and that’s especially so this year. Calling the summer of ’21 the worst ever might be hyperbole, but just barely.
I’m sure the heat worshipping crowd was pleased, but the rest of us, who appreciate a proper Montana summer day, were left disappointed. I missed those afternoons when — just as temperatures climbed into the unpleasant zone — a thundershower rolled through, leaking just enough to cool things off, but not so much you actually needed your hastily deployed rain gear.
We didn’t get many days like that, and not just in Montana. The summer weather was dismal across the West.
When it’s that hot — consecutive weeks of 90-plus temperatures in Montana or triple digits in temperate coastal cities such as Portland — fall-loving folks like me have a hard time communing with nature.
This communing is important stuff. A friend shared on social media Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” the other day. It reminded me what I missed during a summer dominated by sweltering weather and familial responsibilities in urban places.
“When despair in the world grows in me,” Berry writes, nature provides a type of refuge. That refuge is more than just an illusion sustained by the distraction from everyday life that nature provides. For me it’s medicine, a drug on which the patent expired eons ago. And in a place where there are abundant public lands, this generic is available at little or no cost.
The smoke-filled skies instead functioned much like a promising, but experimental therapeutic. The prescription was too expensive to pay out of pocket but insurance won’t cover it.
In that way smoke was an irritant that went beyond bloodshot eyes and scratchy throats. Even when we could get out beyond the boundaries of civilization, the smoke took a mental toll. Soul-cleansing vistas were obscured by haze. Rivers were closed to fishing as waters warmed to trout-lethal temperatures. The cold embrace of a trout stream pressing against my waders was a scarce resource.
This seasonal page can’t turn soon enough.
The official start of fall remains weeks away, but it will be fallish soon, and that will generate a lot of new activity around my household.
We won’t start hunting just yet, however, as my big dog Doll just turned 11 and has become even less a friend of summer heat than I. So while the Hun and sharptail seasons open soon, we’ll pass on the earliest of upland openers. My new dog Jade can still use a bit of work preparing for the season.
She seems a natural pointer and retriever, though she bumped a few coveys in her inaugural campaign. A little whoa work will be helpful, but I’m not too concerned. The other day I let her out into the yard and she spotted an unfamiliar spray bottle I’d left in the grass.
She went on point and didn’t budge until I’d deposited the bottle in the trash.
At her age I’ll take a dog too eager to point over one that needs to spend a semester on the whoa barrel, any day. She’s young and will learn to sort out the tweeties, bunnies and odd inanimate objects with a little experience and a few pointed birds put on the ground.
Bird dogs are smart like that. I can’t wait to see it.
When the world seems to be on fire it’s not easy to enter Berry’s “peace of wild things” where we can “rest in the grace of the world.”
Soon enough it will be time to walk the chukar grounds again. That’s when my world begins anew.
Rob Breeding writes and blogs at www.mthookandbullet.com.
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