Self-induced seasonal sporting schizophrenia
While golfers are still busy chasing their balls and clubbing the duff at distant downstate golf course grounds, Adirondackers are lusting for the fall.
This may not be a good time to be pounding around with a club, but it is a great time to put boots to the ground.
The annual change of seasons is usually apparent throughout the Adirondack High Peaks region by early September when the local hillsides begin to sport their annual technicolor splendors.
Fall comes first in the upper elevations, arriving a few weeks or so before the full moon rises to confirm a true autumn equinox, which occurs at precisely 4:44 pm on Sept. 22 this year.
However, the annual change of seasons is often apparent in many other fixtures of life in the hills.
The first signs of seasonal transition become evident on the lakes and ponds, where the still, black waters begin to provide picture-perfect reflections of the now-empty summer camps.
There is no longer laughter or screams of glee coming from the summer campers. There are no echoes of kum ba yah, as caretakers busy themselves with the chores of closing up the buildings, shuttering the windows and raking the leaves.
The sounds of life on the lake will be silenced until next year, as caretakers prepare to discover their own treasures and pleasures in small hunting camps that are spread across the land.
The season sneaks in slowly, but it is always obvious to those who know. It begins shortly after the school buses begin to scoop up the children from the roadsides, and it expands each day as the air becomes sweeter, sharper and cooler.
You know it’s back when an old, familiar mustiness begins to hang in the air again. It is evident as woodpiles begin to appear in the neighbor’s yard, where they are organized in long ranks and covered with a tarp.
Soon there will be the faint honks of geese barking overhead as they take to the wing on the long way south. Squirrels will be busy gathering nutty goods for their long stay in the winter woods, as woodcock burst into the evening air on the way to a Timberdoodle doo.
Wild turkey will strut and scatter as great flocks of grackles and crows begin to gather. Ruffed grouse will run and hide as gun dogs sniff and glide across a wooded countryside.
With a loud flutter, one bird will take to the air, and then another. For the hunter, it’s a decision that doesn’t really matter. Take the first to burst and follow the latter or knock down the second hen and leave the rest for later.
The local woods will be quieter now and far less crowded with visitors, except on the weekends. Strangers may come to town, but they won’t stick around. Vacation season may be over for the tourists, but it is just beginning for the locals.
The people who now walk the street are willing to stop and take the time to greet. Familiar faces will again appear as the slower pace of life returns to offer a respite from the crowded hubbub of summer.
Solitude can again be found on the big lakes, the small ponds or just about anywhere around a river bend. A quiet place is no longer considered a scarce commodity.
The forested trails will remain mostly quiet now until the Columbus Day weekend, and by then the sweet tang of wood smoke will again be wafting on the cool evening air.
Frosted, fallen leaves will crunch under foot as hoarfrost temporarily competes for attention. A dusting of snow will dull the once brilliant mountainsides, and black ice will begin to secure a stiff lid over the lakes.
Jumper cables, dry gas and ice scrapers will replace the lawn chairs, towels and bottles of sunscreen and bug spray that were hidden away in the trunk of the car.
Currently, the Adirondack woods are undergoing the annual transition from summer to fall, but we know winter can interrupt the process at almost any time.
Traffic snarls now come from school buses picking up kids, rather than from tourists stopping to gawk at the sites.
The air will have a crisper, drier feel as the winds begin to carry a bit more of a bite. The first frost of the season will not be far off and the thick morning mist coming off the lakes will provide ample evidence of the cooling waters. The sweet musky, pungency of fall will become evident in the air and time will slow down.
Blue skies and sunshine have mixed with heavy rains for more than a week now as the hillsides begin to sprout their autumn colors. Sugar maples will be the first to show their colors, with their fiery reds and crimsons vibrating against the green evergreens or the dark waters of an Adirondack stream.
In the bogs, tamaracks with golden needles that light up the marsh will be near the last to turn.
Birds will continue to flock up in great numbers as they ready for their journey south. Grackles and crows are easily located as they come together to make noise in ever-growing numbers; their squawks and calls evident even at a distance. V’s of geese will continue to bark overhead as they wing their way south.
For many avid outdoor travelers, autumn is a season of great indecision, with far too many opportunities and never enough time. This seasonal syndrome has led to an annual affliction, which I refer to as SSS, or seasonal, sporting schizophrenia.
It begins as I long for the opportunity to cast a fly to the big, silvery landlocked salmon that journey upriver into the tributaries of Lake Champlain to spawn.
Conversely, I get the shakes when the brilliant brook trout begin to stage up for their spawn in the ponds, decked out in their finest autumn attire.
In the alders, woodcock will tweet and twitter before bursting skyward to perform their dance of the timberdoodle.
Dogs and hunters may take to the field, but by then, the long-beaked birds may be gone. However, they will be replaced by a fresh flight the following day.
The spectacular colors of the hillsides will tempt me to tackle just one last peak before the snow flies, but when the sweet scent of woodsmoke mixes with a lingering hint of whiskey, wet woolies and cheap cigars, I know that old friends are gathered in hunting camp and it is time to share another season.
On a cold morning, the watchers will walk silently to a fabled old runway as the drivers set off to push a thick, cedar swamp. They will tromp through the blowdown or try to bark an old buck out from the beech whips.
Soon, as temperatures begin to drop and the daylight hours begin to diminish, the decision of whether to take that long hunt over the hill or chase after one final brookie of the season will have to be made.
I know the malady of sportsman schizophrenia will again take hold of me, and I’ll likely shudder with delight. It is a sickness for which I pray there is never a cure.
I often find there is never enough time to accomplish that one last journey, but I feel safe in the knowledge that fall will always return in just a year and future adventures will remind me of those in the past to provide memories that will last.