Tag Archives: autumn

The Last Summer Night

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The Sun sets on summer on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~ John Steinbeck

There are any number of opinions on summer’s end, it’s transition into fall, and in New England we have more than most. Some relish the cooler temperatures, changing leaves and sweatshirt weather. Others can’t help but mourn summer’s passing.

I’ll tell you that as a fisherman I look forward to the fall, the migration of striped bass that it brings, and the promise of bluefish and stripers pushing bait right onto the beach.

But it’s certainly not the case that I’m “sick of summer.” Summer to me is trips to the Adirondack Mountains where my aunt has had a camp for decades, open windows and nights spent on my parents’ back deck, taking the top off the Jeep and watching fireworks with family.

I think looking forward to the fall has more to do with a mindset, an idea, or an ideology: Change is a positive thing.

I think life has a way of sorting people into two camps: Those who embrace change, and those who fear it. There are things that some of us, some of my friends and family, have experienced that have given them every right and reason to fear change and to fear the unknown. Life can be a terribly unfair process.

Change in of its very nature is uncertain, and uncertainty can be terrifying. Whatever our current circumstance, our location or our position… even if it’s not ideal, it’s at least familiar. And with familiarity comes comfort.

And you’ll hear these reasons, and I’ll not discount them, but for me it’s not “changing leaves,” “pumpkins,” or cooler temperatures that make me look forward to, embrace the beginning of a new season.

I’m hoping that I’ll run into a blitz of bluefish that I’ll be rehashing with friends for decades. I’m hoping the Red Sox will make an improbable run to the World Series and I’ll share that moment with all of the Boston fans cheering along, and friends and family too.

But I’m looking forward to the fall because the summer has passed, because I lived it and loved it and it was amazing, but now it’s over.

I’m looking forward to the fall, yes because striped bass and bluefish will be running, campfires will be a little more comforting, the scenery throughout New England and New York will, for however short a time, be stunning…

But mostly I’m looking forward to the fall because it’s in the future, and the future always holds the promise of being the most rewarding and fulfilling period of your existence. And although that optimism requires faith, or some of it at least, which means investing yourself emotionally in in something uncertain… I still believe that the investment is worth it.

Best of All He Loved the Fall

Hemingway's Grave.
Blood from scraped knuckles digging up Hemingway’s grave in Idaho in 2010.

In today’s world, we’re inundated with the emotions, and everyday thoughts, of almost everyone in our “social network,” which is becoming a term that’s less and less clearly defined.

As August fades into September, we’re bound to see those people who are mourning summer’s end. Kids will shuffle back to the bus stops, the sunsets will come a little earlier every day.

One of my favorite passages that I’ve ever read came from a eulogy that Ernest Hemingway gave for a friend, Gene Van Guilder. Everything that Hemingway has ever said or written has been analyzed to death, and this one is no exception. Some scholars speculate that the words that he spoke were ones that he intended as much for himself as he did the late Van Guilder. Hemingway was only 40 at the time he delivered the eulogy. He still had a Nobel and Pulitzer-Prize winning novel to write (The Old Man and the Sea). He still had a plane crash to survive in 1954, a crash that some have speculated caused him a pain that made writing (the one constant throughout his life) more difficult to do than it was ordinarily for him.

He still had marlin to chase in the Gulf Stream, lions to hunt in Africa and characters and places to immortalize with words.

But there is an underlying sense both of hope and enormous, perhaps even insurmountable, struggle in almost everything Hemingway has written. The one defines, and necessitates, the other.

What made him, in my opinion, such an important, memorable and significant writer in American history was his ability to have a feeling for what defined masculinity, strength and courage, all without losing his sensitivity to the simple, yet beautiful parts of life that hide in the details.

I don’t know that there’s a passage of his that combines those two elements better than his words for Van Guilder did, and as we head down the home stretch of summer, I thought I’d share them with those of you who haven’t already found them yourselves:

“Best of all he loved the fall… The fall with the tawny and grey, leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams, and above the hills the high blue windless skies. He loved to shoot, and he loved to ride and he loved to fish.”

Best of All He Loved the Fall

Fishing Montauk's coast during the Fall Run.
Fishing Montauk’s coast during the Fall Run.

Those words aren’t mine, they were spoken by Hemingway eulogizing a friend, Gene Van Guilder, although many suspect he was talking as much about his future self as his lost friend.

To many, the Fall symbolizes a death of something pure and beautiful like summer, but for outdoorsmen, it’s more. Autumn is motion. While walking our golden retriever in the Fall in Upstate New York, my father always kept an eye skyward for migrating geese, he’d point them out, and perhaps utter a word or two, nothing more than sheer amazement at the pure beauty of it.

I was lucky to meet a fellow striper fisherman while studying at Syracuse University, Curt Dircks, and we began a Fall tradition of fishing Fire Island, where his family has a camp, every October and sometimes even into November. It’s hard to believe it has been ten years since that tradition began, but we haven’t missed an Autumn. I was a triple-major at Syracuse, and working two part-time jobs, so the escape to a remote barrier island was a relief and then some.

The Island doesn’t allow motor vehicles, so every October we pack our gear, the necessary groceries, rods, waders and bucktails and hop the ferry to the thin barrier island south of Long Island. Sometimes I was taking a break from editing the magazine I worked for, sometimes I was up visiting from where I lived in Florida and now I drive from my adopted home of Boston, but there’s always the bass to come back to, there’s always motion.

As I sit on my small deck in my adopted home on the North Shore, I watch those same geese unsettle themselves for a southward journey as the sky’s light seems to become more crisp in the cooler evenings. I can’t help but think of my dad. I talk with my friend, neither of us can believe it’s been a decade, and we plan this year’s attempt to take part in the Fall Run, hammer out some tentative dates, swap pictures from years past, and dream ever so carefully about the fish stirring along the Southern Coast. A fisherman’s dream uttered aloud becomes a curse.

To me, Autumn is motion, and of the most beautiful sort. Often in life it behooves to step back and look at our circumstance with some perspective to better handle it. Move away from the calendar and see it for what it is, and you’ll notice we’re moving toward summer again, we’re moving already.

Often in life there are moments, years even, full of hardship and pain, that simply must be dealt with. “The only way out is through.” But if we have faith that those times will pass and we’ll bask in the comfort of summer’s warmth again, then the winter is only a period to be weathered, not feared.

And so, with some perspective, the Autumn is motion toward summer again, and it’s damn beautiful motion at that. The crisp sharp leaves of light in the morning, the geese overhead, the stripers schooling along the coast and then those days when you’re outside and the air is just perfect, as though it were made to soak your skin in comfort.

Stagnation is the only thing to be feared, and motion, and the form it takes in Autumn, is pure beauty.