The sun was playing peek-a-boo from behind the fluffy dark faced cumulus clouds creating a patch work effect of sun and shade. The creek bottoms were various shades of green and yellow as the turning of the seasons had arrived in the Rocky Mountains. The long languid days of summer had given way to the cool days of autumn and all of creation is poised to make the transition.
The water in the Yellowstone River is low and clear; the bank full flows of spring and the gentle flows of summer now just memories. The vibrant hatches of yellow-bodies mayflies, buzzing caddis and lumbering stoneflies have been replaced by somber colored fall Baetis mayflies with dark olive bodies and blue-gray wings. They appear like tiny sailboats when the sun disappears beneath the clouds, coming in waves, luring the trout to the surface, and then, with the sudden return of the sun, they disappear and the surface of the water is smooth and unbroken. The cycle of the season continues and we are swept along with the flow.
Sitting on the bank of a Paradise Valley spring creek on a crisp fall day I watch the waster as a cloud sweeps over the sun and the Baetis magically appear. The trout, poised just below the surface on quivering fins, rise to intercept them. The brown trout are buttery fat, golden and tawny in their pre-breeding finery and they rise like dignified guests at a palatial banquet, gently sipping in the tiny mayflies. The year has nearly come full circle. Soon the fattened females will be sweeping their tails over the smooth gravel forming depressions which will hold the eggs of the next generation and eager males will be chasing each other, slashing and biting to gain dominance and the privilege to have the female for themselves. Ancient urges, coded on strands of DNA drive them to compete in this annual ritual of procreation, assuring that this annual ritual will continue long after they are but a memory.
Like the seasons we change, each year unfolding with periods of clouds and sunshine. Sitting there I reflect on my own season of life. Like Frank Sinatra’s Man In the Looking Glass I gaze at my reflection in the surface of the water and wonder where have all the seasons gone.
Have nearly 50 years slipped away since this dark haired young man, rod in hand, stood poised to take on the trout in Armstrong’s Spring Creek? Brash, young and confident, the entire world was his oyster.
Here’s that same man, not so brash and certainly not so young. Now well past his three score and ten only the hat is the same.
The sun appears from behind the clouds, the flurry of fall Baetis fades, the brown trout slowly settle back to the bottom and a cool breeze sends the yellow leaves of the cottonwoods dancing downward, carpeting the surface of the water. The wind ruffles the surface and my reflection is blurred, the old man and the young man merge and fade carried away by the flow.