When the Swallows Fly

Around here, it happens every August 27th, give or take a day. The barn swallows leave the site where they have been “our birds” since the end of April. On a late summer

RSCN4564morning, the air above the old barn resonates with difference. It’s no longer stitched together by the zigzag flight of swallows, the graceful birds that nested on the beams and chittered through the sky. They’re gone– again, migration to South America is calling.

This year I refuse to be saddened by the birds’ departure. Summer is ending; yeah I’ve got to slowly change my clothes, toss aside the trout bum rags and poet’s threads. I’ve got to find the new shirts of a working stiff, but I don’t care… Not much.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ll procrastinate on those odd jobs that the season still requires doing. I’ll practice the art of “turning back the clock,” despite the probability of failure. I will stay alive, awake to the moment, even if my head is turned around and screwed down loosely.

I’ll start today. I’ll go to the river when the sun grows cool. I’ll cast the wet-fly leader and experiment with three flies simultaneously, the way the old-timers used to fish when they were serious about finding dinner. Cahill for a point fly, Pheasant-tail for mid, a Black Ant for the hand… Why not. I’m an old-timer, too, but fish go back to the water.

When the swallows fly, I’ll write a poem and think of Robert Frost. The space the DSCN5051swallows leave will be like paper– blank and silent, with a set of artificial flies, perhaps, cast forward to a riffle.

Frost said, poetry creates a “stay against confusion.” I could use a stay like that (my wife, the therapist, would tell you). Yeah, I’ll write a poem and build it word by word, like stone on stone. I’ll hold off the mean world with a wall that’s built around my place.

When I’m at the river, why not fish with dries? The trout will probably rise to an Ant, a Sulphur, or a Drake. Why not cast what’s customary for late summer? Why go against the current with those wets?

DSCN5056The swallows have flown. It’s Cahill for the point, a Pheasant-tail at mid, a Black Ant for the hand…

Maybe it’s a “momentary lapse of reason,” as the title of a Pink Floyd/David Gilmour album comes to mind… Forget about the poem I’ll write! Forget about my little stay. Let it all collapse and turn away! Let my thoughts fly with the swallows that are gone…

But no.

I’ll fish with those wets; I’ll give ’em a try, even if the trout prefer to smack the surface for a Sulphur or a Drake. (Sure, I’ll go back to dries if the wet flies are ignored; I’m not a masochist, really).

I could use a stay against the summer’s ending.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSCN5075DSCN5058





About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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12 Responses to When the Swallows Fly

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was thinking yesterday, August is an aptly named month, as we move into the august part of the year. In truth, we’ve been teetering on the cusp of the next season for a few weeks now, and it’s pretty bittersweet for sure. The signs are everywhere, from the obscenely colored brookies to the red and yellow leaves starting to litter the ground. Summer’s last hurrah, I suppose.

  2. Thank you, Anonymous, for the comment on the subtleties of August, the bittersweet sensations they produce, which I share with you. I’ve been watching the slow progression of the “brook trout coloration” in the foliage, a tree here and there changing its green into red and yellow… Each day there is more than the day before. The crickets sing it, too.

  3. Les Kish says:

    I’ve had similar thoughts about the swallows, robins too for that matter. Dawn is quieter now. The birds don’t sing much. They just slip away to places south. The good thing is, that they come back. With that, come the caddis hatches of spring. Happy prelude to autumn Walt.

    • The birds are just telling us that it’s all part of the grand cycle, departure and, eventually, return. And there’s certainly a beauty to be found in each new season (fall fishing, for example), a fact which doesn’t necessarily make things easier for those not quite ready to accept the change. But yeah, happy prelude, Les, and thanks!

  4. Brent says:

    I enjoyed reading this quite a bit in general, but some of the pictures are striking. The angle of the barn makes it seem like it’s leaning, which I suppose is a nice visual metaphor. And where were the hilltop pictures taken?

  5. Brent, yeah the barn has an autumnal lean to it, and the hilltop photos have a slight exaggeration, as well. That’s looking east along Town Line Road, and northeast from Town Line into Bootleg Hollow where I’m typing the word “thanks” this very moment!

  6. stflyfisher says:

    Nice post Walt. In some ways I love this time of year. Already the mornings seem cooler than they should be and the big river valleys around here are fogged up until the sun and wind take them away. Looking forward to fall, but not too forward. I too would like the end of summer to hang out a little longer…

    • Bob/stflyfisher, My sentiment, exactly. Fall is usually a great season for the likes of us, but it’s the season following it that can put us on the edge. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. August is my least favorite month, because of the heat and humidity that comes with that time of year. As August rolls around each year starts me thinking about fall trout fishing and of course the cooler months. It just seems as I get older it appears a little quicker. Thanks for sharing

    • Bill, I think if I lived in your state, August would be my least favorite month, as well. I hated the heat and humidity when I lived in Virginia (although I know that’s not your state). As it is, I think January is the roughest one around here in the north. And as you say, the anticipated season seems to arrive faster every year. When I was a kid living way out in the sticks, the summers seemed to last forever. Now, my god, where do they go so fast. Thanks for your input on this post!

  8. Alan says:

    I’m usually very happy to see August go. This August has been kind both to me as well as the waters. September brings one of my favorite seasons, and though it may be short until those biting cold months here in the northeast it is always strong enough to pull me through.

    • August has been good to us who love the streams. Thus I’m a bit reluctant to see it go, although September usually brings better fishing (and, for me, back to work). Let’s hope we stay on a roll here, Alan, and may the winter be a little gentler on us, too.

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