Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sliding and shuffling to the creek

I'm having a love/hate affair with autumn leaves, that stuff all shades of brown that’s buried the landscape and covered the surface of my favorite trout streams.
The hills resemble rusting cannonballs amid a pile of bare sticks, where just a couple weeks ago these mountains were ablaze with some of the most dazzling color in years. And everywhere there are leaves in yards, on cars, along dirt roads and clogging the flow of my favorite trout streams.
At least I can say I get a hookup with almost every cast now, though mostly I'm sticking my flies into dead brown leaves instead of lively brown trout.Last week I hiked to the headwaters of the North Fork of the French Broad River, up along tiny Courthouse Creek and past the waterfall and the last campsite. I didn't quit until the trail turned vertical and I was ready for horizontal.
Still, the trek was nice. The air had a quiet sweetness away from the highways. Like brown birds resting their wings, the leaves bobbed on the little balsam fir and appeared to be ready to take flight as I passed.I saw very few trout along the way, though I did try from time to time. Mostly, I just enjoyed the fall sunshine and shuffled through the crackling leaves that crunched under my boots like corn chips.
It all brought back memories of boyhood and diving into piles that Dad had raked.The next day I foolishly decided I was once again young enough to tackle The Gorge on the North Fork. I tumbled down a narrow path to the water, and this time the path was hidden by … you guessed it … dead leaves. It's a half-hour hike in perfect weather. This took longer. I lost the path. I was huffing pretty good, sliding and slipping down the steep incline, and hanging on to every tree and branch along the way. I fell three times.
On the third fall I stayed on my butt, pushed off a little and slid about 30 feet downhill like a kid on a sled. It was better than slipping and busting bones on rocks. I did it three times, each time it felt like a ride at the county fair.
At the bottom at last, I was worn out. I fished a while before realizing I had made a colossal mistake. Rain threatened. It was an impossibly steep climb back to the troutmobile. I still had not caught any trout.Halfway back, grasping at saplings for help, I realized a person could actually die of a heart attack here and not be found for days. I considered that it was perhaps a fine place to die, but not today.With my heart pounding my chest like a bill collector at the door, I reached the top. Still alive.
So, I have to admit sliding on a soft cushion of fluffy leaves was fun. And shuffling up the forest road, kicking leaves this way and that, brought back fond memories.But it would have been more fun if I had caught some trout. This weekend's forecast is for snow, which calls for a different style of slipping and sliding.

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