The five points of the star, only found in the woods on a day off. Andrew Cremata

Catching up to summer


“So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking,
Racing around to come up behind you again.”

— Time, Pink Floyd

A little over a month ago, I trekked down a narrow trail toward still waters with designs on grayling and trout. The path was lined with large wild rose bushes, and their bright pink flowers in full bloom filled the air with the sweet smell of summer. A small oddity on one of the shrubs caught my attention — a delicate five-pointed star. Closer inspection revealed it was the remnants of a wild rose whose petals had fallen away leaving behind only the structure that held them.

The fishing was good that day, and trophy-sized grayling were hitting on just about every cast. I even managed to lose a hard-fighting trout, but what could possibly bring you down on a perfect summer’s day when the sun is shining, the wind is down, and the fish are hungry?

Five weeks later, I made my way back to that same small trail. It was morning, and there was a chill in air. I had noticed on the drive that yellow leaves had begun to appear at the higher elevations on the mountains — an ominous hint as to what would soon fully descend. I fished for some time without so much as a bite. It was a couple hours later in the day than it had been when the grayling had been thick and numerous, but the sun was hiding behind the peak of the mountain opposite the lake. Its ascent was a lazy one, as though the summer’s aging had made it weak or indifferent.

When it finally cleared the mountain’s edge I could feel its warmth envelop me and all five senses came alive as the late morning scene unfolded. The rising heat prompted an insect hatch, and as the lake lit up, its entire expanse became a swarming mist of tiny bugs. The grayling soon followed, and when an unlucky insect fell upon the surface it was devoured from below with a brief gurgling pop that was louder than the day itself.

I was getting nowhere with the well-fed grayling. My fingers worked furiously to tie on different spoons and spinners, but each new incarnation produced the same result. When I ran out of options I decided to try another spot. I gathered my gear and made my way back up the path, lost in my own thoughts.

Something grabbed my attention on the periphery of my vision. I stopped and turned and saw that the rose bushes were now covered in bright red bulbous rosehips, full and round with summer’s bounty. I looked closer and saw the five-pointed star had become the uppermost portion of the ripening pod — its five points reaching up and away.

These are the signs of a waning summer — Pregnant fruit from tired fallen flowers, Yellow leaves that creep down steep mountainsides, One single star amidst a blue canvas. Soon painted black and studded with many.

As the end of another Skagway summer draws near, it’s not unusual to seek a little balance and try to squeeze a little enjoyment out of the diminishing days of summer. Many people, locals and seasonal locals alike, spend their summers toiling at work, catering to tourists, filling their pockets with the green stuff that makes winter dreams come true — whether it be on a beach in Thailand or simply sitting on the couch watching television. Call it Skagway Irony; living in one of the most beautiful places on earth and never taking the time to really see or enjoy any of it.

No other creatures in our vicinity have such a luxury. The salmon are thick in Dyea, and as their life cycle wanes they struggle with all the power of their tired and decomposing bodies to secure a legacy for the coming years. The bears are appreciative in their own way, and seem to dance among the pinks as they gorge themselves full for the lean winter. The swallows are noticeably gone, as are the merlins that nested in the valley all year driving us all crazy with their incessant early morning cacophony. The last of the fireweed’s flowers sit lonely atop their stems, and our friends and neighbors tell us, “We’re losing light fast.”

Feeder king salmon are moving into Lynn Canal, and will hopefully soon be thick enough to fill up a cooler or two.

Lake trout’s bellies are almost busting with eggs and soon they will be clinging to rocky lake ledges looking to bring their seasonal obligations to an end. And I’m hopeful that the grayling are still in my favorite spot, because even though the smell of roses is long gone there is still time to enjoy a couple more meals of fried grayling with macaroni and cheese.

So while nature moves steadily and reliably toward its next phase we scramble to find a few moments in the chaos to provide some meaning or purpose to another summer season slipping by. Hopefully the scales aren’t tipped too far out of whack, because there are a few weeks of really good fishing left to enjoy. Or hiking, or kayaking, or sitting in the sun with a beer, or whatever it is that brings a little balance to your summer.