THE DOG DAYS OF MAY

What a difference a few hot days make this time of year. Last Tuesday, I drove by a pair of Canada Geese standing guard over their three newly hatched goslings, weeks earlier than most years. Although only the first week of May, the cacophony of birdsong that filled the air each morning has slowed as many birds have chosen their mates and are now busy building nests.

Robins have taken up residence in a nest hidden under the leaves of an autumn clematis that hangs from a trellis outside our door, flushing with an irate squawk each time Trish or I walk by. Under the eave of the lean-to attached to our barn, a pair of phoebes, have been sitting on their eggs for at least a week, while tiny wrens are just setting up house, slipping in and out of the wooden boxes built for bluebirds.

As if overnight, our property is awash with color. Just as the magnolias are about to lose their petals, the dogwoods have begun to bloom, the pink blossoms of a crab apple rising above the dogwoods’ delicate white-and-pink petals.

A rainbow of tulips spreads down one side of our drive replacing the daffodils that have faded from the sudden heat. On the other side, black birch, ironwood and maples that only began to show buds last week seem to have leafed out overnight. Under the shade cast by these taller trees, rhododendrons threaten to burst forth, adding their large clusters of bell shaped flowers to the riot of color.

Around the front of our home, lilacs add a touch of lavender while lower to the ground azaleas provide a red and purple haze along the borders of our gardens, still lower, tiny blue flowers peak out from a carpet of myrtle. Across the yard, the pink flowers of a domesticated honeysuckle compete for our attention with the orange blooms of a quince, and in a rock wall a colony of columbine raise their gold-and-red trumpets toward a sky free of cloud.

So too, much has changed on the stream. Wild barberries line the narrow path leading down to the water. Their little yellow bells cast off a sweet scent, soon to be followed by wild honeysuckle, and then, rugosas, those wild roses, whose pink-and-white florets will end the succession of perfume that will fill the streamside for the next three weeks.

Barberry

In only a week, a variety of wild flowers has joined the trout lilies gracing the sides of the trail. Different varieties of forest rue are scattered among the more abundant purple violets, bluets with their delicate powder-blue-and-white flowers, and colonies of May Apples that carpet the woodland floor. Farther back, in the shade cast by the hemlocks, solitary Jack in the Pulpits erupt from the leaf litter while closer to the stream, the segmented stems of horsetails, those relics from the stone age, have grown high.

bluets

violets

The air is humid, the temperature climbing into the eighties for the fourth day in a row. The current that had thundered through this forest ravine only a few days earlier has been reduced to a medium flow. My shirt is damp with perspiration by the time I reach my destination, where a rainbow appears through a mist that rises from a waterfall at the base of a large pool. Mayflies drift lazily through the air while caddis flutter across the surface, trout periodically rising to greedily dine on one or the other.

StreamTREAM

Before leaving from home, I checked my fly box to be sure that it was full of every possible pattern to imitate whatever might strike a trout’s fancy on this second weekend of the month. Rather than cast a fly, I sit down on a log, tip back my cap, and examine the scene that unfolds before me.

Trout tend to gently sip mayflies that slowly emerge from their nymphal shucks and then gently float upon the current while they rise with a splash when chasing caddis, the aquatic insects that race upward from the bottom of the stream.

The trout are slashing the water, which indicates they are taking the caddis and not the mayflies. I tie a pattern to my tippet, in this case one with a body sparingly dubbed with beaver fur and a few CDC feathers tied in long ways to duplicate the caddis’ pup-tent-like wing. Rising from the log, I swing the line over my shoulder and then cast forward. When the little fluff of feather and fur touches down, a trout erupts through the surface, but in my excitement, I strike too soon, the fish rolling back under the surface.

“Never mind,” I tell myself. For in the words of Shakespeare’s good King Harry, the same words later quoted by Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective: “The game’s afoot!”

Fish

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