Sports Column by Matt Dickerson: Dampened: Getting wet in the outdoors
How do I write about the recent rain without complaining or whining?
I could just dryly state some of the facts about various state records we have set for rainfall in May and June, or about how many times above average our June rainfall was this year. But anybody living within a few hundred miles of Addison County already knows this. As one friend posted on Facebook, it only rained twice last month: once for twelve days, and once for eighteen days. I have streams flowing around my property where I have never before had streams.
To speak quite literally, this rain has put a damper on most of my usual summer outdoor activity. A description of my summer is mostly a list of what I have not done. Other than a quick morning hike past the Falls of Lana into Silver Lake, I’ve not done any hiking or camping in the Green Mountains. I’ve not slept in a state park.
My youngest son, Peter, did brave the weather and take a three-day canoe trip in the Adirondacks with the Mount Abe YoungLife group. And he did claim to have had fun. They also got caught in a severe thunderstorm with hail, and it rained on them hard every day. He returned looking like a sponge just pulled from the sink. Which is why I, no longer being as brave as my son, have not done any evening canoe trips.
Worst of all, I’ve done very little fishing. I keep telling myself that with all the water in the local rivers, this July could be the best ever for local trout fishing. Which is to say, the best conditions for the trout, with plenty of cold water and food washing downstream — not the stress of heat and dry water that often plagues local streams in late summer.
As of yet, however, I’ve not been able to take advantage of it. Any chance I get to head out to the streams, it’s either raining, thundering and threatening to rain, or the rivers are flowing like chocolate milk. My iPad weather app has had either a severe thunderstorm storm warning, or a flash flood warning, or both, essentially every day for the past three weeks.
I’ve not even been able to keep up with my gardening — another of my favorite summer outdoor activities. Walking into my yard has been like walking into a swamp. Even during the brief period when it hasn’t been raining, just going out long enough to pick a few berries leaves my shoes and socks drenched from the ground. And that is not the worst disincentive to gardening. The real problem has been the mosquitoes, which are worse at my house than at any point in the past 20 years.
(For the record, the previous two paragraphs are not complaints. Just a narrative way of stating simple facts.)
Biking, surprisingly enough, has been the one outdoor activity I have been able to do. I say “surprisingly” because biking in a thunderstorm is not my idea of fun. But one thing about biking is that we can do it on a moment’s notice, right from the house. My wife Deborah and I are not intense bikers. We have a little eight-mile loop we like to take. It’s mostly on back roads. We keep it slow. Other bikers pass us by like we weren’t moving.
Still, it takes us much less than an hour. If we wake up, and it’s not raining — and the alert on the iPad weather app isn’t yet at the severe and immanent stage — we grab a quick breakfast, put on our helmets, and pedal off, arriving home before the heat and humidity of the day kicks in. We’ve managed to get out on a regular basis this summer.
“I guess this week you’ll have to write about biking,” Deborah told me, after another attempt to go fishing had been washed out by a night of pounding thunderstorms.
“Sure,” I thought, as we flicked on our rear flashers and headed out.
On that morning Deborah wanted to go a few yards out of our way and stop at one of the bridges over the New Haven River at roughly the halfway point of our trip. Like me, she really enjoys looking at rivers. Although I am quite sure we are looking at different things. I was looking down off the bridge at very high and roily water. It wasn’t quite foamy chocolate milk, but it was something darker than Earl Grey.
I stood for a while imagining where the fish might be holding, and when they last ate, and what they ate. I have always been told that trout don’t eat much when the water is that high. For one, they simply can’t see their food. For another, they are too busy holding in eddies so they don’t get washed away. I’m not sure if that’s true. I know that right at the start of a heavy rain, when food is being washed into the stream but it isn’t yet flooding, I have had some fantastic fishing. But never once was the water that muddy.
So I started thinking about when — or if — the water might go down, and how the trout would be really hungry when it did. And then I started thinking about how I wanted to be there fishing, when the rain finally stopped and the water went down and the trout were really hungry.
Deborah was back on her bike now, ready for the return voyage. “Aren’t you glad we went biking this morning?” she said. “Now you have a column to write.”
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