I’ve always enjoyed the reprieve of a strong summer cold front blowing through. Within 24 hours a string of sweaty, sultry days becomes more reminiscent of early fall. The sky becomes crisp and clear and the heat haze disappears to sharpen the edges and colors of the trees. Sitting outside in the evening after the front goes through will have you thinking about getting a sweatshirt as goosebumps raise the hairs on your arms. But, you remind yourself, it’s still summer and the sweatshirt stays in storage, regardless of the chill. It’s refreshing to feel cold air on bare skin after all.
The high point of this weather shift is the sometimes violent storms that bring in the cooler air. Since I was a kid I’ve tried to be outside as much as possible when this was happening. In the old Chicago neighborhood where I first lived, the first apartment we lived in had a small porch. I would find the one dry spot to stand in and let the storm wash over me. I particularly enjoy those lightning strikes that have no delay in the following ear splitting crack of thunder. You can hear the air sizzle and ears ring afterward.
The next apartment only had a covered doorway and the setback stoop of an empty store. Just enough cover to let me enjoy the show. I would get yelled at for this pastime of mine when caught, but like picking at a scab, I had to do it.
When my parents bought a house near Midway Airport, the big garage door faced west. I’d have the door wide open, a lawn chair to sit in and it was like watching a movie unfold. A couple of times the rotating clouds of a tornado would pass overhead, but since tornados never hit the city there were no worries, except once.
Everyone knows that tornadoes exist solely to rid the earth of trailer parks. I have no clue why tornadoes hate trailers parks so much, but the fury wreaked upon them is devastating. The only tornado I recall ever touching the city limits, the very edge of the city limits, happened to hit the only trailer park I recall being within the city limits.
How’s that for planning.
I think the culmination of why I feel invincible when confronted with storms like this is because of a trip I made to the boundary waters when I was 15. We were camping on a sandbar that nearly split a big lake in two. It was the only place big enough for tents. The temperatures all week were around 90 degrees, supposedly unusual for the area. The biggest, blackest, meanest looking storm I had ever seen in my life blew up out of nowhere. And there was nowhere to go.
There was no point cowering under the few trees on the sandbar, bad choice perhaps, so we just stood around on the beach. One of the guides took an aluminum canoe out on the now raging lake. Winds were making white caps on the water 3 to 4 feet tall. He got out into the middle of the lake, stood on the gunwales and started waving his arms in the air. You could see him laughing but couldn’t hear a thing because of the wind, rain and cracks of thunder from the lightning that was hitting all around us.
Eventually the lake had enough and tossed him high into the air. It seemed like an eternity, but he swam, towing the canoe behind him, within reach of the beach. The last 100 feet or so he was dragging the canoe behind him and laughing. When he got in front of us, wind still howling, rain pelting and lightning flashing everywhere, he stopped, put his hands on his hips and shouted, “Was that fucking great, or what?”
Every storm since then that I’ve been caught up in has paled in comparison. It strikes me as odd on how calm I get while everything around me is going to hell in a hurry.
As I write this, clean up from the storm that blew through a few days ago is still going on. A chain saw has been running almost continuously for the past two hours. While out fishing the other day, proof of the power of the wind that blew through was seen in the addition of new cover on the river.
With the river at the lowest prolonged level it’s seen since 2005, I was taking advantage of the situation and going to spots I haven’t been able to fish in 5 years. This one particular stretch 4 miles from my house I go to all the time. Combing the south shore is easy and getting across the river downstream is usually not a problem. But one long stretch on the north side of an island is difficult to get to at even slightly higher water levels. Not so much the higher water that’s the problem, it’s the current flow. Not an issue today.
Even at the low water levels a channel I had to cross was pushing pretty hard. On the north side of the island was a slow moving deeper pool. The only two smallies landed, of a few hooked, came at the beginning of the deeper pool.
After that it became a sunset stroll down the river.
Far down stream a deer crossed. Following tentatively were a couple of fawns. I remembered the spot where they crossed, it was the lowest point of the river from the island to the shore.
This stretch of the river, a stretch that can be waded for just over 7 miles, has a number of boulders littered along the way. Leftovers from when the glaciers receded 12,000 or so years ago. I use them as stopping points. Somewhere to sit, take a break and stare blankly up and down the river.
This one boulder is the only one I’ve found that has parallel striations running across the surface. As Wikipedia describes it: Glacial striations usually occur as multiple straight, parallel grooves representing the movement of the sediment-loaded base of the glacier.
And that’s what it looks like.
Trying to get across the deeper pool proved a little more difficult than expected. I apparently had forgot how deep it got. It’s no more than 4 feet, but I’m only 5 foot 9, so even 4 feet pushes my limit. Half way across the pool I could feel that I stepped on something like a sheet of plywood. It must have flexed just enough from my weight to let the light current get under it and flip it over. It followed me down stream for the next 30 or so feet, flipping and bouncing off of me as I tried to maneuver through the pool.
A sheet of plywood being pushed by current weighs considerably more than you might think.
Since it was nearly a full moon, I decided to stay out till dark even if the fishing pretty much sucked. The sunset was much more subtle than the one I watched in this stretch just a couple of days earlier. More of a colorful glow than harsh, bright colors.
As the sun came off the water, the bug hatches started. First were the pecker gnats. Not being of hillbilly stock like my wife, I had never heard that term pecker gnat till we met 6 years ago. Pecker gnats they are till I find a better term, but then I’ll probably stick with pecker gnats. Next came some kind of small mayfly, for lack of a better term. In this stretch I had been seeing them in the evenings for well over a month.
Down stream it looked like fog lifting off the water. It was massive clouds of bugs all heading up stream. Apparently they float down stream with the current, lift and head back up stream. This way they know they’re offspring will stand a better chance of survival by remaining in a sustainable environment. Or so the theory goes.
All I know is that during one of these bug hatches, I try not to take deep open mouthed breaths as I walk, even though I’m sure the extra protein wouldn’t kill me.
I waited till the moon rose over the far shore tree tops and was reflected in the water. It was dark enough that the bug hatches could no longer be seen, but you could feel them running into bare skin. I tried to capture it all with the flash of my camera. They wind up sparkling in front of you briefly before fading back into the dark.
As I walked through the last of the slow moving pools, fish could be seen dimpling the surface coming up for the bugs. I knew they were carp, but for one brief moment I could picture that this was what trout anglers get all excited about. I could see why they get all twitchy about matching hatches and drifting oddly named things with hooks to these rising dimples.
Then reality set in, I live in a state where trout don’t.
They’re just carp.