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October 1999

The Faces Of Fall

If you think autumn is simply a time to rake leaves, then you need to read our guide to the best of the fall season.


In the blonde light of morning, you realize that summer will have no encore, but that life goes on in the dark waters.

The Season Of Shadows

In late August, you begin to notice shadows. They are deeper and darker, like pooled water. Step into one and you can feel its chill. Look out from it and you see a new brightness, as though the sunlit world you left had been wiped clean and polished, like a mirror.

I live in Maine’s lower Kennebec Valley, but spend as much time as I can a hundred miles or so upriver. I started out with wood canvas canoes, because that was all there was. I have seen no reason to switch to any other kind. In whitewater, the canoes teach you to respect their fragility and their surprising toughness. Those are qualities they share with horses, trees, and any other living thing.

I recanvas them about once a decade, replacing planking and ribs as necessary. I can expect to do this two more times with each, if I am lucky.

To my constant surprise, I have become an old-timer. It does not feel like being something; it feels like being the shadow of something-not a reality, but at least maybe a proof of it.

Late in September, I stand fishing at the foot of a gravelly run. The sun has not yet cleared the ridgeline behind me. A cold steam rises from the pool. Landlocked salmon are moving toward their spawning now. They are torpid and moody, indisposed to much of anything.

First, the blonde light catches the crowns of the pines on the ridge across the river; they look sacred in it. Then, it makes its way down the ridge, on a diagonal slant. Every morning now, it reaches the water later, strikes it more glancingly.

The air is thinner and sharper, as though Maine had climbed up out of the lowlands of its summer and into a more strenuous altitude. The mind is more lucid, quieter, less distracted by expectations.

The sun reaches the far edge. I still stand in shadow, casting. In a curl of current across the river a fish rolls-a good one by local standards, which are the only standards that matter. I cast. The tenth cast to him is no different from the first; on the eleventh he takes. He leaps once, at once, into the sunlight; he is glittering, heavy, and gone, all in the same instant.

Time to reel in now, take down the rod, lift the canoe, cradle it against the thighs, and slide it hand over hand into the silky blackness of the river water. Time to clamber into it, clumsy in my waders as a wet dog; time to head downstream. At each bend, there is a sporty little rip to negotiate, but in the glides and pools of the reaches, I can lift my eyes from the water and look back upstream. The ridges, some shadowed, some sunlit, draw across the river like curtains closing together behind me. This is the final act-no encores for the river, not this year.

Offstage, the homing salmon nose further upstream, smelling out tributaries and the tributaries of tributaries, thrashing on up through shallows and rills. In that tiny water, they must appear immense and mythological, as though they had swum up out of the deep unconsciousness from which life emerged, and to which, at this season, it returns.

-By Franklin Burroughs uPhoto by Jeff Scher/ERG

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