You can mark on your calendars that a week ago, Monday, August 20, was the first day of autumn. Yes, I know that a lot of people keep their calendars on their smart phone or laptop. I still kind of like the one hanging on the side of the refrigerator.
Of course, you might ask, “Isn’t that supposed to be in September?”
Indeed, the autumnal equinox, the moment when the sun again crosses the equator, also called the astronomical beginning of autumn, will be at 7:45 p.m. (MDT), on Saturday, September 22.
But, as for the beginning of autumn, I usually look at when the weather changes, when you go outside in the morning and there’s a serious chill in the air. After a rainy few days, it’s chilly, and the lawn is starting to green up, again.
Of course, that mini cold snap doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be more warm weather (my tomatoes are counting on it), and we’ll continue to have smoke haze in the air until we get some mountain snows. Still, I figure that the cold, wet weather of last week broke the back of summer.
Those long summer evenings are almost a thing of the past. As of last Thursday, our daylight hours are a full two hours shorter than at the summer Solstice in June, and each day we lose another three minutes of daylight.
Another sure sign of autumn is the beginning of hunting season, just three days away, on September 1.
The upland bird seasons open on September 1 every year, and archery seasons for deer and elk begin on the first Saturday of September, and those days are the same in 2018.
I don’t do the archery-hunting thing. I’d probably like it and I know lots of people who love it. In fact, I spent a lot of time in my youth wandering around the farm with a bow and arrow. Still, I figure my autumn days are too full to take on another passion, and for those of us who count as priceless those days in the mountains and prairies, carrying a shotgun and walking behind a bird dog, there simply isn’t time for archery.
Besides upland bird hunting, September is a great time for fly-fishing, as well. A perfect fall day would start with walking with my dog in the mountain aspen thickets in search of ruffed or blue grouse, and then heading for the Big Hole River, or other trout stream, for some fly-fishing. A welcome addition to such perfect days would be finding some edible mushrooms in the process.
It’s a tall order, but I’ve done it successfully (and unsuccessfully) and hope to do it again many more times.
A role model for those of us who live all year for the upland bird season was the late George Bird Evans (1906 – 1998). In the 1930s and 1940s, except for a stint in the Navy, he worked as a freelance artist as a magazine illustrator, branching out, with his wife, Kay, as a mystery writer. He also was a dog breeder, developing a line of English setters he called Old Hemlock, after his West Virginia home, a Revolutionary-era farmhouse.
Evans built his life around ruffed grouse, his Old Hemlock setters, and writing about it. He continued to hunt and write to the end of his 91 years. One of my favorite books about hunting, which I’ve read many times, is The Upland Shooting Life, Evans’ first of some 20 books about dogs, hunting, and grouse.
So, this Saturday marks the first of the general hunting seasons, and we can mark the progression of late summer into winter by further season openers, with antelope and pheasants on October 6, and the general big game season on October 20, followed by the gradual closing of seasons until mid-January, when our late waterfowl seasons bring it all to an end.
Yes, it’s autumn. It’s a great time to be alive, and, even better, a great time to be living in Montana. It can’t get much better.
Paul Vang’s book, “Sweeter than Candy, A