Thoughts on the Autumnal Equinox

My Lab, Kiri, checking a mountain meadow for grouse scent.

In a few days, on Saturday, the 22nd day of September, at 7:54 p.m. (MDT), we’ll observe the Autumnal Equinox, when the sun crosses the Equator and the length of days in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres will be approximately equal. That doesn’t mean we’ll have exactly 12 hours of daylight on Saturday; we’ll actually have a few more minutes of daylight, though in a few more days we’ll be past that point, and our hours of daylight will continue to shrink until we reach the Winter Solstice in December.

While I don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder, the malady that strikes some people with symptoms of depression during the dark months of the year, I hate to see our hours of daylight keep shrinking. My wife, on the other hand, always says, “I think it’s cozy,” referring to closing the drapes against the night and turning on the lights, and maybe lighting a fire in the fireplace on chilly nights. I don’t look at it as cozy; it’s just dark.

The Equinox really isn’t the beginning of autumn. This year, as I’ve noted in earlier columns, we started having fall weather in late August, when we had cold rains and even some light frosts. Of course, as a hunter I look at September 1, the beginning of the upland bird hunting season, as the beginning of autumn.

As I reported last week, I was out in the mountains on that first day of September and several more times since then, though as of last week I had yet to bring home any game.

We spent much of that first week of September camping on a western Montana trout stream, where I could fish in the afternoon and evening and spend the mornings walking mountainsides and sagebrush ridges in search of blue grouse, or dusky grouse, if you prefer the scientifically correct name.

It was frustrating from the standpoint of actually finding the big grouse, especially when I recall some past years when grouse walks often resulted in putting up flocks of grouse from various areas of the mountain. We might blame cold, rainy weather in June, when grouse chicks are hatching, leaving a warm egg only to emerge to a cold rain. It’s a tough way to start life if you’re a grouse chick, and many don’t survive.

If the grouse were scarce, it was a good time for fly-fishing, with trout rising to abundant insects, and I caught and released a number of westslope cutthroat trout, the native trout of western Montana, along with a smattering of brown and rainbow trout..

While the grouse hunting was challenging, Kiri, my Labrador retriever and faithful hunting partner, did put up a few grouse and I had a few unsuccessful shots at them.

I really wanted to bring some of those large, delicious birds home for dinner, but I won’t complain. I still have a couple pheasants in the freezer from last year, so I can have a wild bird dinner at my leisure.

This is where the grouse should be!

Putting a positive spin on things, I’m grateful that my aging legs seem up to another season of sauntering around mountainsides in search of grouse. I give credit to my love of tennis for that. Through the summer, I’ve played tennis two to three times a week with our group of tennis enthusiasts. We have a lot of fun, even if we’ll have to buy tickets if we ever want to go to the U.S. Open. Still, regular exercise at our Mile High elevation goes a long way in being ready for hunting season.

Kiri and I at the top of the mountain (sorry, not all mountaintops are rock and ice).

I’ll note, once again, that those strolls across the mountainsides were on Federal public lands. The trout stream with native trout is bordered by Federal public land. The campground where we parked our trailer, and have many times over many years, is on public land and managed by a Federal agency.

Here in Montana, our lives, even our identity, are related to the outdoors, and that means public lands and public waters. Protect it, love it, and celebrate it.

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