By Franklin Burroughs
On the highway between Solon and Bingham, a sign indicates you’re exactly equidistant between the equator and the North Pole. On the calendar, we’re approaching the autumnal equinox. The hours of daylight and of darkness are the same all over the world; all over the world, we are equidistant between the winter and summer solstices. And every year, I pass through Bingham at about this time, headed up to camp for a last couple days of fishing.
In late September, every day is an everyday event, but also a portal, looking back into summer and forward toward winter. After the August doldrums, life quickens again: fish, birds, tourists. The north comes south: waterfowl arrive out on Merrymeeting Bay, flickers and hawks materialize out of thin air.
At this season, anybody old enough to think of childhood as something that has gone and won’t return grows susceptible to delusions of nostalgia and anticipation. Migration itself is procreative, forward-looking, but also perhaps a kind of homesickness. The bobolinks in our fields, their nesting done, yearn for the pampas of Argentina.
The fish I fish for are not exempt. Back in the prehuman past, they lived at sea and came into the rivers to spawn. Now, the lakes and reservoirs are their Atlantic; they overwinter in Wyman Reservoir, Indian Pond, or Moosehead, not somewhere off Greenland. But by September, their old impulse toward headwaters awakens; soon, they will be pushing up into the skinny water of tributaries, where they will prepare their redds and spawn as they did millennia ago.
Up beyond Bingham, the first leaves are beginning to turn; leaf-peeping season is just a couple of weeks away. But the fish — landlocked salmon and brook trout — have turned already, taking on their spawning colors. Male salmon darken to bronzy brown, and their lower jaws grow out. They look like a salmon becoming a pike. The females look more salmon-like than ever — broader in the flanks and more silvery, more like what you find in the display cases at Shaw’s or Hannaford’s. The brook trout? OMG. Beautiful at any time of the year, more beautiful now: the colors more vivid, the lower flanks and belly suddenly a solid brick red.
September fishing is the Little Girl with the Little Curl. Romantically preoccupied, the fish are off their feed, sulky, finicky even by their standards. Finally, one rises — a quiet swirl over in the shadows under a ledge. You cast to it and cast again. Two or three minutes later, it rises once more, but not to your fly. By now, you are on automatic pilot, drifting exactly the same fly over exactly the same spot. The 30th cast is no different from the 31st. On the 32nd, the fish takes, is hooked, and jumps — all one action. A female salmon, brightly and broadly glittering against the sleek green water and the dark shadows behind her, sudden and startling as a Roman candle. And phht! Gone in the instant you register its arrival.
You have what you came for. Time to paddle back downriver to the truck, drive back through Bingham, return home to wait on the fine season to come, and the long one that follows.
At the North Pole, the sun now sets for half a year of darkness. At the equator, the equinox is perpetual, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, winterspringsummerfall.
What do they dream of there?