Certain events mark the passing of the seasons here at Fish in a Barrel Pond, taking place year after year, but they are not dependent on calendars and clocks. Sure, I can tell you with some certainty that my annual ritual of draining and blowing out water lines in the camps will be done shortly before dark, on the last Sunday of October but after that all bets are off.
I look forward to whichever day it is the last oak decides to finally drop its leaves …
but I really celebrate a couple of days later, when I’m done cleaning those leaves from the spillway.
The scoters came in the other day for their annual stop-over (I wrote about them last year in “You Can’t Get Here From There”).
There were fewer adult males in the group this year and they were later than expected but it’s not like they had made an appointment. The point is that, give or take a week or so, there they were — just like last year and the year before that and the year before that, etc.
It could be the angle of the sun or the intensity of its light; maybe it’s the temperature of the water or air; it might be the length of the day or even all of the above that triggers these events. I don’t know. I do know, though, that the ducks didn’t check their schedule and realize it was Friday, time to beat it to Vermont. I also know they didn’t need no apps to find their way.
The brook trout don’t set much of a schedule, either, as far as I can tell. For weeks they seem ready, milling about at the mouths of the feeder streams in their fall finery, flirting and fighting. They could head upstream and get it on any time — the way is clear, the water flowing strong and cold — but they wait until the time is right, responding to some signal recognizable only to them.
The headwaters of the Neverwas River come into Fish in a Barrel Pond as a small stream, easily straddled by a child. Issuing forth from a spring, lined with ancient white marble sand, its narrow channel scoured by near-constant flow, this unassuming trickle has served as passage for spawning brook trout for longer than humans have been around to notice.
Every fall, the brookies gather where the clean, cold water drops into the lake and when whatever-it-is tells them to go, they go. Through water that in places barely covers their backs, they swim beneath towering hemlocks and through mossy glades as they have for generations too numerous to count, upstream to the spring to spawn.
It only takes a day or two for them to be done with what they came to do and then they are gone. Not knowing just what triggers their move upstream, I can only guess when they will arrive, and they are there for such a short time, it is easy to miss them. Work, obligations, and life in general kept me out of the woods this fall for days at a time and I didn’t see them when I did get out to look. I saw the little redds they scooped out in the sand so I know they’d come and gone, continuing the cycle for another year, and I am reassured they’ll do it again as they have for centuries. I just wish they would schedule an appointment.
From last years spawn: