LATE SUMMER IN THE LOST SIERRA…

 Western Chokecherry, and other wild berries, have ripened by late summer, an annual reminder that Fall is near (and that it might be time to make syrup).

Western Chokecherry, and other wild berries, have ripened by late summer, an annual reminder that Fall is near (and that it might be time to make syrup).

Late-summer has its signals everywhere and for every year…

I started my Sierra Fellows experience in October of last year when just a few weeks into my term I woke to snow in the morning. Since then I’ve learned not only a lot about the fisheries of the region but also about the way of life in the Lake Almanor Basin and the rest of the Lost Sierra.

While I’ve lived in the foothills of the Sierras and Southern Cascades off and on throughout my life, I think coming back to rural mountain living in the context of serving as a Sierra Fellow, wherein I am in part supposed to learn about a community and strive to improve it in some way, has left a unique impression on me.

Perhaps, I can’t rightly separate it from any other late Summer interval in the past, but it also seems like my perspective has shifted from noting the changes prior to rather than after they occur. When I previously lived in rural mountains I was a child, for one thing, and I think that my observations were more reactive, as in ‘oh, school has started!’ or ‘the days are so short!’ Now I find myself noticing things like the ripening wild berries, the shrinking creeks, fawns losing their spots, mounting piles of firewood around town, and the tapering off of the crowds of weekend visitors.

 In late summer, Lake Almanor’s rainbow trout begin to seek refuge near cool tributaries and submerged springs. Fish like this one will readily take a grasshopper imitation even in the warmest hours of the day when few other anglers are around.

In late summer, Lake Almanor’s rainbow trout begin to seek refuge near cool tributaries and submerged springs. Fish like this one will readily take a grasshopper imitation even in the warmest hours of the day when few other anglers are around.

Of course, given the focus of my work I’ve noted things about the local fisheries as well.  The trout have moved to areas of the lake where there are springs or where tributaries enter; places where they can find cooler temperatures and more oxygenated water. The thousands of juvenile smallmouth bass that lined the shores, providing constant sport for the light fly rod, have now moved offshore. Having grown over the summer to a size that makes them less susceptible to predation they can now safely enter the deeper water to find the food they need to continue to grow.

Similarly, It seems like populations of juvenile trout have thinned in the Hamilton Branch since the early summer. I suspect this trend is probably also influenced by competition. As individual fish grow the competition for food increases and some fish move down to the lake in search of better food availability. Some of those fish will perhaps return to the Hamilton Branch and its tributaries to spawn next Spring or the one thereafter.

While I welcome the turning of the season for a number of reasons -the quality of Fall fishing, the colors of the leaves, and holidays with friends and family, just to name a few- I find myself somewhat melancholy about summer’s passing. Here again, is this summer any different than the last? It’s not just about no more weekend community events (and associated BBQ) for a few months, or dreading cold, pre-dawn mornings, or even project deadlines. It’s more to do with the fact that summertime in the Lost Sierra encompasses so much of what brings people to visit and stay in places like this.

 Even late-summer’s most necessary and rigorous activities can be a welcome refrain for the frustrations of the GIS workbench.

Even late-summer’s most necessary and rigorous activities can be a welcome refrain for the frustrations of the GIS workbench.

Despite all of the challenges that are associated with living in rural mountain communities the quality of life is in truth in many ways unmatched. So as my first term as a Sierra Fellow nears a close, I already find myself looking forward to my next and to what can be achieved with the communities I am now a part of. I guess a part of me is even looking forward to the Fall colors, and, heck, maybe even to the first snow!