I really envy the Scots their long salmon season. In a great many of their “springer” rivers fresh salmon arrive during every month of the year. Sea-liced, chrome salmon slide in during December and are caught in early February with slight tinges of pink on their sides from sitting under the ice in a holding pool for 60 days. On the Miramichi we can only dream about a bright fish before sometime in late May. When the season closes on October 15 I’m painfully aware of this fact. It’s not that I don’t enjoy aspects of the rest of my life, but there is no completely satisfactory substitute for salmon fishing for bright fish.
So what do I do to stay sane? Well of course I work, and I give that some extra attention now that I’m not making the 400 mile drive to Campbell’s on most Wednesday nights. I spend lots more time with my wife June. We make a little bit of a big deal out of most evening meals. I chat with my friends online about fishing, and do a little fundraising for the conservation groups I’m involved with. But my key winter survival strategy is to get a daily fix of the outdoors.
During the shortest days of winter my outdoor activities are limited to morning walks. I’m up around 5:00 and out the door by 6:00. I usually spend a little over an hour on these expeditions, and I try to go no matter what the conditions. I’ve got a small selection of coats, vests, hats, neck warmers and gloves hanging in a closet by the door. I’ll give you a little tip, the waterproof socks that you can buy in many places are great. Wet feet ruin the walk, and even if your sneakers are soaked a pair of these worn over your exercise socks will keep your feet comfortable.
I’m lucky enough to live in a rural area on the coast of Maine that is very near the city of Portland . There are some lovely woods and fields located near my house, and the Presumpscot, once a great salmon river flows through the area. Every mid-winter day my walk starts in the dark. The route is varied, and I have numerous locations all measured to the nearest tenths of a mile that I can add in my head to come up with the day’s distance. No matter which way I go, though, there are pleasant sites that recharge my emotional batteries. They say that well-adjusted people love home. I suppose that is true. There are certainly some god-forsaken places that provide no opportunities for the local population that somehow hold on to people. Certainly parts of rural Maine and New Brunswick would fit into that category, but their attraction is no mystery to me, and this is true even in winter. I must admit that when it is below freezing and everything is covered with deep snow it isn’t as attractive to me as most other times, but still I love it.
Late fall and early winter are the very starkest times of the offseason. People tell me how depressing the grey landscape is, but I find it just the opposite. This morning I came up a hill and looked north down a long straightaway of road. When I first moved to Falmouth, Maine this was indeed a very rural scene. One of the town’s loveliest old homes, a huge saltbox style with an even bigger red barn topped with a gold leafed weathervane was the estate of an old family from the town. Today there are many new houses sprinkled here and there, but there is still a sweep of field leading up to the big house, and there are numerous large trees and small patches of woods in every direction. It had sprinkled a little snow this morning, and patches of dark evergreens stood out here and there in contrast to the white. I could see the red limbs of various shrubs as well as red berries still uneaten by the birds, a large area of golden swale grass ran down through the wet center of the field, and the soft yellow of willows added more color to parts of the landscape. Overhead the sky was grey with almost black areas of heavy clouds, and snow showers were spitting in the air. I found the scene to be uplifting and very beautiful.
While I am passing the winter with the daily duties and brushes with the wild world that I love, the salmon that I hope to encounter are feeding in the sub-Arctic ocean. I imagine them, 1,000 miles north of me, and I think about how our paths may come together five months from now. Somehow, thankfully, it doesn’t seem like such an awfully long time, and for now I’m content to keep an eye on things with my daily on-line review of The Salmon Forum, Arctic Ice News, Environment Canada Weather, The Miramichi Water Levels, and e-mail chats with New Brunswick friends who tell me how the Miramichi is making it through the winter, and how much snow pack and river ice we may be dealing with come spring.