There are the brilliant reds and oranges of New England sugar maples. The quaking stands of vibrant gold aspens in the Rockies. The glowing yellow larches in the North Cascades and up through British Columbia… But when I think of autumn in the maritime Northwest, it is defined by one color: gray.
Sure, we have our vine maples here and there, and bigleaf maples can light up patches of the woods, but for the most part, the bright colors you see around town this time of year are alien ornamentals, brought from distant lands. So gray it is. I don’t mind, though. Perhaps because I grew up on the west (wet) side of the Northwest, it’s actually comforting to me, and a welcome change from the heat and blue skies of summer. Time to stoke up the woodstove. Start cooking stews and soups and big pots of chile verde. Drag out the down comforters. Gray is good.
Of course, check back with me in March, and I will probably be singing a different tune. For now, though, it seems perfect.
As big leaf maples light up the forest around our house and the days feel suddenly shorter, I always start thinking about silver salmon. Sure, we catch them all through summer out on the Sound or in the ocean, but this is different. This is the season when big northern silvers pour into rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest, a season I always equate with these fish.
It might be because the first big fish I ever caught on a fly rod was a silver, taken from a small creek on the Oregon coast when I was ten years old. Or all the subsequent days I spent through my youth, out in the crisp autumn air, chasing silvers. When I hear that rustling sound of huge maple leaves tumbling down through branches, or smell the sweet scent of wet alders, it brings me right back to those days.
Of course, it could also be because these fish enter the rivers in peak condition, with deep red flesh and layers of delicious fat. And silvers freeze better, in my opinion, than the more typically prized kings. But you have to get them quickly–a week or two in freshwater and they become mere shadows of their former selves, depleted in the service of reproduction. And soon after that, they will spawn, and then die, their bodies providing nutrients for the next generation. Like the blazing maple leaves and chanterelles, silvers are a perfect symbol of a season that always passes too quickly.