Another season drifts into the sunset

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The marina is dead and the parking lot is empty, save for one guy over in the corner winterizing his outboards. The water temperature is down to about 53 F - so much for the idea of one last swim. And downriver in the harbor, a small barge is putting in winter stakes. Where did all the boats go?

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The end came particularly fast in the Northeast this year. But whether the season lingers or departs on a gale, haulout day is always bittersweet. When you live for the water, you're never in a hurry to hitch up the trailer or dig out the jackstands.

After too many days of wind and rain, the weather cooperates for a day, and I jump out for one last cruise. I bring along a casting rod - who knows, I might find some fish up on top as they school up and head south. The sky in early afternoon displays what you could almost mistake as a summer haze - enjoy it while it lasts, I think.

The Spartina grasses are lovely in the afternoon light. And the trees along the tidal river are starting to turn, but most still have their leaves, despite several big storms. Some are even green, which is just a feint, a head fake. The swamp maples in the low marsh are either bright or have lost their leaves altogether. They speak more honestly of what lurks around the bend.

To that end, my two youngest kids and I have been studying the bands on any wooly worm caterpillars we've encountered this fall. To old-timers and others, this larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth is a home-spun predictor of the severity of the coming winter. The wider the brown banding verses the black ones, the milder the winter, according to folk wisdom. Our wooly worms have clearly spoken: Winter will be a piece of cake. Now if you believe that one, I have a couple boats I'd like to sell you ...

Several small powerboats move up and down the waterway in midafternoon. Two kayakers take a break and drift along the north side of the channel. When the sun is out, it's comfortable in shirtsleeves. When the clouds roll over, you want to pull on a sweatshirt or fleece top.

The fish prove elusive, so I shut off the engine and drift awhile with wind and tide. I light a cigar, open a bottle of Octoberfest, tune the AM transistor radio to a sports show, view the familiar rise and fall of the shore and islands. Drink it all in. I wish it could last forever.

Later, after the boat is safely out of the water, we gather up dock lines and hoses, and watch the darkness rise with the tide. The wind has dropped, and it's quiet. Somewhere in the distance, you can just hear an outboard slowly pushing a boat. Sunset is a magenta smudge. At that moment, you think it could last at least a few more days. Fat chance. By morning, rain returns on a new front, and another season comes to an end.