Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 11, 2012

Phil Power: Beautiful fall day brings joy

BY PHIL POWER, Columnist

---- — The fish jumped, twice, each landing shattering the glass calm of the lake into thousands of brightly colored shards of light.

To the north, where the ground is high and rocky, the maples are blazing red and molten gold. And to the west, where swamp gradually turns to a pitched hill, the yellow-green of the cedars gives way to the darker spruce and hemlock.

Suddenly, a flash of purest white caught our eyes, as a dark brown adult eagle coasted low, six-foot wingspan motionless, before she pulled up and swept to land at the top of a tall spruce.

Waiting hopefully for a fish, we wondered?

Except that eagles by character are not hopeful. They are certain — certain of their place at the top of the food chain.

In the distance comes the mournful wail of what likely is one of the last loons, delaying flight south for just a few more moments of North Woods beauty "¦ and just maybe another minnow for dinner.

The fish makes another run, shorter now, and reluctantly is drawn nearer and nearer to the boat. My net dips and then rises with the fish thrashing, the pink line along the side glistening in the bright sunlight. The fish is so strong I can hardly hold it in my wet hand to show my wife Kathy. A rainbow trout, 16 inches and fat, full of spunk and happy to be returned to the water.

We row once again around the lake, content in the glorious warm light of an early October afternoon. The lake level has gone way down, maybe 18 inches, so we have to climb out into the mud to pull our boat into shelter. We splash our feet in the water, now colder than in August, and dry off.

The hike to our old green and white Ford Bronco (vintage 1967) takes maybe 15 minutes. We take down our rods and pack our gear before going back to our cabin.

A little bourbon and branch water in our glasses, we stand on the deck and watch as the wind veers, south to north. The light is fading now, much earlier than it had this summer, and the sun is much lower and farther south.

In bed that night, we listen as the wind grows stronger, the sighing in the trees turning to a sharper whistle. And we can begin to hear the roar of the big lake in the distance as the north wind starts rolling bigger waves onto the sandy beach.

Winter is coming. Better split logs for the fire and get the storm windows up before it's too late.

At my age — 74 — it isn't hard to see in such a day a compression of a lifetime. A beginning full of light and color and promise. A middle of work and skill, capped after a time with achievement. Shared in a magical partnership of a marriage.

And toward the end, a hike back to our safe house, the wind veering and the cold coming. And a just little more time to enjoy the fireplace and the taste of good bourbon before the darkness falls.

Michigan, my Michigan. This has been a fall day in our glorious state, up north, where the air is clear and the colors and smells are bright and fresh and clean and we can feel the fullness of life.

Michigan, my Michigan, as precious as life itself, and just as worth protecting and relishing.

Phil Power is a former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent. He is founder and president of The Center for Michigan, a centrist think-and-do tank. The opinions expressed here are his own. By email at: