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Fantastic foliage and famous fisherman

October 4, 2008
Joe Hackett, Outdoors Columnist

"Incredible!" sums up this season's magnificent foliage. Simply put, this season's annual display has been one for the ages. I don't ever recall viewing such brilliance in the forest nor such a spectacle on the hillsides.

Regrettably, the season's great show appears to be on the downside in most of the upper elevations, though it hasn't yet peaked in the valleys.

Traditionally, peak foliage arrives by Columbus Day weekend; however autumn is advancing briskly as rain and falling temperatures have combined to expedite the season.

Soon, the flashy backdrop of red, orange and crimson maples will morph into a mellow mix of yellow and gold, as beech, poplar and birch.

This is the 'soothing period' of foliage season, as a mix of muted colors reclaims the landscape.

This is the time to be traveling along backroads, reveling in a kaleidoscopic journey through the countryside.

It is also time for the annual transition of user groups. Soon big-game hunters will flock to deer camp and another sporting season will be upon us.

Hikers, paddlers and other woodland users should be aware of the importance of dressing in bright colors and the need to keep four-legged companions leashed and decked out in a bright bandana collar. State conservation law requires dogs to be leashed "at all times on all lands inhabited by deer."

As area waters continue to cool and the spawning period shifts full throttle, prospects for successful angling increase significantly. Trout season draws to a close on October 15.

The next two months are considered the "Sportsman's High Holy Days." Be sure to get out and enjoy them.

Wilderness woods and waters:

The great equalizer

I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Paul Newman. While he is remembered as an actor and activist, few people knew that Mr. Newman was also an avid angler.

When he and his wife visited the area in August of 1988, I was scheduled to take him bass fishing. However, my wife went into labor the morning of our outing.

Though my mother-in-law, a huge Paul Newman fan, insisted that I honor the reservation, I believed my soon-to-be-born child was to be the most important celebrity in my life and I canceled the trip. It was never rescheduled.

In the process, I learned a valuable lesson in the workings of the celebrity culture which has become entrenched in American society. It was a lesson which has served me well throughout 30 years of guiding men and women of wealth and fame.

Outdoor adventures have a way of dismissing titles and celebrity. They quickly reduce relationships to the present time. In the woods, a person's wealth and power, fame and fortune are without honor. Titles and status are of little consequence when it comes to wilderness, weather and wildlife.

The simple necessities of "getting by" and "making do" in the outdoors have a way of eliminating a person's standing in everyday society. Such necessities can forge relationships that go beyond the borders of class, social standing and fame.

The story about J.P. Morgan's personal guide and caretaker at his Great Camp Uncas, near Raquette Lake, offers an interesting take on this unique guide-client relationship.

For many years following the turn of the century, Morgan spent his days hunting, fishing and enjoying the nearby woods and waters with his favored guide.

Following Mr. Morgan's death on March 31, 1913, reporters from the world's major newspapers flocked to the tiny village of Raquette Lake to interview the old woodsman.

After much cajoling and arm twisting by members of the press, the old guide finally consented to an interview. However, when queried about Mr. Morgan's personal affairs and business dealings, it became apparent to the reporters that the old fellow had no idea who the great J.P. Morgan actually was. Quite obviously, he didn't have a clue!

So, the assembled press promptly informed him about Morgan's vast empire and accumulated wealth, his financial accomplishments and business dealings which included bailing the US government out of bankruptcy, twice.

After learning of Morgan's city life and his untold power, wealth and worldwide fame, the old guide calmly took off his hat and scratched his head.

"Well now, I don't know nothin' about all that," the old fellow responded, "But I will tell ya, he was the best damn dishwasher I ever had in camp."

To him, Morgan was just another camp hand and he was glad to have him. To Morgan, his guide likely offered a refreshing respite from the fame and celebrity that hounded him throughout life. To be treated as a common man can sometimes be the greatest gift men of importance can find.

The relationship between a sport and his guide has been described as "scarcely less sacred than that between a mother and her child."

And sometimes it is. Despite enjoying power and prestige in their usual environment, the woods and waters are a great equalizer as the ordinary constraints of wilderness travel offer opportunities to share a unique commonality that is all but unattainable in regular society.

I've often found that the quickest way to take the measure of a man is to put him on the short end of a flyrod. Finicky trout care little whether it's a titan of industry or an icon of the silver screen on the other end of the line.

It's all about how they lay a line.



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