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Original Issue


It was cool after dark in the gaps and hollows of the Appalachian chain; fires flickered late at night in the high woods of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia and the ridges echoed to the voices of hounds trailing the distant fox. It was a lovely sound, and an old, old sound in the southern hills, and, if you thought of it, a significant one—a sort of musical bridge to a past when this country lived by virtue of the rifle and the plow, and when men hunted, and tapped time to fiddles, and drank their whisky, and ran their dogs and awaited winter after the crop was in. It was no longer the same country. The very men who sat listening around the fires last week rattled off in pickup trucks when it was time to bring in the hounds. Autumn, in fact, was as much a state of mind as a season, even in New England where the leaves turn as brightly red and gold as they did in the day of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But fall still gave Americans the same sense of release, well-being and excitement their ancestors knew, and of all seasons it proved them a sporting people. For one thing it meant the World Series—this week that hallowed and feverish national rite, reflected by television, held the attention, almost literally, of every man, woman and child in the country. It meant football—which this year was even influencing young women's clothes: thick, heavy, oversized "football hero" sweaters were a thing and coeds on the West Coast were sleeping in jersey pajama tops with their heroes' numbers on the back. Big football in 1955 was more than ever a sport to be criticized for nine months, but almost universally admired for its heroics and drama in the fall; the crowds were flocking in near-record numbers to stadiums where they could hear bands and massed cheering and see fast, exciting and professionally competent football; before the season was over they would go to see it in weather calculated to discourage an antarctic expedition. But then, fall was a time when it was almost a duty to get outdoors and take deep breaths. It was a hot season in a surprisingly large part of the country, but even in smoggy Los Angeles and along the humid Gulf of Mexico, people felt a new briskness of spirit. Yachtsmen were out, as they would be all through the autumn, on Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain. Fishing was wonderful along the southern coasts—for weakfish, mangrove snappers, channel bass, wahoo, dolphin, amberjack. One angler made a rarer haul—a Baptist pastor named Allen Barrett spied a fox asleep while he was fishing Stones River near Mona, Tenn.; he tied a loop in his line, flipped it around one of Reynard's feet, reeled, leaped, seized his astonished quarry by the tail and the nape of the neck and lugged it home, struggling, in triumph. Silver salmon were running in Puget Sound, surf fishermen were beginning to hook big stripers at Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard and trout—out of season in the East—still rose to the fly in the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada. There seemed to be more fall fishermen than ever; sport in general, as a matter of fact, had never been so thoroughly woven into the fabric of national life. In Seattle nobody saw anything surprising at all in the fact that the Boeing Aircraft Company's legion of aeronautical mechanics were hell-bent on raising $100,000, building a Gold Cup speedboat and racing against toffs like Henry Kaiser. In California dozens of new, summer-built ski lifts were ready for action; there was still only a dusting of new snow on western mountains but skiers were already coursing old snowfields above timberline. The most productive hunting season of recent years seemed at hand. Forest fires, drought and hurricanes had damaged swaths of countryside, farmers had not lost their innate suspicion of city men with guns (Chester Shanks of Campbell, Texas welcomed all quail hunters—who would help him pick cotton), but game was abundant. Big deer herds roam the northern and mountain states. So many ducks will wing down the Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways this year that hunters will be given from 10 to 15 days more shooting than in 1954. But fall, as always, offered something more than football bonfires, the soul-satisfying click of a shell being jacked into the chamber of a rifle, or the sight of a setter in sere grass. What? It was hard to describe. Pernaps it was only this: that at dusk on the right fall evening it was hard not to think of the old voyageurs, or of wagon trains, grinding west to Oregon.