Here in Minnesota and Wisconsin we are going through our shoulder time from fall to winter. It’s a time that varies from year to year and also varies in its length. We had snow and cold in mid-October and then an unusual warm stretch in early November, causing the lake ice to begin to freeze, then thaw, and now freeze again. It’s a lovely time to observe the transition with open water and lake ice all at the same time.
With a warm glow the late afternoon sun lit up the opposite shoreline and allowed the trees to be reflected in the open water. The ice had been pushed to the north end of the lake by the strong winds that had blown the previous day. But this for moment, stillness and light came together.
Although the lake had some ice forming a few weeks ago, the unseasonably warm stretch with temps in the 60s and 70s has kept the lake open. And with that there’s been a steady “parade” of waterfowl on the lake. The grebes, or helldivers, have been plentiful and there has even been a passing pair of loons. The Canada geese are honking loudly as they fly past and then skid on the lake surface to land; their flocks seem to be getting larger as they’re preparing to migrate south in their signature V formation.
And there have been an unusually large number of hooded mergansers swimming in the lake. I have counted up to 50 in one area, taking their turns at diving down for small fish and other food. This evening as the sun was setting, the pink color of the sky reflected onto the lake surface as the last gasp of sunlight hit the distant shore. Soon our lakes will freeze over and all the waterfowl will have left the northern areas and gone south in search of open water.
My favorite time of the day is sunrise and dawn. The earth slowly turns out of the darkness of night and gradually there is light. At first it’s barely perceptible but gingerly the black turns to shadow. The sun nears the horizon and it’s light gets scattered above, bouncing off any clouds that are near giving them their own colors and hues. Generally, not always, the daytime winds have subsided during the night and the air is calm – as if in anticipation of the dawn. All the colors of the sunrise are reflected in the smoothness of the still lake. The loons are long gone but as the light gets brighter I can hear the ducks and geese that have not yet headed south for winter. They are gathering in larger flocks before they depart. At this point everything pauses for a suspended moment.
And then the sun rises higher in the sky throwing it’s brightness all around, the wind picks up and riffles across the lake surface, the geese and ducks take flight, the squirrels start to scurry, and our human noise of activity echos throughout the area greeting another day.
Fall seems to have quickly passed over us. The vibrant colors peaked and the leaves fell and blanketed the ground and hillsides. The temperatures dipped below freezing and already the first snowfall arrived with its big fluffy flakes.
Images like this one help me to remember the beauty that we enjoyed for what seemed such a short time this year — the deep golds and yellows, the burgundys and browns of the oak trees, and the blue of the sky with the billowing clouds. I can look at this scene and remember the warmth of the sun and the smell of fall.
Now the trees are bare, preserving their resources for the cold winter months ahead. The colorful leaves that fell to the ground are brown and crunch and crinkle underfoot. And soon our landscapes will become white with snow as winter settles in.
We’re now in the midst of the fall season, surrounded by vibrant and glorious colors. Each day brings something new – a tree whose leaves have turned overnight or a tree whose leaves have dropped to the ground. Fall is correctly referred to as the season of change and this year that change seems to be especially dominated by the colors of yellow and gold. The colors are vibrant when painted with sunshine against a bright blue sky and they stand out amidst a gray sky. And once those lovely yellow and gold leaves have dried and fallen to the ground, they crunch and crackle under the weight of shoes and boots.
Our short season of fall asks me to admire and appreciate it each day.