fall


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.

Like many other people, I’ve been feeling the bombardment of so many things that are happening in our lives.  I’ve been kept awake at night thinking about the divisiveness that exists in my country, my state, and my city.  I’ve lost sleep over the strange happenings of weather – fires in the west that are too huge to imagine the destruction that’s being caused, feet of rain falling from hurricanes making landfall, and the vegetation changes happening here in Minnesota and Wisconsin that’s affecting our wildlife populations of moose, deer, and loons.  Then there are the worries of a continuing pandemic that has  killed hundreds of thousands here in the US – a number that has already surpassed the combined US combat deaths of World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War; the pain sometimes seems too much to fathom.

For me, turning to nature is a balm over these anxieties.  Each morning the earth has completed it’s turn, the darkness of night fades, and the sun returns again.  The leaves are now beginning their color change as the calendar approaches autumn.  I stand out on the dock where the lake temperature has cooled after the heat of summer but is now warmer than the outside air temperature in the early dawn.  The steam rises off the lake, the sun rises over the horizon, and in the distance I can hear the geese calling.  Soon they will be leaving this area and migrating south.  The air temperature will continue to fall as we slide into winter, and the lake will ice over as our days grow shorter and shorter.  And then slowly all these things will reverse.  These are the constants I’m trying to focus on and appreciate.

We have transitioned from fall to winter quickly.  The colors are gone, the air is cold, and the landscape is very neutral.  How quickly I’m missing the yellows, golds, reds, and deep burgundies that we experienced just a few short weeks ago!  The waters are already beginning to ice up and we have seen snow although it has not stayed.  Yet.  I needed one more post with brilliant colors before I could put fall behind me.

It was a cool fall day as I drove past the last farmer’s market of the season and I couldn’t pass it up.  There was plenty of squash, apples, and all the cold-weather veggies available, but my eyes went straight for some colorful dahlias – probably the last ones of the season.  Their burst of color was a welcome sight and I knew there wouldn’t be anything else flowering until next spring.  They have brightened the house and caught my eye as I passed through the room they were in, each time being thankful for this one last bouquet of the fall.

Fall is here in all its glory!  The yellows, golds, oranges, and reds, all aglow against a dark stormy sky but lit up by a short-lived stream of sunlight, and reflected in the quiet and still waters of the lake.  This is the beauty we look forward to every year in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Oh, the beauty of fall!  On what might have been one of the last truly warm days of fall – blue sky, a warm breeze, and 70 degrees – I walked through Como Park.  I was not alone, as there were people walking, biking, running, meandering –  anything to soak up the glorious day.  The sunshine brought out the colors of the sky and grass and the flaming red of this tree by the Frog Pond.  Now we hunker down for a cold front and snow flurries, thankful for the recent memory of a beautiful day.

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