Wisconsin


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.

Although the day had been warm and windy, as evening was slipping away the wind was settling down.  I launched my kayak and paddled to the opposite shore where I could watch the sun set on another summer’s day.  By nestling the kayak back into the lily pads I could sit calmly and in place to enjoy the sun’s slow slide below the trees and the western horizon.

In the distance I could hear the sound of children splashing and swimming in the lake, and nearer was the call between the two resident loons.  The clouds were slowly drifting in from the northwest but the lake’s surface was smooth and mirror-like.  The sunlight swept across the blue lake and reflected off the lily pads.  It was the perfect end to this summer’s day.

There’s something mesmerizing about the approach of a storm.  During the summer in the upper Midwest we get waves of high humidity – the air is so filled with moisture it’s dense and thick.  The humidity and heat build until they set off storms.  Lately we seem to have weekly storms accompanied by thunder and lightning, hail, and strong winds.

There are so many unknowns with an approaching storm – will it be just rain, will it pass by quickly or stall overhead, will it create damage anywhere in its path, will it build and get worse or will it dissipate, and when will it be overhead.  I find the anticipation before a storm moves through fascinating and beautiful.  This storm was building for about a half-hour.  The white thunderclouds at the far end of the lake stayed to the south as the darker clouds rolled over the lake.  The wind quieted and the air was eerie with the stillness.  Within ten minutes the rain started, big drops at first and then a downpour.  And after another ten minutes the storm had moved out of the area, this time leaving only rain.

The storm brought wind, rain, and hail and it seemed to stop as quickly as it started.  This had been the third or fourth storm to roll through in as many days.  But as the dark clouds moved further east and the skies began to clear, there was a brilliant rainbow that arced across the sky and was reflected in the still lake surface below.  This was our “reward” for getting through the storms, and with all the uncertainties that are in our day-to-day lives this was truly the brighter side.

I recently purchased a kayak – nothing fancy, just a hard plastic one that I can take out on the lake.  I don’t have to worry about beaching it or scratching the hull, but it allows me to explore and enjoy the lake and the shoreline at an up-close and leisurely pace.

I’ve enjoyed watching deer and small fawns along the bank of the lake, turtles that are quickly diving into the weeds, fish that are swimming in the clear and warm summer water, eagles overhead that swoop down into the lake and rise again with a fish in their talons, and loons that cruise the lake then disappear as they dive for their meals.  I’ve been mesmerized by the still lake surface in the early morning when the water is like a sheet of glass reflecting the clouds overhead, the whitecaps that ripple across the lake when the wind comes rushing through the channel, and the quietness of evening as the sun descends behind the trees to the west while the moon rises in the east.

I will never grow tired of nature and all that it offers up to us, no matter the season.

I was contacted by a neighbor saying they had pink lady’s slippers blooming in their yard; oh, what a wonderful invitation!  Semi-hidden amidst some tall grasses,  she showed me multiple clumps of these lovely flowers.  Pink lady’s slippers are part of the orchid family, and are about 6 to 10 inches tall.  They are delicate and stand tall on a single leafless stem.  Like other ephemerals they bloom for only a few short days before the deciduous trees form their full canopy of leaves blocking sunlight to the ground.  I  sat on the ground and marveled at these beauties, thankful that I could enjoy them at their peak.

A week ago there was a lovely full moonrise.  I stood by the lake and waited for the moon to clear the hill and the trees on the opposite shoreline.  The wind slowly settled down, and there was a lovely quiet that wrapped around me.  The waves calmed and the lake became still.  Then the moon appeared – large and pearl colored, and as it rose it seemed that the tops of the trees were supporting it and offering it up to the night sky.  I watched and then my ears picked up the haunting call of a loon at the other end of the lake.  It all seemed a perfect rite of spring, and I savored this respite from the many worries of the world right now.

It was a cold day with a temperature of 16 degrees, but the sun was shining brilliantly and beckoned us outside.  We packed our snowshoes and went to Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary in northwest Wisconsin.  The wind was brisk, but if we could snowshoe along the tree line there was a welcome wind break.  There was even protection from the wind as we headed across the prairie, and in the valleys of the steep hills we could bask in the sun’s heat.  It was late afternoon so the sun threw its shadows across the landscape at a sharp angle.  We soaked up the sun and the crisp fresh air of the day and enjoyed the exercise.

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