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.

Dancing in the sunlight_Staats8559I love the simplicity of our winter landscape.  The white snow clears the distractions and leaves a clean canvas.  As I was out for a walk one day I found these plants above the snow.  With the sun behind them and their shadows splayed out over the white snow, it appeared they were dancing with their shadows.  Similar to a water surface reflection, however the white brings everything down to the basics.  Just like in the cold of winter, we look to the basics of warmth, protection from the cold and wind, and the optimism that spring will be on our doorstep eventually.

Casting into the clouds 2448_StaatsYesterday was a day of diverse activities – fishing and a glorious wedding celebration; and yet the two were very connected.  As the day dawned to overcast skies and thick clouds, we headed out for some fishing.  The cool and the clouds eventually broke up and we fished under an amazing sky brimming with filtered sun and brilliant clouds.  Our fishing was successful, and we laughed that our outing was in honor of the bride and the groom for their wedding later that afternoon.  This joyful couple celebrated their summer wedding outdoors in a grove of trees, surrounded with family and friends all dappled with sunshine.  The bride and groom share a love of nature and especially fishing.  And how appropriate that the groom, his groomsmen, and the bride’s proud father all wore decorative fishing lures as their boutonnieres!

Winter sun & shadow play 7D_0902 _StaatsWe headed out before dawn to Willow River State Park, located just outside of Hudson, Wisconsin.  The temperature was a cold 9 degrees, but the eastern horizon was beginning to glow so we knew we’d have a bit of sunshine to warm us up. At one time the Willow River was used to operate mills for grinding grain, and later logs were driven down the river to Lake St. Croix.  Today, in the cold of a winter’s morning, the area was quiet.  We arrived early enough to observe whitetail deer that were starting to rise after being bedded down for the night.  We saw an eagle soar overhead.  And the snow all around was animated by the sun.   Any small hills were accentuated and visible by their shadows, and where these small flower stems were standing tall through the snow they shed their shadows too across the white landscape.  The sun caused the ice in the snow to sparkle as if it was filled with a thousand diamonds.  It was a wonderful time to explore a new area and see all that offered up to us.

Greeting the morning_StaatsAfter an evening and night of snow this past week, the following morning promised a dawn of sunshine and a brilliant blue sky.  I headed out the door to begin my day at Como Park.  As I walked into the park I was joined by a cross-country skier who said that the snow was going to be perfect for his outing.  With different agendas we parted and went our own ways.  The sun rose over the white landscape and brought a beautiful contrast to the scene.  The night’s snow had clung to all the trees and they sparkled in the sunlight, especially with the bluest of skies all around.  It was a delightful way to start the cold morning — surrounded by the beauty of winter, the promise of bright sunshine, and some morning exercise of tramping in the snow and photographing.

Fall is quickly vanishing across our landscape.  The colors that blazed so brilliantly are now gone.  The leaves that valiantly clung to the tree branches have let go and fallen to the ground.  We’ve been working in our yard and gardens, preparing them for winter.  As I was pulling out plants that were way past their prime I found a stand of bee balm, their flowers having dropped many weeks ago.  I paused for a moment and realized how beautiful this seedhead was — a globe of intricate pieces that wasn’t noticeable during its summer bloom.  Sometimes I feel the need to appreciate those things that are stripped of their original beauty and taken out of the context we’re accustomed to.  Here too was beauty and form, even out of season.

We’ve just returned from our bicycling trip across the state of Kansas.  In eight days we rode our bikes from the western border of Kansas and Colorado to the eastern border with Missouri.  Along with our 800 friends on the Biking Across Kansas (www.bak.org) trip, we were up to the challenges that Mother Nature dealt to us, along with the not-so-flat countryside of northern Kansas.  The 500+ mile trip was a test of our stamina as we battled the winds that blew incessantly almost every day on our trip; from the 40 mph headwind we encountered north of Oakley to the 25 mph side winds near the Colorado border.  Smiles broke out whenever the winds were blowing favorably at our backs.  We biked through the summer heat in the 90’s, were refreshed by the cooler mornings in the higher elevations of western Kansas, were “evacuated” from our tents when a severe thunder and rainstorm was bearing down on us one evening, and we appreciated the cloud cover that kept us cooler on one of our longer days.  We enjoyed the golden sunshine that caused the acres of wheat fields to glow, and we watched as they marched across the horizon as the wind blew through the fields.  We rode through the small towns that grace the rural landscape across Kansas, both the thriving towns and those that are barely getting by.  The people along the route welcomed us with open arms, excited to share their stories, their history, and their pride in their towns.  The community of riders renewed friendships and formed new ones.  We laughed after we rode through a dust storm that caused our faces and skin to turn brown as the dust clung to our sweat and sunscreen.  We swore at the early hills that grace “flat” Kansas, yet we learned to challenge those hills — to ride with abandon on the downhill side, and know that once you climbed the uphill ahead you’d probably find yet another set of hills on the vista before you.  It was a wonderful week of learning new things about myself and about my original home state of Kansas.