Winter made its comeback this week with colder temperatures and snow.  The St. Croix River, which creates the border between northern Wisconsin and Minnesota was showing the results of the weather change.  Just last week the river was flowing freely, cascading southward to join up with the Mississippi River.  This week was another story.  The shoreline was filled with thin and uneven ice pushed up against the banks, yet the river flowed freely in the middle, carrying smaller sections of ice with the current.  If the cold temperatures continue the river will freeze completely and will remain frozen until the warmer temps of spring.

Fall path Wild River State Park 11214 _StaatsA week ago I made a quick drive north of Saint Paul to one of my favorite Minnesota state parks, Wild River.  Located along the St. Croix River, the park seems to always have some glorious fall colors.  On arriving before dawn, I made sure to be by the river as the sun rose over the Wisconsin bluffs to the east.  As quickly as the sun cleared the bluffs, the clouds moved in and the light changed.  After an hour of cloudy and gray skies, I wandered up onto the hillside and the main area of the park.  While walking down the hiking path the sunlight broke through the clouds for about five minutes.  Through the golden leaves on the trees, the woods were bathed in a luminous light that was ever so brief.  The clouds moved back in, the winds picked up causing the leaves to scatter along the path, and eventually the rain began.

Fall on the St Croix River 11114_StaatsFall colors are peaking in some areas of Minnesota and today promised unusually warm temperatures with blue skies — a perfect combination for an early morning canoe trip on the St. Croix River.  As we put the canoe into the water south of Taylors Falls, dawn was just breaking, the morning was crisp and quiet, and the water was calm.  We paddled south and had the river to ourselves.  Slowly the sun crested the bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the river, and the light was golden on the Minnesota hillsides.  Our trip was filled with wonder at the basalt cliffs that fall straight into the river, and at the beauty of this gorge.  A short stop for coffee and some pear bread on a sand bar was accompanied by an eagle flying overhead.  The morning was magical in its stillness and color, and this National Scenic Riverway renewed our appreciation for the beauty of fall and the area we live in.

Fall treeline 7408_StaatsLast week was peak fall color in many areas of central and southern Minnesota.  This year’s color has been much more vibrant – perhaps due to our copious amounts of rain in June, the lack of extreme heat in the summer months, and the delay of a killing frost.  I spent the morning at William O’Brien State Park, nestled beside the St. Croix River.  The park has a riverside trail that meanders alongside the St. Croix, and it also has an “upper” section with a prairie, an oak savanna, meadows and forests.  This area was brilliant in color; the treeline was ablaze and the prairie grasses were golden.  The sure signs of fall were the empty bluebird houses.  These will remain vacant now throughout the winter with its snow yet to come, until we pass into spring and its burst of green.

Fog at dawn on St Croix River_Staats 3713With my previous posts of fall I’ve shared some brilliant colors, and we continue to see those in our landscape now.  But there’s a quieter side to this season too.  This is the side that speaks of the upcoming change to winter, the coolness that is evident in the air, and the slow turn into the dark of winter.  We were at Wild River State Park early one morning recently.  The park sits along the St. Croix River which divides the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  It’s a lovely, and quiet area, especially in the morning.  The air was cool and yet the river temperature was still a bit warmer causing the fog to hang low in the river valley.  This layer of fog seemed to soften the sunrise, to quiet any sound on the river or land, and to soften the golds and browns that were evident from the seasonal change.  Eventually the sun rose high enough over the bluff to burn away the fog, and the light became much brighter and sharper, as did the sounds of the day too.

With delightful autumn weather forecast for the day, we headed out before sunrise this morning to Wild River State Park.  This Minnesota park is north of the Twin Cities and is located on the St. Croix River. Although there was the promise of afternoon temps in the upper 70’s, the morning had a cool feel to it.  We drove down to the canoe landing on the river and could see the fingers of fog stretching into the air and creating a veil over the fall colors on the Wisconsin shoreline.  As we turned the opposite direction facing away from the river, we were greeted by the full moon as it was making its way behind the hillside.  The prairie stretched out before us filled with golden grasses;  the birdhouses were empty at this early time of the morning.  The hillside was brilliant with the colors of fall – golds, oranges, reds – all in a hush before the sunlight brought them out into a blaze of bright color.  Silently we watched the moon descend behind the hill and turned our attentions back to the river, accompanied by the geese and the ducks that were flying by.

Here we are past the middle of December and quickly hurtling into the final week before Christmas.  Everyone seems to be moving at an exaggerated pace trying to accomplish all that needs to be done before the holidays.  In search of some very specific Christmas presents we headed north of the Cities today to Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota.  This small city was founded in 1839 and was the site of the first commercial sawmill along the St. Croix River.  As we parked the car I could hear a rush somewhere nearby and upon following the sound I saw the cascading water of the creek that was emptying into the St. Croix River.  It made a musical sound as it tumbled downward, and here in this one small spot was both the rush of the waterfall and the pause and suspension of the ice on the banks and the rocks and trees that were laying over and near the creek.  I was reminded of how important it is at this season to enjoy the rush and the hustle and bustle of all we’re doing, but to also pause and appreciate the season of light and Christmas, the beauty of nature, and the friends and family that we enjoy.  Wishing you the best of Christmas this week and into the coming new year.