Sunday, October 21, 2018

Getting Out

Time of transition: October a time of scenic beauty and contrasting weather

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    Morning first breaks over the horizon as a new day arrives and bathes the landscape in an orange glow. October is a time of gorgeous scenery and of colorful leaves on trees. It also is a time of transition between summer and the coming winter.

    Photos by Bill Thornley

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The furnace clicked on for the first time the other morning as I prepared to take our dogs Gus and Hannah out for their morning walk — a walk that during the past couple of weeks has gotten darker and darker as nightfall seems to hang on longer.

An owl’s call somewhere in the nearby woods gave me an extra chill. It is one of the loneliest sounds there is, and it reminded me of how rapidly these October days which have just started will pass as well. This time of year seems to rush by in a blur as winter cannot wait to take hold with icy fingers.

October arrives in a wash of color. I love this month. This is Mother Nature’s finest hour, and she paints the landscape with lush pigments. The autumn leaves are in full color now, but don’t blink because the show doesn’t last long.

With a cold breath, nature coats the morning landscape with a thick frost. Darkness covers the region not only longer in the morning but earlier in the evening. Fog rises from the rivers and ponds where the water is warmer than the air. Fueled by water, mushrooms form on moist rocks and on the dark sides of shaded trees. 

In October it is easiest to notice the change of seasons. Warm, colorful days of early autumn pass quickly. 

Those golden days are fleeting, like a wisp of wood smoke disappearing into the night in the suddenly biting northern wind. The days of October can come and go like a flock of snow geese backed by a 50 mile-per-hour northern gale.

Early October’s beautiful days are gone too soon. I want to enjoy every minute and drink them in like a sweet cup of warm apple cider.

Autumn signs

These are the days when Canada geese fly overhead in sometimes huge flocks, their zesty sounds filling the morning air with music. As I walked Hannah and Gus in the darkness I could hear them, close and distant, flying over in wave after wave.

Their flight takes the birds over a rapidly changing landscape of trees with leaves from green to orange, red and yellow. On the ground grasses are transformed from green to gold. 

Ferns and underbrush die and crumble. Normally, acorns litter the landscape, but this year, like last, they seem to be few in number.

Farmer’s fields are filled with tall golden stalks of corn, and the rainy weather keeps them greener longer than normal. Pumpkins, potatoes, and decorative Indian corn can be found on wagons next to honor-system cans across the region. 

Judging by the huge amount of pumpkins, it was a good growing season. A Sunday afternoon drive can net travelers apples and apple cider, acorn squash, zucchini, sugar beets and sunflower seeds. The harvest season is a season of plenty.

Warm and cool

The morning air can be mild or chill to the bone, depending on Mother Nature’s mood at the time. On those chilly mornings the whitetail buck rises from his bed on the ridge, his back covered in hard frost. As he shakes himself the frost explodes into multi-colored crystals that dance on the first rays of the morning sun. His hot breath rises into the air in puffy white clouds as he moves cautiously into the shadows of a tamarack swamp.

The morning feels cold, a fact that has little to do with the temperature. At the lake the gray waves look and feel bitter, and the wind seems to howl a mournful sound as it blows relentlessly. 

At times, even the sun looks cold. But by mid-morning the temperature has warmed to the point that the jacket needed at daybreak can be shed. October is a month of contradictions.

Out in the hills a deer hunter checks on his tree stand. Is it still sturdy? Will it withstand the winds for another season?

The stand is located high on a hill overlooking a swamp to the south and a slashing to the north. A good run passes to both the east and west as deer funnel into the swamp. The hunter’s heart beats a little faster as he comes upon fresh rubs and a scrape several yards square. His imagination wanders as he envisions a thick-antlered buck stepping out into the open on a blustery opening morning.

Passing season

How is it October already? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we attended the first high school football game of a brand-new season? 

Early autumn slips away, and we sometimes hardly notice. Then we ask ourselves, “Where did it go so fast?”

As October progresses, you will likely look out across the choppy lake and notice a lone fisherman. He is bundled up against the elements as the country lake sparkles under the autumn sun. The water skiers of summer are long gone, the cabins closed up, the docks removed.

In the distance the sound of a shotgun echoes as a duck hunter in a blind made of bulrushes takes a poke at a rapidly moving flight of northern mallards. The fisherman knows a few warmer afternoons of sunshine might remain, but for now that thermos of hot coffee is a welcome companion as he loops his Daredevil into the shallows in hopes of locating a hungry muskie or northern.

The colorful days of October, unfortunately, will pass quickly. They will pass like the last song of a loon as it melts into the night air. Soon the loon will depart and the first snowflakes of winter will arrive.

This is a time of changes, a time of Mother Nature in transition, and thinking about it in the pre-dawn darkness is hard not to do when you look to the sky and observe winter constellations like Orion’s Belt already visible.

The spell is broken as the owl calls out once again, his deep, ghostly “A-oooooo-ahhh,” a perfect sound to accompany the Halloween decorations that are now going up across the landscape.

A small cottontail bolts from the underbrush, her fluffy white tail dancing across the lawn and causing Hannah to strain against her leash.

The darkness is finally starting to be replaced by murky gray. It is time to stop daydreaming about October days and changes to come. It is about time to get the dogs inside and head off to work. A hot cup of coffee at the local diner awaits.

Thornley is the outdoors editor at the Spooner Advocate newspaper.

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