October is like an old friend who returns each autumn.

October days usually arrive in a wash of color. This is Mother Nature’s finest hour, as she paints the landscape with lush pigments. The leaves turn to their full, glorious color, and we hope rains don’t prematurely take down too many.

This is October, and with a cold breath, Mother Nature one morning soon will cover the landscape with frost. We will awaken to a new world of icy white.

We all realize in recent weeks how darkness covers the region earlier in the evening now, as fog rises from the rivers and ponds where the water is warmer than the air. And when we rise in the morning, darkness greets us later and later.

The change of seasons is happening all around us. Unfortunately, these golden days of early autumn are fleeting, like a swirling wisp of wood smoke disappearing into the darkness of night on the suddenly biting northern wind. I try to enjoy every single minute of October, because like migrating waterfowl, they will soon disappear.

We can already watch flocks of Canada geese fly overhead, filling the autumn air with music. The sound of geese in flight is a sound that never fails to make you pause and look up.

The geese are flying over a rapidly changing landscape of trees with leaves magically transforming from green to orange, red and yellow overnight.

On the ground, grasses have already made the change from green to gold. Ferns and underbrush die and crumble, replaced by multi-colored mushrooms pushing up through the moisture of a rain-soaked forest floor.

On a Sunday morning drive the traveler finds apples and apple cider, acorn squash, zucchini, sugar beets, and sunflower seeds, and — of course — large, orange pumpkins.

On the local cranberry marshes the countless red berries are ripe and floating as workers prepare for the seasonal harvest, sending Wisconsin cranberries to Thanksgiving tables across America.

Whitetail bucks rise from their beds, backs covered in frost. As he shakes himself the frost explodes into multi-colored crystals dancing on the first rays of morning sunshine. The buck’s hot breath rises into the air in puffy white clouds as he moves cautiously into the shadows of the tamarack swamp, right past the tree stand where a bow hunter waited without luck the night before.

Acorns are dropping by the thousands this fall, food for many birds and wildlife.

Is that old tree stand still sturdy? Will it withstand the winds for another season? It is a question many of us ask as we venture into the back country in October, checking our hunting areas, dreaming of days afield to come.

When did all this change happen? It seems like just yesterday the first kickoff of the new high school football season took place in 80-degree heat. Now we are nearing the playoffs. Yes, early autumn slips away, and we sometimes hardly notice. Then we ask ourselves, “Where did it go so fast?”

A lone fisherman bundled up against the wind is all that remains on the icy water as the country lake sparkles under the October sun. The water skiers of summer are long gone, the cabins are 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.

This is a time of changes in our Northland. The cold, gray days of November will arrive soon enough.

In the cold mists and rains of recent days we have been given a bit of a preview. The sun will return soon. This is October, Mother Nature’s finest hour, days painted with a magical, colorful brush.

Thornley is the Spooner Advocate’s sports editor.