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Outdoors North

Autumn rushes in after summer’s conclusion

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“What am I doing hangin’ ’round, I should be on that train and gone; I should be ridin’ on that train to San Antone, what am I doing hangin’ ’round.” — Michael Martin Murphey

I was whipping along on the highway when I glanced off the road to my right to see a scene that slowed my sense of timing down dramatically.

It was as though things started to move in slow motion, with the view out the passenger-side window passing by in still photographic images, flipping over one by one. Some were color, some were black-and-white.

What I saw was a beautiful pond, with a still surface reflecting the surrounding trees, bushes, flowers and sky. It was a placid and comforting sight, but at the same time, I recognized immediately that this pond was in full, late-summer slump.

Those reflected trees, bushes and flowers were sagging, overgrowing the shoreline of the pond, looking as though they were feeling tired and bloated, carrying every bit of the weight of the last, dwindling days of summer.

What I felt was a sort of tugging disorientation, like when you suddenly realize you’re here and you’re supposed to be there. You’re late.

I wondered how this could have happened. The warm beach sands of summertime had once again tumbled through the hourglass seemingly unnoticed until this instant.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing.

In a matter of a few seconds, the realization came over me like a sickness. There was very little time remaining now to get to all those things I had hoped to do more of done before autumn.

With all her regal charm and elegance, the fall queen stands waiting nervously just outside the door, taking a last few deep breaths before she makes her dramatic entrance.

Of course, hers is a splendid host of delightful sights and scenes, the smell of the autumn leaves, apple cider and campfire smoke; the big salmon in the rivers on rainy days; the countryside ablaze in rapturous technicolor under cold and clear ice-blue skies.

I think maybe it was a string of warm, pleasant days that lulled me into a sleep of summer, the kind only a lawn chair or a hammock can provide. On more than one of those perfect summery days, I thought that these were the times I had lasted out the hard winter to find and absorb, wrapping the warmth around me like a big blanket.

I am grateful to have realized this now, with a month or so before fall is officially swept in on a big pile of rustling and swirling, dead maple leaves.

My eyes opened now I was able to see when I arrived home that some leaves had already fallen in the front yard. Despite working out there for several hours over the weekend, I never noticed their crumpled presence until now.

When did that happen? Must have been while I was sleeping.

So, with the realization of summer’s languish in hand, I know now it will be only days before the kettles of nighthawks will come boiling and rolling across the skies, heading south. If the chimney swifts aren’t already gone, they will be soon.

The trout are filling up with milt and eggs, their colors soon to change to deep autumn oranges and reds, the male’s jaws stretching and hooking.

Thank goodness that before the season’s last bow, there is still time for a Surfin’ Safari, the Batusi or to twist again like we did last summer.

Your daddy’s rich and your mamma’s good-lookin,’ so hush little baby, don’t you cry.

So, I’m excited to see what I can still get out to do before I reach into the closet for my warmer jacket. I already know just which one I want.

With the days still upon us of the diminishing Perseids meteor shower, the skies will remain inviting for lying down in the tall grasses and looking out to the heavens from the wide-open expanse of a forest opening.

The days will undoubtedly hold the promise of time to pursue my long list of outdoor activities ranging from simple things like sitting on a warm rock soaking in the sunshine to more elaborate endeavors like camping.

After spending many years in the western part of this country, I know one of the greatest benefits of living in Michigan is the full complement of seasons, with all their happy and sad changes.

The variety of days and seasons is so magnificent, it’s hard to explain to someone who has never experienced those inherent various sensations.

I remember it was a similar thing when I was fortunate enough to spend a few years living on the shore or Lake Superior. The temperament and turbidity of the mighty waters, like its pallet of blues, grays and greens, changed daily.

The lake or the combination of lake and sky never looked the same. Every single day was a different scene in some noticeable way.

I love each of the seasons here in Michigan, which I guess is why I find myself often wistfully bemoaning the passing of one, while joyously welcoming the next, like seeing old true friends come and go.

For me, I always hope for time to sync my body and mind to the seasons before they change. Otherwise, I feel displaced and uncertain of where I am in any real sense, displaced, again disoriented, caught unawares.

I found myself sitting at home one evening this week, not having seen any weather forecast to get an idea of what was ahead. I had no sense of where to drop my anchor or how to anticipate psychologically.

I was surprised moments later to hear rain falling on the roof. It felt like a blessing, cooling and soothing, one that I had no expectation of, which may have been part of the reason it felt so right.

A few moments later, the shower had passed. The air felt cool, damp and thick. It smelled heavenly. I stood behind the front door screen watching, silent.

Editor’s note: John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.