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Outdoors North: Late autumn reflections

JOHN PEPIN

“How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man,” – Bob Dylan

The wind was rolling colored leaves on end across the earth in a pinwheel fashion. The maple leaves seemed to be rolling the best. They were reds and golds, mostly.

Over the next few hours, the temperature would drop, and the ground would be covered with thick frost. I felt something inside me welcoming the colder air and the quiet calmness of the morning.

Dark-eyed juncos were all over the place, in small groups. They hunted for seeds and other food as they hopped along the ground. I watched one devour a white moth it had picked up from along the side of a boulder.

They certainly have arrived in force, ready for wintertime.

While fallen leaves had formed thick piles over the cold, wet ground, there were those holdouts that were still clinging to the tree branches overhead, flopping over and back in obeyance to the whims of the winds.

They are in no rush to wither, no hurry to succumb to their inevitable fate. Maybe they are hoping to feel a few more surges of sugar flowing through them or some more sunshine on their faces.

Maybe it’s just a couple more exquisite views of the rising autumn moon they want.

Letting loose, or being cut loose, means literally casting your fate to the winds. After which, who knows where a leaf might end up?

Perhaps an individual leaf might be like an acorn and not fall far from the tree. But it might tumble through the air, buoyed by air currents, to float or fly a good distance from this tree – one of many in this northern hardwood stand.

If it were to reach the river, it might sink to the bottom, if its edges cut the water that way. Or maybe it would float atop the stream for miles, maybe even down to Lake Superior or Lake Michigan.

A day or so ago, I stood along the shores on an ancient inland lake, one that has been around since at least the times of the great glaciers. There’s still a tremendous sense of rawness and unsettling there.

It reminds me of being on a lake up in Canada, or maybe in Alaska somewhere, where it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see a moose or a bear step into the landscape from anywhere around the rim of this magnificent blue spot on the map.

To avoid crossing over a pile of driftwood, bleached in the sunshine along the beach, I opted to walk barefoot into the edge of the lake. The water felt cold, but exhilarating, not an icy chill just yet.

The water slips from just a couple of inches deep, to more than a couple of feet over just a short length of shoreline. The sky there is incredibly wide with hardly anything to obscure a view of the heavens.

I am planning to return to view a meteor shower some late night.

At the lake, the trees still retained some of their colored leaves, but the reds and oranges were all gone. It was the yellows and golds of the poplars and the birches that were the jewels in the crown.

Across the surrounding hills, their flickering made a shimmering display that was made more glorious by the light of the warm, wonderful late afternoon sunshine.

Along the gravelly shores, there were leaves that had sunk to the bottom of the lake, others that had floated until they became trapped in one of the back corners, while still others had drifted on the winds until they fell into the wet sand along the beach.

It seems the sands and soils on beaches and roads and pathways become wet around this time of year and then stay that way until June. No more warm and comforting summertime sugar sand for walking on.

Recent rains had gutted much of the road into the lakeside, along the hills especially.

I’ve had a recurring dream over the past week about salmon fishing in a river I know well, but it doesn’t look anything like it does in real life in my dream. Nothing consequential really happens in the dream, but the feeling I have being there is one of great contentment.

It’s often strange to dream about something once. I think it’s even weirder to dream about the same thing over again. It takes on a sense that it is supposed to have some type of meaning or great significance.

As the leaves fall from the trees, it’s a whole lot easier to see things in the woods. All kinds of things become suddenly visible. The crispness of the air seems to add a lot to the clearing of things too.

I love to walk roads covered in wet leaves, amid the autumn chill, thinking and supposing, wondering and wandering. The smell of those leaves is heady.

I move intoxicated with the bouquet in my brain.

It’s incredible to me to see how quickly the seasons change once they decide to do so. It often feels like one season has already begun, with the one that preceded it cut short somehow.

The cold and the wet make things seem melancholy, but they aren’t really. Just different. Halloween aside, there does seem to be a lonesome haunting type of presence during these days of fall.

These are the kinds of days I know will soon bring in wintertime.

While the leaves roll across the ground, the sky is covered in deep blue clouds that might bring either rain or snow. The wind picks up with a big gust and the sky is full of more leaves.

As I look up at the scene, way, way up there I see a bald eagle gliding – wings outstretched wide. I see the bird go from one edge of the sky, in my field of view, to the other. This bird is incredible to see.

During the whole glide, the bird never flaps its wings even a single time, only twists from one side to another here and there. What a champion. Such a commanding presence.

I am very thankful to have had the chance to witness this peaceful and awe-inspiring sight.

A rain is falling steady now, pinning a lot of downed leaves to the blacktop and concrete. Some are face down like a playing card. Others are face up and exposed. It seems random how that occurs.

I think back to summer days when I watched the leaves curl and turn to lift themselves up to the skies to catch the moisture of the rain. By now, they seem to have had more than enough water.

It now soaks and covers them.

I heard a loon call in a movie the other day and was reminded that it’s been weeks since I’ve heard one here. In fact, most all the birds have gone south as they do – quietly, unannounced, slipping away without even a goodbye.

Except, of course, for the geese. They prefer to make a showy display, even with formation flights, trumpeting their departure for warmer temps and sunnier skies.

I often begrudge their seeming exuberance in the fall. But they sound just as happy when they return in the springtime. Then, I’m all ears, waiting every day to hear their honking overhead.

Today’s rain is the cold and soaking kind. The kind that makes me want to find a fireplace or at least a warm blanket to crawl under.

I hope to get outside once the sky stops crying.

The conditions seem right for the birches to be talking, whispering secrets to each other. Bending and swaying, they seem to roll with the changes of the seasons – all of them.

Spruces stand so close together, it would be impolite not to talk. In this regard, tall pines and maple snags seem to be afforded a good deal more discretion to remain quiet and solemn.

Maybe I’m like them. The less I say, the better I feel.

Editor’s note: 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.

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