Early winter ice

With a quick plummet of the temperatures we are now in winter. Our unusually long and temperate autumn has disappeared. The ducks and geese have departed for warmer areas and open water. Only the oak trees are hanging on to their brittle brown leaves, rattling in the cold wind. The ground is starting to freeze, the snow is starting to fall, and the ice is forming. There’s a hush that settles in during winter — a peace and quiet all its own.

The end of fall

And just like that, Mother Nature has flipped a switch and we’re at the end of fall. It’s been a glorious and unusually long season this year in the upper Midwest but like all good things it has come to an end. Five days ago the wind was still, the sun was shining, and the only colors remaining were from the oaks with their remaining rusty leaves. Today the temperatures have fallen, the wind has removed any remaining leaves from the trees, and we have a forecast of snow.

Sometimes the change of seasons can be disconcerting to me, especially the ones where the days become shorter and the darkness becomes longer. But I’m reminded that just like the leaves that have fallen from the trees, it is all temporary. There will still be beauty in the coming season and days but it will be in a different palette – one of white – and the landscape will take on a new cloak of loveliness.

Hiking into the heart of fall

The colors of fall have deepened as the month has progressed; from hints of color to a landscape flush from a painter’s splash of yellow, gold, orange, red, green, and even some pink.

Earlier this month I was hiking with another photographer friend through the woods. It was a gloriously warm autumn day and the sun had broken through the clouds an hour before. The leaves on the path were noisily crunching under our boots as we followed a winding trail past a lake and into the forest. We both stopped as we looked ahead to see a carpet of pink under the usual fall colors of yellow and orange. We learned that the mapleleaf viburnum can have this pink or rose color in the fall depending on the light exposure and the weather conditions. Neither of us recalled seeing anything like this before and we spent a good amount of time photographing and marveling at the delightful array that Mother Nature had placed before us.

The start of fall

Not only has fall officially started per the calendar, but we are starting to see the change of seasons all around us. I woke up to a cool but bright morning at the lake, with steam rising up off the surface. A couple of extra layers of clothing were needed as I launched my kayak into the water. The morning was quiet except for some wood ducks that I flushed in a small bay and the Canada geese that flew past me, honking as they made their way up the shoreline. The trees have just begun to change, and the reds and golds were beautiful, especially against the blue sky and blue lake. It was a perfect start to my day, and to the season of fall

A quiet morning at the lake

It was still early in the morning. The red sun had risen and managed to shine its light through the smoke and haze that has blanketed our area. There were swallows sweeping above and over the lake, gathering insects, resting on the pontoon cover, then continuing their aerial acrobatics. Occasionally I could hear a bird off in the distance. But as I sat at the end of the dock, my attention was focused about 20 yards in front of me. A loon was gracefully floating by, intent on things other than my presence. It went to the south, then to the north, and then it dove under the surface. After what seemed like an unusually long time, it reappeared…with a snail and some greenery that it found on the lake bottom. It floated by me, turned, dropped everything from its beak, dove down again, and disappeared for another long time, only to resurface way out in the center of the lake.

I treasure these simple moments – the quiet of the morning, the birds, fish, and animals doing what they do in the early hours of daylight, and the ritual that has played out for decades and eons. And I try to imagine someone sitting by this same lake shore observing a similar moment one hundred, two hundred, maybe three hundred years ago.