Winter made its comeback this week with colder temperatures and snow. The St. Croix River, which creates the border between northern Wisconsin and Minnesota was showing the results of the weather change. Just last week the river was flowing freely, cascading southward to join up with the Mississippi River. This week was another story. The shoreline was filled with thin and uneven ice pushed up against the banks, yet the river flowed freely in the middle, carrying smaller sections of ice with the current. If the cold temperatures continue the river will freeze completely and will remain frozen until the warmer temps of spring.
A week ago I made a quick drive north of Saint Paul to one of my favorite Minnesota state parks, Wild River. Located along the St. Croix River, the park seems to always have some glorious fall colors. On arriving before dawn, I made sure to be by the river as the sun rose over the Wisconsin bluffs to the east. As quickly as the sun cleared the bluffs, the clouds moved in and the light changed. After an hour of cloudy and gray skies, I wandered up onto the hillside and the main area of the park. While walking down the hiking path the sunlight broke through the clouds for about five minutes. Through the golden leaves on the trees, the woods were bathed in a luminous light that was ever so brief. The clouds moved back in, the winds picked up causing the leaves to scatter along the path, and eventually the rain began.
Fall colors are peaking in some areas of Minnesota and today promised unusually warm temperatures with blue skies — a perfect combination for an early morning canoe trip on the St. Croix River. As we put the canoe into the water south of Taylors Falls, dawn was just breaking, the morning was crisp and quiet, and the water was calm. We paddled south and had the river to ourselves. Slowly the sun crested the bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the river, and the light was golden on the Minnesota hillsides. Our trip was filled with wonder at the basalt cliffs that fall straight into the river, and at the beauty of this gorge. A short stop for coffee and some pear bread on a sand bar was accompanied by an eagle flying overhead. The morning was magical in its stillness and color, and this National Scenic Riverway renewed our appreciation for the beauty of fall and the area we live in.
Last week was peak fall color in many areas of central and southern Minnesota. This year’s color has been much more vibrant – perhaps due to our copious amounts of rain in June, the lack of extreme heat in the summer months, and the delay of a killing frost. I spent the morning at William O’Brien State Park, nestled beside the St. Croix River. The park has a riverside trail that meanders alongside the St. Croix, and it also has an “upper” section with a prairie, an oak savanna, meadows and forests. This area was brilliant in color; the treeline was ablaze and the prairie grasses were golden. The sure signs of fall were the empty bluebird houses. These will remain vacant now throughout the winter with its snow yet to come, until we pass into spring and its burst of green.
With my previous posts of fall I’ve shared some brilliant colors, and we continue to see those in our landscape now. But there’s a quieter side to this season too. This is the side that speaks of the upcoming change to winter, the coolness that is evident in the air, and the slow turn into the dark of winter. We were at Wild River State Park early one morning recently. The park sits along the St. Croix River which divides the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s a lovely, and quiet area, especially in the morning. The air was cool and yet the river temperature was still a bit warmer causing the fog to hang low in the river valley. This layer of fog seemed to soften the sunrise, to quiet any sound on the river or land, and to soften the golds and browns that were evident from the seasonal change. Eventually the sun rose high enough over the bluff to burn away the fog, and the light became much brighter and sharper, as did the sounds of the day too.