I sat on the opposite side of the lake watching the shoreline come alive in the sunshine. The clouds had lingered throughout the day, but an hour before sunset they parted giving the light a truly golden color. And as the clouds parted, the lake calmed to a sheet of glass; everything on the shoreline was reflected in the mirror-like water. It was a magical few minutes, long enough to absorb the colors of a brilliant fall evening and to wish the season would linger much longer before we head into winter.
Across the St. Croix River in Hudson, Wisconsin is a celebration of hot air balloons called the Hudson Hot Air Affair. Begun in 1970, the festival brings pilots, hot air balloon enthusiasts, and lots of spectators out into the wintry morning air. This morning’s temperatures were around 25 degrees – mild for early February, but the winds were too strong and the cloud deck was too low to allow the balloons to launch into the sky. When the weather conditions do not cooperate, the balloons are instead filled with air and up righted. Some were tethered to vans and trucks, others were held down by multiple people at the ends of long ropes (at times trying to keep their footing as the balloons pulled and tugged and their feet slid over the compact snow and ice). The balloons were plentiful and colorful, and the spectators were many and all seemed adept at keeping warm on a cold winter morning. It was all a bright delight in the gray midst of winter.
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.
Come with me for an afternoon in Wisconsin. The air is cool but the sun is warm; the temperature’s about 57 degrees. We head down a Rustic Road in Chippewa County. After twisting and turning through agricultural areas there’s a sign ahead that we’re entering the Chippewa County Forest. To the right is another sign marked Moon Ridge Trail and the forest road heading to the east looks inviting and filled with fall color. Off the paved road and onto the forest road, each mile takes us deeper into the forest. The colors are brilliant – especially in contrast to the blue sky dotted with white clouds. There’s a different smell in the air – of fall and drying leaves. We stop numerous times to photograph the colors and the meandering road. In one hour we have driven less than three miles because of all our stopping. There are many side trails leading from the main forest road but this one ahead isn’t drivable in the car. Off on foot, up the trail, and then down the hillside. As we step out of the forest area the view expands to the Spring Creek Flowage – a lake that meanders through the county – and the colors are intense and wonderful. This is our view (and only ours as there’s no one else around). Breathe in the smell of fall, feel the warmth of the sun, listen to the wind rustling through the leaves, take in the beauty of this day, and be thankful for being here at this moment of peak color in fall.
We headed out before dawn to Willow River State Park, located just outside of Hudson, Wisconsin. The temperature was a cold 9 degrees, but the eastern horizon was beginning to glow so we knew we’d have a bit of sunshine to warm us up. At one time the Willow River was used to operate mills for grinding grain, and later logs were driven down the river to Lake St. Croix. Today, in the cold of a winter’s morning, the area was quiet. We arrived early enough to observe whitetail deer that were starting to rise after being bedded down for the night. We saw an eagle soar overhead. And the snow all around was animated by the sun. Any small hills were accentuated and visible by their shadows, and where these small flower stems were standing tall through the snow they shed their shadows too across the white landscape. The sun caused the ice in the snow to sparkle as if it was filled with a thousand diamonds. It was a wonderful time to explore a new area and see all that offered up to us.