Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 13, 2006

My favorite season, times two

The cottage was warm and dry, a stark contrast to the cool, rainy day outside. Husband Art was sending e-mail messages from his laptop computer and mother-in-law Donna was working on a crossword puzzle.

I was enjoying doing nothing - nothing except sipping the homemade chicken noodle soup and crunching the homemade dill pickles, made by Art's cousin and her husband, who live just a few miles down the road.

"Ah," I said, to no one in particular. "Isn't this just cozy? It doesn't get any better than this."

Donna laughed and said, "Well, it's nice you're enjoying yourself."

I had flown to Wisconsin to see the autumn colors of the North Woods in Art's native state. He always talked about how beautiful the fall was and I decided that the time had come for me to see it for myself.

The first day had been soggy, but the weather cooperated on the second. Art and I headed into the nearby Nicolet National Forest right after breakfast to see what the frosty nights and sunny days had done to change the scenery since our summer visit less than two months before.

The forest's narrow, curving road slowed our pace. The branches arching over the road from both sides enveloped us in soft yellows. Bluish-purple anemones and red sumac provided accent colors.

We arrived at one of the small forest lakes just as clouds moved in. Yet even through the haze, we could see the colors were breathtaking. We waited a few minutes for the clouds to move on. When the bright sun appeared again, the trees were set aflame with color. The reds, oranges and yellows interspersed with the deep green pines circling the lake were spectacular. I took several pictures and then I asked Art to take a photo of me in the foreground.

"After all," I said, "I have to show that I really was in the North Woods in the autumn."

Although we traveled the forest roads for more than four hours, I never grew tired of the scenery. I wanted to imprint the colors on my memory.

As we approached the main highway at the end of our journey, we rounded a corner only to surprise a sand hill crane standing near the edge of the road. Art turned the car slowly to the left so I could snap a picture from my side. The bird walked slowly across the road and disappeared into the brush.

When we returned to the cottage, Art and the manager, who maintains our cottage and the others at Maple Lake, took a boat out to the swimming raft, removed the ladder, pulled up the anchor and then pulled it to the shore. Then they hauled the boats out of the water and stacked them upside down in their winter resting places. The manager said he had had enough "fun" for the afternoon, but sometime in the next few days he'd have to disassemble the piers and take them out before the lake freezes.

For a moment I thought about our home in Kansas. For us, the end of September means cool nights and nice days. But in Northern Wisconsin, it means that winter isn't far behind and preparations for the colder weather had better be well underway.

I didn't want to leave the cottage the next day, but we had to. It rained steadily during the three-hour drive to Art and Donna's hometown, something that normally I would not have enjoyed at all. But the moisture on the pines caused them to take on a sort of soft fuzzy appearance. And the colors of the ash, beech, birch, maples and other broadleaves, instead of becoming dull, were somehow changed into soft pastels so the whole trip was like a journey through an Impressionist painting.

Autumn in the North Woods - the autumn of beautiful colors - will soon be gone. But our Kansas autumn is just beginning and it too will have glorious scarlet and yellow trees and amber prairie grasses accented with sumac. Both are beautiful, yet they are different - a difference I cannot quite describe.

Fall is an unusual time of year. The cool nights and bright days are exhilarating after the heavy warm days of summer. Yet it is also a melancholy time - a bittersweet season - because it signals the end of those carefree days. It is also the season when farmers get to see the results of their hard work, but must be mindful to prepare for the barren days of winter.

And my trip to the North Woods underlines those feelings. From now on, when I hear the lyrics, "Try to remember that time in September," I'll think about the year I had a double dose of autumn - my favorite season.

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