Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 15, 2021

Fabulous fall

I love this most fabulous time of year - the foliage, the fruits, the festivals. Although I'm not a big sports fan, even the opening of the football season brings an element of excitement.

When the autumnal equinox came on Sept. 22, husband Art and I were in Wisconsin's North Woods. We didn't have any sort of formal celebration, but it provided an excuse to drive into the almost 700,000-acre Nicolet National Forest to see the colors. The local television stations share maps during the weather forecast that identify the amount of color on a county-by-county basis, and our area was near its peak.

The forest was full of dark-green pines, brilliant yellow birches and dazzling red maples. The dappled light shining through them made the many lakes along the rustic roads sparkle with the reflected deep blue of the sky created by the cool fall air. We had seen a sign for Luna Lake in the past, but had never stopped. This time, we did because our "adopted" German daughter Nadja and her hubby Matze named their baby girl Luna and so we thought it would be fun to send them pictures of the lake.

Later that day, we bought some apples that came from southwestern Wisconsin's Sunrise Apple Orchard. That too seemed appropriate because in other years when we visited friend Jo in that corner of the state, Art always bought a box of his favorite apple cider donuts.

Two days later, on a late Friday afternoon, Art asked if I wanted to take a drive to Crandon, about 30 minutes south of our cottage. As we drove along Lake Avenue, the main street of the village of 2,000, we noticed people gathering along its sidewalks.

"I´┐Żll bet they're going to have a homecoming parade," I told Art.

After all, it was the end of the work week and many high schools across the country have football games on fall Friday nights.

At the end of the street, we saw parade preparations in progress. Art turned right and then took a side street toward the center of town and parked. We decided to join in!

After grabbing my camera, we walked to the main street and then two blocks north and stopped at what we thought might be a good spot at a street corner.

"Hey, are you taking my spot?" a gentleman with a grin and a camera slung around his neck asked. I just smiled and said we were enjoying the evening and hoping it didn't rain. Later, I noticed the sign on the building behind him. It was the Pioneer Press, the building housing the local weekly newspaper and a job-printing facility. I think I had just met the editor!

We walked another block and stopped. The police car leading the parade was slowly making its way in our direction. Four "floats" - two of which were just pickups with senior and freshman homecoming candidates inside the truck beds - followed. The banner on one float encouraged the Cardinals - the local team's mascot - to "pulverize" the Northern Elite Predators. A group of high schoolers followed, leading a goat and a basset hound.

Within minutes, it was over. The rain had held off just long enough for the short procession, but then it began in earnest. We slipped inside a covered shelter in the town's Memorial Park. It was open on all four sides and had small plates listing the locals who had served in every war since World War I. Uniforms, medals and plaques were displayed in glass-front wooden cases mounted near the ceiling.

A week after that "adventure," daughter Katie and son-in-law Matt arrived at our cottage to spend the weekend. Art whipped up a meal of baked trout - the product of his three fishing excursions to streams he has fished since he was a young boy. My favorite may have been the German potato salad he made, using a "by-guess-and-by-golly" recipe he learned from his mother Donna.

The next day, we attended the 41st annual Cranberry Fest in nearby Eagle River. Wisconsin produces about 60 percent of the country's tart red berries and 40,000 people - 25 for every local - attend the rain-or-shine annual event. It had rained during the night, but by afternoon the sun was out. Located on the county fairgrounds, the festival included covered tents and stalls with all sorts of items for sale - jack-o-lanterns and Santas made of gourds, maple syrup products, handmade mittens and scarves, jewelry, candles, metal wall art, and other merchandise made from locally-harvested cranberries. While Katie, Matt and I found a few items to buy, Art spent most of the time observing people, describing the items offered for sale as SOS - Same Old S***. But at the end of our visit, while we chowed down on cranberry bratwursts, he enjoyed a drink of cranberry juice.

On the way home, Art suggested "the scenic route" through the national forest, pointing out various trout streams. Matt is interested in trout fishing and so was peppering Art with questions about what bait to use, clothing to wear, and fishing regulations to abide by.

The forest was misty from the recent rain, but it didn't mask the beauty of the autumn colors. If anything, it enhanced the "Impressionistic" effect - the soft yellows and oranges blending into the forest floor below. That evening, after a taco-salad supper, we watched the movie, "Game Night."

The next day began with Katie getting drenched, caught in the rain while walking their dog Willow. Later, we enjoyed a lunch of fresh corn-on-the-cob before settling into playing a board game called "Spirit Island."

So have we done a lot of things since the autumnal equinox that would be considered exciting? Certainly not. But the foliage, fruits, festivals, fish, football - and especially family time - again made me feel that fall truly is a fabulous season. Oh, and the Cardinals probably agree, as they pulverized the Predators, 28-0!

Top-left: Cool nights caused the air to be more dense, making the sky, and so the lakes, an even-deeper shade of blue than in the summer; top-middle: Art at the edge of Luna Lake; top-right: Matt bought Katie a maple-flavored cotton candy treat; bottom-left: The homecoming-parade float at Crandon featured the school's mascot. The Cardinal hoped they would "rock" their foe; bottom-middle: on the way to the national forest with Katie and Matt, we stopped in the village of Phelps. Art and I took advantage of the children's picture site in the local park; bottom-right: Matt, Katie, someone I should disown and I playing a board game on a rainy Sunday.

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