I drove to Rydell National Wildlife Refuge early Saturday morning. The sky was overcast, the air was cool and heavy with moisture. Rain drops pelted my windshield periodically, testing, I think, a forecast that promised sunny skies after recent heavy rains. I drove on, challenging the sky to change my plans, which it didn’t. Soon the sun broke through the clouds, and the world around me brightened.
Fertile Sand Hills at Lookout Point: Late September
Autumn is now established across the northwestern Minnesota landscape. The summer warmth of early-to-mid-September has slipped away. The wheat has been harvested; soybeans stand brown in fields their leaves long since fallen. Aspen trees yellow in woodlots mixing with the tans and yellows of turning ironwoods, birch, cottonwoods, linden, elm and willows. Maples flame orange-red above crimson sumacs, woodbine and wild grape vines. Blue and purple asters nod in ditches and fallow fields offering a final bouquet to the departing season. Fallen leaves litter pathways and trails.
Minnesota writer Sigurd Olson wrote:
It is in the fall when the aspen’s leaves are masses of old gold and the hillsides and islands are mirrored in a sea of blue that the days become enchanted and a hush lies like a benediction over the entire country.
Aspens at Field’s Edge
Summer’s transition to autumn is hard for me. In the world of “glass half-full/half-empty,” I am the glass half-full except when autumn approaches. In late-July when the first goldenrods blossom, a sadness descends within me. And although it’s true that I would never willingly leave this place of four distinct seasons, the earth’s tilt away from the sun, begun in late-June and now undeniable at the end of September, speaks not of a long sleep that begets new life, but the end of both freedom and light. I begin my morning run now in profound darkness and greet the day as the sun rises orange-red above the distant tree line. Too soon this joy will also pass. I sensed this in late-July; today it is upon me.
In the chill of the changing season, I walked the refuge trails Saturday. Overhead Canada geese flew in loud honking vees. Trumpeter swans floated in pairs on the open water. Robins, nuthatches and chickadees flew noisily among the branches of bare trees; blackbirds rose in flocks across the fields – all certain signs of the end of the season. Turning the corner on the trail, I thought how difficult this stretch would be on snowshoes in the deep winter. I thought how cold my fingers would be unzipping my camera bag. I thought how the days would darken by mid-afternoon; I thought how I would always keep one eye to the changing weather, the deepening cold, the darkening skies, the slickening roads…and then I thought how I would forget these negatives when I dropped to my belly on a snowbank to photograph the feathers of a sharp-tail grouse or paw prints of a coyote or fox.
Mary Oliver wrote “In Blackwater Woods”
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
And so it is with the seasons. And so it is each year when the aspens turn golden, and the days grow shorter and colder, and the summer whispers, “Let me go.”
Olson, Sigurd. The Singing Wilderness, 140. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
Oliver, Mary. “In Blackwater Woods.” American Primitive, 83. Boston/New York/London: Back Bay Books, 1983.