Column: Signs of autumn start creeping in

“Swimming in the big lake, taking it easy, taking any comfort we could find,” – Bob Seger

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MARQUETTE — With a splash and swift turn in the water, the brook trout at the end of my line broke the top of the water’s surface and jerked hard toward the bottom of the stream.

I stood on the outside bend of a river where this speckled masterpiece had been coaxed out from underneath the tag alders that hung over the riverbank.

Once I landed the fish, a realization was forced over me that opened my eyes wider to the scenes around me – the grand duchess of resplendent autumn, in all her glowing, colorful and delicious presence had arrived.

She sat there on her glowing throne, waiting to be noticed.

I realized my gears were not meshing properly with the natural world around me, perhaps influenced by a rash of recently warm and pleasant summery days and nights.

I was grudgingly sensing signs of fall, but perhaps my full realization was delayed because I wasn’t ready just yet to let go of summer’s warm light, the beach day laughter of children playing or the cool and soft rainfall quenching a steamy afternoon.

But this beautiful brook trout was a direct, unavoidable message, like a newspaper headline laying across my doorstep – staring at me cold, in black and white, through the raindrop-splattered plastic bag.

The trout’s deep pumpkin-orange wash along the lower edge of its sides, coupled with the brightness of its red, blue and yellow dotted markings, the blackness around the hooking mouth and the shimmering white stripes across the lower fin tips made it clear this fish was ready for fall spawning.

That wouldn’t be happening unless it was, of course, fall.

Seemingly in the blink of an eye, the entire length of the trout fishing season had dwindled down to now just a small collection of days left on the calendar.

The schoolchildren shuffling back to classes should have been a big clue, as were the increasingly louder and more insistent honks of Canada geese and the splotches of reds, yellows and oranges starting to appear on the green canvas of the forest.

Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I sense in myself a reluctance present to let go of those pleasant scenes of the gentle waves turning over at the edge of a sparkling lake, the colorful sprays of summer wildflowers, the virtuosity of singing birds and the late sunsets glowing until almost midnight at the edge of the darkening skies.

Hurtling toward the autumnal equinox, sandhill cranes have begun bunching up into large groups, staging in fields before their long flights to Florida for the winter months.

Soon, summertime’s fingers will be busted up like keys on an old piano, unable to play its now familiar melodies that prompt us to sway and twirl slowly to the music.

I think the older I get it’s harder to see summer go and winter arrive.

Fall wears a reversible coat of transition, discounted by many who can only see beyond to the ice-cold days crafted by a rested and ready Wintermaker.

But to discount the fall time is to disregard inviting warm apple cider, pies and crisp, the hope of an Indian summer, walks through the leaves on sunny afternoons and the big, yellow harvest moon.

Hunters sense the change in the wind, as do the salmon and steelhead anglers as well as the apple pickers – all are likely sensing twitches of anticipation.

While I enjoy the pursuits of fall, the precursor to holiday time, I still have more to do before I’ll be ready to surrender the torch I’m carrying for summer.

There were still big bundles of green blackberries out there in the woods this past weekend, still not ripened. Though, I did find a good number of tasty berries in brambles growing not far off the old two-rutted roads.

These berries were shiny, plump and black as night, with a good many remaining on the brambles still red – almost there. I picked some blackberries for me, left many more there for the animals.

I still have pictures to take of some of the lowest summertime water levels I have seen in some places and some of the highest in others. There remain rocky outcrops and granite bluffs to climb, muddy trails to walk and tall, yellow grass to lie in to watch the clouds roll by.

I want to paint the solemn, white, black-splotched trunks of quaking aspen trees deeper on my memory, their yellow leaves set against airy blue skies. I want to spend time more watching the deer – the fawns jumping and playing and learning from their mothers – before the challenges of those crippling days of winter arrive.

I also want to wade along the rocky shoreline of the biggest Great Lake, looking for agates under the vast open sky, enjoying a sit on a driftwood log, sampling peppered jerky from the plastic bag in my coat pocket.

Surely, summer’s last campfire has yet to be lit.

But I know time is whooshing through the hourglass. The time to do these things is now. If I am going to get out there as I’d like, I need to be more deliberate in my planning and action.

I need to put down the book I’m reading, at least until I get back in the house. I need to save some of those domestic chores for wintertime and I should click off the news and get out the door – even if it’s only to the backyard, if it’s only for an hour.

There’s plenty to do out there. The trees are whispering, the squirrels are talking too. The crows – stark black, tall and rigid – are doing their walking grid searches of our lawn, looking for anything they can find to eat.

I’ve noticed on days after a campfire they pick through the ashes inside the fire ring.

Many summer birds look bedraggled and washed out now, while the river is so much softer – it speaks in hushed tones if it speaks at all. The skies are growing bluer and crisper as the temperatures slide south.

Yes, my jigsaw puzzles, checkerboard and Jack London are going to have to wait. I need to enjoy all I can outdoors while summer is still holding the door open a crack for me.

Once it’s closed, I’ll slip on a warm sweater, or the llama poncho I bought this May in New Mexico and take a walk out in the spiked chilly air, smelling the fallen leaves while listening to the gathering fury of the northwest winds.

The fall brook trout I caught, along with some buttered green beans, made for a succulent meal. As we ate, I watched a trio of male goldfinches – still in their summer Easter chick yellow plumage – hop and flit between the branches on the chokecherry tree outside the window.

Inside my head, the clock was ticking over images of rising trout and blue summer skies wilting to gray. Brown, dried leaves blew down the streets, tumbling toward wintertime.

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John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.

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