Column: Autumn creeps into summer

“Let’s steal away in the noonday sun, it’s time for a summertime dream,” – Gordon Lightfoot

MARQUETTE — While neck deep in Queen Anne’s lace, prickly purple thistles and squiggly vines, along the meandering edge of a cold trout stream recently, I realized that a change had occurred around me.

It wasn’t abrupt or anything, but rather, it was kind of like the familiar awareness that darkness is developing or that you’ve turned another year older.

I could see it in the grass grown up in the little marsh pond along the road, something about the colors in the sky and in a bunch of little things here and there.

The shift was belied by the sweat that was running down over the edge of my brow and in behind my sunglasses.

As I trudged on, trying to get to the water, the closeness of the plants, my exertion and the heat and humidity made it difficult to breathe, like a wool hat had been pulled down over my face.

I stopped at the grassy, green riverbank and waited for my breath to catch up.

The skies held rolling, puffy, white clouds with a hint that maybe a thunderstorm was rumbling back there at the edge of the horizon somewhere.

My first clue was when I looked across the stream and saw the leaves of the wild cherry trees had yellowed, maybe from the heat. Maybe not.

Even with the afternoon sun enveloping me, I could tell the truth was apparent.

Someone, somewhere, must have left a door open a crack.

Autumn, of all things, had somehow slipped its nose inside the red, glowing tent of summertime.

Of course, it wasn’t here yet, really.

Just the ends of its fingertips, reaching this way to get a hold.

The fish were moving to smaller, colder waters. With the calendar now flipped to August, I knew it would be only days before some of the summer birds – mostly the long-fliers – would already be on the wing, heading south.

As if the change occurred overnight, I was surprised to notice little green apples had appeared on the branches of the trees in my backyard. Wild raspberries and blueberries were ripe and ready for picking.

The thimbleberries were lagging a little behind, they weren’t quite ripe. Their ready-state bright red-beret coloring had not yet arrived. Instead, berries of pink and peach decorated the stems above the big green leaves.

Blackberries would be back farther still in the ripening sequence.

Some maple leaves, on trees distressed by too much, or too little, water, were already ablaze in reds, oranges and yellows – still somewhere around a full eight weeks before fall color peak.

If I wasn’t convinced the first nudges of fall’s arrival were genuine, I had only to wait another day. That afternoon was marked by much cooler temperatures and that blowing curtain-type of drizzling rainfall that often, later in the year, can turn to snowfall.

It seems like that kind of rain can only happen during fall. It’s usually a cold, miserable affair, appearing in tandem with shivering winds and maybe sleet. I recall it best for my cold hands and wet clothes.

A lot of the adult birds have their young progressing along, getting them ready for their first migration flights. There’s a lot of young robins out there on the lawn, with yellow-bellied sapsuckers and common grackles bringing their kids to our suet feeders.

A doe showed up this week trailing her two fawns. Their white spots are nearly gone.

Meanwhile, I had an opportunity to take a trip with one of the girls down to Lake Superior to gather some rocks for a decorative picture frame she was making. It was encouraging to see her take pride and effort in completing her art.

The texture of the blue paint in the wooden frame had been roughed up to replicate water, more specifically waves. Therefore, some water-worn stones would be just the thing for making this a dazzling display.

I had asked her what type of photo she planned to put behind the glass. If she knew what colors would be in the picture, we could try to find stones to accent those hues.

Arriving at the big lake, we climbed over some boulders to get to the beach. The lake waves had sorted the rocks for us, the larger stones farther up on shore and the smallest, more water-smoothed, left within the lake itself or just onshore.

Bending over and moving into the water, I was surprised immediately by two things: how warm Lake Superior felt within the rim of this secluded bay, and how my mind went back instantly to my rock-picking days as a kid.

This was something I had loved and enjoyed so much back then, but I hadn’t done anything like that since my college days in field geology class.

We found all types of colorful specimens and had no problem finding enough stones to accent the picture frame, with still plenty left over.

I brought a bright red, fist-sized rock home with me for our rock garden. I think it’s quite possibly a builder’s brick that has been worn round by the waters of the lake. The color of the red is brilliant.

When I was a kid, I used to pick up all kinds of “pretty rocks” to bring home. At one point, I had a rock polishing kit, but I never learned to use it well. I think I was too young.

Back then, I was absolutely absorbed into the natural world. I can recall entire days of thinking about little else but rivers and birds and fish and rocks and trees and stars and skies and turtles and frogs.

A recent picture taken of me holding up a snapping turtle to show its underside reminds me very much of a similar photograph taken of my siblings and I in our back yard when I was a pre-teen.

In that shot, I am holding up the orangey underside of a painted turtle to the camera, while my brother and sisters are smiling, lined up obediently next to me as my mom snapped the picture.

I hope somewhere that I have retained a good chunk of that childhood wonderment. There are times when I feel I have and others when I’m not sure all life’s distractions haven’t corrupted its pureness and innocence.

Today is another cool day, with winds out of the north delivering dreary skies, though sunshine and warmer weather is in the forecast. While it’s still too early for fall yet, I can feel the scales beginning to tip toward more of these gray days than not.

That fact reminds me to dust off my spring list of things I wanted to see and do over these “lost” or “stolen” summer months.

I haven’t seen that list since I wrote it in March. My guess is that most of those things have yet to be realized. I know there’s hiking and exploring, camping and fishing and so much more waiting there.

That means there’s nothing left to do but to get outside and to get going.

Today’s activity choice seems to be a toss up between working on a rock project out in the yard or going for a woods ride, maybe taking a walk or wetting a line.

I shake off a mild, but still irritating, case of the blues and get up from the couch, pulling a blanket from my legs. Things seem jerky today, like I can’t sit up straight or get my thoughts in a row.

I pull on my blue-flannel painting shirt and head for the back door, cursing that notion of a summer lost to pandemic. I will not go gentle into that good night. I will rage against the dying of the light.

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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.


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