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Autumn’s fleeting beauty

Autumn’s fleeting beauty

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Too many people grumble this time of year because winter is coming. As they watch Mother Nature packing her summer bags of heat, long days, fishing and boating and camping, they grow sad. They dread the approaching cold.

I mourn the passing of summer, too, but when autumn slips in, I find myself reveling in it.

Autumn is its own magic season. I watch the combines and grain trucks moving back and forth across the expanse of cornfields. The fields are stripped now, but the remaining little stalks will feed cranes and cattle and more this winter.

Pumpkins line doorsteps. Kids romp at pumpkin farms. Apples and pears spill over at grocery stores and farmer markets , and they are carried home to warm fragrant kitchens, where they become scrumptious pies. Coffee shops and fast-food places have added pumpkin-flavored brews.

Back home in Cleveland, we’d scuff through brittle fallen leaves on the bridle paths in the Cleveland Metroparks. The sweet scent of those decaying leaves was as beautiful as the color of the leaves overhead that still clung to the trees. Even the bark of the trees was darker and more captivating this time of year.

Fall meant hayrides (“hayrack rides” here) through the woods in the evenings, followed by a campfire with hot chocolate, roasted marshmallows and s’mores.

When I lived at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, N.M., the autumn gold of the cottonwoods that lined the arroyos and creeks could turn an atheist into a believer.

One year, I went with two friends into the Rockies in late October. At the New Mexico-Colorado border, the road climbed into the mountains, and the aspen, gold as pennies, left blazing clusters across the mountains as if an artist had swathed it with his brush.

We stopped for lunch in a rustic cafe along the Rio Grande River. From our window-side table, we stared at the panorama of color and listened to the bubbling of the river.

After lunch, we snaked north, twisting around to Creede, a tiny mountain town slivered in between towering peaks. Clouds clumped overhead, and temperatures plummeted, so I found a fleece jacket in a Creede shop for just $20. On we went, past the remnants of an old mine littered with tailings, and then up and up and up until we were high above the aspen. Far below, the cottonwoods nestled beside the river. We parked and stared in silence.

We spent that night in a little bed and breakfast in Lake City that was set to close for the season the next weekend. The next morning, headed up Slumgullion Pass at 11,530 feet, and stopped to gaze again at color-dappled mountains against that blue blue sky.

Fall’s dwindling daylight is a cue for animals, too. In October 2009, I was camping in Rocky Mountain National Park when a herd of elk collected outside my tent and bugled all night. As temperatures plunged to 25 degrees, I lay awake in my fleece-lined sleeping bag listening to those elk and quaking from the cold like the aspen leaves on the mountainside. Even the water in my water bottle froze.

The next morning, the ranger came through and warned that snow was coming, and Trail Ridge Road would close for the season that evening. I was heading west to Breckenridge, so even though I’d barely slept, I hastily got up, took down my tent, and headed up Trail Ridge Road, where I was christened with a shower of snow flurries. That’s autumn, too.

Since moving to Kearney, I’ve returned to Rocky Mountain National Park nearly every fall to drink in the beauty of those aspens, and to park along the road in the late afternoons to watch the bull elk and their harems and listen for their bugling.

Here in Kearney, the trees are nearly bare now. I’ve watched the combines and grain trucks. I’ve heard flocks of southbound birds overhead. I’ve put away the T-shirts and summer sandals. I’ve made a steaming pot of homemade vegetable soup.

Fall is a captivating season, a blessing of sight and sound. I treasure it.


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