Fall Colors On the Superior

 

A child with his mother points at fall foliage Fall is here and it is time to plan a trip to the Superior National Forest to see Nature put on her annual show.

 

Current Conditions (10/29/13):

 

We are at the end of the fall season for 2013, and waiting for winter to begin.  This can still be a good time to get out in the woods, quiet reigns supreme.  Gun season for deer begins soon, make sure to wear blaze orange and watch for hunters.  This is the last fall color report, we'll be back next year!

 

 

For downloadable maps of the fall color tours, choose from the options below:

Laurentian District

Tofte District (Sawtooth Mountains)

LaCroix District (Discovery Auto Tour)

 

Contents:

1. October 29, 2013

2. October 22, 2013

3. October 18, 2013

4. October 8, 2013

5. October 1, 2013

6. September 24, 2013

7. September 17, 2013

8. September 10, 2013

9. September 4, 2013

10.  Slideshows

11.  When is the Peak?  Visit our weekly pictures from our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail since 2008.  See if you can predict when this year's peak will be!

12.  For all the photos, visit our Flickr site.

 

 

October 29, 2013

Of autumn's wine, come drink your fill; the frost's on the pumpkin, snow's on the hill.

- 1993 Old Farmer's Almanac

A hidden sun behind Halloween clouds and bare trees  Nature is waiting.  It happens before every concert, before every play, and before every movie.  There is a steady crescendo of noise as people enter the theater, busy, taking off jackets, stowing away purses, tucking ticket stubs in pockets.  People talk and laugh, and a person two seats down can’t be understood against the background of conversation.  Then, before the first reel, before the downbeat, before the first cue…there is silence.  A quiet cough echoes through the entire hall.  A muted cell phone, forgotten in a pocket, can be heard as loud as a car horn.  Everything pauses, balancing on the edge, not the performance yet, but not quite before either.  Everything is waiting. 

The forest is in that moment right now.  The great roar of noise that is the peak of autumn color has quieted, slowed, and stopped.  A few gold tamaracks, invisible in amongst the other trees a week ago, now stand out like that quiet cough in the theater.  But the baton hasn’t descended, and the powerful music of winter hasn’t sounded out yet.  The forest is somewhere between; past fall, but still balanced on the edge of winter.  There is no doubt that this moment of waiting between is exactly when Halloween should be.  This pause between fall and winter is exactly when creatures that inhabit the pause between death and life should walk the earth.  Early fall is too noisy and glad for spirits, and winter is too solid.  Late fall is gossamer, wispy, a delicate veil perfect for shades and ghosts.  But this ephemeral late fall will not last.  Go into the woods, settle yourself on a log and experience the hushed waiting of the trees.  But don’t wait until past dark - who knows what may be waiting beside you?

 

Bare birches across the Forest from Sawbill overlook Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, October 29, 2013
A last maple leaf has some color against brown other leaves Trunks of bare trees and a sun masked by clouds
A spooky twisted branch against the cloudy sky A splintered tree stump catches late fall leaves
 

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.

 

 

October 22, 2013

“The days are getting colder. Yes. Bugs are dying by the truckload! Ha ha ha! Good riddance to ‘em all! … I like fall.”

- Calvin, in Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

Birch near a CCC built log cabin  There is no normal average anything, and this certainly holds true for fall.  This autumn has seemed odd, but in retrospect, so did last autumn, and probably the one before that as well.  Every year starts, ends, and peaks around the same time, but other than those broad generalizations, each autumn is different.  This year seems to be one of sharp sudden changes instead of long fades from one state to another.  Leaves were peaking, then stripped from trees by rain and forty mile an hour winds.  Almost balmy weather gave time to give the deck a last coat of stain, but was followed by days of heavy rain.  We had a good snow, but now it is melting fast under a bright sun.  What we get tomorrow, who can tell?  It seems that this year, even nature was caught by surprise by the abrupt shifts.  Most trees are leafless, but there are a few with green leaves still.  Parts of the North Shore still seem to be in late September, while parts of the inland forest seem to be in November or December even.  This makes for a nice drive for those of us that like variation.  To adapt a phrase, if you don’t like the forest, wait a mile. 

This is also a favorite time for viewing wildlife.  There are fewer people out in the woods, so animals may be closer to the road.  With most leaves gone, you can see into the forest better than you could just a few days ago.  Mice and other small mammals are still putting seeds by for the winter, and can be spotted darting across in search of the better seeds which must be on the other side of the road.  Deer are taking the last green grasses that grow near roadways, and are also on the move looking for mates.  Moose too are in rut and seem to show up more than in summer.  Flocks of snow buntings and juncos love the roadsides and are seen everywhere.  Next week is the final fall color report, so get in the car and hit the road to see the last of fall.  Just watch out that you don’t hit the wildlife as well!

 

Snow covered ground in a late fall maple stand Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, October 22, 2013
Maple leaves covered with snow Tamaracks are gold in a snow shower
Birches near Superior are still in full fall color A leaf rests on newly fallen snow
 

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.

 

 

 

October 18, 2013

Spring rain damps;
Autumn rain soaks.

- The Old Farmer's Almanac

Golden tamaracks in late fall Golden tamaracks.  

No report due to government shutdown.

*

Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, October 18, 2013 Honeymoon Trail, October 18, 2013

*

The branches are bare, but the ground is covered with fall leaves.

*

 

October 8, 2013

It is the summer's great last heat,
It is the fall's first chill: They meet.

- Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

A view of the distant Sawtooth range and the fall colors View to Sawtooth Range across Forest.  

No report due to government shutdown.

*

Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, October 8, 2013 Honeymoon Trail, October 8, 2013

*

A horned lark looks for a meal. A horned lark.

*

 

October 1, 2013

A woodland in full color is awesome as a forest fire, in magnitude at least, but a single tree is like a dancing tongue of flame to warm the heart.

- Hal Borland

Colorful maples make a tunnel of trees.  The woods this week is moving swiftly from a dancing tongue of flame to a forest fire of color.  Try as I might, there is no way to capture the autumn woods on film, any more than a DVD of a fireplace can really replace a burning hearth.  People know that truly experiencing is always superior to even the highest of high definition – that’s why concert tickets for an event that will last a scant two hours can cost hundreds of dollars, yet people balk at spending fifteen dollars for a CD of the highest of quality which will last for years.  Autumn is no different.  There are subtleties in the light, aromas in the air, noises in the leaves, which can’t be replayed in the living room.  In addition, just as in a concert, you are a part of the event in the fall.  You can shuffle your own feet through the leaves, try to catch a falling leaf, bury yourself in a pile with twigs and broken leaves tangling your hair.  Or you can stand quietly as a deer, contributing no more to the scene than a soft inhalation of breath.  Either way, you become aware that we are part of the autumn, aware that humanity, despite our air conditioning and furnaces, is no more immune to the passage of the seasons than are the leaves on a maple.  A palpable connection exists between us and the natural world, and a walk in the autumn woods with the air cool on your face and the sun warm on your back is a way to reaffirm and solidify that connection. 

Superior National Forest is close to or at peak color this week.  The strip along the shore of Lake Superior is a bit behind the rest, the yellows of the birches and aspen on the shore aren’t yet as bright as they will be.  Inland though, the maples and other hardwoods are in full glory.  We hope you can come to this concert in person, but if not, turn your furnace or air conditioner off, open your windows, take a seat in the sun, and enjoy these pictures.

 

A view into the fall woods Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, October 1, 2013
One leaf dropping in the woods A yellow branch shows in an opening
A two track road leads into maples A colorful branch against a blue sky
 

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.

 

 

September 24, 2013

Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor.
- Irish proverb

 

A view across the changing forest reveals many colors  What is the percent color is the forest this week?  Well, really the answer is the same for any week:  100% of the forest is some color!  The question really should be “What color is the forest?”  That’s a harder question.  In kindergarten, I could have told you.  There are only eight colors in kindergarten.  It says so, right on the crayon package.  (Our beginning reader books had nine colored balloons on the back, but I wasn’t dumb.  I knew the gray balloon in the middle wasn’t a real color, it was just to fill the empty spot on the three by three grid.  Who ever heard of a gray balloon?)  A kindergarten summer tree is a big green circle, with a brown trunk.  A kindergarten fall tree is a big orange circle, with a brown trunk.  Later in life, the box of crayons got bigger, and other colors crept in: burnt umber, raw sienna, brick red, and red-orange. 

This week, the forest is definitely not made of kindergarten trees.  You need the big box of crayons.  The trees aren’t the firm kindergarten green of summer anymore, but neither are they really kindergarten orange, or yellow, or red.  The woods are yellow-green, with bits of burnt umber, bittersweet, and maize, against a cornflower blue sky.  A percentage of change is hard to guess:  nearly all the leaves are different somehow, but most still fall somewhere toward the green.  While it is hard to say what the percent change is, it is easy to say that things are changing rapidly.  From last week to this, the forest has become firmly rooted in autumn.  You can’t find a spot anymore where you can pretend that it is July. 

Astronomically, we have also slipped over the edge.  The sun has crept over the celestial equator, and nights are now longer than days.  The noontime sun is lower than 45 degrees off the horizon, and is sinking fast.  Just as the leaves are changing quickly on earth, this is the time of the most rapid change in day length and solar elevation.  We lost 3 minutes, 22 seconds of day length from Tuesday to Wednesday.  At the end of this week, Saturday will be close to 20 minutes shorter than the previous Sunday was.  Autumn is coming on fast and can’t be stopped any more easily than that Irish hound running on the moor.  So quit trying.  Find a good spot where you can sit and watch, grab some cider, relax, and enjoy the show.

 

A lone maple shows off during the fall. Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, September 24, 2013
Under the canopy of turning leaves A reflection in a stream with fallen aspen leaves
Drive safely on narrow forest roads while viewing fall colors Sawbill Lake on a perfect September day.
 

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.

 

 

September 17, 2013

Now, I heard the owl a-callin'
Softly as the night was fallin'
With a question and I replied
But he's gone across the borderline

- Kate Wolf, 'Across the Great Divide'

Fireweed seeds prepare to launch into the fall breeze  Autumn, and perhaps especially early autumn, is a study in borders.  Red and gold leaves that have given up on life border on the green of the living forest.  Plants such as fireweed turn brown, wither, and die, and yet release living seeds that excitedly fly away across borders to parts unknown.  Hunters head into the woods in search of grouse, taking life across a border into death, yet stocking their larders with meat that will give life in midwinter.  Even the border of night falling is somehow closer in the fall.  Sunrise and sunset just seem more noticeable than in midsummer.  Later in the season, it will be evident that a border has been crossed and winter has won, but just now between frosty nights and hot days, there still is a tension in the air.  Is it summer still?  Is it winter yet?  Fall stands astride many borders – hot, cold; red, green; death, life.  It is part of what makes a walk in the autumn a special event.

The Superior itself stands on borders as well.  Politically, of course, it lays at the top of the US or the bottom of Canada, depending on where you are from.  This border though is the least significant.  Nature itself ignores political boundaries, and there is no sudden change as you cross from the Boundary Waters Wilderness into the Quetico.  Nature sees other tension zones as more important than mere politics.  We stand at border between southern maple hardwood forests and the pines of the northern boreal forest.  This border, like fall itself, is not quite an either/or situation. Maples are here, but they are not the dominant species they are in southern Minnesota with huge trees covering square miles of land.  They are confined to small areas where the soil and the temperature and the fire conditions allow them to cling.  They are usually scarred with frost cracks, damaged repeatedly by cold that is too intense for their sap to handle.  In fall, as leaves turn, these patches of maple stand out against the green of the pines and the patchy nature of the boreal forest border becomes clear to any observer at an overlook.  Also clear to the observer are the miles of shoreline in the Forest.  These borders between water and land are marked by humans as borders between portage and paddle, but are marked by many animals as uncrossable boundaries.  Some animals though, like the beaver, make their living in the border, even blurring the boundary by flooding forests with dammed streams.  Is it a forest?  Is it a wetland?  To a beaver, it is home.

All these borders are what create the diversity that makes the Superior special.  Add autumn to that mix, and well, it seems the question the owl was asking was “why are you still inside?”  Maybe it’s time to follow the owl and cross that borderline into the outdoors.

 

Two moose maples provide contrasting fall colors Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, September 17, 2013
Lake Superior in mid September Only three mountain ash berries are left - this bunch was full last week
An autumn coneflower Raspberry leaves turn red in fall
 

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.

 

 

September 10, 2013

 

Yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

- Louise Bogan

An early red maple leaf against a stone background  Autumn is making further and further inroads into summer.  There are predicted lows of 39 degrees in the near future, yet we still have some days with highs near 80.  Those days, however, are literally numbered, and the stretches of cool weather are lasting longer than the stretches of warm.  Mist, rain, and fog sweep the forest as the temperature moves faster than the dewpoint, and summer’s hot muggy air is forced to give up its moisture. 

The cool wetness of this fall was not the condition of the forest two years ago in September.  September 12 was the day the Pagami Fire had a twelve mile run and shot from a typical wilderness fire to a historical event.  The forest appeared a wasteland near Lake Isabella right after the fire, but just as next year’s spring comes after this year’s winter, a regenerating forest has come to the wasteland.  Two year jack pines are foot tall seedlings beneath the scorched remains of the parent trees.  Bindweed and asters blanket the ground, and in some areas hazel and willow shrubs create thickets difficult to walk through.  Although it is hard to tell, it is the same forest as before, just much younger.  The ample low vegetation and seed bearing annual plants have made the burn area excellent habitat for small mammals during summer, and in turn, excellent habitat for predators on those small mammals.  During just a short visit to the Lake Isabella area, several hawks were spotted – those small mammals had better be on the look out.

The understory and open areas continue to show the most signs of fall this week with sedges and grasses turning golden, and on the lakes, wild rice is ripening.  A panoramic view from an overlook has the appearance of summer with the crowns of the trees green, but walking on trails below, you’ll see plenty of color at ground level.  The summer may be loath to go, but it is becoming more and more apparent that it has no choice.

 

A variety of shades in early turning leaves Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, September 10, 2013
A marsh reflected in its water. A coyote peers back from the roadside.
Scarlet bindweed leaves Tamaracks with mist condensed on their needles
 

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.

 

 

 

September 4, 2013

 

O, how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?

- Wm Shakespeare, Sonnet 65 5-8

An old gate decorated with asters.  Summer is still holding on, but signs of autumn are beginning to creep in.  Not so much in the color of the leaves as yet, but in the air, in the day length, and in the feel of the woods.  Bird song is nearly absent as migrants have sensed the impending fall long before us humans, and have already departed.  Thousands of nighthawks were seen winging south for two days in August, and now the air is empty of their evening cries.  Deer have changed their feeding patterns, and are suddenly eating the flowers in our yard that they spurned the entire summer.  They still have summer coats, but the velvet covered antlers on the bucks are looking close to fully grown.  Nectar eating insects are having a last frenzied feeding, and hornets mob people who hold sugary soft drinks.

The leaves themselves, while almost entirely still green, show an obvious toll from the siege of battering days.  No longer the perfect leaves of spring, each shows signs of wear.  Leaf miners have burrowed through the interior of most birch leaves, luna moth and other caterpillars have eaten their share, fungi have caused weird growths and colors.  This year saw a large hatch of grasshoppers, and all of them were hungry for leaves.   The leaves are holed, scarred, and beaten.  But then, they don’t have to last much longer.

Colors, not quite fall, not quite summer, are showing.  Purple and white asters are in bloom along with yellow goldenrod.  Sarsaparilla is starting to turn red, as is bush honeysuckle.  Standing out in the green leaves of the moose maple are the hot pink maple keys.  The impossible is starting to happen.  A healthy forest of solid, seemingly invincible green is starting to change in the face of those battering days.  In as few as five short weeks, it will be bare and possibly blanketed under the white of snow.  Are you ready?

 

Wild sarsaparilla leaves turn red early in fall. Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, September 4, 2013
White birch, green leaves, blue sky An aster pokes through bracken leaves
Moose maple keys glow a vivid pink. An insect basks in the autumn sun on a hazel leaf.
 

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.

 

 

Slideshows: Fall photos from around the Superior National Forest

 

October 29, 2013

 

October 22, 2013

 

October 18, 2013

 

October 8, 2013

 

October 1, 2013

 

September 24, 2013

 

September 17, 2013

 

September 10, 2013

 

September 4, 2013

 

Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail

Weekly photos taken from the same spot this year and last year on the Sawtooth Mountains Fall Color Tour.  

2013

2012