(Editor’s Note: W. William “Rudy” Rudolph delights in the splendor of a Fall woods on the Old Mission Peninsula and elsewhere from his formative years. Photos by Rudy…jb)
I love Fall! I especially love Fall in Old Mission, with the maples in full splendor, the air crisp and pungent with the smell of new fallen leaves. On a sunny day in mid to late October, the Old Mission landscape seems to come alive with a painted brilliance unsurpassed by anything a mere human artist could imagine, let alone produce.
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Every maple seems to have its own “color character.” Some are deep red, some are golden, as if touched with an elfin wand, like something out of a Tolkien landscape. The rarest and most impressive are those trees which present the most vivid continuum, in each leaf, from red to orange to yellow. These are the most spectacular of trees with their crown of glory splashed across the azure blue of a bright, fall sky. Oh, yes, I love Fall.
Growing up in northern Wisconsin, my father and I would go each fall weekend into the woods. Our quest was the wily ruffed grouse, a truly legendary bird of uncanny ability to flush from cover with a startling explosion of loudly beating feathers and then, magically, insert between itself and the hunter, the dense foliage of a spruce or cedar. All this in less time than it took for the alert nimrod to snatch shotgun to shoulder and swing in frantic pursuit, only to face an impenetrable wall of dense foliage, listening in vain to the beat of grouse wings making a rapid, and safe, retreat into the densest cover. As often as not, this young hunter would be defeated in his immediate quest, but it was never the success of the hunt so much as the pleasure of being in a fall woods, in companion with my father, that brought joy to my heart.
Later, studying forestry at Michigan Sate University (Go Spartans), I worked summers for Kimberly-Clark Corporation, timber cruising across northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and the U.P. (heh!). The fall trimester after my sophomore year, K-C needed someone to mark timber for selective cutting in a hardwood forest near Marenisco, Michigan, and it was attractive to me, so I signed on. The woods in the western half of the Upper Peninsula was a typical northern hardwood blend of maple, oak, beech, yellow birch and pine. With a few hemlock thrown in for good measure. It was very similar to the few mature woods still extant on the Old Mission Peninsula.
What a joy each day to leave the boarding house with a thick beef sandwich and thermos of piping hot coffee, and spend the entire day waking transects in the fall forest, judging which trees to selectively harvest and send on to the sawmill and which to nurture to keep the forest sustainable and healthy. Forty acres would be covered each day. A really good day would be one in which the drumming beat of a male ruffed grouse would fill the air with its thrumming sound. If I was really lucky I could get close enough to see him. Those grouse were safe enough, as the young forester was armed only with his paint gun. Goodness, I love Fall!
Now, blessed to live on the Old Mission Peninsula and have access to the hardwood forests at the north end of the Peninsula, a walk in the fall woods brings back so many wonderful memories. The same crisp fall air, the same pungent smell of wet fallen leaves. The same excitement when, walking beside Bagley Pond, a brace of Teal or Mallards explode out of the pond under frantically beating wings. The busy scurrying of squirrels of all persuasions – black, gray, fox and piney – putting up winter stores, reminds me of winter to come. The rat-tat-tat of a Downey Woodpecker or the thunk-thunk-thunk of a Pileated underlies the rustle of falling leaves, like a timpani underlies the magic of a symphony orchestra. Even the sight of deep woods mushrooms peaking out from under a bed of new fallen leaves brings delight to the senses. I love Fall!