Late October is always a bittersweet time of the year here in northern Michigan. Unlike the yearning we feel for spring after a hard winter, we feel a bit melancholy as we prepare the equipment from our AuSable River canoe livery for their long winter hibernation.
Cleaning up and repairing the canoes and kayaks for their wintertime trestles and deflating and storing the rafts and tubes in the barn feels a bit like saying farewell to old friends at the end of summer camp. We have our memories of lazy days canoeing down river, watching the trout jump, and while we know we’ll see them again next season when the softening breezes gently awaken the pines and the hardwoods from their winter slumbers, we are still a bit wistful about saying good-bye.
At the same time, though, fall is the most glorious of all the four seasons up north. While hot, leisurely days on the river lull us into sleepy summer dreaming, autumn sharpens our senses. We crawl out of our beds one morning in October to find the air has crisped, as we are jolted out of our summer stupors. The red maples and red oaks recast their lush, green leaves into reds so brilliant that they seem to make the rest of the world around them look drab. As the rich red leaves fall from their branches, they mingle on wooded pathways with the burnished gold leaves of the birch and aspen trees, forming a colorful mosaic — a ground quilt that tempts us from our work to come explore in the wilderness.
One day the lure was too much to resist and I decided my chores could wait. I removed the sneakers I was wearing in the livery yard and pushed my feet into my hiking boots. Slipping on my red barn coat, I stepped out the back door and headed for the path in the wood.
The leaves rustled like paper beneath my feet as I trekked my way to the back of our property. The sun, high in a clear blue sky, was warming, but the air was cool and invigorating. I walked up a small hill when I felt compelled to look up. My eye caught the outline of a large bird overhead circling over the river in front of the dam. I stopped to get a better look. Cupping my hands over my eyes, I focused as best I could on the bird. Immediately I could tell it was an eagle. His white head and tail, black body and broad wings were unmistakable.