William Cullen Bryant called autumn “the year’s last, loveliest smile.” This fall on the Gunflint Trail that “last smile” has been exceptionally lovely, as well as long lasting. For weeks callers have been asking, “How’s the color now?” We’d peer out the window at the trees along the lake and honestly answer, “Oh yes, the colors are still pretty nice.” This part of the Gunflint Trail only has a smattering of trees with dramatic red leaves — the hues of the birches, moose maples, and tamaracks tend more towards oranges and yellows, a vivid but less flashy leaf palette that seems to last longer. Realistically we could see that the color was not at its official “peak,” but the landscape was still vibrant.
And then, for no apparent reason, yesterday it started raining leaves –- yellowish orange birch leaves fluttering down from the trees everywhere. It wasn’t especially windy, so the leaves landed in great yellow circles around the bases of the birch trees—proving to us that the phenomenon was not just a product of our imaginations. By midday today, most of the leaves were gone. Here and there an intermittent reluctant birch was still gripping its bright yellow leaves, conspicuously colorful compared to the surrounding naked birches.
Tonight a noisy, blustery wind is gusting through the trees. In the moonlight we can see leaves blowing by the windows almost horizontally. By morning the big yellow circles of fallen leaves will undoubtedly be dispersed. Most likely, the remaining colorful leaves still clinging to branches will not survive this wind.
The flamboyant phase of fall is ending on the Gunflint Trail. Leaves are lovely, but they do have a drawback –- they conceal far too much. As the leaves finally fall from the trees, we begin the second, less appreciated, but possibly more interesting stage of autumn on the Trail.