Along the northern coast of Lake Superior, the ‘off season’ begins in mid-October and lasts until Thanksgiving. For resorts, it is a slack month or two between the fall colors and skiing. Most cabin owners have closed up for the year but I particularly savor this season at my cabin. Here, only the migrating hawks and birds break the silence. After the leaves fall, the colors shift palettes from intense reds and golds to muted browns and grays. It is a season of wild skies and the raucous weather. The ‘off season’ has personality.
Before snowmobiles, the ‘off season’ lasted from mid-October to Memorial Day. Now, businesses here have found new ways to draw visitors year-round. From Thanksgiving to Easter, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling go full blast. After the snow melts, hardy anglers fish swollen rivers for steelhead trout. Memorial Day begins the summer rush of vacationers, campers, and cottage owners who come and go. The ‘leafers’ show up for a week in October, and then they go, too.
The season of bare trees brings tranquility, and a kind of nostalgia fills me – a yearning mingled with a little regret. Bright falls day, with bare treetops against an azure sky bring on a feeling like lost love, the end of an affair, and the bittersweet memories of what might-have-been.
The sun’s light affects my moods. On clear days, when the sun hangs so low at midday it scarcely clears the ridge to the south, I know I am in the ‘North’ – a pioneer land. A few backlit osier leaves glow with claret hues. Long, blue shadows lie abed all day in the clearing, keeping the woods in a cool, pale twilight. At sunset, I look through the burnt umber maples silhouetted against the copper afterglow on the far ridge. These days invigorate me. I am outdoors splitting firewood, putting away tools, closing up the sheds. I long for this weather – I want it to last another week, another month. Autumn is like a long, goodnight kiss, and I don’t want it to end.
Like an adolescent, late autumn has a ‘hormonal’ flip side. Sheets of cloud slide in quietly, the sky darkens – pewter to steel to slate – and I know what comes next. Lake Superior’s famous ‘gales of November’ roar the length of the lake, sending huge waves crashing against the basalt headlands, sending up sheets of spume, and wrecking ships – even big lakers like the Edmund Fitzgerald. The wind shrieks through the limbs of barren trees, and drives sleet as hard as pebbles, and even a little snow.
I love these violent days for the satisfaction they give me as I sit in my chair, feet toward the fire, and gaze at the wind-driven rain and fog swirling about the top of the ridge and Sawmill Dome. The nostalgia of sunny days goes away, replaced by warm gratitude for the birch and maple that burns in the stove to produce warmth and joy.
This may be the ‘off season’ for the resorts, but not for me. With its forests stripped of leaves, and the stark limbs against the sky, the rocky coastland lies naked, without pretense – an honest landscape. I take a cue from the land. This is a season for looking inward, stoking the fire of sentiments and emotions, and tending to things I thought I was too busy to do when the air was warmer and the trees greener. During the few weeks of the ‘off season,’ I am most aware of my life.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Off-Season.”