Autumn in lake country

The colors are starting to change on the trees already. Not everybody knows this but some pine trees drop their needles, too. In fact, according to my cursory research most do drop their needles somewhat regularly. Danielle has a great story from one of her college professors, a noted tree expert in Minnesota, who got a frantic call from someone who was worried her pine tree was dying because it dropped its needles. By the time he could get in touch to say that no, this is a normal thing white pines do almost every year, she had already cut it down.

We’re basically in prime white pine territory and all the trees have a autumnal mix of green and brown needles. The biking and hiking trails are already beginning to accumulate needles and within a few weeks, I’m sure, they will be covered with that beautiful mix of brown, golden, red, and yellow.

A white pine with its limbs stripped on one side

My bike needs new brakes, not the pads but the actual cantilevers that squeeze the wheel. They’re supposed to pull evenly on both sides but the internals of the hardware on mine rusted through and it only pulls on the left side and I think it’s putting my wheel out of true. So in lieu of biking I’ve been trying to go for long walks every day. On Tuesday I took a familiar route to one I’ve been riding, along the bike trail that follows County C up toward Sayner. Only this time I took a left at the sign for the Plum Creek Public Fishing Grounds.

I thought maybe there’d be a trail following the creek but if there was one I couldn’t find it. About half a mile after turning off of C the road turns dirt and stretches seemingly forever northward, uninhabited except for a large house tucked maybe a mile and a half down the road and some kind of machine shed in the backyard. Eventually Plum Creek Avenue turns east and meets back with the bike trail.

A grove of birch trees

I’m not the fastest biker but I normally ride this three mile stretch about 11 miles an hour faster than I walked it and it’s pretty incredible to take in this kind of nature when you’re moving more slowly. You notice things. Like how the white pines seem to turn color from the bottom up and from the outside in; the pine cones seem to emerge as the needles disappear. Like the yellow to green cascade produced when the sunset hits a stand of birch trees. Or the undergrowth visible beneath a stand of pines.

Forests are such complex systems. After a long day of working for the government, arguably one of the more complex systems humans have ever created, it’s humbling and therapeutic to observe such a magnificent system living beyond our control. The forest will never stop – unless, of course, we stop it.

This week I’m grateful for forests, public land, and conservation.

Sunset on plum creek