If you were to pick one month out of the twelve that seems more forbidding than the others — perhaps even dangerous — November would be a good choice. November ushers in a harsh changeover from a time that is warm, comfortable and benign, to a time increasingly inhospitable to creatures wild and tame, plant or animal. To cope with the climatic extremes that lie ahead, some life goes dormant. Some life exits via migration. Other life has somehow become adapted to tough it out through impending winter, in a place that could easily pass for America's Siberia.
When the deer season that has just begun concludes, it is widely expected to signal a return to better times and greater hunter success. Perhaps as high as 40 percent of the state's 500,000 deer hunters could be stocking their freezers with venison steaks, chops and sausage this year. One of the causes for high expectations is the several consecutive mild winters we've had. One of the effects of those mild winters is strong, healthy does, which — in a domino effect — has led to a crop of strong, vigorous fawns.
When I was growing up it was a common sight in the neighborhood to see "the wash" hung out to dry on a "clothesline" — a once-common backyard fixture that is all but an artifact today. It was only after I had moved away from home that mom got a clothes dryer, so that she didn't have to wait for a rain-free day or hang her clothes to dry in the basement.
On a recent drive over the network of county roads that leads to the family cabin, my wife and I watched a pair of tractors pulling large mowers, hugging the sloping ditch that borders the asphalt. In their wake was a fresh-cut carpet lying flat to the ditch contour, ahead of them standing greenery that reached almost to the hubs of the tractors' rear wheels.
The expression in the title above has almost certainly been overworked. I'm sure I've "worked it" myself more than once. But that's because it is so fitting, and so true. For some it's a complaint that at this season there are too many pressing chores; keeping up with falling leaves, last-minute painting while temperatures allow or putting gardens to bed. For others it's a lament that there are so many attractive choices — so many things we'd like to do — that it's impossible to do justice to them all.
Every autumn we're reminded of just how fleeting are the events unique to this season. Most obvious are the changes in vegetation, as maples turn from familiar green to a dazzling range of oranges and reds, birch and aspen to yellow-gold, while other trees and shrubs fill in the rest of the tones in Nature's palette of colors.
Every fall there are hunting-related incidents that make the news. Some are grim, like hunters being shot; as often as not the victim is also the shooter. Dropping a loaded firearm; forgetting to keep a rifle or shotgun's safety in the "on" position or falling out of a deer stand with a weapon, are among the more common scripts.
This year will be remembered for hurricane and tropical storm-generated destruction on a scale that is hard for landlocked Minnesotans to imagine. We are hit by tornadoes with some regularity, and those who live or have businesses located in floodplains — like the Red River Valley in Northwest Minnesota, and the bluff country of the Southeast — are occasionally victims of flooding. But to our good fortune the loss and suffering we experience here are orders of magnitude less than U.S. coastal areas hit by hurricanes and tropical storms.
The New York Times may not be the first publication you think of as a source for Nature news. But some of Nature's wonders are so attention-grabbing that even a cosmopolitan news outlet can't ignore them. Take the sandhill crane, for instance. Each spring nearly a half million of them follow the Platte River north through Nebraska on their return from southern wintering grounds. Such an amazing concentration of a very unique creature can make news half a continent away, as it did in last Friday's edition of the New York Times.
"Timing is everything," or so we're often told. That pearl of wisdom is sometimes no less true for wild creatures than it is for humans. With the first week of March came temperatures soaring into the 50's in northern Minnesota, tempting one to leave the jacket on its hook when going out for the mail or bringing out the trash. Short pants were in evidence at school bus stops, though there are always a few young people who wear them — perhaps for shock value — even in mid-winter.