Sunday night around dusk, I walked along the edge of our slough. The plat books call it “Olson Lake,” but after a couple years of drought, slough is a better descriptor.
The path is a couple of miles round trip, just the right way to ease into a new week. We’d been entertaining grandchildren and among other things, I’d eaten more than my share of county fair food.
About halfway along, there’s a dead tree that’s been standing there long enough so all the bark is long gone. It gleams stark and white against the cattails and willows.
As I got closer, I squinted through the dusk, because it looked like the tree had sprouted leaves. A few more steps and the leaves suddenly took flight and swirled around my head.
The tree had been filled with swallows, hundreds of them. I suppose the young birds have just left the protection of their nests and are trying out their wings, learning the rules of the flock before they start their migration to South America.
It’s a sign that fall is coming. There are others. At 9:00 p.m., the darkness was nearly complete. Summer days can feel like they last forever, but in my part of the world, that’s a fleeting feeling. The first batch of apples have been turned into apple butter, fresh tomatoes and sweet corn are a daily part of the menu, and I noticed about a bushel of pears being diced in the kitchen. I didn’t ask my wife what she was planning to do with them, because I didn’t want to help. Also, I’m confident I’ll like the end result. A lot more harvesting is yet to be done, crops of all types wait, but the writing is on the wall and the clock is ticking.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a place where the harbingers of winter aren’t so all-consuming. Eighty percent of the people in the United States live in an urban area, where even a hard winter usually just means more clothes and bad commutes. Among the 20% who do live in rural areas, many of them live in softer places, where winter is an inconvenience, not an invasion.
That’s not where I live.
I once wrote, “There’s something kind of cool about living in a place where you can die just from going outside.”
I still believe it, somewhat, but I admit the older I get, with more pervasive aches and pains, the less I enjoy winter.
The ground has claimed a few leaves, a smattering of red and yellow among a background of various shades of green. Young birds are trying their wings, young children are shopping for school clothes. I love stepping out the door in the morning and pulling in a lungful of cool, crisp air. I like the sense of urgency, the feeling that various projects need to get wrapped up before the dark and cold arrive.
That’s what I think. I have no idea what the swallows are thinking.
Copyright 2021 Brent Olson
Love this. I grew up in Ortonville and left home for the never ending summer of the Caribbean. I don't miss the winters, but I will always miss Minnesota.
Love this. Took me back to years as a visiting resident of central Wisconsin. Here, on my daily commute from the DC metro area to a more rural area, I’m seeing the sun set earlier in the softening light as we slide toward September, and area farms are gearing up to close shop soon. I will never tire of the seasons. Though our winters are shorter than yours, I do miss the hush and beauty of frequent fresh fallen snow against a brilliant blue sky.
You must have hooked up with our swallows. We didn't have a one. We have other signs. I stepped out the other morning and looked up to see a quiet murmuration of redwings gliding overhead, and the sloughs are empty of them, too. Geese families are going aflight training the summer's hatch for the long flights. Some have a dozen birds, others just three to five which might suggest a few snapping turtles in the nesting vicinity. Very nicely written!
So true.....so West Central Minnesota...Thank you