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Queen Autumn bewitches and endears

I woke in a daze of sorts, wondering about just exactly where I might be. I sat up raking my hand through my hair, bathed in a bluish, white light that had flooded the room. 

   With a bit more squinting and rubbing both my eyes, the realization came over me that I had fallen asleep in front of the television – again. There’s nothing like a couch crash. 

   It was very early morning. The stars were still out. 

   I turned the television off and sat briefly in the darkness before standing up and leaving the room. I decided I’d take a quick look and listen outside before heading upstairs to bed. 

   In my shorts and T-shirt, the air was cool, inviting and intoxicating. 

   I stood on the stoop and looked up to see a brilliant display of a million twinkling stars and a few planets of varying colors cast against the blackness beyond. 

   I decided I’d go down to the landing to get beyond the roofline for a better look. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was still asleep. 

   I still am not clear if it was one or two, but I certainly missed at least one of the stone steps on my journey northward that moved quickly from a slow procession to a lively tumble. 

   Of course, I realized all this in retrospect because the event happened so quickly. I seemed to be falling forward in slow motion as it occurred. I recall kind of a slow roll through or over the potted plant at the bottom of the flight. 

   In the end, I got what I wanted. I was flat on my back on the landing looking straight up at the stars. 

   At that point, the incident was funny to me. No real injuries. Just a scrape below the knee, on the side of my calf and at the elbow. On the other side, the upper side of my chest was splashed with flower pedals from the planter. 

   I had a smile on my face now, thinking about an old bit from Sesame Street I used to love as a kid. The sequence was crafted to teach kids about numbers. 

   A man dressed as a baker would stand at the top of a staircase holding a collection of some confection he’d crafted in his arms, like 10 chocolate layer cakes. 

   After an off-camera narrator would announce proudly what the baker was holding and how many, the baker would take a prat fall down the staircase, dropping all the baked and frosted goodies, which kids like me found to be hilarious. 

   Had I hit my head and knocked myself out, it would have been a weird circumstance to come upon for whoever it might have been who found me. Strange case here. They said as far as they knew he was just watching television. 

   A few nights later, I found myself outside under the stars again. 

   This time, it was under more controlled circumstances. 

   I had gone out to the backyard to light a fire in the fire pit. The night air had cooled down considerably from earlier in the day. 

   This was probably one of those initial previews to what the autumn nights are likely to provide in the days and weeks ahead. The stars were wonderful to see through crystal- clear skies. 

   It wasn’t long before I had a fire burning nicely in the fire pit. It was throwing a lot of heat. I had to move my chair back farther away after a little while. I watched the smoke tumble into the sky. 

   Within the column, little embers would occasionally rise, providing more fireside entertainment for the easily contented like me. 

   I thought about when I was a kid and we tried to cook a frozen pizza over a small charcoal grill on a backyard campout. We had to use a flashlight to see what we were doing. 

   When we thought it was done, the crust was charred black, some parts of the toppings were hot, and others were still ice cold. Some parts of the pizza stuck to the grill grate others fell into the flames. 

   It was the worst pizza I ever put into my mouth. 

   I can’t recall whether I actually ate any. 

   The outdoor fire pit we have now has a cooking grate over it, which so far has been underused. Sitting out there in the evening chill, the air was cool and fresh again. So good and clean to breathe. 

   In the woods behind me, I could hear deer moving around in the trees and along an old woods road. They had been in the yard earlier, a doe and a couple of fawns. 

   They have been enjoying the apples from our trees. 

   I recalled that in the wintertime, when we still have outdoor campfires, the deer came to the fire pit after we had gone inside and laid down in the snow around the firepit. They would also do this during heavy snowstorms. 

   I think the spot offered them some residual heat and protection out of the wind because there are snowbanks around the fire pit. I keep a path out to the pit, and around it, shoveled. 

   Sitting back and looking up, I followed my normal routine of pointing out the constellations and asking myself why I don’t know all of them by this point in my life and stargazing career. 

   It doesn’t take long out there around the fire before the tensions and problems of my little world melt away. There is a clarity that arrives, like a fresh snowfall. 

   That clarity intensifies the quieter and the later into the wee hours it is. 

   I am always sure, no matter who is out there around the fire with me, to wait out some of this special clarity time for myself alone. 

   Sometimes, even during the wintertime, I enjoy lying around the edge of the fire on the ground letting it all soak in. The wood smoke smells heavenly. I love to smell it the following day imbued into one of my flannel shirts. 

   Around the light of the fire tonight, a special treat appeared in the skies over the lake. 

   Within a couple of minutes, the shading of the sky had changed. Now, all around overhead was a greenish, white-blue cast of the northern lights. 

   As is their fashion, the “lights” began to take on more well-defined curtainlike shapes that moved from side to side. 

   At one point, a magnificent glowing greenish arch of these colored and spaced curtains was positioned directly overhead, covering the breadth of the sky. 

   One of the girls was out by the fire with us. She tried to take a picture of the lights with her cellphone camera, but it didn’t work very well. This was the best display she had seen. She texted her sister to come outside to see them. This was her first time. 

   She came out the back door with her uncle in tow. They had decided initially not to come out to the fire. He was tired and she was cold. 

   They stayed out at the fire for a few minutes with us enjoying the stars, the aurora borealis and our shared company. In a little while, they went back into the house. 

   It wasn’t long before I found myself alone out there at the edge of the fire, sitting with a glorious ham sandwich in my hands, enjoying my time to sit and soak. 

   The night was very still. I could hear a barred owl singing out from what had to be more than a mile away. He was too far away to call back to. 

   There were also erratic, occasional sounds from gray squirrels up in the trees at the edge of the yard. I figured the light from the fire might be keeping them awake. 

   On a pile of firewood behind me I would hear occasional sounds that I think were mice running back and forth. 

   Other than these sounds and an occasional bark from a dog off in the distance, it was quiet. 

   I stayed out there until the wood had burned down into only orange, red and yellow glowing coals. The grass around the fire pit was cold and wet. 

   After digging around the hot coals, I plunged the end of the hot poker into the ground next to my chair. It hissed and steam rose briefly from the grass. 

   I sat with my head back seeing the trees framing a border around the beautiful night sky. In a few more minutes, I was ready to drift off to sleep.   

   I eventually walked back toward the house hoping for many more nights like this to come. 

   These was the kind of nights that Queen Autumn uses to bewitch and endear. 

       

   Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. 

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