Lower elevations in fall

Last evening we were out for a walk around the Sakinaw loop, a route that takes us down Sakinaw Lake Road to the lake itself, then along a trail through the woods to our own driveway. It’s a walk I love in all seasons. In spring the bigleaf maples all along the road produce their chartreuse flowers, sweet as honey, and bright with warblers. There’s a section of ditch where masses of maidenhair ferns grow, too, the delicate fronds held aloft by black-laquered stems. In summer the maples create deep and welcome shade. We often gather bags of maple leaves from this area to mulch our garden and often there are rough-skinned newts hiding in the leaves, waiting for the day to warm up enough for them to make the great trek across the road. Sometimes we find them frozen in place if the sun’s vanished before they make it to their destination but holding them in my palms for a few minutes usually revives them. There’s always a day in late fall when I smell fish and know the coho are in the creek that runs down off Mount Hallowell to enter Sakinaw Lake, a long length of water fed by many such creeks, some of which are home streams for coho. There’s also a race of sockeye salmon native to the lake — alas, almost extinct. The coho run is the hinge of the year, beginning in December, usually around the Solstice, and continuing into January.

On our walk last evening, we were just about to take the trail through the woods when we heard loud crashing ahead of us. We stopped, expecting a bear. Instead, we saw a bull elk, maybe the same guy who visited earlier our place earlier in summer. (It’s more usual to see them up the mountain, as we often do when hiking there, but the field guide says they move to lower elevations in fall.) He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. And he was beautiful. John, who was wearing his glasses, counted five points on each antler. The full complement is six, so he was maybe a three year old. But huge.  Deep brown with a golden rump. He stood absolutely still for a few moments, watching us, and we did the same. We could hear his cows in the woods, moving about. Then he trotted off into the trees and all that was left was his smell, and the smell of his harem, as pungent as horses.

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