Autumn Journal

A season to be out in the woods enjoying nature.
Autumn Journal
Illustration by Glenn Wolff

My work requires me to walk, fish, hunt, canoe, spy on birds, explore swamps, pick mushrooms and berries, and lie back and watch clouds. Tough work, I know. Now and then, I scribble stray thoughts and observations in pocket notebooks. Over the years, they’ve piled up. Here are some from recent autumns in northern Michigan:

Sept. 21 — Suddenly, summer is gone. Air crisp and cold, sky a hard blue, wind persistent from the north. We might have a few more warm days, but we know this is it; there’s no going back, time is running downhill and accelerating. At the bottom waits — well, everyone knows what’s waiting.

Sept. 30 — Last day of trout season. Rain. I’m content to let the season end. But late afternoon, the rain stopped, and I threw my gear in the car and hurried to the river to fish the spillway pool. Third or fourth cast caught a 15-inch brown. Beautiful thick-bodied fish with rich, deep, butter-and-oak-leaf sides and vivid red spots. Brown trout and woodcock are the exact colors of autumn.

Oct. 1 — Driving near Frederick on our way to Tom’s cabin in Atlanta, Tom and I saw two enormous bull elk sparring. First, they faced each other, lowered their heads and touched antlers almost politely, as if they were fencers about to begin a match. And then they got down to business.

Oct. 12 — Bird camp, Lake Gogebic. In the aspen woods, the leaves are falling, shaken loose by last night’s rain. The ground is a yellow mosaic. Now another rattle of rain knocking down more leaves. These autumn rains are always the same: frequent, blown on the wind; and in 10 minutes, they’re over.

Oct. 12 — Driving Marquette County two-tracks with Norris, we suddenly had a long view of wooded hills brilliant with autumn colors. Norris said, “I love October. It’s so damned arrogant.”

Oct. 19 — Split and stacked firewood. A dusting of dry snow on the ground, air cold enough to burn my ears. While I worked, the dog ran around me carrying a chunk of maple in her mouth. Like a 4-year-old kid swinging a toy hammer while her dad works on the house.

Took a walk in the field and watched broad-wings and sharp-shins soaring high overhead, drifting south.

Nov. 1 — Cold wind, scudding clouds, rain running down the windows. When the rain stopped, I walked to Martha’s woods. Then more rain, mixed with snow. In the woods, the gusts were so strong I expected trees to topple. Leaves flinging past and striking the ground with a wet sound. I turned and hurried home. Fire in the fireplace, winter coats and mittens standing by — I’m ready for it and not ready for it.

Nov. 16 — The cold has settled in like guests who show up at the door uninvited, carrying many suitcases, and make themselves at home. “We’ll take the upstairs bedroom,” they announce. “What’s for dinner?”

Dec. 1 — Deer season over, venison in the freezer a gift from Tim. Three inches of snow last night. Hiked this morning with Gail to the top of the hill and stood for a long time looking over the landscape: lakes and ponds, vineyards, rolling wooded hills bare of leaves, all transformed by the snow. The first good snow of the season has changed everything. The sudden blink to whiteness, the whitewash covering autumn’s colors, the monochromatic strangeness — it makes the familiar utterly unfamiliar. It’s as if we’re seeing the world for the first time.

Jerry Dennis and Glenn Wolff have been collaborating with their art and words for nearly 30 years. See more of their work at

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