This is the season I’m overcome with mixed emotions: I love the brilliant colors and subtle hues of autumn; I revel in the crisp cool air and bright blue skies, and I’m energized by the fierce storms magnified by crashing thunder and sparks of lightning. We have weather here.

But with each leaf that drifts toward the ground, covering it with a blanket of yellow, orange and brown, I’m reminded that winter is coming. And that’s the season I’d rather not be here. Trees are barren and stark. Shrubs slink back into sorry masses of yellow-brown brush. The landscape cries for a lid of pure snow to hide it all.

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Knowing what’s in store, I slog through the fall chores at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home.  I cut back the spent flowers—except for black-eyed susans, sunflowers, and any others with seeds or pods for the birds. I supervise the “fencing” of the fruit trees, so the deer don’t demolish them in the early spring before the forest grows its bounty. And I arrange for the pontoon, lift, and dock to be stored on the lake bank and alongside the garden shed—all the while cherishing memories of the delighted screams of grandchildren as they jumped off the pontoon into the lake or were pulled in a tube—a sport they call “tubing.”

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I buy butternut squash at the farmers market and bake an apple crisp to serve during the final week-end here when family and friends will stop by to say their goodbyes. Then next week, we’ll store all the lawn furniture and pots, winterize the cabin and set the heat in the main house to 50° to prepare for freezing temperatures; they can reach 30° below zero in January.

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We’ll soon return to our condo in San Diego and I know that when we watch the sun set over Sail Bay with streaks of orange and red, we’ll fall in love with the Pacific Ocean all over again. But for now, there’s a nostalgic sadness in my heart. I’m leaving my beloved Northern Bliss.

Upcoming blogs will continue the series covering our September trip from Germany down the Danube.

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A commotion on the lake woke me up in a flash. The splashing was accompanied by a sound I hadn’t heard here—a deep note, like that of a French horn, with a lingering ring. I ran to the window just in time to see a family of five swimming past our dock. My bird book identified them as Trumpeter swans—the largest waterfowl in North America. The next day they came back and I managed to take photos. What a sight—and a privilege.

These swans have had a touch-and-go history in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The last wild nests were located in Heron and Everson Lakes in the late 1880s. The birds were killed for food; their feathers were used for ladies’ hats, and their down, for powder puffs. By 1935, fewer than 70 of these majestic birds could be found in remote areas of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. That year, Red Rock, Montana became a refuge for Trumpeter swans. Hennepin Parks, Minnesota hosted restoration efforts in the 1960s. Then in 1982, Minnesota’s DNR (Department of Natural Resources) joined the effort by transporting swan eggs from Alaska to Minnesota. The offspring, called cygnets, were raised for two years and released. Now, over 2000 swans trumpet in Heron Lake, Swan Lake, and St. Croix State Park. In Wisconsin, thanks to the state endangered species act and a public-private partnership, trumpeter swan populations are recovering. Trumpeter swans doubled the goal of 20 breeding pairs by 2000, and were removed from the state endangered species list in 2009. Today, the number stands at a modern all-time high of nearly 200 nesting pairs in 23 counties. You can view them at Crex Meadows in Burnett County and Sandhill Wildlife Refuge in Wood County—or come to White Ash Lake, where we have one family of five.

Family of FIve Trumpeter Swans

Family of FIve Trumpeter Swans

Life Cycle: The male and female build a nest on a muskrat or beaver dam, on a floating mat of plants, or build up enough plants to make a platform. The female incubates the clutch of 4-6 eggs for 34 days. One day before hatching, the chicks begin to peep. Cygnets can swim as soon as their down is dry, but they stay on their nests for a few days. For the next three weeks, until their new feathers grow in, they are brooded by their parents and fed snails and insects from the bottom of the marsh. The juveniles stay with their parents through their first winter until they return in the spring to the same breeding area. Then they hang out with their siblings for 4-6 years until they are mature enough to mate and raise their own young. If a pair uses the same nesting location two summers in a row, they form an almost unbreakable attachment to the site.

Pair of adult and juvenile swans

Pair of adult and juvenile swans

The swans create quite a commotion when they take off. They run on top of the water with their wings flapping. Just after take-off they pull their necks into an S and then straighten it out. They sleep with their head tucked down under their wing.

Fluffiing feathers to dry off

Fluffiing feathers to dry off

This night, I leave my bedroom window open, just in case the intruder comes again…

We already knew that a bear was in the vicinity. “Blackie” left signs of destruction everywhere: mangled garbage cans with the lids torn off, crushed metal bird feeders with bent poles, and even scat (bear droppings) on the flagstone path to our dock at Northern Bliss.

But no one visiting our Heritage Home  this summer has actually seen him. The suspense escalates.

Will Blackie come again tonight? It’s been three days now since he left the scat behind. We turn on the exterior floodlights to take a final peek outside before turning in.

At 5 a.m., I’m awakened by the clank of metal against wood. The racket is too loud to be just the coons playing around. Still wearing my PJs, I tiptoe barefoot to the kitchen counter and grab my camera. Then I tiptoe towards the window. That’s him! He is down near the tipped canoe. He’s angrily smashing the round feeder that rolled down against it. I aim the camera at an angle so that it doesn’t focus on the screen. I zoom out the telephoto to catch Blackie at work. He looks back briefly and then continues banging the feeder against the canoe.

Before I heard the ruckus, Blackie had already bent down the two bird feeders near the patio. Now he gives up on this feeder and stands on his hind legs to reach for my new copper squirrel-proof feeder hanging from a tree. Should I chase him away? I think not! Snap.

P1040926 Bear reaches up to check out the copper feeder

He gives up on the copper feeder and rambles on toward the lake. Snap! I note that his length is about half that of the canoe.

P1040929 He walks away in search of other food

He heads for the planter for more food. None there. Just geraniums eaten down by the deer.  Not interested. He turns to gaze at White Ash Lake, flooded in the pastel colors of dawn. Primitive beast against impressionist palette. What glorious contrast! Snap!

P1040932 Black Bear at Sunrise

Blackie heads back, behind the canoe and up the hill from the lake. Halfway up the hill, he stops. How about this wooden feeder?  More food for me? But there’s none there. So he walks right past our upper patio table as I tiptoe toward the door. Snap!

Then he rambles off our property, across the road, and back into the woods. My telephoto is zoomed out as far as it can go.  The photo turns out fuzzy—but Blackie will always remain sharp in my memory. I hope he visits us again.

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