Montana's Second Fall
When it comes to fall colors, Montana maybe doesn’t have the famous maple forests of New England, but it is blessed with quite a color season of its own. Because of its mountains, Montana provides different ecosystems at different elevations giving rise to many different species of color-changing plants and trees, rather than just one. The effect of this is to spread the season of color out over many weeks. Starting up high in mid-September with the huckleberries and mountain ash, then the aspens and, finally by the end of October, the west slope larch, with some tamaracks hanging on to their color into early November. Although this year (2019) was quite different than the “norm”, the early fall weather is usually characterized by clear warm days and cool nights and mornings. There can certainly be a lot of outdoor activities that can be pursued amidst all that color, such as, hiking/camping, bow-hunting, golf, biking, etc. This is the time of year that makes it easy to feel blessed to live in Montana.
So that’s the first half of fall. What about the second half – November through the winter solstice? Now the weather isn’t as cheery and uplifting, clear blue skies give way to clouds and rain, at least on the west side of the state where I live. Days become shorter and darker. The once brilliant colored trees are now bare and the leaves lie brown and rotting on the ground. This may be nature’s way of recycling nutrients back into the environment to give us Spring and Summer again, but for some of us, it is a little harder to have “fun” at this time of year.
Many Montanans do look forward to this time of year, of course, for its rifle hunting opportunities as Montana has a proud tradition of hunting. However, even though we are probably a minority in our state, not all of us are hunters. (I used to be, but haven’t hunted in years). What is there to do until the snow comes and makes things bright again and opens up other recreational possibilities?
Since I have usually spent the earlier fall getting out hiking and photographing, this is the time I get out and get my firewood. I know it doesn’t really make economical sense. By the time one adds in time, fuel, wear and tear on one’s truck, it is probably cheaper per cord to just buy firewood from a woodcutter. However, it is another activity to get outside into the woods as it improves mental and physical health. Since it is rifle season, I do dress myself and my dog in orange – I don’t want my big brown lab being mistaken for a bear! I also live close enough to Glacier National Park that, if a nice, sunny day does roll around, I can pop up there for the day. Being a park, there is no hunting, so its nice not to have to wear orange, but as my dog is not allowed in the Park, she unfortunately has to stay at home.
This is also the time of year when gardeners harvest their last crops and prepare their gardens for winter, tilling under all the left over vegetation. Again, letting nature take its course in decomposing and processing these potential nutrients to allow life to burst forth again come spring. Spring bulbs are planted and mulch is placed around more sensitive plants to protect them for the cold of winter.
In effect, this time of year is a season between seasons. It is a time to tie up the loose ends from summer and early fall and get ready for winter. It is a time of work and preparation and provides for an orderly transition to winter and all that entails. That means both being prepared for the inevitable winter storms that will come (i.e., firewood, tuned up snowblower, etc.), but also prepared for the fun that a Montana winter can offer, such as skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sledding, snowball fights, and generally getting out to frolic in the snow! Let us never forget the fun and positives that each season can offer.