Early last Monday morning, the valley was filled with a warm fog. It drifted slowly, rising up the sides of the mountains. At sunrise, one thing distinguished the landscape this morning from those of the past months: a heavy white frost. The blanket of sparkling frost covered every exposed leaf and blade of grass with its frozen touch.
This frost, coming on the last day of September, was later than is usual in Southwest Wisconsin. Often it hits by September 19th or earlier. However, in years past, the first frost has usually been a light dusting of frosty crystals which burns only the edges of vegetation. In fact, the first two or three frosts are usually rather moderate. This year's first frost was accompanied by a temperature of 25 degrees; it claimed plants from the ground to the tops of the trees - dahlias, cannas, purple and salmon impatiens, red runner beans, cosmos, and the beautiful morning glories which covered ones side of the shed. Only the hardy New England asters, marigolds and mums remained lively. As I walked across the yard to the barn on this frosty morning, the frozen grass crunched under my feet. The large bed of nasturtiums I passed was covered with a heavy white frost; all the lush leaves and yellow and orange flowers had gone limp. Frost had also zapped the beautiful colors from the tall zinnias. Just the day before, I had picked a bouquet of the lively red, yellow, orange, pink and purple flowers for the kitchen table. It's kind of a shock to see all the summer flowers hanging limp, and sad knowing I won't see them again until next season. A serious reminder that winter is coming!
That afternoon, the sun blazed through blue skies and fluffy white clouds, which drifted westerly on the breeze. I was amazed how much change there was from one day to the next. One day everything is lush and green, with lots of flowers and insects. The next day, maple leaves seem to turn colors right before my eyes. They are every bit as beautiful as the flowers that were blooming the day before. Brilliant fall colors seem a fair exchange for the loss of flowers.
A bluebird flitted among the yellow leaves, calling to his migrating companions. His bright blue coat stood out against his surroundings as he jumped from branch to branch. I wonder how successful the bluebirds were in raising their young this summer. I'd like to see even more of them return in the spring.
A towhee busily kicked through the leaves under the patch of prickly ash. This is where he may find a meal of insects that were hiding from the frost. I would be surprised to see him still around here in a week. It's time for his kind to move south.
As I walked back to the house, the sensation of the cold on my fingers and the smell of wood smoke from the chimney wake me up. I noticed several juncos in the grass under the bird feeder. These little slate gray birds spend their summer in the far north and spend their winters in the northern third of the United States. I call them "winter birds" because I don't see them here in the summer.
The coats of the white-tailed deer have changed from a cinnamon-red color to a light gray umber. This winter coat is thicker and will help protect the deer from the cold. Most of the animals that don't hibernate grow this type of hair for the winter.
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