A year ago today, I was in the Cascade Mountains in central Oregon. Tall trees, snowy bowls, swiftly-flowing streams, crisp mornings, lava beds. In some ways, that landscape was radically different from the one I’m in now, but I’ve been reminded of my time there recently. In fact, over the last several weeks I have thought back on most of last fall’s journey. Depending on the stage of the season and the weather conditions, I have been reminded daily of everywhere from Isle Royale to the Rocky Mountains, down to West Texas and back up through the Ozarks.
We have had our share of cold and damp in northeastern Wisconsin this fall, with our first frost over Labor Day weekend, 3 hard freezes in September, and two nearly straight weeks of rain and drizzle. The last couple weeks, however, have made up for my disappointment with the failed garden, as we’ve had nearly constantly clear skies. This, along with the natural senescing of vegetation, has resulted in low humidity, near-record daytime temperatures (81 today!), and chilly evenings (except for this weekend, when I sat around the campfire in shorts and didn’t feel a chill until after midnight). It feels like waking up in the mountains. Specifically, it feels like waking up in the Rogue-Umpqua National Forest south of Crater Lake, where I was on October 4th of 2010.
What exactly does that forest have in common with the Chequamegon-Nicolet, other than the hyphen? They both have Wild Rivers flowing swiftly over bedrock. Chilly, dewy October mornings with warm, sunny afternoons. Sandy soils supporting conifers and heath species, with an understory including wintergreen and the always-popular pipsissewa. In that respect, really, it’s not too different from, say, the Superior National Forest that I hiked through on my way to Isle Royale, at the beginning of my trip. Or the Chippewa that I crossed in drizzle through northern Minnesota, watching the beginning of the brilliant fall foliage. It’s easy to be reminded of those places from here in Florence County.
Though one of the smallest counties in the state of Wisconsin, Florence Cty. actually has two distinct ecoregions in it – the “northern forests” that I cited above, and a bracken grassland/jack pine barrens that is an open, hilly
landscape of sparse vegetation, growing on sandy glacial outwash. When I’m over in the eastern half of the county, I’m no longer reminded of the wilds of Oregon or the headwaters of the Mississippi. Instead, I feel as though I never left the glacial hills and aspen parkland of northwestern Minnesota. As the colors turn to browns and reds, it even looks a little like eastern and central Montana, or the hills of West Texas.
Which reminds me… I still have some catching up to do! The long-awaited story of my travels through Texas is coming up soon, and I hope to be caught up on all of last year’s adventures before a year has passed. After that, I’ll fill in more of what I’ve been seeing since my return!