A time of year to be savored
Fall in the Adirondacks is meant to be experienced. It is a time of cool nights and warm days. It is a time of frosty mornings, the icy coating soon to be burned off by the bright sun. And it is a time of bright leaves which paint the landscape in a kaleidoscope of color.
And so fall must be savored. After all, the warm days offer us a throwback to summer, and we find ourselves drawn outdoors to enjoy it before winter’s white dominates the landscape. That also means that fall arrives with a certain amount of pressure. Savoring the days does not mean we can dawdle to enjoy them. After all, the days are numbered before the temperature drops, and the days themselves are growing considerably shorter than the summer days which never seemed to end. And so all of us outdoor enthusiasts must take advantage of the time of year to explore – it is our last chance to partake in a variety of activities until next spring or summer.
Paddling through the colors of autumn
That may be why I tend to paddle so much in late summer and early fall – in fact it may be the time of year when I paddle the most. I feel a certain impetus to get my boat on the water while I can before the ice sets in sooner than I am ready. After all, it is rather difficult to paddle our lakes during January. Meanwhile, winter brings with it its own set of activities that I love like cross country skiing, but I still try to paddle as much as I can while the weather allows it.
Not only that, but paddling is an amazing way to experience the fall, a quiet mode of exploration while the blazing trees seem to just drift on by. After all, from the water we can witness the rich red of red maples, the yellow of striped maple, the yellow and golds of paper birch, yellow birch, black cherry, and American beech, the bright yellow of quaking and big-toothed aspens, and perhaps my favorite, the brilliant orange of sugar maples. And then there’s my other favorite – the deep purple (cue a guitar riff) of the understory shrub hobblebush. The list goes on and on.
Not only that, but paddlers experience the colors of the aquatic plants as well – which blush yellow, brown, and red as they die back and await the sun of next summer. These line the margins of rivers, ponds, and lakes across the region, where they are interspersed with late summer and early fall wildflowers like lance-leaved goldenrod, rough-stemmed goldenrod, New York aster, New England aster, flat-topped aster, closed gentian, cardinal flower, and a long list of others – all of which mirror their reflections in the water against the blue canvas of the sky above.
That may be one of the best things about paddling in general and fall paddling specifically. For as the hillsides and forests which surround our waterbodies transform in color, so does the dark surface of the water, making fall paddles a photographer’s dream.
Any paddle on the map will be splendid. And while many of our waterways are lined in places by the deep green of evergreens and conifers, these only serve to augment the colors which surround them, a juxtaposition of vibrance with steady consistency and a contrast of dark and light.
Paddling that lasts all season
I can randomly choose whichever waterbody or waterway I wish to explore on the map for a great paddle — Lower Saranac Lake, Little Clear Pond, the Saranac River, Lake Clear, Jones Pond, Osgood Pond, Lake Colby, Kiwassa Lake, Oseetah Lake, Middle Saranac, Floodwood Pond, Rollins Pond, Lower St. Regis Lake – if I was to write them all out we would never finish this story!
And while the dazzling colors of fall steal most of the headlines, paddlers would be remiss if they didn’t paddle in the latter half of the season as well – after most of the leaves have fallen. That time of year often offers beautiful paddling weather, and it is when my other, other favorite fall tree changes color. Okay, I like them all, but American larch or tamarack (whichever name you choose) is certainly on a short list for me. That is partly because it turns color after most other trees have already lost their leaves, partly because they are a deciduous conifer which sheds its needles, and partly because I love their color. In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold called it smoky gold – a subtle beauty which glows in the bogs and wetlands which line so many of our lakes and rivers.
And even if the late fall weather should prove a tad chilly, paddlers will find that their pfd (life jacket) offers excellent insulation, and anyone taking a cool fall paddle should bring along dry clothes and a towel (not to mention food and water) should they suddenly find themselves taking a brisk bath. Wren, my dog, doesn’t mind such swims and, like all of our paddles, our fall paddles are usually built around a walk/hike and a swim (I swim as long as my body can take the cold, but Wren’s in the water until the lakes ice over!). On top of that, the cooler weather of fall is often an advantage. Hot summer weather can make mid-day paddles uncomfortable and unwanted (I shoot for morning or evening), but fall weather allows much of the day to be explored. And that’s important with reduced daylight and the threat of darkness creeping up on us.
An opportunity to unplug and exhale
And that thought brings us full circle. For like the daylight, the chance to paddle along bright trees and beneath a warm sun won’t last forever. Fall – and fall paddling – is a fleeting opportunity to be grasped and enjoyed. After all, there will still be football games on the television at night, and whatever device sucks you in and wastes your time can be set aside. Those emails, social media outlets, computer games, and TV shows will all be there when you return – for better or worse.
Getting out in the woods and onto the water is like taking a deep breath after being deprived of oxygen in our too-busy, too-much-time-spent-indoors lives. I can feel my mind coming up for air as the crisp autumn wind rushes into my lungs - it is why Wren and I are out every day, regardless of the weather, and why we’ll be paddling again soon. After all, there may be no better way to feel your mind being cleansed than by watching dancing leaves being chased across the surface of the water by a cool fall breeze.