It’s a raw, windy Friday morning as I write this week. The season’s first snow shower just passed, and an occasional flake is still blowing past the window. Although one red oak is still green, the rest of the trees around the yard have been stripped of most of their festive coat of colorful leaves by the winds of recent days. The fallen leaves are already shredded up and in the garden plots where my trusty army of earthworms will feed on them and improve the soil at the same time. I know there’ll still be some warmer days to enjoy in November and even into December, but with today’s snow, much of nature (and me included), has begun the annual shift from showy and exciting early fall to the more somber season of late fall.
Bright colors are rapidly being replaced by brown, tan and gray, but late fall is more than just a time to wait for winter. There’s still a lot to look forward to in the outdoors. November and December are months cherished by all who still hunt. Waterfowl are definitely on the move with the recent series of strong cold fronts. They’re spilling out of Canada and the Dakotas; riding the northwest winds that follow each frontal passage. Pheasant season opened Oct. 28, and hunters are cautiously optimistic that last year’s increase from record low pheasant numbers will continue. It doesn’t appear likely that we’ll ever reach the numbers that were enjoyed when the federal CRP program had hundreds of thousands of acres in permanent cover, but it’s likely that there will be islands of relatively high pheasant numbers where there’s enough cover to support them. Deer numbers are reportedly pretty stable across the state. Although waterfowl and those who hunt them often seem to consider Iowa as “fly-over” country, we’re still a national destination state for deer and maybe even turkeys.
A few hardy anglers won’t be putting away their fishing rods and boats quite yet. There’s still a chance to pick up some nice walleyes, and even bass and pan fish, for those who know when and where to look for them. The first of the DNR’s winter trout program stockings will be taking place before ice-up at places like Ames’ Ada Hayden Lake. Remember to add a resident trout fee to your fishing license before trying to catch any of them. Northeast Iowa’s trout streams still offer some wonderful opportunities without as much competition as there was during the early fall. Northeast Iowa is always beautiful even after the leaves have fallen, and some of those streams offer good trout fishing right through the winter, too.
Woodland walkers will be sharing those areas with deer hunters in the weeks ahead and should remember to avoid colors that look like a deer. Bright colors, particularly “blaze orange” can help keep “mistaken for game” accidents to a minimum. Traditional brown coveralls are very deer-like in color and even a white hanky might be mistaken for a fleeing deer’s upturned tail. Some woodland parks, including McFarland Park north of Ames and Robison Park south of Nevada, are refuges, but keep in mind that there may still be hunters on nearby private land.
It would be a good time to check over the chimney and fireplace for those who enjoy an occasional fire in the living room or den. A well-laid fire of seasoned hardwood is hard to beat for making one feel warm and snug on a blustery night. Burning wood that hasn’t had a chance to dry out properly since it was cut increases the danger of creosote buildup in the chimney. Creosote build-up is usually worst near the top of the chimney, where it’s hard to see, and can lead to dangerous chimney fires. Any build-up should be cleaned before fire season. An occasional hot fire with the flue wide open can help reduce future build-ups once it’s assured that the chimney is clean and sound.
We’re looking forward to a night at home after a string of busy evenings. I think I’ll bring in a few armloads of dry firewood from a rack in the garage and enjoy reading a good book in front of a nice fire. It’s one of the simple joys of late fall that I look forward to all year.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.