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As the Green Months End Oct 9 09

If April is the beginning of Michigan’s green season, September is the beginning of the end. Like April, it is a season of contrasts. But the contrasts are gentler contrasts—not an explosion but an implosion, a graceful fading of summer heat into cooler temperatures, long days into early sunsets, and the lush emerald of the fields and woods into the gilding of the goldenrods and the colored pointillism of the trees.

The wetlands are the first to show the signs of autumn. As early as August, you can see the blush of the year’s mortality tinging the swamp maples. By mid-September, the bogs, marshes, and fens are a quiltwork of scarlets, maroons, and yellows, of purple-brown heaths, lush green tamaracks, and blazing red shrubs.

About those shrubs: be careful. Poison sumac is the glory of the swamps in September and October, but resist the temptation to harvest its multi-colored leaves for a table display. They may be beautiful, but trust me, your satisfaction will be short-lived once you discover just how far the price-tag exceeds the rewards.

Just about any other plant is more gracious. In the meadows and along the roadsides and railroad tracks, bright, yellow sunbursts of Butter-and-Eggs thrust their wild snapdragon blossoms above the field grass. Prickly teasels stand at attention like British soldiers in purple hats, drawing the attention of preoccupied bumblebees. Among the weeds, an army of grasshoppers bustles and flicks. All around is color and activity, the drama of a growing season drawing to its close.

mlLightningThe sky, too, is a pageant of seasonal change. On Tuesday, October’s first really deep low-pressure system blew across the state—the kind whose high winds will, two or three short weeks from now, strip the leaves from the trees en masse. These are the days of crackling blue skies scoured of moisture and breathtakingly clear; and of scowling, iron-gray clouds that pour down a colder rain and make us glad to be sitting indoors with a cup of hot coffee.

Yet, while the great storms of the spring are far behind us, this time of year holds its occasional surprises. As the summer weather pattern begins to break and the polar jet shifts southward, bringing with it the first pushes of Arctic air, severe thunderstorms get a crack at a brief, second season.

A couple weeks ago, my friend and fellow storm chaser Kurt Hulst and I drove out to Holland to intercept a squall line moving across Lake Michigan. The storms were fairly low-topped, but lightning breeders nevertheless.

Setting up our cameras on a stairway down to the beach, we caught the light show as the line drew closer and closer, rocketing along at forty-five knots. Few spectacles in Michigan are as dramatic as watching a storm advance over the big waters, and this storm was a nice one. Perhaps it will prove to have been the last decent display for another six months. It kind of looks that way right now, but I hope I’m wrong. Nothing is certain until the snows fly. When you’re a weather buff, that’s an added virtue of autumn in Michigan. It is, as I’ve said, a season of contrasts. You may have a good idea what to expect, but there’s plenty of room for serendipity.



Written by Dave.