I THINK MOST PEOPLE would agree with me if I were to say that fall is the best season of all and also the most fleeting.

Spring, summer and winter all bring something to the table that anyone or everyone can enjoy, but to sort of paraphrase a famous circus man “not only can you find some of the people who love fall all of the time or all of the people who love fall some of the time, but you can, alone among all seasons, find all of the people who love fall all of the time.”

The season usually begins slowly as trees, mostly maples, grudgingly begin to give up their leaves in September. Oftentimes, if one cares to look, you can find a few maple trees sporting some brilliant red color as early as late August.

Temperatures in September, thankfully, begin to go down on average, allowing those of us who believe anything more than 75 is way too hot to have cause to celebrate, although it doesn’t always work that way.

I have hunted ducks in early fall when skim ice was forming on shallow lakes and overnight lows were well south of freezing, but I also have hunted autumn days when the sun, maybe in a last ditch stand for summer, pumped things up to more than 80.

I well remember one such opening day of duck season back in the ’70s, when that day in early October brought with it a high of 82 degrees. Trust me, it is far less fun hunting ducks on days when you spend more time swatting mosquitoes than you do shooting at ducks. 

Generally, temperatures aside, fall in north Wisconsin is a glorious time. Never are the woods so alive with vibrant shades of orange, red, pink and yellow as they are in fall. Never do the woods smell as fine in other seasons as they do in fall.

Go out in winter and all you’ll smell is cold. There is no such thing as a pleasant winter aroma in the woods. Go out in summer, especially on a scorching day and the woods smell of old sweat, unless maybe that’s just coming from your armpits. Either way, there is no deliciousness to it.

Spring tries to match fall with a pleasant smell of life awakening, especially the soil and the previous autumn’s fallen leaves when rain draws out the aroma of a new season, but for my money, that greatly anticipated change from hard winter still doesn’t match the smell of autumn.

Autumn or fall if you like, is a time when, if you choose to take it in, will release a different aroma from freshly fallen leaves, an aroma of sweet earthiness that, though I don’t have the words to properly describe it, is unmatched by the scent of any other season.

Along with the scent of soil and leaves, fall brings with it a season for wild animals to do as humans do: prepare their houses for winter. Bears go on a last feeding binge, fattening up for a long winter’s sleep. White-tailed bucks, before they begin their rutting rampage in late October, rub velvet from their antlers, paw scrapes on the ground, and mark territory and does as theirs and theirs alone. Sometimes fierce battles arise, seldom seen, but awe-inspiring when one does see such a fight from a front row seat.

Beavers work extra hard, logging lakeshores and marsh edges for the branches and bark that will sustain them in their lodges through the long winter ahead. Birds will feed voraciously. Turkeys and grouse will feast on a bumper crop of acorns such as we have this fall.

Robins and other birds swarm to chokecherry trees in September, to strip them of a huge crop of ripe berries. Each year, in the two large trees I have in my yard, I will watch upward of 75 robins at a time gorging themselves on the fruit.

Squirrels work the tops of pine trees, cutting loose cones which they will gather later to store in their handy root cellars — if you will — making sure that household bird feeders aren’t their only source of food in the long, cold months ahead.

Overhead you’ll see my favorite sight of all: flocks of majestic Canada geese winging their way south high over trees and homes and people below. Ducklings that have been raised on lakes and ponds all through our north country woods will test their new flight feathers getting ready for their first migration.

Muskies, as Mr. President of the Old Duck Hunters Association Inc. often said, will “lard up” for the winter before icy waters slow their metabolism down.

While summer’s flowers fade and disappear, beauties like wild asters will, with their lovely light bluish/purple blooms, brighten the tramp through brush and briars by upland bird hunters well into September.

Yes, man, fowl, beast and all the other residents of north Wisconsin will labor quickly and industriously through the fall months, working hard to ready themselves for the months ahead when black and white will be the primary shades people see wherever they go.

Lakes will shine blue for the last time somewhere along about late November or early December, when ice covers them with a deep blanket. A sunny fall day people will take picture after picture of leaves on brilliant display and they will photograph those blue lakes until the ice claims them.

We who do love the scents, colors and sights of fall will revel in them while they last. One by one, the colors will disappear, the aroma of freshly fallen leaves and the sights of wildlings preparing themselves for winter will give way to the harsh reality of winter.

Then, all that will be left of fall will be our memories of the days when we hunted, fished, gathered wild nuts and went for long walks along forest trails ablaze in color. 

The time of fall is short and fleeting. One can never take too much time to drink it all in, to preserve it in memory for another year to come.