September, like several of the preceding months, gave us less precipitation than usual. We began October nearly a foot below normal for the whole year. The first 10 days continued this pattern.
And then there was Oct. 12. (Until this date, October had virtually no precipitation.) Starting at about midnight, thundershowers accompanied by wind and steady rain passed over. After consistent rain for the rest of the night, at dawn I noted almost 2 inches in our rain gauge. The weather service in Duluth recorded a bit less — a little over 1 inch — however, this one rain was more than all of May, June or September.
Besides this needed moisture to the soil, the rain that was followed by wind for the next several days had a huge impact on the local foliage. A week earlier, trees still held most of their leaves and even though red leaf colors had been waning and seen only sporadically, there still was plenty of yellows. But not after these days of rain and wind.
Now, looking out into the landscape, we see the bare, defoliated trees. Yes, the annual arboreal event that I call the "leaf drop" had occurred. And with this happening, we began "AutWin." (The time after leaf drop and before lasting snow cover.)
With the open woods around us, the daily walks take on a new perspective. Some red oaks, sugar maples and lingering quaking aspens still hold a scattering of leaves. In the swamps, the coniferous tamaracks give a glow of their own. Unlike other conifers, they drop all their needles at once in fall, but not before turning a brilliant yellow-gold.
Besides these limited yellows, the only leaf colors that I see while walking are the roadside reds of some small bushes. Raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and wild rose continue to hold their colorful leaves after most trees have shed theirs. Movements of migrant flocks of sparrows mix with the blowing leaves, adding a sense of motion to the scene. But there is more color.
While driving some routes nearby recently, I noticed yellow-gold from a shrubby-looking plant along the roadsides. Unlike most of the color at this time, the glow did not come from a woody plant of a tree or a bush. Taking a closer look, I realized that this showy plant of about 3-4 feet tall was an asparagus.
Best known by most of us as a garden vegetable, this plant is and has been grown in the region for a long time. Usually, we eat the tasty new stems as they develop in spring. Before they get too tough, they make for excellent additions to our meals. And then, we let it grow.
Plants have extensive branches with minute, almost scale-like, leaves, all of which are green. Later in the season, after growing taller, they form tiny green-yellow flowers that eventually lead to small red berries. The flowers and berries could get overlooked, but not the yellow-gold of the entire plant, not just the leaves, as seen now in late October.
No longer only in the garden, many asparagus have escaped and find the openness of the roadsides as a fine place to grow. Even though plants may reach more than 4 feet tall, were it not for this late fall (AutWin) color, we would not notice the plant or realize how common asparagus (wild asparagus) is in the region.