My own version of Injun Summer

This post first went up on November 14, 2010 and was called I went for a walk along the Fox River on Sunday...

It's that time of year again and I thought I might make this post my own tradition, put it up every year about now.

Let it serve as a warning to others perhaps.

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I went for a walk along the Fox River on Sunday with the hopes of catching the last of the fall colors on a beautifully warm sunny day. My hopes weren't completely crushed, but came close.

The bulk of the day had to be spent around the house. The house that I rent had it's gutters jammed with leaves and Norway Maple seeds. Seemed like more seeds than leaves. With a maple tree strategically placed in both the front and back yards, not an inch of gutter was spared. When I was a kid, we would purposely fill bags full of maple tree seeds. Whirligigs or whirlibirds they would be called depending on where you grew up. We would then climb as high as possible, on garage or house roofs, on fire escapes and porches, just to watch them helicopter down as we slowly emptied the bags into the wind.

That fascination hasn't changed only now I get to climb on roofs with no chance of being reprimanded. I'm supposed to be there. Unless my wife comes out and sees me blowing the seeds high up into the sky with ever more powerful leaf blowers at my disposal.

"What are you doing?" I seem to get that question a lot.

Ummmm, trying to see how far I can make a whirlibird go?

"They're whirligigs and you almost stepped off the roof twice since I've been watching."

Almost stepping off and stepping off a roof are two different things. One requires knowing what you're doing, the other requires being stupid and not knowing where the roof ends. I come from 2 generations of roofers. I've been on roofs since I was born practically. We've genetically become similar to mountain goats. You don't see too many mountain goats falling down the mountains, do you.

I got that blank impatient look mixed with a long silence as I explained all that to her.

"Idiot."

I seem to get that comment a lot.

Too soon the gutters were empty and the next 3 hours were a form of torture as I built 3 massive piles of leaves around my house. Two were to be blown and dragged to the street where the city comes by to pick them up with a massive vacuum cleaner attached to a truck. Definitely not a toy you want to put in my hands. I would be testing it's limits on certain dogs in the neighborhood that I despise.

The last pile of leaves was for burning. Based on the ratio of leaves to fire ring, this was going to take awhile, but it was also going to have to wait till sunset when the wind generally dies. Hence the walk along the river.

I don't know why I didn't notice it sooner, but the ride to where I wanted to walk showed that 95 percent of the leaves were gone. The sky was an intense blue and the stark limbs of the trees against the sky were interesting, but it was shy of the beauty I had in mind and wanted to photograph. I had to wait for the wind to die in order to do the burn so I may as well go for a walk regardless.

I walked down the trail along the river into the setting sun. A haze was drifting through the woods and I sniffed to catch a whiff of burning leaves. Instead I got a nose full of gnats. The hatch of gnats was massive and went down the trail for as far as you could see.

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I looked out over the sun lit river and seriously considered skipping the walk.

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My waders and fishing gear were in the car. The river was 30 feet away. The opposite shore was lit up and warmed by the sun. A massive bug hatch was underway. Going back to the car and doing what it took to change my plans suddenly seemed like too much work. I opted to keep walking down the path.

The trees were bare and the only color that could be seen were small patches along the forest floor. Since this area was a former strip mine the old pits were everywhere. The plants along it's edges and down into the bottom were doing a half way decent job of staying alive. Glimpses of color could be found backlit by the setting sun.

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The stark light and dramatic shadow with a touch of color was impressive, but you had to get up tight for a picture to get a real feel for the intensity of the color.

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Even though we had been pounded with heavy winds recently, seed pods had still not blown away.

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I could walk up to them and blow on them and the seeds would scatter, but 60 mph wind gusts seemed to have had no effect.

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The plants along the forest floor were still incredibly green.

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A little wear and tear was showing up along their edges, but otherwise you would never know it was November.

As I walked back along the path the sun angle had already changed. The bright orange leaf along the side of a tree that I had just photographed was no longer in the sun. Now it looked dead and brown. Not something I would have even noticed if it weren't for the backlight of the sun just minutes earlier.

My eye caught bright orange spots against the stark blue sky hovering just over my head.

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A tree had been covered in vines and now the vines were devoid of leaves and covered in bright orange berries. My initial reaction was to drop into the old strip mine pit and pull down one of the vines. I wanted to know what the berries felt like, maybe pop one in my mouth to know what they taste like. Before I could put this thought into motion I spotted a couple of leaves that had not fallen off and recognized the shape. It was poison ivy, these were poison ivy berries.

I seem to be one of those rare people that's immune to poison ivy. I've mistakenly sat in it and I know I've put my hands directly into it numerous times. No reaction at all. I had to fight the urge to go through with my initial reaction. With my luck, the inside of my mouth would be the only spot on me that isn't immune.

The walk was over, the wind had died and there was a pile of leaves waiting for me at home. I filled the fire pit and one small spark was all it took to get a nice fire going.

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For as long as I can remember, the smells of burning leaves at fall meant the Chicago Tribune was going to run Injun Summer by John T. McCutcheon.

I used to read it to my kids after we burned leaves out in the yard and last year they bought me a poster version of it for Christmas.

So I decided to do my own version of – Injun sperrits marchin' along an' dancin' in the sunlight – around the campfire I had going. My rake hit the pile of burning leaves as I spun around to the music in my head. All it took was one burning leaf and the larger pile waiting to be burned burst into flames.

Now I was dancing around trying to create a fire break so the massive pile of leaves didn't go up in a giant fire ball. It was successful up to the point where all the leaves around my feet suddenly roared to flaming life with me in the middle. I looked down to see the frayed ends of my pants burst into flames which got my dance even more animated.

I thought of another line from Injun Summer – Lots o' people say it's just leaves burnin', but it ain't. It's the campfires, an' th' Injuns are hoppin' 'round 'em t'beat the old Harry.

Maybe old Harry is what the Injuns used to call pants legs that were on fire. Beating on them did help. I don't think this outcome is what McCutcheon had in mind.

Of course when my wife got home from work that night I had to describe in detail my Injun Summer leaf burning, dancing around the campfire with the Injuns experience. She gave me that smile that parents give to their over-excited kids as the kids ramble on about what ever it is they're excited about.

Until I got to the pants bursting into flames part.

Then I got that blank impatient look mixed with a long silence.

"Idiot."

I really do seem to get that comment a lot.

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