Hello Autumn


I saw a quote recently that said “Lakeside is the best side.” While I completely agree with that statement, a shift in the temperatures and leaf foliage has been the best source of medicine this year. 

"Sorry lake, but the leaves were remarkable."


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Are you feeling a bit anxious? This has been an unbelievably critical year and has tested even the hardiest of people. How we react to global issues when it hits our four-corner home is certainly a test of character. Are we equipped to face these types of challenges head on? Do we have the means and gumption? I know from experience that sometimes I wiggle my way out of situations just to better grasp my approach before making a rash decision. Except when it comes to ice cream. That I’m always 100% certain.

But this year was simply too difficult for people to step away in any capacity as many of our cities and neighborhoods underwent lockdowns, and many homes were (and still are) affected in all sorts of ways. Pesky clouds hanging over us.

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With that being the case, we are firm believers that the wilderness helps shape and transform us. I’ve gone to the woods on a whim numerous times, sometimes full of frustration or fear or just with the nagging parts of the day, and many times come out better. I’m focused, aware, and have a new perspective on both the problem and how I’m handling it.

In September we took a week-long trip to the far reaches of northern Minnesota. I don’t know how we always achieve timing our fall color tour just right, but we did, and it was magnificent. Somewhere in the mess of what was happening in the confines of our world, state, city, you name it, we both stood still in the woods and gazed up at the trees and the beautiful colored leaves falling around us. Our thoughts quickly pulled to “How could something so beautiful be happening at the exact same time as something so awful?”

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If you’ve ever watched Planet Earth you might relate. The film does an incredible job of displaying some of the most inspiring places and events of our wilderness, yet you get a raw glimpse into the brutal world as well. It tugs at your heart and you have to choose what you see in it. Taking us back to that northern woods, there was certainly that pull of beauty vs well..the mess we carried with us. What I want to speak to is much more than the autumn photos we’d typically want to share from the land of 2020. I want people to understand a different perspective - there IS an option in all of this (or whatever is to come) to choose control over chaos, beauty instead of despair, peace over anxiety. Essentially, I want to take you to that woods and have you look up.

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Early Morning Arrival

Important to most expeditions, timing is everything. We start our mornings off with coffee like most, but we make sure we are up before the crack of dawn and on those trails before others because if there is anything I could say about going to the woods, don’t go when it’s crowded. The reason the mornings are so special is because it is still and quiet and in most cases you will have that moment to yourself.

Though early morning darkness can be a bit intimidating on a wee narrow trail with barely visible roots on the forest floor, it will connect you to that woods and heighten every sense. There is really no time to be distracted but to keep one foot in front of the other, eyes peeled for the trail ahead. It’s important to apply this same logic in life and promising views await at the end of that journey when you turn the corner and head up that last climb to reach the top. Yes, morning views are the best.

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If you’re early enough you can sit down and wait for that sun to warm you up from the autumn chill. You start to see the rays catch the maples and turn them brighter reds and oranges then you thought were possible. It glows all sorts of colors and yet keeps a vibrant blue on the water. Morning is also indicative of CALM. Something that has been lacking in our society for a very long time. At the very top of Oberg Mountain, I breathed in and out and it was probably the only sound I heard. This is how to start your day.

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Changing Pace

Never fear changing up your routine from time to time. We’ve done our fair share of northern visits and like to drop in on some of the same hikes we’ve been doing for years. But this repetitive habit can turn even our favorite trails into a distraction, because well, we’ve been there done that. Digging into what is out there to explore in miles of new trail is part of the fun and we’ve been trying to not allow ourselves to get stuck on the same places we’ve been before. Instead, create new lists.

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These trailheads are usually the ones off the beaten path. They most certainly surprise us when we are unsure where we are going and if the overlook will really be worth it. Sometimes we strike out, but MANY times we are shocked at what was here in our state that we had missed for so many years.

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This hike was (comically) not what we were expecting. You climb over rocks and turn corners feeling like maybe you are not on the right trail to begin with. You’re not sure if you are really even there at the top or if it keeps going? Did it turn us around? Did we miss a sign? It’s abnormally hot in the woods today and this pack is feeling heavier by the minute.

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When we finally reached the top we came to this vast open overlook. There was a cameraman and a couple of other guys filming a documentary. I felt like we had stepped inside our own Sir David Attenborough set, as we were able to listen to how this trail had formed and the history behind the Superior Hiking Trail. Trying not to be nosy I sat on the rock to keep my ears intent on listening to his commentary, while my eyes were peeled on the landscape. Gosh this is beautiful, I quietly said so as not to disturb the video being recorded. I wanted to display my excitement, but the strangers kept me pulled back to a normal level of enthusiasm. There were no words to describe this view that we had never before ventured to. Rock cliffs, high ledges, tucked away valleys, and the colors were spilling out everywhere on Section 13. We had a whole itinerary planned that day, but I didn’t want to move a muscle. Just a guy telling a story up on this beautiful cliff ledge.


Bear Climb

Ever try something that pushes your limits? I find it’s thrilling only when you reach the finish line. It’s not that I don’t like the grueling challenge of slipping on rocks and making that 100th ascent that just has to be the final one, but honestly, it takes some convincing. Health issues on the trail are a combative struggle as are the tricks your mind plays on you that this one better be worth it.

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I stopped a few times to pull out my inhaler and try to catch the oxygen I knew was surrounding me. I slipped a handful of times and grew more and more certain that I would leave this trail with a sprained ankle or worse, fall from wobbly balance. I also felt slow and aged on this trail and muttered under my breath nothing in this pack is worth carrying at this point. I could feel my heart race and pounding in my head, unable to keep up with the speed I wanted to travel at.

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Milestones, in any difficult situation, are key to keep you going. I crossed off visual memories of where we had been last year and used those checkpoints to strive harder on the trail. I continued to look to the right and left of me to keep my focus on the beautiful woods that loomed around us. Noticeable sumac had turned bright red overnight and made umbrella canopies over our heads.

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That final climb was a relief. We stared down the ledges to the Bean and Bear lakes below, tucked away and wrapped in blankets of color. This time I didn’t hold back as I did on the previous hike, raising my hands in triumph both for my achievement and the sheer beauty. This place was worth the climb, was worth the slippery rocks and heavy pack. I could pick out every color that lay in front of us. We reached the main overlook and stared stunned. Here two lakes lined up perfectly and the reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and blues made this our gold at the end of the rainbow.

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Another photographer who was the only other at the top smiled at us and said “Somehow you came at the perfect time.” The sun had hit just the right spot in the sky and the water, though rippling before our arrival, was now calm, serene, and blue like the ocean. All three of us stood there in awe and enjoyed one another’s company.

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In our travels it can feel a lot like a continuous bond being formed on the trail. You come across these spectacular moments that are difficult and hard to take on, but you’re all in it together. You’re achieving that grueling climb together, you're supporting one another to point them in the right direction on the trail, give them words of encouragement as they too struggle to reach the top, and you celebrate together when you meet that destination. I love that relationship to the trail and to its people. So in facing your limitations, take a friend and know you are not going it alone.


Race Against the Sun

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Autumn is a pull for us. There are a hundred places we want to be at one time and we need to carefully select and prioritize what is important and what is just meh. We generally like to plan and prepare these sorts of things out, but when it comes to ‘exploring back roads’ we are at the mercy of exploration. Backroads keep us at a slow pace and keep us wanting to take in more. It’s our endless maze. I’m usually in the car claiming there was ‘this one road we took’ trying to recall where we had the best photographed colors. I typically refer to them as dreamy roads because they will literally put you on Bob Ross’ canvas. It’s hard to leave them, and even harder to know which golden roads to turn down. In other words, we were late for our planned afternoon hike.

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So, when it got past a certain point on the clock we started getting nervous about the trailhead we should have been at hours ago. We had taken this hike before and knew that though it wasn’t anything difficult per se, it would cause us to be hiking in the dark. Reaching the trailhead I felt my steps hurriedly grabbing my pack and racing to the start. Doubt of whether or not this was a good idea pressed at me, but I pushed the thought away and we continued forward. Most hikers were returning while we trekked upwards to the overlook. Well, we’ll probably have this thing to ourselves I thought and that was comforting.

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And we did. Arriving at the top of Carlton Peak, the sun was just setting. The wind was pulling us back from the cliff ledge, but we sturdied ourselves and memorized the landscape before the darkness overcame it. There were light pinks and deep blues behind us while the sun secretly slipped below the horizon. The moment was so quick, but it was a moment for us to keep in our back pocket. The race against the sun had worked and we were proud that our quick steps had provided us an opportunity to bid goodnight to the amazing day we had.


Curtains Drawn

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If you seek the woods in all its glory, the orchestrated combination of maples, birch, rich pine, and aspen in autumn are it. Friends of ours have found this perfect section of forest that is other worldly (specifically in the peak of fall). In imagining where to place a cabin in the middle of a storybook paradise, this Northern Post meets a dreamer’s imagination. Picture a trail that leads through the forest engulfed in tones of yellow. The shades range between lemon and golden yellow and it is everywhere. From the ground up it blankets the forest all the way to the tips of the trees reaching to the sky. You can only find the trail from the remnants of reddish brown hues of fallen maple leaves. Everything else around you is like striking gold. Even the cloudiest of days, this forest is booming with brightness.

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Our pace was so slow as we maneuvered our way to the Post. For this trail is magical and must have been delicately and perfectly planned out. A slight curvature in the trail and you get the peek at a small cabin in the distance, barely visible among the yellow bursts. I must have whispered to myself numerous times “I can’t get over this beauty.” Yanking out my phone to record this phenomenon, I struggled to even explain what we were seeing. Again, how is something this beautiful happening when so many around the world are in such pain. God, I wanted to bring the whole world to this moment to share in this creation and wrap them in this beauty.

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It’s richness filled us and was kingdomly. All I could think about was no one would believe this, like seeing an amazing theatrical production that you cannot possibly explain without being there in person. But as photographers, we tried our best to capture what we could. It was raining and the day was deeply clouded, but somehow the yellow from each of the leaves illuminated the woods. We explored for the remainder of the evening until darkness forced us indoors to this small cabin, sitting by the wood stove fire we discussed the wonder of this place. We’ve seen maple trees thousands of times in many different shades of colors...all beautiful don’t get me wrong. But what we saw in that forest was a flood of color and the only one we’ve ever seen of its kind.

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Our time at the Post was spent soaking up this mystery and reveling in it for as long as it would last. The winds came and we’d watch out the little cabin porthole the leaves slowly falling to join their friends who had browned the day before. We watched the transformation of yellow turn to orange and red at the tips. Rain came and filled up the Little Gooseberry River running through the property. Days before it had been dried up and I had skipped carefully across the rocks careful not to drop our camera equipment. Now it was filling and trickling water in a stream-like fashion and I no longer trusted using that same skipping method.

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From the moment of our arrival to this parcel of land, to the last glance as we shut the door on the cabin and turned that corner where it was out of view, we memorized that beauty and took it with us. We remembered what it was like to be surrounded by that light. And I don’t think we’ll ever forget it.

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Blue Blazes

To extend as much as we could of the autumn months, we set our eyes on the North Country Trail. The Chippewa National Forest, not far from our home, is our playground in many ways. The trail itself is more than 4,600 miles long connecting across many states. The area we continued to explore felt like the heart of the forest and one of the secrets of this trail is the quiet seclusion. In fact, it's not very often you come across another human for miles. This type of environment is where we thrive and the winding trail draws you deeper and deeper into the woods, leaving the world behind. 

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This autumn the trees were changing fast. The tamaracks had turned golden within a short period of time. What would normally give us weeks of enjoyment, we could sense was going to be wrapped up in less than a week. We weren't wrong. The winter's clutches bullied fall right to the forest floor and snow came falling from the sky day after day filling our woods with a white blanket.              

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Farewell Autumn

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Though we hate to see another gorgeous autumn leave us, we love looking back at the incredible and magnificent beauty it brought to us. It sustained us during this tough time, it challenged us to become better and look at the world differently. But more than anything I think, looking over these images, it taught us "how rare and beautiful it is to even exist."

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I hope that with each passing day you do not let your heart be troubled with what is surrounding you. Step out of the moment and take hold of what you can. Look up. Don't give up. And know that you have many around you who are in the same boat. Be an encourager and be good to one another, for this is how we can all create a worldly wave of restoration.  

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