And so we settle on a hike that would take us into the Northern Kettle Moraine Forest in the bright, piercing light of the afternoon...
...hoping to hike out for about two hours, and to turn around then to hike back, so that we return before the night takes over the forest.
We leave Madison in such a hurry (it is already afternoon and the sun is well into its descent) that neither of us has eaten anything since the morning cereals.
There are times when I feel that my life would be made significantly better if a good cup of strong coffee crossed my path. This is one of those times. I'm nearly reconciled to go to a McDonald's, on the theory that if Dunkin Donuts can do good coffee (I'm told), so, too, can McDonald's. But as I turn off the road near Waupon, I see a tiny little sweet shop with candied apples, popcorn, an ice cream cones and, more to the point, a great big sputtering espresso machine. (You know what coffee looks like. Let's admire the candied apples:)
I’m fortified. We continue east. Our maps aren’t the best and we lose our way any number of times and so it isn’t until after 3 that we finally locate the intersection of the Ice Age Trail with the county road.
It’s a hilly trail, climbing to the ridgeline, then back down to the marshlands, and up again.
We're in a mixed forest. Most leaves have long fallen, but there is always the splash of remaining color to remind us that we are still in the tail end of fall.
And there are other reminders. Intermittent gunfire. Of course. We don’t spot the hunters – they’re presumably by the lakes chasing the ducks and turkeys, but the noise of their rifles travels over the hills. I have to say, by now I’ve grown used to it. It’s not possible to hike in this season and not hear the hunters.
Ah well, there are gentler hints of the wilderness too. As the trail crosses a road, we stop at an information stand and watching the small body of a dragonfly, resting, unbothered by our presence.
We continue, noting that the light grows less strident, more golden and honey toned. Surely the lateness of the hour has come to be an advantage. Every twist brings a new panorama of muted color.
One, dip, then another and another and so we continue on...
But the gentleness of the light and the length of our shadows are also reminders that we need to turn around now...
Indeed, it doesn’t take long for the sun to do one final side splash of orange...
.. and then to completely disappear.
You have your flashlight, right?Yes.
With you?In the pocket of the jacket in the car.
No matter. We have a good hour with the gray light of dusk. We walk on a bed of dry leaves and the noise of our footsteps is predictable and soothing. Once, we disturb a pack of turkeys and we watch them flee with great haste into the dense brush. Mostly, though, the forest is quiet. A darting squirrel, a frightened bird and then again, only the sound of our rhythmical steps.
And now the moon is out. Bright, so bright, picked up by a reflecting lake – Mud Lake, one of many bearing this nondescript name...
It would have been a fine evening for setting up camp. But I see the clouds on the western horizon.
Not this time. Next spring, when the snows melt. Not this time.