PEAK COLOR HAS faded to browner, darker measures of decay. The evenings are cool enough now that mist no longer rises from the lake. The skies are battleship grey, and the air damp with anticipation of a long winter.
Shoulder season in the midwest can be both beautiful and ugly. In mountain towns across the west, these transitional times are revered by natives for the empty plazas and locals’ discounts at restaurants and bars. But in places like Minnesota, Iowa or Indiana, the looming change of seasons — in this case fall to winter — presents a chance to explore the outdoors while you can still feel your toes.
A simple hike through the woods, a stroll along the shore or a jaunt across recently harvested fields can provide a perspective otherwise unconsidered.
In Minnesota, known best for its lakes, its hockey and its amenable personas, the seasonal shift can be swift, sudden and occasionally unforgiving.
Here, scenes from the western suburbs of Minneapolis.
Scene 1: Wayzata Bay
The hands of time have already fallen back. The sun now hovers above the horizon near 8 a.m. At 44.9625° N, 93.5099° W, the days are short. Layers of low clouds streak across the sky — some in hues of gray, some in blue. It’s quiet here, along the northern shore of picturesque Lake Minnetonka.
The city of Wayzata, with its historic railroad depot, million-dollar homes and investment shops lining the main drag, is a gem. It’s really what life in the upscale Minneapolis suburbs is about: accessibility to the water without sacrificing proximity to the $50 chardonnay lunches and boutiques in town.
Looking south across Wayzata Bay, the water is glassy, resembling the ice it will soon become. It mirrors the sky, providing texture. Fading leafs - reluctant to recind their lifecycle - hold tight to trees before falling to rest on still-green grass. Dots of color pop on the distant shore. Ducks swim and dive for breakfast. A wooden yacht, regal and classy, slips through the bay, pushing a gentle wake that ripples the mirror before it settles once again. Today, the sky is both up and down.
Scene 2: The hidden trail
Nestled quietly behind a ’70s neighborhood of ranch-style homes with sprawling yards and mature oak trees lies a green space. Here you will find leaf-covered trails and ducks swimming in ponds. Fall still clings to the branches, despite a brisk wind and imminent rain.
Squirrels jump and tumble among the branches. Geese, pedaling below the surface with their webbed oars, push their fat bodies and long necks through the still water.
Temperatures are in the low 50s, and will quickly drop into the 20s this evening and the next. As the calendar pages turn, this steady drop will lead to unthinkable highs and dangerous lows. Winter in Minnesota is not for the tepid.
As the craft beer boom continues, tap rooms pop up in random places. In Minnetonka, west of downtown Minneapolis, Boom Island Brewing can be found in an office/tech park. Try Fyn's Fog, a hazy New England-style IPA.
At one of the first adult parties I attended in Minnesota, men gathered around the basement bar and spoke of snow blowers and gushed over the latest issue of SnowGoer magazine. If that's not your cup of Caribou Coffee, grab some skates, find a frozen lake (pretty easy; they're everywhere) and play some shinny.
Check out the first four songs from new supergroup NHC.