Apple picking

An apple picker is helpful to reach higher branches

I’m not a big Grateful Dead fan, but the lyrics from their song “Truckin’” came to mind as I stared out the window recently, watching large flakes of snow fall from the sky.

“Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

It was a winter of rain and ice to polar vortices to blizzards, followed by a spring and summer of rain and flooding. The La Crosse area is about 10 inches above normal for precipitation this year.

Things are even wetter on the eastern side of the state, where Green Bay has become a title town of a different sort. Green Bay has already set a record in 2019 for the most precipitation ever — as of Oct. 12, the city had 41.6 inches, breaking the previous record set in 2018. Four of the eight wettest years on record in that city have occurred since 2010.

It’s not unusual in our part of the state for a frost by the second week of September or even earlier. But we went through the entire month without dipping to less than freezing. We even had temperatures of more than 90 degrees on Sept. 30. That was the day multi-colored lady Asian beetles descended upon our house like a plague from the Old Testament.

I don’t think that’s the sweater weather we envision from crisp and cool autumn days, with pumpkins and blazing hillsides. Instead, it was sweat weather.

Even the first few days of October saw temperatures in the 70s and upper-60s. Not only did we not even flirt with frost, we never moved the thermostat from air conditioning.

But as with all good things, there’s always an end. With cold weather coming, I finally prepared the outdoor wood boiler for the heating season. I replaced the rope gasket on the door. I cleaned out the ashes and creosote from the baffles that run from the firebox to the back of the stove. The baffles were nearly plugged; I needed to bear down to push and pull with the long steel brush to scrub them. By the time I finished there were only a few bristles left – but the task was complete.

Another task to do before the hard frost was to pick the final apples from our trees. The trees had been shedding apples for a few weeks, which were cleaned up by deer every night. I picked the apples I could reach and used the apple picker to harvest those in the upper branches.

I wondered if the late spring and warmer fall temperatures would have a big impact on our fall colors — which normally peak about Oct. 15. I thought maybe we’d have a little later season this year without the hard frosts we usually have by now.

But fall colors are more dependent on shortening days rather than temperatures, although the latter combined with sunshine can make for more-brilliant colors. Sure enough, just like clockwork, the trees in our valley started to turn. In what seemed like just a few days, we went from various shades of green and a few patches of yellow, to a kaleidoscope of greens, yellows, oranges and reds.

It was against that backdrop that we had a burst of snow showers this month. In two days, we went from short sleeves to winter coats. We skipped a whole season.

The snow didn’t accumulate, but it was a pretty — if bleak — reminder of what lies ahead. Let’s hope the trip doesn’t become any stranger.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at

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