Thoughts on a Changing Season

The calendar says it’s been fall for just over a month now, and it feels like the season has been changing for about that long, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when fall came to Diablo Lake. One day I noticed a colorful leaf. Another day I felt a chill in the air. Now there are leaves on the ground, crisp morning air, a dusting of snow on some of the mountain peaks. All of these things happened so gradually that it seems as though it’s always been like this.
At the same time, the days have still mostly been hot and sunny. We’ve only had rain in the past week. It feels like fall and summer, though contradictory, have been taking place simultaneously.

The bright red of Vine Maple leaves. Photo by Emily Weisberg

For me, fall means wet, blustery days. It means hearing the constant swish of rain pants and wearing a raincoat that never fully dries because I don’t spend enough time in heated buildings. I keep waiting for the day when our daily deluge of water falling from the dark, overcast sky returns. I’m looking forward to that crisp coldness that brings out hats and gloves and wool socks. To doing homework and drinking cocoa while watching a storm rage outside the window. To beginning a few months of hibernation in my mountain home.
I asked other North Cascades Institute staff, interns, and graduate students to share their impressions of the fall. Below, you’ll find a spectrum of thoughts, hopes, and reflections…

“On the fall equinox, I rounded a corner in Thunder Basin to a view of peaks skirted by deep red vaccinium, flame-colored vine maple, and green-gold larches. My goal of making it to Park Creek Pass by four o’clock looked more and more far-fetched each time I stopped for a picture. As I bent down to frame a shot, trekking pole balancing my crouch, I shook my head. Fall crept up on me this year. The weather has been so hot and sunny lately that I imagined the turning of the larches to still be weeks away. But soon the peaks will catch the clouds again and the cascades will tumble down the cliffs. I can’t wait. Summer is always a treat, but it’s the rain that really makes the Northwest what it is—my adopted home.” – Hillary Schwirtlich, Graduate Student

Two Haiku

Set on fire
by the rain…
autumn trees.

Soft little chirps
on the forest path…
junco pecking in autumn rain.

– Anne Hubka, Administrative Assistant

“The crunching of leaves underfoot and the sweet stink of rotting apples permeate the foggy landscape as we hoard our garden bounty before the frosts. Squirreling away root crop and cider while fragrant summer pears are dried to perfection for pocket snacks on those cold winters days in the mountains. The snows are coming, and all the valleys, peaks, hillsides, and rock faces we explore in the summer will soon become a powder playground. Bring it on Fall, your colorful exuberance for the upcoming ski season is infectious.” – Aneka Singlaub, Climate Challenge Program Coordinator

“Fall beckons me like an old neighbor, quietly reminding me that processes are slowing down and life is turning over. I start to notice the decay of green growth. The remnant stalks of once blossoming flowers and grasses as they succumb to elongated light and shortening days. The mountain slopes painted suddenly yellow with the annual coloring of larches. The leaves of maple trees as soft hues penetrate their crisping leaves. I appreciate the subtleties of such fall beauty, and wonder at the cycles that sustain it.” – Chris Kiser, Graduate Student

Fall colors cover a subalpine meadow. Photo by Hillary Schwirtlich

“Fall is for eating. Sure, Thanksgiving is great, and Halloween is a close second when it comes to the great annual eating events on our human calendar, but nothing compares to the total gluttony that bears demonstrate every autumn. This time of year, bears enter a stage called hyperphagia to prepare for the long food-less winter. Basically, this just means that they spend the entire fall (as much as 20 hours a day) doing nothing but eating! Bears bump up their daily caloric intake from 8,000 calories in the spring to over 20,000 in the fall… that’s equal to approximately 15,600 blueberries (or one berry every 4 and a half seconds for 20 hours if you’d like to attempt this at home).” – Jeff Anderson, Science Coordinator
“I feel it in the mornings as I pull on my thick, wool socks, base layers, down vest, and hat that I normally reserve for the ski slopes. I walk briskly through campus, enjoying the cold, mountain air, and happily sip on a hot cup of coffee. In the afternoon, as I squint up at the sun shining down on my 5th grade students, I find myself holding the pile of layers in my arms, rolling up my jeans to cool off, and I am reminded that summer is not over quite yet.” – Liza Dadiomov, Graduate Student
Ode to Fall: A Haiku
Fall is chilly here.
My toes are frozen every day.
I’ll thaw out next summer.
– Kim Hall, Graduate Student

Kim (above) spent the last two years in Senegal, West Africa where temperatures were routinely between 80 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. She is beginning to adjust to the North Cascades climate. Photo by Liza Dadiomov

“Change lets me know that Fall is here. The green of the mountains gets spattered with a colorful fall palette of reds, greens and yellows that I only wish I was able to accurately capture in photographs and artwork. One of my favorite things this time of year is being up in the mountains appreciating the changing larches, the lingering huckleberries, nutcrackers, and colorful sea of mountains. The warm summer days and evenings are replaced by beautiful, crisp, cool days with air that chills the body and gets one contemplating on putting away the shorts and tank tops, but is not quite cold enough to make me put away the flip-flops. We see the occasional snow dusting the surrounding peaks, letting us know the nights are getting colder. A hike where you were sweating bullets in July will just warm you up this time of year. My wake up time has not changed, but the amount of light in the sky has. Morning and evening walks are now in the dark. The menu for dinner features different types of squash and other fall harvest vegetables. In my job I see a lot of change in the programs we run and the people I see. I have to say goodbye to some folks and I get to welcome a new group of graduate students who I look forward to getting to know and befriend in the next year. Fall is not the beginning of the year, but for most of my life I have always considered it to be just that . . .” – Katie Roloson, Curriculum Coordinator

A rainbow of fall colors at Yellow Aster Butte. Photo by Christian Martin

“One of the great dynamics of fall in the Pacific Northwest is the tension of the high country trails. By this I mean September and October are often the greatest months for hiking up high in the Cascades—no bugs, no snow, lighter crowds, amazing light, autumnal colors—but all the while you are tromping around, you are aware that the season could be over at a moment’s notice. One big bout of weather coming down from the Gulf of Alaska could cover our mountaintops with snow, sleet, and ice, and shut down boot-hiking for yet another year. Maybe it is this heightened sense of ephemerality—like a grace period between the overabundant lushness of summer and the inhospitable starkness of winter—that makes end-of-summer sojourning ever so sweet!” – Christian Martin, Communications Coordinator
“Like many changes in nature, fall doesn’t come at once.  The nights slowly become cooler, the days shorter.  One vine maple tree begins to transform, and several weeks later the forest is ablaze with the yellow and red of maple leaves.  The big yellow leaves float gently to the ground to congregate with the regular coating of fir needles. Then one day, the cumulative effect of fall changes rush over you like a cool breeze.  The smell of the falling leaves soft beneath my boots, the sharp tirade of an anxious Douglas Squirrel, and the bright reds and yellows of Vaccinium and tamarack will soon fade into green and brown.  Until then, I cherish the transition, soaking in my first fall in the North Cascades, trying to be aware in each moment of the continual gifts of change.” – Lindsay Walker, Graduate Student

Krumholz Mountain Hemlock in the blowing mist at Cascade Pass. Photo by Saul Weisberg

“Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. The cold, crisp air feels wonderful as I still wear short-sleeved shirts and shorts, trying to prolong the summer. My family time grows with homework around the table, crock pot dinners, marathon reading sessions on the couch, board games in the evening and early bedtimes as the sun sets earlier each day. I am awakened many nights by the roaring wind coming from the north as it shakes my house. I know in the morning that I will find shingles and toys scattered around the neighborhood. Of all the hikes that my family takes during the year, I always remember the ones taken in the fall. The trails are quieter and the air more still. There is just something about being outside when the sun is obscured and a (light) rain is falling. Now that fall has arrived, it is time to get outside!” – Jeff Giesen, Education Director

“Fall has always been my favorite season. While growing up on the east coast, I can remember watching the maples, beech, birch, aspen and tamarack change to vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows as the cooling temperature would sting my nose. Living in the Pacific Northwest has changed my perspective on fall, but still remains in my heart as my favorite season. Only yesterday I was walking on the trails behind the Environmental Learning Center, where leaves of gold and red sprinkled the needle-strewn trail. Varied Thrushes jumped along in the fallen leaves, and flew up en mass as I passed them by. The only sound was their wings rustling the leaves as they took flight, and my shoes crunching against the forest floor.” – Stephanie Bennett, Graduate Coordinator

“My favorite thing to do in the fall, my favorite time of year; walking through a shower of falling leaves, listening to them crunch underfoot, smelling the earthy scent of damp dirt, and reveling in the beautiful colors. What a treat for the senses!” – Julie Toomey, Executive Assistant

You know a true northwesterner by their footwear…fall is still Chaco season! Photo by Emily Weisberg

“It felt like fall would never come. But the signals of the season recently became apparent while out for a run one early evening in the lower Skagit. As the red sun set behind the Olympic Mountains, I watched its golden rays glow through the trees whose leaves since transitioned from summer’s greens to autumn’s reds, yellows and oranges. Each year I grasp onto summer tightly—denying that the warm days will grow shorter and colder. That was easy to do this year. But at that moment, I released summer’s grasp and embraced fall’s arrival knowing there is much to look forward to in the Skagit this time of year.” – Codi Hamblin, Program Outreach Coordinator

A misty day in the mountains—looking out over Diablo Lake from the top of Thunder Knob. Photo by Emily Weisberg

Approaching Storm
All day we watched the storm arrive
our candle burns clear in the still evening.
Raven calls  –
a low pitched bell above our tent
I fall asleep listening for wind.
Pumping water in the morning
the lake like shattered glass.
Saul Weisberg, Executive Director

Leading photo: panoramic view on a clear day from Maple Pass. Photo by Sahara Suval.


  1. stephanie

    this is great!!!! love the photos

  2. Saul


Leave a Comment