The fallest fall ever

If there is anything Minnesotans can agree on, it is that fall is our favorite season. I’m not talking about the days when it’s gloomy and rainy or the stretch at the end of the fall when all of the leaves are gone but the snow hasn’t yet fallen and the world is ugly and gray. Those are merely non-fall exceptions to the way fall ought to be. What I’m talking about is the time right now when the leaves are changing colors, the mornings are crisp and the afternoons sunny, and Minnesotans descend upon apple orchards and pumpkin patches like a plague of hungry frugivores. Pull out your cable-knit sweaters and riding boots folks, because the fallest time of fall is now.

The view from the lookout tower at McDougall’s Apple Junction

We Hong’s are no exception to the fall mania sweeping our state. Two weeks ago we visited not one, but two St. Croix Valley apple orchards. We started at Whistling Well Orchard, just south of Afton in Denmark Twp.. Owner Charlie Johnson was chosen as Washington Conservation District’s Outstanding Conservationist last year and we wanted to meet him, as well as his dog Emmy. While there, we picked pumpkins, bought apples, ate kettle corn and cider soaked hot dogs, chased chickens (at least my son Charlie did), listened to a bluegrass duo, and watched Charlie get his face painted like a green-eyed, pink clawed monster (little Charlie, not farmer Charlie). Even after that, we still wanted more fall apple action, so we headed a few miles down the road to McDougall’s Apple Junction. There we rode on a wagon pulled by a tractor, climbed a fire tower to get a view of the St. Croix Valley down below, and ate apple donuts in quick succession while we watched Charlie play on wooden tractors and trains. As if that day wasn’t a big enough fall stereotype, we followed it up on Sunday at the Stillwater Harvest Fest where we cheered with the crowd as a crane dropped a stack of three giant pumpkins onto the ground below – splat!

Leaf peeping with Charlie

Yes, fall is pretty awesome, but just like in all the other seasons, there are fall chores that need to be done in between eating apples and smashing pumpkins. Raking leaves is one of these chores. Now, I’m by no means a perfectionist when it comes to raking my lawn. I’m more inclined to run over the lawn a few times with the mower and resort to raking only when I encounter piles too deep to pulverize. I don’t really care if the lawn is leaf-free when I’m done, as long as there is enough breathing room for the grass to survive the winter and come up next spring. When it comes to leaves in the road in front of our house, however, I try hard to remind myself that raking is a community service, not just something that keeps my own yard looking nice.

There are two main reasons to rake leaves out of the street while you’re out doing your fall chores this year. The first is that when it rains, the leaves turn into a goopy wet mess that tends to pile up on top of storm sewer grates. As a result, giant puddles build up in the street whenever it rains. Come spring, the problem gets even worse after sand and grit from the winter accumulate on top of the leaves as well. The second problem is that leaves release phosphorus as they break down, which is picked up by rain and melting snow that runs into the storm sewers. The storm sewers empty

All aboard the pumpkin train!

into nearby wetlands, lakes and rivers, adding a pulse of sediment and nutrients to the water in the fall and spring. In our waterways, the nutrients feed algae, which can turn the water green. Raking leaves out of the street in the fall is one way we can all do our part to keep lakes and rivers clean next summer.

In between my autumn chores, I’m going to keep on riding this year’s fall train as long as it will let me, and I mean literally. This past weekend we hopped aboard a scenic train ride out of Osceola dubbed the “Pumpkin Train.” We feasted on fall colors, tractor rides, a hay-bale maze, live music and kettle corn, among other things. It was a dream come true for a Minnesotan who loves fall.