A tiny yellow leaf surfed on the leading edge of a narrow trickle of water running down a neighbor’s steep driveway. I paused in my walk to watch as it reached the edge of the road, where it stopped in a small puddle. Above, the neighbor was draining his garden hoses, preparing for the first hard frost of the season.

A ways down the road a couple bustled in their yard, attending to their first-season raised garden bed. An ATV sat in the driveway, its small trailer filled with splits of firewood. They spent much of the early summer clearing and cutting a tangled blowdown of trees in their large side yard. Now the yard is gaily decorated with a field of wild flowers.

Each day that I take this walk in Apple Valley where Gretchen and I have lived for 25 years, I pause to enjoy the field of flowers that have been in bloom throughout the late summer and into fall. I’ll miss them when the frost knocks them down.

A few days earlier, when he was working in the yard, I pointed at the flowers and applauded. He laughed and waved.

Headed for home, I stop to gaze at a stand of aspens high on the bluff above the house. Their yellow leaves had an orange tint in the golden late-afternoon sunlight. The grove was like a giant blossom on the background of green, probably oaks yet to turn colors of wine and russet.

I stopped at the edge of our driveway to pick two late yellow coreopsis blooms. I took them to the house along with a sprig of the tiny purple flowers of Russian sage. We can enjoy them in a vase, thus hanging on to the remains of summer for a little longer.

Gretchen asks me to pick the last of the tomatoes before the predicted freeze, so I take a basket to pick and then pull the vines. As I work, I can hear the bumblebees on the red-orange and gold marigolds next to the garden.

Finally, before I head inside, I throw a light tarp over my zinnias that have grown chest high with red, yellow, white and fuchsia flowers. Never before have I had such zinnias, and I’d love to get them past the frost so more of the many buds will open in the warmer weather being forecast. Zinnias are a special flower to us; I begged a bouquet of them from some Hales Corners gardeners 47 years ago on my way to propose to Gretchen. She said yes anyway.

The titmice and chickadees scatter from the feeders as I walk by. They have now been joined by the winter residents — the juncos that scratch for seeds amid the fallen leaves on the lawn. Tonight, I think to myself, I will stand outside in the cold dark listening for the flocks of swans that are arriving on the river.

And so, like the leaf surfing the hose water, we slip toward winter, a season with its own pleasures, but without the colorful flowers we’ve enjoyed so much.

An Arizona biologist wrote recently, that “It’s becoming ever more apparent that we need flowers to maintain our health, our food supply, and for our happiness and mental abilities. Flowers also make us smile; they lift our spirits.” Stephen L. Buchmann, the author of “The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives,” was urging our attention to the need for preserving the world’s flowers. About 68 percent of the world’s flowering plants are threatened or endangered, he wrote in a New York Times article.

It would be a poorer world, indeed, without the vast variety of flowers that we enjoy and require for producing much of our food.

We blithely expect that, come next spring, we’ll enjoy them once again — those early blooms of pasque flower or periwinkle, the white froth of apple blossom on the landscape. That’s probably so, but for how long can we have such confidence, Buchmann asks? That’s a chilling thought worthy of a winter night, but hard to hold in these golden days of autumn when life is so good and beauty abounds.

Dave Skoloda is an award-winning journalist and former owner and editor of the Onalaska

Community Life and Holmen Courier.

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Randy Erickson, formerly the editor of the Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life and Coulee News, covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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