Autumn leaves by the Mississippi River

Winding Down, Bittersweet Beauty

(This article was originally published October 6 on Dan Gjelten’s Confluence blog.)

In the past few days, the trees along the Mississippi River near our house have exploded in color, practically overnight. While we’ve had a couple of warmer than normal days in the high 70’s, today the high will hardly reach 60. The Twin Cities Marathon is over and our local radio station (The Current, 89.3) is talking a lot about “Rocktober,” the fall phenomenon of a rush of artists coming to town before winter sets in.

The mighty Mississippi is especially magnificent as leaves change color.

It was a busy summer, beginning with a bike trip in New York and ending with a flurry of activity. In late August, we put on our annual backyard benefit for Friends of the Mississippi River followed quickly by a weeklong backpacking trip I took to Isle Royale National Park with my brother Tom — reliving a hike we took with our father in 1964. My wife, Lisa Burke, and I followed that trip with a weekend in Grand Rapids (Minnesota) for live outdoor music at Riverfest, along with a day bike trip on the Mesabi Trail. We’ve also hosted bikers who are riding through and around our area (via the Warmshowers social network that connects touring cyclists with willing hosts.)

Luke Winslow King playing for the Mississippi
(photo by Dodd Demas)
Brothers at the end of the trail in 1964. I’m the little one with the attitude.
Brothers at the end of the trail in 2022
David stayed with us before and after riding the North Star Bicycle Race, an insane event in which bikers race from St. Paul to the Canadian border and back in one nonstop ride. This charming fellow won the race, completing the 640-mile course in 43 hours.
These lovely guys were biking from St. Paul to Madison, Wisconsin, a trip we’ve done more than once.
On the Mesabi Trail in northern Minnesota
Wilco and full moon at Riverfest, Grand Rapids, MN

Lisa and I had planned one more bike trip, to happen this weekend, one we were very excited about and a way to close out the season (we are not winter bikers). We were going to ride the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills, a 109-mile trail running north and south between Edgemont and Deadwood. We were going to ride from south to north in two days and then return to the start, a nice four-day, 220-mile ride through the scenic and rugged Black Hills.

Throughout the summer, though, we also watched our sweet dog Finn decline and generally slow down from his lifelong love of walking, running, swimming and chasing balls. He turned 15 in August, a very long life for a larger dog. He seemed to be getting skinnier, something that was confirmed when the vet weighed him in September — he’d lost 15 pounds since the spring, about 20 percent of his body weight — a troubling development.

Still, he seems very connected to us, always keeping his eyes on us and mostly not leaving my side, even waiting outside the shower door for me. He has lost his hearing, which probably makes visual contact with us even more important to him.

Finn reminds me of a well loved, well worn teddy bear these days.

We considered putting him in a kennel while we went out west — or having a dog sitter live in our house with him, but, in the end, decided it would have been hard on him (and us) to be separated for nearly a week at this stage of his life, so we canceled the trip. The Mickelson Trail will have to wait till next year.

In the meantime, we will enjoy the colors of the leaves in the neighborhood, give Finn lots of pets and treats and make these days as comfortable and pleasant as possible for him.  We’ll turn on the heat, light a fire, restring the guitars, read the new books of fall and generally wind down this wonderful summer.  We’ll think of the adventures we’ve had and plan those yet to come.  We have ideas!

About Dan Gjelten

Pronouns: he/him/his

Dan was born and educated in Iowa but has lived in St. Paul’s Highland and Merriam Park neighborhoods since 1974. He has run, biked and walked tens of thousands of miles around the entire Twin Cities and elsewhere in the last four decades. He is a retired academic librarian and writes about bike touring ( with his wife, Lisa. Main interests: music, literature, long distance biking, trees, rivers and fresh air.