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October 23, 2020

9/30/2020 11:06:00 AM
Are fall smells real or just psychobabble

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

There is no doubt that fall has a feeling. It's the drop in temperature here in the north country. It's the cold north winds of September that we called a wonderful cool breeze in July. The sun also feels less powerful as it strikes us from a different angle than it did on June 21st.
But I enjoy the smells of fall, probably better than the feeling of fall and its impending winter.
The three big basswood trees that surround our cabin in Pope County are great trees. Though their pollen and sap cause many dogs that are allergic to them to scratch uncontrollably, and people to sniffle and rub their eyes constantly, they are still loveable. (No, I don't hug them).
Eight days ago they started to drop their big leaves. The grass green leaves had now changed to a yellow-gold color. That morning of the first sizeable leaf drop I stepped onto the deck and caught a smell that I can only describe as the pleasant odor of falling leaves.
It came with a high-moisture morning and no wind to move the smell away.
It shouldn't be surprising that a basswood (linden) tree would have good smelling leaves. Its small blossoms of June are one of the sweetest smells of summer. If conditions are perfect, that pleasantness will last for 3-4 weeks.
The sense of smell is the most fleeting of our many sensations. It probably is a good thing when we encounter garbage, sewer smells, even burnt popcorn. But when it comes to freshly fallen leaves, especially after a light rain, I just wish it would last longer.
Soon those leaves will be burning on somebodies leaf pile. Then once again we can rekindle a wonderful olfactory feeling.
Finding other smells of fall are also worth mentioning. For farmers, and farm kids like myself, the smell of freshly mowed alfalfa and overturned dirt from our plows or harrows is most memorable. But the fall smell of freshly cut corn silage or just plain old No. 2 yellow corn are also memorable.
Well, I hope I made my point with you. The looks and feel of fall, are wonderful; red and yellow leaves, are most notable and there is something great about digging out your favorite down vest or jacket. But don't forget to draw an early deep breath each morning and savor the fleeting smell of fallen leaves.
Duck hunting
Duck hunters also encountered a smell as they entered the marsh for the first time this fall. I would say it is both good and bad. The odors you get when you first pull your boot out of the 6 inches of black earth that has settled to the bottom is not good. But the smell of cattails and bulrushes soon overcomes that. Especially with a bundle of decoys over your shoulder.
Some duck hunters even take a deep smell of the powder left in a spent shotgun shell. That'd be me.
Well the opener this year is history. Most hunters experienced receding water leaving large stretches of deep ooze separating the cattails and the waters edge. Some of their favorite spots probably couldn't float a boat, especially with people, dogs, decoys and shells inside.
Most had some good hunting if they could get close to the water. Their bag probably consisted of mostly blue-winged teal and wood ducks. Mallards?
That mallard thing
As I discuss this era of declining mallard ducks please keep in mind I am talking about Minnesota in general, southwest Minnesota in particular.
Mallards are declining going from east to west and despite several studies, actually in the thousands on mallards, no one knows why. The Atlantic states were the first to make note of it.
The easy answer would be that the urbanization of that area is the culprit. But with sparsely populated areas in Maine, upper New York and northern New Hampshire and Vermont it doesn't figure to be the main cause.
Some say its cross breeding of game farm ducks that have interjected bad genetics into the wild mallard population. Habitat only managers and some scientists say that's the cause.
But as a declining mallard population spreads through Michigan, Wisconsin and now Minnesota we still wonder about what is the cause. For certain water quality is a problem in our are area. All we have to do is observe the rapid formation of green algae on our remaining wetlands and some of our favorite lakes.
Although ducks will tolerate some algae when they have fully fledged, young ducklings need clear, clean water filled with bugs (invertebrates) to survive. No secret there, our ducks are not surviving that period of nesting, brooding and early flight.
The tradition of nesting and survival of baby mallards is threatened. Will they go the way of the pintail, black duck and canvasback in Minnesota? It's looking like they will.

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