If you’re into making lists, Sunday, Oct. 27, was a Top 10 day.

In terms of just spectacular weather — Top 3. The temperature was somewhere between the high 60s and low 70s. The sun shone brightly most of the day, illuminating the reds and yellows that currently dominate forest scenery.

Not only that, but there was a crispness in the air that one normally associates with autumn. It had rained consistently for most of the preceding 24 hours, lending a soft element of freshness.

The cool air, the dampness turned all of Southern Illinois into a Febreze commercial.

In terms of spectacular fall days — Sunday was unsurpassed.

The temperature. The feel. The emerging fall colors. It may be a Top 10 day of my lifetime, not just 2019.

My wife and I had a late afternoon picnic at Lake Glendale in the Shawnee National Forest.

There was little to no breeze by late afternoon, turning the lake into a mirror-surface. The sun was sinking on the western horizon, barely peeking over the towering pine trees lining the entrance to Lake Glendale.

Yet, the sun's rays were still strong enough to spotlight the cypress, sycamore, gum and maple trees on the eastern reaches of the lake.

The burnt-orange cypress seemed to swallow the fading light of the day, offsetting the glowing yellows of the gum and maple trees. And, the pale white skin of sycamore branches stood out like neon lights at midnight on a deserted highway.

In the meantime, the green of the occasional pine served as punctuation for nature’s amazing statement. The trees themselves were mesmerizing, but the mirror-image reflected by the lake made the view even more breathtaking.

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We sat silent for long moments, staring at the natural wonder before us.

The crystal blue sky formed the perfect frame, both above the trees and in the lake’s reflected image. We took photographs from different angles. We took close-ups and panoramic shots.

Some of the photographs are stunning — we are already planning to have prints made and framed. Yet, none are capable of capturing the wonder of the moment. Granted, the colors are all there, but the coolness of a late October afternoon is absent.

The photography cannot convey the sound of gray squirrels rustling in the leaves or red-bellied woodpeckers tentatively looking for insects in the tops of trees.

Yet, the pictures serve as a reminder of nature’s perfection.

As the sun sank lower in the west, we finally tore ourselves away from this hypnotic view, walking a portion of the trail that circles the lake.

The air became noticeably cooler as the sun sank lower. And, although it didn’t seem possible, Mother Nature turned the volume down a few more notches. As we walked back toward our car, the surface of the lake showed a few disturbances — pied-billed grebes sliding across the surface, occasionally diving for fish.

As we walked the final few steps toward the parking lot, it was impossible not to look back, to steal one more glance.

Yes, the photographs we took were magnificent. But, the multi-sensory pictures stored in our memory are even better.

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LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for the Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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