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A strange sound filled my ears as I awoke early Monday morning — the soft beating of rain on my roof.

It was still several hours before I’d rise, but the sound of the rain mitigated the aggravation of waking up early. Rather than fretting about getting another couple hours of sleep, I was content to just listen to the raindrops.

The spring and early summer were unusually wet in Southern Illinois. But, the region has been parched since mid-August. Unseasonably warm temperatures have exacerbated the arid eight weeks we’ve just experienced.

Although rain was in the forecast, I spent midday Sunday watering parched plants in my yard. Later that afternoon we drove through the countryside. It was easy to pick out soybean fields from a distance — huge plumes of dust followed the combines as they harvested beans.

So, there was a sense of relief, of solace, before getting out of bed Monday morning.

Walking the dog was particularly relaxing. The dry, brown grass seemed to be soaking up the rain as fast as it fell. The water trickling down my back from the umbrella and the squishy shoes actually felt good.

Beau wasn’t as thrilled. He seemed somewhat annoyed at getting wet, or perhaps he was just angry at me for not sharing the umbrella. Let’s just say he seemed strangely content to cut the walk short Monday morning.

Now, let’s just hope this rain isn’t an anomaly.

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I drove through Mermet Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge during the past week.

At Mermet, Illinois Department of Natural Resources staff has been pumping water into bottomland timber for some time, preparing for the 2019-2020 waterfowl season. Water is already standing in some areas.

This fall hasn’t been as dry as some. There were some years where the pumps ran several days before any water began accumulating — the ground greedily soaked it up. The situation wasn’t that serious this year, but plant life in some areas was showing serious signs of stress.

One of the combines we saw Sunday was in the Heron Flats area of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Heron Flats is a haven for ducks and geese during the winter — if there is sufficient rainfall. Contrary to popular belief, the refuge does not have the capacity to pump water into the site.

Selfishly, I’m hoping the rains are sufficient to flood the site. Heron Flats is an incredible place to view wildlife. I’ve spent hours there watching mallards, shovelers and blue-winged teal feed in the shallows while Canada geese and white-fronted geese soar overhead, looking for the perfect place to land.

And if nothing else the rain, and the recent return of normal temperatures, signaled the changing of the season. The unseasonably warm temperatures left an impression of endless summer, despite other telltale signs.

Although I despise winter, one of the joys of living in Southern Illinois is the distinct seasons. The dreariness of winter makes the onset of spring more welcome, more inspiring.

The onset of winter is inevitable. So, let’s do it.

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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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