al·pen·glow

(alpənˌɡlō) noun - the rosy light of the setting or rising sun seen on high mountains.

There’s a fleeting moment in the fall, when the wind whips a chill through the summer air, dry leaves whisper in the shade of the forest, and the aspens are alight with autumn brilliance. Against the backdrop of somber pines, graying skies, and the first touch of winter, the aspens appear to shine in their very own light, much like the mountains come alive before the sun has appeared to greet the horizon.

Aspenglow is being deep in the woods on horseback, early on a crisp fall morning when the sun hasn’t yet risen above the opposite mountaintop and the forest is still awash in shadows, but the glowing golds, yellows, and oranges of aspens nestled in the pines, scattered across the mountainsides lights the way along the trail. Patterns of sunlight dance through the trees to the song of the wind in the branches, reflected off the leaves like shiny coins, but the sun is nowhere to be seen. This is a different kind of light, and the aspen groves glow like flames, frozen for a moment in time, lending their brilliance to the shadows surrounding.

Dry leaves crackle under the horses’ hooves, leaves rustle on brittle branches, and the air heaves a sigh heavy with the dust of summer. Autumn settles in the mountains like morning frost, crunchy underfoot even after the sun rises to meet the radiance of the aspen leaves with its own and you can feel the warmth on your face. Days still feel like summertime but nights bring a chill that settles in your bones, a yearning for fireplaces, soft blankets, and mittens.

This is my favorite time of year, when the horses and I both start favoring winter coats and every bend and corner along the trail opens up to new vistas, awash in color that wasn’t there last week and won’t be there the next. One storm, one big snowfall or a windy night, and the canvas will be swept clean until next year, but with a little luck these summer days will hang on just a bit longer, as will the leaves, to be enjoyed until the very last minute when the boots and mittens are good and ready to come out. Until then, you’ll find me on the trail, in the saddle, trying to catch the last flash of autumn aspenglow.

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