Just say the words smoky gold to nearly anyone who grew up with a conservation ethic in Wisconsin and they know these words were made famous by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac (1949, Oxford University Press). Leopold described ruffed grouse hunting in October “after the first frosts have brought the woodcock, fox sparrows, and juncos out of the north” and the tamaracks had turned “from green to smoky gold.”
Every year when the tamaracks growing in the swamp behind our house turned smoky gold, Dad would be sure to mention it, always using Leopold’s adjectives. I had read A Sand County Almanac. And Dad had read it, too. So, it became our thing to highlight smoky gold tamaracks wherever we saw them. Just another way we connected to the land, Leopold, and each other.
This week on my hike, tamaracks stole center stage as I passed from shady woodlands into a marshy clearing. The tamaracks seemed as if on fire and melted my heart right on the spot. Even though nearly 22 smoky gold seasons have come and gone since Dad passed, tamaracks will always be our thing. Just Dad’s and mine. They will always bring Dad closer and remind me that he continues to walk with me, to shape me, to play an active role in my life.
In the first few years after Dad’s passing, smoky gold tamaracks were bittersweet reminders. Now, they are celebrations for me. They are living reminders that I’ll always be Dad’s daughter. That he’ll always be here with me.
Nature has a way like that. Its cycles and seasons can give us opportunities to reflect on what’s come before and to dream of what’s yet ahead. They also help connect us with those who have come and gone before us.
Knowing that I am not alone in this journey, knowing that I have the wisdom of Leopold and my father to lift me up, and knowing that tamaracks will come into their smoky gold glory again next year, gives me great inspiration. And that makes all the difference.
Who inspires your relationships with the land and what difference does it make in your life?