By MIKE NORTON Man, I love the fall! The other night, I took a long walk out to Leffingwell Point, near the end of the Old Mission Peninsula, just to watch the evening light hanging over the still harbor as the lights went on, one by one, in the houses across the water. I could smell woodsmoke and apples in the air, and hear the gentle lapping of small waves on the stony beach. And yes, it was a little melancholy - but in a GOOD way. That made me wonder about all the other people who seem to feel the same way. By now, it's no secret that Traverse City is one of Michigan's favorite summer playgrounds, but autumn brings a different kind of traveler to this land of dunes, lakes and forests. This is a gentler, more romantic season -- a time of crisp clear mornings, mellow golden afternoons and cool, lingering evenings. The summer crowds have vanished with the heat, the hills are ablaze with sheets of crimson, gold and orange color, and all that enchantment can be enjoyed at a slow and leisurely pace. Autumn seems to sharpen the beauty of this wonderful place, adding color to the hills and valleys, mystery to the endless beaches and spice to the fragrant air -- perfect weather for a stroll on the beach, a small-town shopping adventure, or a tasting tour of our beautiful wine country. Who cares if it's too cool for swimming? With more than 150 inland lakes and hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline (including the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore) Traverse City offers almost limitless opportunities for boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. (And I'm continually surprised at how many good sunbathing days there can be in a Traverse City autumn!)
But this is the time of year I like to do some hiking because Traverse City is surrounded by deep, fragrant forests that are crisscrossed with trails for hikers, horseback riders and cyclists. Even the farms here are surrounded by incredible scenery, built on rolling glacial hills and surrounded by sheets of deep blue water - and everybody seems to have their pumpkins and squash and apples piled up at roadside stands along the highway. (I didn't even mention the wineries, did I? What is so wonderful as the taste of a crisp Pinot Grigio on a warm October afternoon, with all the beauty of Grand Traverse Bay spread out around you?) It won't last much longer, of course. Soon winter will be here, and winter has cozy charms of its own. But for now I intend to wring every bit of sweetness out of this autumn. What an amazing time to be alive and in Traverse City!