DULUTH, Minn. — As northern Minnesotans, we are no strangers to spending much of our free time outside. Summer is the king, of course, when looking at the sheer number of people enjoying the outdoors. In September, the numbers begin to decline. The weather becomes cooler, leaves start to turn, and the kids go back to school. Pumpkin Spice Lattes, for better or worse, signal a new season. For the most part, the tourists go home. Our pace of life begins to change.

For a while, the color yellow dominates our senses in a pleasant manner. Goldenrod blooms along the roadways. The sugar maples at Bagley Nature Center begin to turn, dropping their leaves and carpeting the hiking paths in gold. The sunflowers in the neighbor’s garden are still yellow, but are drooping their heads, reminding us that we, too, are nearing the slow season.

Then one day, almost overnight, the reds and oranges explode onto the scene. Autumn has arrived. With it comes that unique smell that occurs when a warm, late autumn wind gusts through the decaying ground litter. Our senses come alive to the changes around us.

Of course, autumn isn’t entirely about nature, even though the changes in our environment define the season. It’s about the taste of hot apple cider, the smell of neighborhood bonfires, and our body’s sudden appreciation for a hot, comforting meal. In the Twin Ports, we are very lucky to be able to experience all three at the same time by hitting up one of our many fall festivals.

A few weeks ago, when the number on the calendar declared the first day of autumn was near, we experienced a few days of unusually warm autumn weather. "Summer’s last hurrah," a friend stated to me. Then she said, "We have to enjoy it while we can."

We can — and do — enjoy winter weather as well, but she was right. There is something magical about those last warm days, when you never quite know if it will be the last for the season. "Summer’s last hurrah" is the type of day that no one dislikes. The city comes alive with people, milling around hiking trails and concrete sidewalks alike. Restaurants that have a patio fill up one last time. We all get our last fix of sun somehow.

But summer’s last hurrah is typically just a day or two in late September. Real autumn usually occurs later. When you’re suddenly struck by the first sight of your own breath in the cold air. You know you’re going to be seeing a lot of it in the months to come. Too much of it, perhaps, but you still greet it like an old friend. The beginning of the cozy season. Welcome back.

One of my old dogs, Sam, was recently dealt a diagnosis that let us know he will be taken from us a little sooner than we anticipated. Not terribly soon, we still have time to spend with him. Maybe even a few years, though it is possible this could be his last autumn.

With this in mind, I took him for a walk on one of those first cool days. I could see our breath against the cool morning air. Though he is determined to continue acting youthfully excited about everything, the truth is, the heat makes him tired. I hate to see that. So a cool autumn morning was the perfect time for a walk.

Sam and I ambled along the trail at a slow pace. I enjoyed the sights and smells. He seemed to relish in that autumn phenomena of being able to hear wildlife so much more clearly as it rustles through the crispy leaf cover. Together, we enjoyed our senses coming to life. The way autumn does this is so unique.

Breathe it in. Ingest it. Listen to the sounds of autumn. Heck, buy that Pumpkin Spice Latte. We all have our autumn traditions. Enjoy the first days of the cozy season.

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. You can contact her at KMurphyWrites@gmail.com