The fall air

October 1997

Maybe I spent too many years on the farm - too many fall days working longer than I wanted to because time was running out. We'd thresh beans in cold, slicing wind and then plant wheat by dim tractor lights until we couldn't see the row any more. One year we plowed in shifts. I worked days and my boss worked nights. We only shut the poor tractor off to check the oil - check the oil and pump in 50 more gallons of diesel. Otherwise it was wide open 24-hours a day. We plowed about half the world in a week.

In late September any day can be the last work day for a farmer. A storm can move in quietly at dusk and by sunrise it could be too late.

We did that one year, too. I drove home satisfied with the day's work and just before daylight I heard the water dripping from the eaves of the house. They dripped for a week and then one storm followed another and the beans never dried. They rotted in the field and I wished all winter that I'd watched the sky better. Threshing's more important than sleeping when winter's perched on the horizon.

Perhaps this late-September feeling is more deeply rooted. Maybe it's in our blood somehow. Just about all creatures that live outdoors feel it. Bears eat with purpose and store fat. Squirrels put in 12-hour days gathering food and deer and elk feed hard on the high-country grass as they feel winter approaching.

I'm not sure what it is, but it works on me. When those low, dark fall clouds gather, an urgency builds somewhere in the back of my mind. Wood hauling that I've postponed all summer is a lot easier to work into the schedule. That tin roofing I bought last spring to build a lean-to is now easy to find despite the overgrowth.

Sunny days are more comfortable. Sometimes I completely forget that the impending winter on a hot afternoon, but then sunset comes early and the cool wind reminds me that time is running out on another summer.

That fall air is even cooler just before the sun rises. I listen to the breeze rustle its way through the garden. It pushes the curtain away from the window and I pull up the covers, but my instinct tells me I'm wrong. I should be packing a lunch to go hunt a winter's worth of meat.

All too soon the north wind will ride the dawn hell-bent through my tomato patch. The squash vines will blacken and turn back to the soil.

When at last winter reigns, I'll be content to stoke the fire and wait for spring, but for now that fall feeling has me firmly in its grasp.
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