A longtime colleague of mine is fixing to leave the Delta for a city somewhat Up Nawth of here, and we were driving a back road the other day when she took a deep breath and declared, “I’m going to miss the smells of the Delta so much – I love the smoky smell of a Delta Fall!”
There it is: the land where we live, during this time of the year when farmers are burning off rice fields, or someone is burning a pile of leaves, or a county crew is burning off a ditchbank. Of course, she didn’t mean the thick, choking cloud of smoke like when you’re close to the fire, but just the vague smoky smell that’s always in the air this time of year. I had to agree with her, though I amended her version to include a whiff of burnt gunpowder, slightly tinged with gun oil, and threw in a touch of ripe muscadine odor.
She was feeling nostalgic, and allowed my amendments. I shared that one of my favorite autumn smells was the perfume of ripe cotton, when the fields are mostly white, but before they are defoliated. I no longer farm (and praise the Lord that I ain’t got a dog in that hunt this year!) but that smell lingers with me each fall to remind me of the good ole days when farming was still fun.
Driving back home this afternoon, after a couple of cool spells the past two weeks, I could see autumn coming. Autumn and turkey season are the times of the year when I am most sympathetic with son Adam, who is color-blind. He cannot see the early signs of autumn here in the Delta: the bright red of the sumac and poison oak leaves, the dark red rust of the cypresses, the warm orange of the sassafras leaves (which may be ground and used as gumbo file’), the startling yellow of the persimmon leaves as the fruit ripens and drops, nor the purple shades of the sweetgums.
Actually, it’s hard to categorize sweetgum leaves: the majority of them might be purple, but they come in all shades from red and yellow to orange and pink. Trying to blood-trail a wounded buck through a stand of sweetgums is well-nigh impossible – unless it is night and your son is color-blind! Most folks don’t know that color-blind people pick up the sheen of wet blood drops in the dusk better than normal-seeing people. At least, until the dew rises.
Betsy and I sat out on the screen porch after supper with a glass of wine from the aforementioned muscadines. As the dusk darkened to night, the little screech owls cranked up behind the house, calling to each other with their quavering cries. Really hot weather seems to shut them up, but when autumn arrives, they sure love to talk to each other, and we love to hear them. We’ve raised several screech owls to maturity, and they make the finest pets a family could ever hope for. We like to think – and we’re probably correct – that the ones calling out here at Brownspur tonight are the progeny of Hoot, Gordo, Don Quixote, or Monfred, the Red Baron.
Then a bigger owl started hooting at the back of the yard, next to the Mammy Grudge (the canal that runs through Brownspur). It was either a barred owl or a great horned owl, and it was rather low-key about hooting until another answered it from over toward Rick’s Woods. The two owls woke up the family of red wolves that den up somewhere over that direction. We were glad to hear them again; they had been silent for a few months. Come to think of it, we hadn’t heard a pack of coyotes all summer either, but since it got a little cooler, these has been a pack come fairly close every few nights.
Early that next morning, when I went outside to empty yesterday’s coffee grounds, I had to stare in awe at the bright sky. There was a half moon, but it was sure bright, and Orion the Hunter was perched right over the big cottonwood tree on the ditchbank. The stars don’t seem this bright in the summer or winter, for some reason. The moon had a golden ring about it, and I spouted off the verses from “The Wreck Of The Hesperus”: “Then up spake an old sailor, had sailed to the Spanish Main, ‘I prithee, put into yonder port, for I fear a hurricane: last night the moon had a golden ring, and tonight no moon we see!’ The skipper he blew a whiff from his pipe, and a scornful laugh laughed he.”
I inhaled a deep breath of the vaguely smoky air, squinted at the bright yellow leaves on the persimmon tree shining in the moonlight, and went to make Slung Coffee.