Change on the Wind

The early morning wind rises with the sun from the east. Where I live, an east wind blows change. There’s a meteorological explanation for this, of course, but long before there was meteorology or meteorologists the east wind blew change.

The wind (it’s not a breeze) rattles the two black walnut trees in the far backyard and yellow leaves from the leaning pair whirl in a darting, up-and-down dance while I sip coffee on the big wooden deck high above the yard.

I don’t know why walnut trees seem to be the first to send up the yellow flags of autumn around here but they always do, sometimes weeks before a hickory, maple, oak or linden catches the hint. In my native southern Illinois, that job was done by the cottonwoods and sycamores.

The big red oaks just to the left of my early morning perch are, like last year, heavy with ripening acorns. A lumpy carpet of green ones already litter my worn path to the mailbox. It wouldn’t be much of a brag to say that this year’s acorn crop is, relatively speaking, as big as this year’s corn crop.

Lovely springs, wet Julys and mild Augusts will do that for acorns. Corn, too.

And, this year, varmints.

The three, 5-ft.-by-10-ft. raised planting beds I built near the woods this past spring have been turned into late night banquet tables for a sudden surge of tomato-eating groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, opossum and deer. I now spot two partially eaten Better Boys that have had their last better day.

The varmints are strict vegans, though, because throughout the summer they have not touched a record crop of plump, purple eggplants.

This summer’s tomato raiders have attracted another critter. Twice in the last month, while slurping my morning coffee, I’ve watched a red fox trot regally through my backyard on its early morning rounds of what appears to be its backyard. Both times the small female walked so near to me that I see its whiskers.

More leaves and more thoughts float by.

I look around for Maggie, the old farmette dog, that shares these quiet early mornings with me. She will not arrive. She went for her final, painful walk nearly two months ago—I know, because I took her—but I’m still in the habit of looking for her to sit with me to take a measure, together, of each new day.

Like most farm-raised folk, I am not sentimental about livestock or pets. I am, however, not ready to let go of Maggie’s 14 years of guarding jealously and loving generously the family that took her in. In short order, of course, it was she who took us in.

As I sit with coffee but no Maggie, a sparkling one-liner by Mark Twain about dogs and their masters comes to mind. “Heaven goes by favor,” Twain once cracked, “if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

The wind builds and clouds begin thicken in the southeast. More rain is coming.

This summer’s rain has made Illinois look like Ireland. The only thing greener than the crabgrass in my backyard is the alfalfa in my neighbor’s field. He taken four cuttings already and a fifth—a rarity in this part of Illinois—is all but certain.

And, of course, given the good planting season and a near-perfect growing season, the corn and soybean crops for miles and miles around me will be huge. Both are now turning the corner into harvest and they, like my walnut trees, are showing September’s colors, not just June’s.

Only luck can bring a fall as mild and beautiful as this summer and winter is too far off to even care about. But change is coming; you can feel it on the wind.

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