The Times Between

Late September and early October are the odd time on the High Plains, neither summer nor autumn. They can be dreadfully wet, with record-setting and often lethal floods that came so often around the last weeks of September that people referred to them as the equinoctial storms. Or they can bounce from frost at dawn to 85 F by noon. Mornings feel crisp, almost intoxicatingly so some days, while late afternoon basks under a blanket of thick, golden sunlight that lulls everything into sleep, cinnamon and honey evenings that deepen into cool nights. The evening light draws gold out of everything it touches, gilding the world.

Pumpkin patches rise up overnight at the wave of an enchanter’s wand, transforming empty lots and parking pave into orange and yellow mazes. Green grass vanishes, replaced by hay bales, shocks of dry corn stalks, and hordes of gourds. Small children stagger as they try to carry pumpkins larger than they are, claiming their fat, round treasures. The trees also begin turning gold and orange as green fades away, a little here, a little there, and then one morning Midas has struck and cottonwood gold shimmers in the wind. The native grasses fade into the tan, purple, brown and golden fur of winter, seed heads bowing like flags in a stout wind. Sunflowers bloom then fade, black and rattlesome heads clattering as the wind shakes them before it ruffles the grass and chases a last dance of gnats to the south. Orange butterflies drift through, bound for the southland.

With the cool comes dry, sometimes. You go away from town, stop at that bend in the county road that hides the closest house, and the grass-furred land extends forever until it meets the hard edge of a brilliant blue sky. Browns and blue, the colors of the time between.

A no-smell fills the air. Dew-touched at sunrise, but scentless once the grasses dry. The wind blows dry but not dusty, inviting open windows. Only if you step into the grass do you catch the pungent, cutting scent of crushed leaves. Otherwise? Nothing. Unless the grass burns, and a cinnamon or heavy, rank smell of domesticated grasses fills the air. Come the next hard cold front, wood smoke will begin to trickle down from the chimneys, oak and pine and mesquite and the oh so rich and rare piñon.

Fire-thorn and hawthorn turn red and orange, their berries stripped overnight by passing robins and waxwings.

The heat of the day comes later and later, the sun no longer pounds or burns. Even in the late afternoon it only caresses, sliding every farther to the south, away from the land. Night comes early and lingers, Orion rivalling the rising sun in the morning twilight. For this is the season of goings, of geese and cranes, waxwings and monarchs, of the fading sun and harvest-empty fields, the time between.

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