C.W. Gusewell


A crimson sky and thoughts of spring

I woke on that morning three weeks ago today, went downstairs to give the dogs their run, opened the south-facing door to the fenced back yard … and was met by a sky on fire.

From childhood I’d heard the old saying that appears, in one modified form or other, in many cultures and languages, even in the Bible:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

But only once before had I seen the heavens so strikingly aflame. And that was some years ago, just as I was setting out for fishing on the lake at the farm – a day that turned out to be not threatening at all, but magical.

I’m sure, if you were awake and afoot at half past 6 a.m. that Sunday before Christmas, you witnessed the spectacle, too.

Its prophecy of evil weather was false, for the day turned out to be pleasingly mild. By the middle of the following week, however, a bitter front had rolled in from the north.

That’s the capricious nature of this time of year.

I remember an occasion even later than this – in February it was – when we had an evening cookout in a park with friends whose children, like ours, were small.

The temperature well after dark still was in the 70s. We stood around the fire in the open oven, not for the warmth but because it was pretty, and talked until it was our youngsters’ bedtimes.

It seemed the season might spare us any discomfort after all. Eight hours later, though, when we woke the thermometer read 12.

Then, as now, winter surely was upon us. And the only comfort at such a time is to work at imagining spring.

I’ve had correspondence from some of the group that gathers each April at my cabin for several of the important events of the year’s sweet turning.

One of those is the mating season of the wild turkey, when males of the species go prospecting through the woods, crying out their lust in throaty gobbles.

Another is the bloom of morel mushrooms, abundant in some years but never entirely dependable.

Some Aprils there’s been a litter of newborn fox kits under the cabin. That’s happened twice, though last year the vixen did not return.

Always dependable, however, are the breakfasts and dinners in nearby eateries – Smith’s in Collins, or the Blue Inn in Appleton City – grub prepared by country ladies who could teach the celebrated chefs of Paris a thing or two about the art of fine cuisine.

The nominal purpose of our assembling is to hunt, but it’s these other enticements that make the short nights and 4 a.m. risings worth the pain.

And about now is when my longtime friends in Seattle and Indiana and Florida begin counting down the days.