I flew to St. Louis on the early flight. Or tried to. There was a “mechanical issue” they told us, the term that haunts modern travel, wording as nebulous as low hanging cloud; impenetrable, mysterious, slightly ominous. We got off the plane, a long, single line of pilgrims delayed on the trip to whatever Promised Land envisioned.
The last off the plan, I passed the two pilots who stood with causal indifference, chatting. I asked what the nature of the problem was and they described hydraulic fluid pooling on the tarmac under the plane. They used the same deferential tones as if telling of an early morning rain shower; nothing special.
With the impression that flying an airplane that had bled copious amounts of hydraulic fluid would not be a good idea and I asked them, “This plane isn’t going anywhere, is it?” They did not dissuade me nor encourage me.
I drove home, had breakfast and four hours later flew to the Twin Cities and made a connecting flight. I landed in St. Louis and took a cab to the motel.
Air travel is as if traveling through time and in the magic of this flight I was transported back in time, back a month, maybe six weeks, to late fall. Some trees in Missouri still held leaf, brown and dried but holding fast to branch. Lawns were muted green or turning dead-grass brown. The roadway was damp from rain, held a metallic November-like sheen to it now in early December. I’d traveled back in time.
I checked into the motel and did not leave the building for the next two days, walking from motel room downstairs to convention center and back, spending the days looking at the wares of near six dozen manufacturers and taking in the sales pitches for winter boots and hunt clothing and accessories that we’d sell next fall and winter. I wondered: Will we have cold weather then? Will we need warm boots and heavy parkas? Of the gear I saw, what will people like?
Unanswerable questions. No answers, only educated guesses.
Two afternoons later I walked into the chill air, took another cab to the airport and flew home. The time machine reversed itself and I went from late fall to early winter; magic! The Twin Cities were white with snow cover. I changed planes and flew into town at midnight to frozen lakes, snow-covered woodlands, crisp night air and a breeze that had a bite to it. The time machine had landed and lurched to a stop. It was December in Wisconsin; winter was at hand.
A day off mid-week, I headed to the basement. I found the clutter of fall seasons lying about as if leaf fallen to the ground. Hunting boots; some unlined, some insulated, hip boots and waders. Hunting jackets and vests, caps and hats, gloves and dog collars. Shades of camouflage clashed with blaze orange hats. Shotgun shells glowed in yellow and green and red, like lights on a Christmas tree.
I packed it all up. I loaded the old plastic storage containers as per their labels marked on each, “Deer hunt,” “Camo.” Smaller boxes: “12 ga steel,” “20 gauge shot,” “Accessories.” Put the big tubs on storage bins along the floor, the smaller ones on narrow shelves. I stood boots in their proper place, hung shotgun cases from rafters, put compasses and dog collar controls and multi-tools in their place.
Blaze parkas and down jackets; camo shirts and duck-hunt parkas were hung on hangers and slid onto clothing rods. I worked for several hours. When I was done the time machine had sputtered and spit and moved and then stopped; fall was over. The season of the hunt was done.
The calendar can say what it will but when hunt gear is put up the season has changed. Period.
I looked at the leftover gear, the mismatched gloves and random shot shells and baseball caps. There were six leather work gloves of indeterminate age, some showing the tawny yellow-brown of clean buckskin, some the worn and dirty dust color of a glove well used. I had the six of them laid out on a shelf like a limit of fish or a display of random found objects. Each one of the six gloves was left handed. The missing mates all rights.
What are the odds of that? How does it come to be that all the gloves that had vanished were for the same hand? I considered it, then put the lefties in a box of their own, labeled it “Left” and put it on the shelf.
With that it was as if a door had closed, the certainty of an autumn now gone. Memories remain; nothing more.
Other storage tubs were pulled out; “XC Clothing,” “Winter Gloves,” “Hats.” I put them on the shelves where I could find them all. Ski jackets, winter coats, insulted pants were hung in front of the hunt clothing. I laid out gloves on the shelf, fronted heavy pac boots and lighter snowshoe boots, arranged ski boots, packed the bicycle helmet, gloves and shoes away.
In short, I made ready for the season now at hand. When I was finished the time had changed. The basement area was no longer a fall gear storage area. It was now holding winter gear and in that change far more than a simple rearranging of gear and clothing. Simple acts can, at times, portend far more than mere housekeeping. In this was an acknowledgement of time change. It was as clean cut as getting on a plane in one place and landing hours later in another. It was, in its own manner, a flight of time, a trip out of one season and into another. It was a finality. It was an ending. It was a beginning.
I walked up the basement stairs, looked outside. It was snowing.