Sunday afternoon slips along like the wheels of the van as we head up the back road to the hockey arena. The leaves on the trees in the woodlots that line the fields have just started to change colour. There are some bright yellows and soft ambers but autumn is still guarding her cards, waiting to show her full hand of russet and sienna hues. The sky is a powder puff blue haphazardly scattered with cumulous chiffon scarves. Turkey vultures congregate on the fences and roads in greater numbers than usual. They’re heading south looking for warmer climes to wait out the winter’s cold. We receive dirty looks as they reluctantly waddle off the road making way for the van. It rained last week and the pastures are green expanses dotted with the white of the sheep and the earthy tones of cows.
The sound of the radio mixes with the buzz emanating from the prodigal son’s mp3 player’s earphones. It has to be loud enough to drown out our music, which means we can only hear it a bit. It’s not bad for us but probably ear shattering for him and that is just the way he likes it. We’re dressed for the arena and it’s warm in the car but the open windows bring in a sweet September breeze redolent of sun and harvest.
This past weekend was the company’s annual fishing derby. Our family contingent was absent this year due to scheduling conflicts. Regardless the day was not a mystery, as fishermen like to tell their tales (big and small if you know what I mean). Hearsay though it is, I am made party to the comings and goings of the small band of adventurers who edge my world in second hand fact only. Bait and rods, boats and secret techniques are bandied about in the secret language of angler-ese. Mark the salesmen, so called for his never ending desire to always sell whether it be raffle tickets, giftware or his life philosophy was betrayed by fate. The great teller of tales sells his tale of woe, a disqualification for returning 2 minutes too late. He wouldn’t have won first but his catch might have qualified for second or third for sure.
Gus and Little Joe joined forces to meet the challenge. Gus is a solid man, old school, salt of the earth born and bred. A taciturn soul, he doesn’t know how not to work. Little Joe is a chatty man some 10 or 15 years Gus’s junior. Little Joe earned his name through his lack of stature and a need for his coworkers to distinguish him from a Big Joe who worked in the same department. Big Joe has long since departed but the diminutive moniker has stayed. Gus and Little Joe spent an enjoyable day together out in the boat. With only the single misstep of having lost the prop off their trawling motor they couldn’t have been happier. The fact that they were disqualified from the derby for leaving too early didn’t lessen their enjoyment. The biggest upset this year occurred when a woman who works in the paint department won the derby. All the bass boats and bravado were for naught as the lady brought home the bacon (so to speak). It’s a catch and release derby so she didn’t have to "fry it up in a pan".
The rhythm of the talk rises and falls joining the sound of the wind and the music and the wheels. A field of wheat stretches out flat to end in a distant wall of trees. Silhouetted against the sky a hawk dives and levels out even with the van window. She coasts along, wings spread to keep pace with us. I can see the white of her breast and the grey wings tipped with red are clear against the sky. We are frozen, she and I, eye to eye as the road rushes below in a grey blur grounding the tableau of gold wheat and powder blue sky. The sound of the wind fills my ears and the sky lifts me up…a silky firmament, strong yet supple. A flap of her wings and she is gone. Veering off into that sky, fading to a small dark mark and then oblivion lost in the sun.
The wind gives way once again to join the chorus of voice, music and wheels. There were some bruised egos but the worst day of fishing is better than the best day at work after all. Maybe next year they might be able to go. Sunday afternoon slips a little further along as the wheels eat up the road. Somewhere across the fields red tipped wings catch the late afternoon sun as they rest in trees tinged with yellow and amber. Golden eyes, dark rimmed and flecked with amber wait for autumn to call and show her hand of queens in russet and kings of burnt gold and umber as the powder blue sky wheels overhead.