It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good, old fashioned blue norther. Right now, I’m done with the summer and looking forward to that cool, pine-scrubbed air fresh from the northlands.
The truth is I’ve been done with the summer since June 1.
Now, let’s get something out of the way. I’ve had discussions with book editors about the word, “norther.” One copy editor insisted on northern, and I had to direct that individual toward a real dictionary. My computer and I argued about it, too, insisting on changing my spelling, but trust me, it’s right at the proper spelling, norther.
I’ve never enjoyed hot weather. That’s why I keep looking to the north, waiting for that glorious line of dark clouds that has yet to surface this year. I’d know more about weather patterns and what to expect if the weather forecasters would concentrate on what matters to us here in Northeast Texas.
For example, Old Harold Taft (NBC Channel 5) used his paper maps and chalk lines to talk about the fronts building up in the northwest country. He’d stay that’s where our winter weather came from, and we needed to keep an eye on it, along with fronts coming in from California.
Hummm, that’s probably the only thing I want to see coming this way from the left coast.
Today, local forecasters this time of the year spend a considerable amount of time talking with breathless excitement about Atlantic hurricanes, even those that aren’t even thinking of heading in our direction.
They concentrate on the Virgin Islands, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Caribbean and how big the storm is getting. Category 1 is always exciting to them, and they can’t wait to say Cat 2.
I don’t care what’s happening out there if it’s heading away from the U.S. I want to know what’s building up there in Canada. Talk to me about the snowstorms that are already closing passes in the northwest tier of states with more than four feet of snow.
We’re from Texas. We love to hear and talk about snow. It makes us happy.
I recall one norther when I was a kid. One morning the horizon beyond the hay barn in Lamar County began to darken. We’d been outside fooling around in the warm, humid air when the Old Man came out.
“It’s coming up a cloud over there.”
That was the first one I watched with real interest. The thin line building in Oklahoma thickened. The color intensified. The south wind that had been blowing for the past two days dropped off.
Thick with humidity, it felt like you could wring water out of the very air. Almost drawn to the storm, I stepped off the porch and climbed into the back of my granddad’s 48 Chevrolet pickup, kicking bailing wire, empty feed sacks, and loose hay out from under my feet.
The Old Man joined me, leaning over the back of the pickup.
“That one’s gonna be a booger.”
The line grew closer, and taller. Blue black, it rose above the barn like a great wave rolling in from the ocean. A flock of dove rocketed past, sharp and bright against the storm.
He pointed at the disappearing birds.
“They’re headed for the roost.”
“Will it be long before it gets here?”
“Naw, I’ve seen ‘em roll in in less than an hour. Once when I was a kid, we got one that popped up over the creek and half an hour later it went from hot to cold. I bet the temperature dropped sixty degrees, and the next thing we knew, it was sleeting.”
“Will we get sleet out of this one?”
“Don’t know. You can bet we’ll be hunting a coat before it’s over.”
“We didn’t bring coats.”
“Then we’ll have to get inside.”
“I want to watch it come.”
“I know, but I imagine it’ll run us in pretty quick.”
The line soon towered above us, stretching as far as we could see across the horizon. I stood there in the bed of that truck like Captain Ahab on the bow of his ship. Quail called from the pasture.
The Old Man worked on his chew and spat
“They’re calling one another together before it hits. That storm I was telling you about killed a lot of birds. They say up past Wichita Falls they found ‘em froze to death in little circles.”
The cows in the pasture drifted toward the hay barn intending to use the barn as a wind break.
The Old Man pointed toward a tall sycamore half a mile away.
“Here it comes.”
I followed his point, and saw the big tree bend like a fishing rod fighting a big catfish.
It bent again, harder, then the grass rippled, pushing in our direction. Loose grass rose beside the hay barn and the next thing I knew, a blast of cold air hit me like a soft pillow. Seconds later, another strong gust slammed us and I was caught in a swirl of flying hay, dust and paper feed sacks.
The wind cut right through my thin summer clothes and I climbed over the tailgate. Clothes flapping, I headed toward the porch. We retreated to the door and stood there as the temperature dropped ten, twenty, then thirty degrees in minutes.
When it was too cold to stay outside, we stepped into the warm kitchen, leaving the wooden door open and the screen closed. The strong wind sucked out the heat that had been building in the house, and by noon, someone lit the space heater.
I can’t wait for cool weather. Might just run through the backyard in my drawers once it gets here. With the dewpoint at 77% and the humidity at 83%, and a forecast of 92, I’m losing my patience. It’s October for cryin’ out loud. I need autumn, and I need it now.
Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Hawke’s Target.”