To my mind, summer ends with the first snow.

For most of twenty years, I lived high in the Colorado mountains. My home sat well over 10,000 feet. Looking out my window, peaks rose to over 14,000 feet. Snow fell every month. The first year I lived there, we woke up to eight inches in-town on the second of July. The Colorado Department of Agriculture says our average growing season, between frosts, is seven days.

Yet with all this, there would be one snow, late in August or early September that spiritually became the end of summer. That was it. Done. The end of summer.

The snow would melt over a couple of days, remaining intact in the north side shadows and between close buildings. The air, crystalline clear, carried a different feel. Fuzzies worn all day. Ball caps replaced by toques. Sandals by runners and socks.

This was fall.

Eventually the days chilled further, only rising a bit above freezing by noon. The fallen gold leaves blown by the wind collected around leeward corners. The snow fell and stayed.

And we started winter.

I write this sitting on a bench by the Elk River. The clouds over the Lizard Range were grey and turn now to an orange-red above the Lizard Range. A single cloud hangs over Polar Peak, brilliant pink.

A brown lab with an orange ball in her mouth ran by a few minutes ago. Following close behind, a man on a fat tire bike. In a few minutes, the lab is back and drops the ball at my feet. The ball rolls away and she chases it before I can get up and toss it.

“Sorry about that.”

“No problem. I miss my dog. I don’t get enough dog time anymore.”

And they run/ride off into the darkening evening.

The river runs soft. Low, banks exposed, there is a resting nature to the river in the fall.

A couple of nights ago, before the snow, we sat on a friend’s deck at about the same time. A vee of geese flew overhead, just above the trees. Honking and their wings clearly heard brushing the air on every unison downbeat. Maybe fifteen or twenty, ready to head out, they dropped over the cottonwoods by the river and landed.

The bench I sit on has a brass plaque.

“In memory of Tom Stokie who loved this valley”

Kind of says it all.

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