In the central and north Louisiana Septembers of my childhood and first college years, there was always the illusion of fall.
Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, where I spent three semesters, was a lovely hilly campus. The leaves turned the colors of trees on calendars. We walked from dorms to classes through crisp, dry air.
The downtown shops decorated their display windows for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas which we took in on walks down long narrow streets from the college.
A cool, night wind off Cane River on Front Street had us in light jackets while LSU freshmen were attending football games in their pajamas. Northwestern freshmen wore purple and white beanies.
When winter rolled in from the northwest, the cold air numbed ungloved fingers and turned one’s breath to thin clouds of vapor.
The forests of the Kisatchie wold south of campus offered us flatlanders what passed for mountain adventures.
There was a fire tower we liked to climb. If there was a fire spotter on duty, we stayed a while at the top to talk, look for smoke with the spotter’s outsized binoculars or peer through the locator’s Osborne Fire Finder, a simple, ingenious device that lined up with a topographic map of the forest below that stretched away to the horizon.
All the while, the spotter’s shortwave radio crackled, sputtered and exploded in bursts of static.
From the lookout’s tower, we peered down on treetops and the roofs of the miniature cars that brought us to Red Dirt.
Other towers in the great forest stood tall for the new season’s roll call — Big Hill, Goldonna, Gorum, Hickory Hill.
When it would start and sounded like it might make the roundtrip from campus to the fire tower, we rode out in a 1953 Plymouth Belvedere whose heater’s cherry red “On” lamp offered the only warmth the heater was able to produce.
In the just cool air, the Plymouth’s resting engine made a “ticking” sound in a cathedral of pines. The length of our visits coincided with the time required for the engine to rest sufficiently to start again.
This was long ago, young readers, during a time when women students had to be back in their dorms by a certain time each evening. More expendable, male students were free to roam woodlands and back roads until their parents received letters from the dean of men.
We never saw fire from the Red Dirt Tower and never got a girl “home” too late. “The car wouldn’t start,” while true, became a thin excuse.
In semi-tropical Baton Rouge, I watch for the first signs of fall, days in which the heat stops short of 90 degrees. I wish for a fire tower to climb so that I might look far off for signs that fall is advancing on Kisatchie and, eventually, the capital.
Contact Ed Cullen at firstname.lastname@example.org