Fall has finally found the Southern Plains.

It came late, as it is wont to do in Texas, but it’s here, evidenced by subtle changes apparent on a drive from Denton to Lubbock.

The scenery proved more colorful than in September, the last time I was up this way. The burnt-gold palette of mesquite transformed rangeland into a more picturesque vista than the dusty green of summer.

Rivers turned red with recent rains and the thin ribbons of water sparkled in the morning sunshine. Emerald splotches of wheat stood out starkly against a pale blue, wispy, white cloud sky.

Folks at the Aspermont Dairy Queen openly discussed deer season and admitted they had yet to put a doe in the freezer or a buck on the wall. Diners at one tabled discussed the poor showing to date of the Dallas Cowboys and tried to total up the number of passes Terrell Owens had already dropped.

Several young ladies with red and black Texas Tech tee shirts held up well under the disappointment of another Red Raider late-season collapse. No Texas Longhorns were evident, apparently still mourning the certainty that no repeat National Championship will come this year. Aggies, too, either stayed home or stayed quiet and folks from Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska had the good sense to do the same.

Up on the High Plains, sand hill cranes vainly attempted to emulate the v-formations perfected by geese. I saw inverted Ys, some misshapen, upside down, lower case Hs and other indiscernible units of the alphabet impaired by the cranes’ innately poor penmanship.

Ducks sat on playa lakes that were dust bowls just weeks ago.

A 45-mile per hour wind began in the afternoon, nothing new or different for the High Plains, but this breeze carried tufts of cotton lint, bits of corn stalks and milo

leaves along with the ubiquitous red dust that accompanies West Texas zephyrs.

The deejay on the country radio station predicted more wind for tomorrow, more dust, no rain. He said temperatures might drop below freezing tomorrow night.

I wish I had packed a jacket.

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com