I go out for coffee four or five mornings a week, but rotate between four different shops.  One shop is close to home and easy to get to by bicycle or by foot. It, however, is also near the university where I worked before retirement and is frequented by former colleagues. Some of them like to stop and chat, and as much as I enjoy their company, I avoid that shop when I want to be by myself. A second shop is downtown, so I go there if I have other business to take care of. A third shop is near my gym. The fourth is in an unattractive strip mall next to a hairdresser and a vacuum cleaner repair shop, but it’s the quietest of the four hangouts.

A few days ago I was at the strip mall coffee shop. My favorite spot there is the most southern table of a row of tables running along the shop’s east-facing wall of windows. The immediate view out the window is of the parking lot, but in the distance I can see the La Crosse bluffs. Geologically, Ice Age-era Lakes Agassiz and Duluth drained massive amounts of water down the Mississippi River Valley, scouring out a wide river bed and creating sheer sandstone banks on either side. Once the glacial floodwaters receded, the banks became bluffs and all but the main channel between the bluffs became dry land. All of the river towns on the Upper Mississippi sit upon the ancient riverbed. My own yard, for example, was underwater at the end of the Ice Age. I live more than a mile from the current location of the river, but the soil on my property is a little more than trucked-in topsoil sprinkled over a sandbar that runs at least as deep as the foundation of my house. 

Since mid-September, I’d been arriving at this coffee shop before the sun shows itself above the far bluff. Once it appears, I have to lower the blinds on my section of the window to keep the glare off my computer screen. Two mornings ago, for the first time since last winter, I did not have to lower the blinds at all. The sunrise had shifted enough from due east to southeast that the first sunbeams of morning missed my corner table altogether. My immediate thought about the repositioning of the sun was that winter was on its way.

I was right. Two mornings later I woke up to four inches of snow.

Steven Simpson