PRESCOTT - The sun arrives late - a brilliant orange disc as it ascends above the Blue Mountains - and takes its leave early this time of year.
It casts long shadows across undulating hills and warms the earth just a little less with each passing day. But at its height, the sun bathes acre upon acre of farmland here in vivid shades of green and gold and brown as its warmth penetrates the autumn haze.
This is the time of year when longtime Prescott farmer Sam Grant has always taken respite from his labors. Last summer's wheat is harvested, stored and perhaps even sold. And next year's crop is in the ground, its young shoots already poking through the rich, soft soil and turning fields of black to shimmering green.
Oh, there might still be some spraying to get done. Some weed and rust control to deal with. But this has been Sam's time to enjoy one of his favorite passions.
From Prescott to Touchet, Waitsburg, Dayton and Walla Walla, Sam has been an avid high school football fan. He's followed them all to the point of caring about their success.
My relationship with Sam, who died last Monday night at the age of 76, goes back to 1975, when Prescott defeated Pe Ell 58-0 for the Tigers' first and only state high school football championship. The game was played in Lacrosse, and I was assigned to cover the game for the Union-Bulletin.
Sam's son, Mark, was a sophomore lineman on that Prescott team. And needless to say, Sam was there, pacing the sidelines like a caged lion.
Better make that like a caged Tiger.
And from that point forward, Sam became my most ardent fan, if sports writers can have such a thing as fans. We crossed paths often - lunchtime at the Turf on Second Avenue was a likely time and place - and Sam never missed the opportunity to compliment me on a recent story that I had written.
In a way, Sam was the anti-reader.
More often than not, reader feedback in this business is negative in nature. And while I'm sure Sam didn't agree with every story that appeared in the U-B under my byline, I never heard a critical word pass from his lips. It was totally positive.
In fact, Sam became a motivational force for me in my development as a writer.
Tired of writing the same, ordinary lead for every game I covered, I searched for unusual angles for my stories. And Sam always noticed.
"Where did you come up with that?" he'd ask after reading my most recent story.
That only motivated me further. And I believe it made me a better writer.
So thanks for that, Sam.
Sam's love of high school football was overshadowed only by his undying devotion to the Notre Dame Irish.
Although it was before my time, I'm sure a youthful Sam Grant revelled in Notre Dame's gridiron dominance in the 1940s when the Irish won four national championships under coach Frank Leahy. He was likewise just as proud of the Irish's national crowns under Ara Parseghian in 1966 and 1973, Dan Devine's title in 1977 and the school's last championship in 1988 when Lou Holtz was at the helm.
But Sam was rightfully chagrined when Notre Dame hired high school coaching phenom Gerry Faust, who won just 30 games in five seasons as head coach beginning in 1981. And he voiced his disappointed as well for Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis, each of whom wallowed dangerously close to the .500 level during their coaching stints in South Bend.
Sam just shook his head when their names were brought up.
I never had the chance to visit with Sam about Brian Kelly, who took over the Notre Dame program this fall. But with a 4-3 record going into Saturday's game against Navy, I'm pretty sure Sam's keeping track of the Irish's progress with a critical eye from somewhere up above.
But win or lose - and I don't remember the year or the outcome - one of Sam's greatest thrills was making the trip back to Indiana to watch Notre Dame play in person in the 1990s. His eyes twinkled, as only his could, and his smile stretched from ear to ear whenever I talked with him about that memorable weekend.
It was also in the early 1990s that Sam and I became shirttail relatives when Mark married my daughter Miriam. Together, they helped raise Mark's two daughters, Amber and RaeAnn, and Miriam's daughter, Erin. And in 1996, they were blessed with twins, Michael and Hannah.
Our two families gathered to celebrate holidays and other important occasions numerous times over the years, usually at Mark and Miriam's farm home. And it was always great to get together with Sam and talk sports.
But as Sam's health began to fade in the last couple of years, he made only brief appearances at these events or chose not come at all. And he was always missed.
Sam fought the good fight. But when he learned a couple of weeks ago that his cancer was inoperable, he decided against further treatment and returned to his home a few miles west of Prescott.
No one, I suspect, understands the cycle of life any better than a farmer. And Sam realized his had come full circle and that it was time for that autumn respite.
Rest easy, Sam.