Sometimes, I enjoy going back and reading an old essay.
I have a lot of favorites... this is one of them.
I hope reading this will slow down your day (just a bit) and perhaps, bring back a fond memory or two.
“Memory is a man's real possession...In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor.” ~ Alexander Smith
When I was a boy, the year was divided into just three parts. In descending order of importance they were; the hunting season, Christmas, and the rest of the year.
Once I was old enough to drive and began exploring the local river bottoms, duck hunting became my singular passion. Everything about it appealed to me. It was romantic to be awake in the hours before dawn, while the rest of the world slept. It was exciting to be on the rivers and in the flooded timber, wild and dangerous places in the extremes of winter. Perhaps, most importantly, the birds were migrants from mysterious and distant lands. I fell in love with duck hunting for the same reason I prefer to fish moving water. It’s said that you can never step into the same river twice. Likewise, a duck marsh is in a constant state of change with weather and migration.
I hadn't fully appreciated how important duck hunting was to me until, a few years ago, I gave it up for a season. The decision wasn't made lightly, nor was it welcome.
My wife, Lisa, deftly balances my passions with the precarious living I make as an artist. The second floor of our home had tipped the equilibrium, however. I’d gutted it seven years before to prepare a nursery for the arrival of our daughter, who was then six years old. My time and focus were needed at home.
Although I didn’t hunt that season, I still tasted the wind and gauged the weather every time I went to the woodshed. My snow-bound canoe hadn’t moved from its resting place under the cedars, but my heart thrilled to think of meandering through the labyrinth of channels in the marsh. My eyes still searched the evening sky.
Just as we sometimes take our loved ones for granted, forgetting the small things about them that are unique and special to us, I found that not hunting for a season inspired me to reflect upon what I love most about time in the marsh.
Certain sparks were predictable of course, like watching a pair of mallards twist through the trees to land on the brook behind the studio. Others were more subtle and interesting.
These were some of my most poignant recollections.
Waking to the sound of Luke's tail thumping in the darkness. Certainly he’d known that we were hunting; he'd watched my preparations. But, how had he known it was time to go? Had I stirred, or had he been awake all night?
The smell of that first cup of coffee; it’s different standing on the back porch in the darkness.
I miss the pre-dawn moan of the wind through the limbs of the ancient white pine that guards our home.
The dark, low, woolen sky spitting sleet, and the sound of it on the tin roof of the woodshed.
Water dripping off the end of my canoe paddle, and the reflections of the night sky, distorted by the wake of my passing.
And, the sound of gusts, coming suddenly through the flooded timber driving wind-devils across the water.
I didn’t realize how much I cherished the slow eventual greying of dawn, and the smell of wet wool, a wet dog, and pipe tobacco.
Or, the lonely calls of crows, as they paddle across the sky.
I’d forgotten about the marsh hay I’d gathered into my blind for the added insulation... grateful for the retriever beside me.
And, Luke’s whining when he spotted birds on the horizon I hadn't yet seen.
I can close my eyes and hear the ripping-silk sound of unseen ducks as they fall from the sky.
And, the sound of shot shells falling to the floor of the blind as I desperately tried to reload.
Nothing tastes as good as a nearly frozen liverwurst sandwich and a barely warm boiled egg.
I remember dusk creeping across the marsh and up the bluff. The rusty reds of the oaks deepening to ruby and orange while the shadows turned into pools of ultramarine and purple.
I miss the calling of swans, portending the last of the northern birds.
Maple leaves showering upon the river as I paddled through long afternoon shadows.
I’ll never forget the sound of snow falling on still evenings.
Or, the contentment of watching birds hang under the eave of the back porch, a perfect kinetic sculpture twisting in the wind.
I hunger for the smell of roasting duck, and the sizzle of dripping fat. The earthy aroma of wild rice and butternut squash, and the sound of a long cork pulled from a bottle of Argentine Malbec.
And, I yearn for the sound of Luke's tail on the floor as he chases ducks in his dreams.
Later, in bed, while following the twisted thread between consciousness and my own dreams, I realized that the most poignant hunting stories are written after the season’s end... just as the truest love poems are composed in the absence of a lover.
Luke's been gone for several years... but I still wake to his muzzle gently, but silently, on the bed next to my face.
There are no more ducks in the freezer, none hanging on the porch.
"Make it matter, fuckos." jhnnythndr
" Herre jävlar vilka fiskar!!" P-A
"I'm no saint though, nor a judge. Rock that shit good and hard, and on your way out, wipe your dick on the curtains." - Kyner