Wednesday, March 10, 2010

John, Paul, Gordie and Ringo

Crank up the volume right now and join the Lads from Liverpool and Gordie as they follow the sun.

Old Sol has begun his annual struggle to overcome winter's grip on the land. With the sun higher in the sky, it's winning its battle to compress the snowpack, warm the earth, and cause little patches of green and brown to sprout through our recently white landscape.

The sun's streaming through our windows and skylights, too, bouncing off white walls and doors, and collecting into little pools of heat that Gordie loves to doze in. The sunlight's a tonic for him, and a soothed Gordie brings us a smile as well. He knows every hot spot in the house, and moves camp with the sun as it travels from room to room.

Gordie clearly enjoys warming his bones in the sun. But he's been reluctant to fully explain why. If anyone can speak for him, please do so in the Comments.

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In the Every Silver Lining has a Cloud Dept., the greatly anticipated Spring sun will soon bring Mud Season with it.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Almost As Happy Not Hitting 'Em Where They Ain't Anymore

As reported here earlier, my nephew Patrick D. shot his first woodcock last November behind Gordie. Patrick killed his bird as it skimmed over a dogwood clump that was three times taller than it'd been when I first hunted "Secret Spot" in 1994.

Back then, I would often put my gun over my shoulder and with Bean on leash, walk to that field 300 yards down the street. I didn’t hunt there to save travel time. Secret Spot was a magnet for woodcock, and the hunting was terrific. But it is remorselessly maturing, and it attracts a few less birds every year.

“Maturing” seems to describe most all the places I’ve hunted over the last 30 years. So I’m always searching for new coverts. Usually “new” means “new to me,” but not always. While scouting county forests two years ago, I found a hilltop that had been “disturbed,” probably in a strong blow. Chain saws cleared only some of the mess. So a divinely hellish covert exists now where a venatic dead zone existed then. With good habitat shrinking, finding a likely new spot is definitely a cause for celebration.

Even so, lately I’m increasingly content to hunt in familiar coverts where old and friendly ghosts sit cheerily on my shoulder. What these too ripe spots may lack in bird numbers, they more than make up for in shared history. Hunters like to style that ground as sacred where they've hunted "in the good old days" with close friends canine or human, still living or gone. "Sacred" may be a reach. But the phrase acknowledges the strong link hunters hold between the land, their companions, and their collective memory of time spent together afield.

A vest full of dead birds just doesn't float my boat much anymore. A nice bird well taken, by Gordie at each end and with a middlin' shot from the gun is much more the current model for a great day afield. Could be I’m just getting old. Aging brings a melancholy familiarity with the prospect of shuffling off this mortal coil. Maybe this is learned behavior, reinforced by the relentless daily obits. On the other hand, Dwayne Hoover, a character in Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions," sported a sour outlook simply because his "chemicals" weren’t working properly. I don’t know. My bald cells and dumb cells are doing just fine. Prospering, in fact.

When the shooting starts this Fall, I won't be turning down any invitations to hunt beautiful places lousy with birds. I won't spend October sitting by the phone waiting for a call, either.  I'll have no problem hunting in my familiar but past prime places. I've got lots of good company there.

Like this hillside where Bean retrieved his first grouse. Technically, this was Bean's second grouse. The first got caught up in spruce branches on my father in law's land, thus necessitating my first retrieve (I recall that Beanie was not impressed).

Bean Retrieved His First Grouse On This Hill
And there's the flooded timber behind Cousin Richard's camp in Speculator where he took his first wood duck. We'd seen woodies galore a week before while hunting early season grouse in 1997. The following weekend, we splashed three. Enthused by that success, we've hunted the same spot every year thereafter, and haven't seen a duck since.

Good Days Together In Speculator
But come September, Richard and I'll be chasing early season grouse up in Spec' again. I can't wait. Not that we've ever killed one in September. But those old friends on my shoulder will be all rowdy and ready to rumble. I hope I never have to turn them down.

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Apologies are due to Wee Willie Keeler for hijacking his quote. For the baseball challenged, here's the history: