Yesterday I accompanied my son on the first day of youth duck hunting, a weekend reserved for hunters under 16, so long as they’re accompanied by a licensed adult hunter. He wakes me at 2:30, and it’s just the two of us in the house, so we turn on all the lights and heedlessly bang about as we gather ourselves. The cats prowl the room, sleepy eyed and confused, though possibly no more so than usual. The boy insists on the early start to secure our spot, and also to allow plentiful time for arranging his decoys and erecting a blind. I’ve deemed the rude awakening unnecessary, but I’ve also decided not to argue, to instead try to appreciate his excitement. I’ve also decided to take a nap later in the day.

It’s a few minutes past 4:00 when we slide the canoe into the water. It’s loaded to the gunwales and rides low. We paddle by headlamp. It’s cool but not cold. In the beams of our headlamps, we see a fish under the water, silvery and quick. We arrive at the appointed spot, a small island of reeds at the far end of the shallow pond. I watch my son set his decoys. He knows just how he wants them.

Six hours later, we paddle back to the truck, three lifeless wood ducks gathered in the bottom of the boat. Their features are almost indescribably delicate, and when I turn them over in my hands, their capacity for flight seems almost logical. Of course something this small, this intricate, this precise, can fly. Of course.

This morning, the house empty (the same son off hunting again, this time accompanied by his mother), I drink the last of the coffee, and, wanting another cup, make the short drive to procure more. On the way home, coming up the mountain road, lost in thought, like a thousand times before, I round a corner to find a heron standing in the middle of the road. It’s an improbable sight: A heron? On the mountain road? Really?

I hit the brakes, and the heron too must be distracted, because seconds tick by before he (she?) alerts to my presence. The sky has been low and thick all morning, but is just now breaking into pieces to let the sun shine through in wide swaths. It comes through the windshield, warm on my face. I watch the bird until he sees me, and then, in seconds, he is gone.

14 thoughts on “Birds”

  1. Beautiful! My property shares a boundary with the public land surrounding a sizeable lake (for the Great Plains) that hosts a heron rookery every summer. I often look out my office window to see a heron fishing in my little farm pond or just standing around grooming his/her feathers. They look so weird on the ground but so graceful in the water or flying.

    1. I love seeing them. This morning Rye and I actually saw the same (I’m assuming, b/c there can’t be too darn many herons around here) bird flying.

  2. Ben

    I can’t tell you how much your writing means to me as a New England ex-pat living in Texas. It’s always emotionally spot on!

  3. Jiminy! You know just how to put the words together so we can see all of it in our mind’s eye. The line I loved best was the one about the fish in the water in the headlamps. Then thinking about the intricacy and precision of the duck I am reminded how I tell my husband that The Environment must be our number one priority because its unfathomable complexity makes it almost impossible to repair once we’ve damaged it. The duck, as an example of intricacy, shows us how we can never recreate what Mother Nature has put together. So we must try not to mess it up. To live as lightly as possible on the land.

    1. So well said. The current president who is viciously anti-environment should read your post. But then, it couldn’t possibly sink in.

      1. So we won’t waste our time on him. He can sit by the wayside and watch while we get everyone who will in our club and he can pout and feel left out. I have no pity for the likes of him.

  4. What a great idea, having a weekend for young shooters – if I knew who to suggest it to here in New Zealand, I would do so.

    Your writing, as always, is so brilliant I feel familiar with your part of the world, so very far from me. Thank you.

  5. Cally Brown, I’d say it’s commonplace here in the states to have youth weekends for many hunts, at least it is in Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky I know.
    Wood ducks are beautiful. I saw a couple on a pond near here while passing in a car. Wish I could have had a better view, but have never seen them again.
    Nice job Rye.

  6. I think what keeps me reading this blog is my lust for living in nature, like you do. To live with the seasons, to experience the quietness of the forest (or loudness:}), to feel what it’s like to provide for yourself….I crave that feeling of being truly alive. When you live in the rat race, and your family doesn’t want to leave it, you are stuck making a choice….there are times I feel like I can’t go on with one foot in modern society and one foot out, but your blog really helps some of us not go completely insane in that other world. No pressure! :}

  7. Not too sure that I’d know the difference between a decoy and a lifeless wood duck. Pretty cool, having a son wake you up at all, let alone pre pre-sunrise.

  8. What a pleasure to read as I sip my morning tea. The descriptions put me right there in the moment. Though the 2:30am wake up made me cringe. haha

  9. The webcams at Cannon Mountain and Wildcat are showing snow and/or heavy hoar frost at higher elevations. Have you had any winter precipitation at your place yet?

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