Meditations of a duck hunter
BY MITCH MODE
Special to the Star Journal
Black night; steady rain, rapping at the windows like birdshot, rattling on the roof. I stoked the wood stove, sipped a Scotch and read an old book about hunts now long gone. The radio was background noise; football and thus of small consequence.
In the dark of the night I woke to more rain, harsh and unsettling. Embers glowed in the stove. I added another oak bolt, locked the stove door, lay back in the blackness to the sound of storm.
I hunted ducks at daybreak in light drizzle and fog that drew down the world. I saw very few ducks, missed badly on the one shot I had. The wooden decoys floated, gray and unconvincing. They did not inspire confidence. I sat for an hour and a half then pulled the decoys, stored them away and went back to the shack for coffee.
Two nights later the wind blew hard and there were no stars, only the sound of the wind in the trees. I read from another book; the stove beat down the chill in the shack; the temperature outside had dropped nearly 20 degrees. I stood on the step before I closed down for the night and felt the wind and on the wind was an excitement, a promise of change coming in. On the wind was a wildness. I closed the door firmly and went to bed.
In the night the wind blew with muscle and anger as if a spirit was riding in from a land of ancient fable. It was blackness all around save for the red glow from the glass door on the stove.
The next morning the wind blew and I said to myself, “There will be ducks moving on this,” migrants come from northern regions, from Lake Superior, from high lakes farther north. I set the decoys and waited. Dawn came slowly on the wind under thick, fast-moving cloud. I saw one flock of ducks, a few pairs, a few singles. That was all. I did not fire a shot and left wondering how I could be so mistaken; it seemed a day made for duck hunters.
Perhaps it was; perhaps the day was made for hunting. Perhaps, though, it was not a day for shooting.
The color was near peak on this day, a gorgeous world of wonder and glory. Golds and yellows and red, glowing as if the world was made of stained glass windows. All around was beauty and splendor.
I pulled the truck to the side of the road, left it running, loped across the blacktop to an ancient apple tree and reached up; took two. Back in the truck I ate the apples, fresh and chilled and sweet. The heater blew hot and I thought to myself, “This is not a bad day at all.”
On the third night stars blazed bright under the clearing sky, white-hot against blackness and I stood, mouth agape, head tilted back to better look at them. Wondered, when was that last time I saw stars in this week of leaden gray and rain? I took them all in.
The Brewers were playing; the radio was scratchy and the signal came and went and I thought that is the way to follow baseball; a radio with a bad signal and your imagination left to conjure up the images. I listened to the game until I was tired then turned if off; would see in the morning if they won.
Come the dawning the lake was calm, dark as the sky is dark for all water reflects the sky.
There may be no more meditative time in sport than the minutes in a duck blind waiting for the day to start. A calmness comes; a contemplation; a peacefulness far too rare in our lives and far too uncommon in our sport.
I sat on an overturned bucket with my life jacket as a cushion. I leaned back against the spindly spruce tree at the back of the crude blind. I sat as motionless as the lake in front of me, as restful as the far off tree line.
Coyotes yelped over the hill on the far side of the lake, startling, unexpected, as if a fresh breath of cool wind or the fall of rain. Then quiet. Meditative time.
It did not brighten at daybreak, only shifted slightly toward daylight as if thin layers of shroud were peeled back to reveal lighter layers of gray.
Leaves fell; floated on the air; settled on the water. Ripple rings spread.
I saw a handful of ducks that morning. I did not kill any of them. I settled, on that October morning, for the time of mediation a duck hunter knows in the still hour of dawn, when the world seems motionless and the mind finds peace and all else falls away.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.