Time drifts, creates memories at Duck Point
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
Time. People say it stands still, say it races or flies, moves slow or fast. But sometimes time simply drifts, ethereal as smoke, drifts as an October leaf fallen from tree or in a slow spiral of feather lost in flight; drifting on unseen currents. Time drifts through the years or the decades or a lifetime.
Time-drift starts on a given day, seemingly inauspicious, until years later when one looks back. Started for me on a day when I was a kid on a lake in summer sun at a resort with the sound of gentle wave, breathing the charged air of freshwater lake. Started in a boathouse with the sweet-sour fumes of outboard motor fuel and the dank smell of old wood; a boat rose and fell gently on the waves.
On the plank wood siding a placard, done up as an old Wanted poster: “Wanted: Old Mossback.” Old Mossback, a muskellunge of massive size, glowering countenance, malevolent eyes. Old Mossback, a world record musky and a reward: $1,000 to whomever brought him in. I looked at that and thought if you caught Old Mossback you’d be rich beyond measure.
We loaded the boat – dad’s uncle, a cousin and an uncle of mine and motored across Lac Vieux Desert to a small metal shack on a place called Duck Point. We fished, caught nothing, stayed overnight in the shack. In light of day the water was inviting but at dusk it turned opaque and gray and all I could think of was Old Mossback lurking. I did not want to be near the water.
Time-drift started there for me, paused for a handful of years then caught up again on an October day when we hunted ducks on Duck Point for that is why the shack had been built and the place had been named. Around the dinner table in the rustic shack in the wood-smokey air there was talk of bluebills and Northerns and I thought they meant fish; bluegills, I assumed, and northern pike. But no: Ducks.
Bluebills and redheads and cans, mallards and butterballs and whistlers, all migrants from Canada, all Northerns; ducks, not fish. I learned the language of the duck hunters and the ways of the hunt and heard the sound of duck wings, learned it over a crude table and in the duck blind and over after-dinner card games; we played 21 and nobody kept score and nobody took money.
We ate thick-cut steaks and bacon and eggs and buttermilk pancakes. We heard rain rattle the roof of the shack, slept four hunters in two sets of bunk beds in a shack that was 12-feet by 16-feet and you darn well better all get along because there was no room to hide from anyone if you did not. We fired up a crude wood heater and pushed back the darkness with kerosene lamps with tall glass globes. At night when the lights were off and the stove was stoked, the sides of it glowed ruby red. By morning it was stone cold and the temperature inside was about the same as out.
We shot ducks over wooden decoys on days of late summer warmth and mornings of bitter cold that covered the lake with skim ice and left our fingers numb. We saw days of huge migrations of ducks, flock after flock, thousands by noon. We had days when we did not see a single duck. But we were duck hunters; we never quit. Nor did time quit; time drifted.
The shack on the big lake grew to be my favorite place in the world. I dropped out of college and hunted there 30 mornings and I never regretted a moment. I sat in snow squalls and under cold rain; I hunted in mean winds and on days with the lake smooth as glass. I felt the rage of storm batter the shack, alone one night in the dark, wind-howl and waves pounding and on the static of a transistor radio heard of a ship missing on Lake Superior and then next day heard the name: Edmund Fitzgerald.
I hunted with my father and his friends, a kid in an adult world and they took me in. I hunted with friends, mixed generations, young and old shoulder to shoulder in the blind. When I started the older guys did the work; by the end I did the heavy lifting.
The old guys passed and the shack carried their memories and their legacy. After a funeral of the last one a friend turned to me, said “You’re the old guy now.” And damned if I wasn’t. The old guys were gone. Time drifted, ghosts came up in the night.
I hunted with Riika and Thor and Sally, brought some young guys into the fold. Hunted Duck Point, stayed at the Duck Shack, shot ducks on some days and not on others but never ceased to feel the power of the place. The Duck Shack was as if on sacred ground; the dusty windows could have been stained glass. Memories raised; time drifted.
Times pass; seasons change; so do we, all of us. I hunted less at Duck Point. Things changed. The details don’t matter; things just changed. I did not take the opportunity to buy Duck Point. It sold. All things come to an end.
This week we cleaned out the Duck Shack. Sally and I hauled a load one day; Ted and I went back for the heavy stuff; the boat, the outboard, the decoys. I closed the door, locked it, turned to the lake. The day was gray and heavy, the water hidden under gun-metal gray waves; Old Mossback may still lurk there for all I know, the thousand dollar bounty there for the taking.
I walked from the shack for the last time. Time drifts, then settles, the leaf to ground, the feather to dirt.
I texted Sally: “Leaving Duck Point.”
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.