A dark, cold, windy November morning, but no ducks
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
The forecast is for rain and snow, wind and storm. I consider my options in the early evening gloom. Darkness comes early now and I’m still not used to it. It sours my outlook. I check the forecast one more time as if looking at it will change things. Then I make the decision and tell Sally I’m going to the shack.
I load my dad’s old Duluth pack and call Bella to the truck. I stop for carry-out chicken and a piece of pie to go and drive through the black night on wet roads slick and glistening in the drizzle. I drive blacktop then turn off to dirt, ease down the rude driveway and park.
The shack is chilled. I build a fire, using one match; a matter of pride. Cedar kindling over crumpled newspaper, thin splits of maple; the fire takes. I add a bolt of dry oak and prop the woodstove door open. The fire comes to life in a comforting murmur. Over the soft roar of the fire the staccato sound of hard rain on the roof.
I open the door and stand on the stoop; rain spatters and the wind sighs. I feel a chill. Bella whines behind me. I go back inside and close the door against the night. There is a comfort to be in a small hunt shack in the darkness of a November night when storm rises outside and the wood fire gives warmth.
I eat chicken by hand, picnic style. Bella begs at my feet. I tell her No. She settles in and curls up on an old blaze orange hunt coat. The shack warms. I add more oak and close the stove door tight.
The radio is background noise; football; Badgers score a lot, Michigan not much. I turn it down, pick up a book and read to the sound of rain on the roof and the flicker of fire on the glass door of the wood stove.
I go to bed early and let Bella sleep on the bed.
I do not set the alarm and when I wake it is shooting time. The wind is picking up and there is light snow angling down. I leave Bella in the shack. She is too young for the cold November water. I load the duck skiff with decoys, paddle into the wind, toss the decoys to the water; pull the boat into cover and settle into a crude blind.
The hunt is as much ceremonial as serious. I have a not seen ducks in recent weeks. But to hunt in the November storm ties the season back to the warm days of September and it seems fitting to sit for one more time. In a week it will be deer season and after that a rush to holidays. On this day it is a simple time with no expectations and no pressure.
There will be no sunrise. There is heavy cloud and the color of the sky and the color of the water are drawn shades of gray. The snow is heavier now and slants on the wind. The woods are dim shades of brown and ash. The landscape looks like an old photo, faded and slightly out of focus yet evocative and restful.
The land in November is at peace, faded yet still vital. The beauty of November is subtle, a matter of shades and hues, a far cry from the flash of color only 30 days past. Subtle but still beautiful. I take it all in.
Ravens fly; I hear them before I see them. Black against sullen sky they ride the rising wind, dip and fall and seem at play. Their calls seem gruff laughter as if taking delight in a joke they alone know.
Chickadees flit, unable to sit still, stay close to the cover of tree trunk. I see them out of the corner of my eye. They perch, tilt head to look at me, then are gone to blurred wing and lost in shadow.
Those who know such things speak of meditation as sitting. “I sit,” said a friend, “twice a day.” In that I know what she means. I do not sit in formal meditation. Instead, I sit in a duck blind on a snowy morning as the wind blows and the snow falls and my mind finds peace. That is all. That is enough.
The snow sticks to the thin whips of tree branches and the effect is one of lace or fine filigree. The lines of snow on trees are delicate and precise against the dark shadow of the background forest. The rugged woods on this morning are incredibly beautiful with the light snow on twig and brush and remaining leaf. I feel as if in a black and white line drawing.
I lean back against the thin trunk of a dead spruce tree with my feet in the soft marsh dampness, the shotgun across my knees. My hands are pushed deep in the pockets of the camouflage parka. I stay warm against the chill.
I do not see ducks. I had hoped that they would ride the bluster of wind and I would see them come from the haze of snow and they would circle the decoys and come into the wind in front of me. They do not.
After an hour the decoys carry a shroud of snow on their backs and look like the frauds that they are. I pick them up and paddle back to the shack. Bella is at the door, tail wagging like a metronome gone wild and I tell her she is a good dog.
I stoke the fire, make coffee and stand at the window. The wind has come on stronger and it has blown the etching of snow from the trees and they now stand bare and forlorn and the magic of the early morning in the duck blind has gone to the rising winds of November storm.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.