November 03, 2010
"You're never a prophet in your own village" - unknown
The wind was as fierce as it was cold, and despite my desperate efforts to cross the bay, I was blown sideways into the shore. I had only one option to play if I wanted to make it home... get out and pull the canoe behind me. The icy water that poured through the hole in my waders nearly took my breath away, and spurred me into action. As long as I'm moving, I said to myself, I can't freeze to death. The canoe became heavier with each falling snowflake.
I was halfway across the bay, and smiling to myself at what a duck hunter will endure for a few hours alone on a windswept marsh when I heard the storm-muffled hum of an outboard motor. I stopped and turned to find the source, and it felt good to have the wind and driven snow at my back as I watched the boat follow the channel into the bay and head directly to me.
"It looks like you could use some help," my friend said as the boat came within earshot.
"Let's tie your canoe along side, and we'll tow you upriver to town.""Thanks," I said gratefully. "Here's a rope."
"Toss the other end to the kid." He said, finishing the bowknot and nodding to his son in the stern. "And, climb in. You look frozen."
"Thanks," I said, handing the kid my bowline. "I didn't recognize you with all of your gear on."
In fact, I was thinking... I thought your father was out with one of his friends. You've grown up since I last saw you. The kid beamed in response, and it was the same smile I've always known.
Sitting side-by-side, me in my canoe, and him in the bow of his boat, my friend and I talked about the day as his son managed the two boats, lashed together, through the labyrinth of channels and sunken timber. As we talked, I paid enough attention to learn a new route that I'd been unaware of.
"Where's your boy?" my friend asked. "I thought he'd be out with you today."
"He's probably snow boarding with his friends," I answered. "He never really took to hunting or fishing, and I didn't want to push him."
We were both silent for the next several minutes, until his kid eased the boats into the landing where my truck was parked.
"Thanks for the help," I said, untying the line and pulling the canoe onto shore. "It would have been a long and difficult struggle home without you."
I thought about my son as I carried a load up the hill, and began one of my internal dialogs. It sure would've been nice to have him along today. I thought to myself, "Maybe I should have asked him."
No, he would have found an excuse not to come. "It's not that he doesn't want to spend time with you," I reassured myself, as I walked back down to the river. He just doesn't like to hunt or fish, and the last thing in the world you want to do is make him feel bad about saying no to you.
"But, there's so much I could teach him," I argued, as I shouldered the canoe, struggling under its weight. There are so many things that I could help him with, if he'd let me.
"They were falling fast from almost straight above us. 'You take the one on the right,' I whispered"
I lifted the canoe onto its rack, and concluded the conversation as I climbed into the truck and looked at myself in the rearview mirror. It's not about you, I decided. No one is ever a prophet in his own village.
The weather had softened, as it often does after the first autumn storm, and although geese continued to filter into the marsh, the northern mallards were still nowhere to be seen. Except for the date on the calendar one wouldn't imagine that it was the middle of the duck season. Regardless, I was anxious to get out again, and called my friend to ask him about joining me for an evening hunt. "The weather's not right," I said, "But no one has been hunting the marsh for a while, and I have a feeling that if we can find the ducks, we'll have some shooting."
"I'd love to go," he said, "But, things are really tight at work, and I won't be able to get away until the weekend."
"What about your boy?" I heard myself ask. "Do you think he'd like to go? I could use an extra hand with the canoe."
"He's at his grandparents," my friend said, "But, I'll give him a call and ask." The phone hardly had a chance to touch the desk before it rang. "My dad says that you'd like to go out on the river with me." The kid said in an excited voice. "When do you want to go?"
"How about tomorrow... what time do you get home from school?"
"Ten to three," he said. "I can be ready by three o'clock."
"I'll pick you up then," I chuckled.
The weather wasn't too bad the next afternoon. It was still in the high 40s, without a trace of wind, but there was cloud cover, and the wind was supposed to come up as dusk approached. I was excited to get out in the marsh, but Lisa found me sitting on the back porch, in my waders, sipping a cup of coffee a few minutes after three. "I thought that you were picking the kid up at three o'clock?" she said.
"Well, yeah... that's what I told him, but he just got home from school 10 minutes ago, and there's no way he'll be ready to go. I don't want him to feel uncomfortable about making me wait... so, I'll be a few minutes late myself."
Lisa smiled... but there was something more to it... something that said, "That's really nice... but not like you."
It's funny I thought, as I backed the truck down the driveway. If I was picking up my kid at his mom's house... I'd be 10 minutes early, and upset with him if he kept me waiting, because it's important to teach him to be on time.
My friend's son was waiting for me when I pulled up to his house, but I could tell that he'd rushed. He was worried about keeping me waiting.
"Sorry that I'm late," I said, helping him throw his gear into the back of the truck. "I had a last minute phone call, and couldn't get away." I lied.
It was short drive on the downriver road, and we h
ad the canoe loaded and ready to go in no time. "You take the back," I said, climbing into the front of the canoe.
That's interesting, I though to myself, I don't ever remember my kid in the back of the canoe.
"You've been out on the river more than me this season... where do you think we should hunt?" I asked.
"How about we slide into the little dry creek," he suggested, "And carry the decoys through the woods to the north end of the big bay?"
"But what if this wind changes direction, like it's supposed to?" I thought to myself, but didn't say anything.
"Smart plan." I said. "We'll save a lot of time... let's do it."
We crept through the woods with our decoys and gear, stopping well within the tree line to watch at least 100 mallards and half as many teal and wood ducks sleeping and feeding exactly where the kid suggested we set up our hide. The ducks flushed in a rolling wave of birds as we stepped from the woods and started to set out our decoys.
"Here... you take these and set them out while I fix us a blind," I said propping a decoy sack up on some weeds. "Wherever you set them up should be fine. I'll fill in with these when I'm done," I said, nodding at the other sack, "And, set up the jerk-cord."
We finished our assigned tasks at the same time, and stood back to admire the work. Some of his decoys were a bit too close together... but I didn't mention it.
"What do you think of my decoys?" I asked.
"They look good to me," he said.
"Now that I look at them... some of them are too close together. Do you mind fixing them for me?" He did, and rearranged a few of his in the process.
"They're starting to work back in," the kid whispered, as he crawled into our hide, "There, to the left... up high."
A single drake mallard was falling from the sky toward our spread. He'd spent the whole day loafing in this exact spot, and was on a wire, wings locked, rocking side to side in an attempt to slow his too-anxious decent to our waiting guns.
"Wait... wait..." I said, wanting the drake to flair at about fifteen yards for the kid to shoot, but the duck was falling much faster than I imagined, and was unable, or unwilling to put on enough brakes... he rocketed over the decoys and lit 25 yards past the blind.
There were plenty of ducks around, but they never decoyed, or passed within range. We passed on several flights of green-wing teal that were right on the edge, and I admired the kid for hanging in there and not getting discouraged.
Just at dusk, two drake mallards circled high above the marsh, calling and looking for a place to rest for the night. I gave a very short and plaintive response and they responded to the call. "Most people call too much, too loud, and their calls are too high pitched... not raspy enough," I said under my breath.
"Listen to that hen... listen to how low and raspy her call is... that's what a duck call should sound like." They banked in a wide and unhurried turn, desperate for rest, but unsure and unwilling to loose any altitude. "Watch this," I said, tugging on the jerk-cord and putting three of the decoys into motion. It was the motion on the water that convinced the pair, and they dropped at a steep angle for the ripples in front of us. They were falling fast from almost straight above us. "You take the one on the right." I whispered.
"I've got the one on the left."
At 20 yards, I whispered, "Now!" The birds flared perfectly as we stood, and I watched my bird as his downward momentum was transferred into lift, and he towered without a single wing beat. My gun was still down as he reached the apex of her climb, and without a conscious thought it came to my shoulder, and the safety came off as the kid shot his bird. I saw it crushed out of the corner of my eye, and pulled the trigger an instant before it hit the water. It took me two shots to get the job finished.
We stood in silence, watching the cut feathers drift lazily to the water. A few seconds passed before the last one gently landed. "And, that's how it's done, kid." I said.
"Yeah," the kid said, giving me a high-five. "Yeah!"
When I drop him off at his home that night, I thanked him for hunting with me, and told him to keep his schedule open for a change in the weather.
Later that night, while I walked our three-year-old daughter to sleep, I thought about the day, my son, and what I had learned from the other guy's kid. I'd taught him about a jerk cord, and a little bit about calling ducks... and in the process learned some things about myself. I came to the realization that we often do more for others than for those we love the most, and if I'm not treated like a prophet in my own home; it's probably because I don't act like one.
I learned that sometimes the most insightful thing to say is nothing. The most profound advice to give is none at all, the wisest thing to do, is to listen, and the most valuable gift I have to give is my patience.
Perhaps the wisest teacher is the one who feels he has the most to learn.